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3 September 2017 Sunday Message – Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. (Romans series ctd.)

Reading: Romans 12:9-21

Message:

Do you like reading letters?. In the case of the bible’s letters, the people who chose these readings in our Lectionary usually leave the difficult bits out and choose the good bits to be read.

Well they were real letters. And when I look back on some family letters, in some cases there are always some difficult bits.

We’re back in Romans 12 today. We will get to Romans 13 – the first part is left out from the lectionary because it is challenging. It’s about God and government. And yes, my mother also taught me that you didn’t discuss religion and politics at the dinner table. No wonder people avoid Romans 13 when it brings those two together. We will get there before the election. Something to look forward to.

We’ve looked at Romans 12 on leadership. I’ve suggested that if you have gifts, best not leave them in a cupboard somewhere. Use them. And as a church we are listening to Paul who says – let people use them in accordance with their faith. The door is open to you.

There are two key verses today that may well be overlooked by preachers.

Rom 12:9  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Rom 12:21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We’ll call them the 921 factor.

In between is a verse you would have heard before which quotes from Proverbs 25:22

Rom 12:19  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Rom 12:20  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

The early church lived under the power of the Roman empire. So in other places the New Testament encourages Christians who are persecuted.

The enemies that Paul refers to are more likely people in individuals lives who did bad things to them.

Paul reminds us: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The 921 factor is more interesting. Listen again:

Rom 12:9  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Rom 12:21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 Have a chat to the person next to you about the ‘evil’ here that Paul speaks of. What it could be that we should hate it and also overcome it with good.

So what do you think? Let’s make a list.

….

This week the things that have bothered me the most that have been really horrible in the news have been family related things.

The pain in families – those 600 plus in this last year – who have lost someone who has ended their own life.

And the children who have been abused. There was a report about that little guy – Moko – who was killed – a coroner’s report saying how terrible it was – worse than the previously worse case of a little girl called Nia.

The source of evil in Scripture is very clearly the Evil one. He seeks – says Jesus – to steal, kill and destroy. Contrast what Jesus comes to do in John 10:10: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

We need to do everything to help people whose lives are lost or stolen in some way.

How do we hate evil in this context and cling to what is good?  And not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good?

Well we need a lot more time than this sermon slot to talk about that.

To hate the pain and mess that this causes in so many families every year probably means doing something helpful wherever you can to work against the horrible things. It may mean protesting, signing a petition, donating, writing letters to the authorities to get them to improve mental health care. Two brave people spoke on TV he other morning about their own experience of suicide in the family. That took enormous courage.

I must say we are not good at the petition thing. We tried to get people sign a petition about churches being persecuted – the results weren’t fabulous really.

If you know families who have loved ones who struggle with depression and anxiety, and who have kids at school who are going to face bullying which creates huge stress and anxiety (and that’s where the kids are harming themselves – in the face of school or on-line bulling or both) – give those parents support and talk to each other. Get informed. Get involved. And challenge the schools when they don’ get it right.

Family violence also stirs me up – churns away on the inside. There’s a song we’re going to listen to shortly by one of our own ministers – and the closing song about New Zealand is a prayer for this nation eh also wrote.

Am I so invisible 
That my tears can’t catch your eye? 
Am I so unloveable 
No one out there hears my cry 

I have heard the whispering of hope calling 
That I might mind a hand to hold 
And restore me 

Hey stranger, hey neighbour…
Just hear me, just see me 
Let me know that I am truly worthy 

Would you greet and welcome me 
If you found me at your door 
Would you pray that I’ll be free 
And find a life that’s so much more 

I have heard the whispering of hope calling 
That I might mind a hand to hold 
And restore me 

Hey stranger, hey neighbour… 
Just hear me, just see me 
Let me know that I am truly worthy

credits

released October 2, 2014
Music and lyrics by Malcolm Gordon
Produced by Geoff Duncan

If you think you can do nothing – you’re wrong. You can help overcome evil with good.

It’s not about being indignant. Or saying – “that’s sad”.

It’s about starting with the children in your life. On your doorstep. In the church, here on Sundays. Do you ever talk to them? Your grandchildren and kids – how much time are you really giving to listen and be there with them?

And again – getting informed and equipped as you do when something really matters.

We’re not particularly good with kids really. When we agreed years ago to combine our two morning services into one, one of the reasons was that the adults miss out on seeing the children.

But you know – they are not here for our entertainment. They need relationships with significant adults. That’s what makes messy church such a blessing – because there is time and opportunity to sit with kids and share their lives.

These are big matters. This nation has so much – and people are so desperate.

Prayer remains our best weapon. Come along on Wednesday morning and pray with the group here. And our witness as Christians takes us back to a key verse that I often remind you of: 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

And if you encounter people who need some help and probably can’t afford to pay for counselling, encourage them to get help here where there is no charge. What we can’t do is do nothing.

Let’s close with Malcolm Gordon’s song for this nation. – Beneath the Southern Cross. He writes: “Held and healed, in Christ we find our place”  The song was written to mark 200 years of the Christian Gospel in Aotearoa NZ.

 

lyrics

Beneath the Southern Cross. (By Cate Burton and Malcolm Gordon)

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From north and south 
From east and west 
Beneath the Southern Cross we rest 
Found by One 
Who came for all 
In this tale of spacious love we’re born 

This whenua 
on which we stand 
This holy ground made by God’s hand
Marred and scarred 
Yet marked by grace 
Held and healed, in Christ we find our place 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

God of nations 
At thy feet In the bonds of love we meet 
Strangers once 
Now called as one 
Aotearoa, wake to greet this love 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From north and south 
From east and west 
Beneath the Southern Cross we rest. 
Found by One 
Who came for all 
In this tale of spacious love we’re born

credits

released October 22, 2014
Written by Malcolm Gordon and Catherine Williams (nee Burton)
Produced by Matt Chapman

 

 

 

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Sunday 29 March 2015 – sermon for Palm Sunday

Readings: Psalm 118:19-29; Matthew 21:1-13

Sermon                                                                                                           Palm Sunday

I wonder what you thought about the cricket world-cup spectacle. Especially during the matches where there is great fanfare and celebration at the end of play. Whoever wins at the end of the day – there are fireworks and loud music plays. All the modern trimmings of a victory parade. A spectacle. Interviews – reports – and assuming that the black caps have won (I am writing this before knowing who will face them in the final – blue or yellow) – great celebration and jubilation!

There have been other spectacles this week. Including the tragic crashing of a plane – where the pilot is alleged to have said: “one day I will do something that will change the system… and everyone will know my name and remember me.” A tragic spectacle and way of being remembered.

And then there is an interesting spectacle in the form of a bye-election result over night in Northland! Say no more! Political grandstanding can also be a spectacle – an event of sorts. With their own victory parades.

So back to the cricket final later today. The headline I saw was this: “Black caps captain Brendon McCullum leads his men into battle against Australia today in a historic cricket world cup final.” The black cap captain put it this way in an interview: it “creates the greatest stage we can ask for.”

These are spectacles – great events involving public statements and celebrations or commiserations.

Palm Sunday was a bit like that. Except there were no fireworks and no TV coverage.

Loyalty and recognition are central in these things. Which brings us to the Palm Sunday crowd. Where would you have been positioned on that day?

THE CROWDS on Palm Sunday

Traditionally we have given them a hard time. Not really a good thing to be cheering for Jesus and then calling for his execution a few days later. Even though it preaches well. I have told children’s stories with this line – “yay for Jesus! Away with Jesus!” Such fickle people! I have preached along those lines many times on Palm Sunday.

But is it true? We gloss over the text (as preachers) – and often miss on the subtleties.

It seems actually that we are dealing with two groups of people   – the crowds who came along with him (likely to be his followers and especially those who were touched by him and healed), and the city – meaning the people of Jerusalem who were kind of perplexed. Who is this and what is this all about?

We see this in verses 10 and 11: When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”  The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

I am sure that even those who were healed and obviously over the moon about Jesus would not really understand what it meant when he was received as a King.

But they were happy with the notion of a prophet (who speaks and acts for God) and they seemed okay that he was from Nazareth (not a great pedigree!).

The disciples had other ideas about him being King. Just in the chapter before (Matthew 20) Jesus had to remind them of the nature of his kingship. James and John’s mother is asking for favours for them. Have a look at the chapter before our reading for today:

Mat 20:20  Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

Mat 20:21  “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

Mat 20:22  “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.

Mat 20:23  Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

Mat 20:24  When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Mat 20:25  Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Mat 20:26  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, Mat 20:27  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— Mat 20:28  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

The disciples knew – or should have known better – that his kingship was different.

The crowds were moved, however. One way or the other this was a significant moment. They responded!

But a crowd involves individuals making choices. It was still a personal response. We should remember that they would only have had one cloak – which they spread on the road.

They would have known an example of this from their bibles – one hopes – for example when Elisha sent one of his team to anoint Jehu as King in second Kings – this is what happened: 2Ki 9:13 They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”

Tom Wright also says  this: In the long folk-memory of Jerusalem and its surrounding villages, stories were still told, and some of them by this stage were written down, about the famous Judas Maccabaeus who, 200 years before, had arrived in Jerusalem after conquering the pagan armies that had oppressed Israel. He, too, was welcomed into the city by a crowd waving palm branches (2 Maccabees 10.7). And he was the start of a royal dynasty that lasted for over a hundred years. Indeed, the Herod family had intermarried with the Maccabaean family, and the chief priests claimed a similar status.

People who throw down their cloaks like that are actually making a statement about what they think is going on. There is loyalty involved! And royalty! The person welcomed and hailed as king or conqueror would have to be worthy of the honour and sacrificial response – especially of laying down your only cloak in his path. I can’t think of a modern equivalent – except perhaps at a concert when people throw things onto the stage?

Of course there is the more recent (than Jesus) story of Sir Walter Raleigh who threw down his cloak for Queen Elizabeth the first so she didn’t have to walk in the mud!

It doesn’t happen often today for leaders and politicians. They usually have a whole team organizing those kinds of things.

SIGNS OF A KING – albeit a different one.

There were clear signs of a King. The fulfillment of prophesy is there. And the key title that crops up: “Son of David!” Jerusalem had been his capital city a thousand years earlier – and they were hoping for a King like David to rescue them from oppression.

And to be fairer to the crowds who hailed him as King (perhaps some of his actual entourage did run away) – it’s not that easy when your leader is arrested. The Roman armies were pretty savage – and not to be messed with. If you see savage armies at work today (and we do daily on our TV screens), you may get a sense of how frightening it would have been.

But the expectation was there – for Him to be King on their terms – in line with the hope that they would be liberated eventually. They had very different expectations. He was not coming to win a war – but to be killed.

HOW DO WE RESPOND?

I think we sometimes want Jesus to be available on our terms according to our agenda as well. Tom Wright puts it this way: The meaning Jesus attaches to this so-called ‘triumphal entry’ is quite different from the meaning they are wanting to see in it. That, perhaps, is where we can learn most from this story today. People turn to God, notoriously, when there is something they want very badly. Of course, that’s like finally deciding to learn to use a telephone only when you urgently need to call an ambulance; it would have been sensible to find out how to do it earlier, when it wasn’t so important. But that’s how people are.*

* Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 69). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

OUR RESPONSE as individuals and a group – some final thoughts. 

Consider these:

  • What would we need to lay down before Jesus today? (Individual answers will be unique really) – sacrificing in some way? Laying down your only cloak: – sacrificial living and giving?
  • Is there some other way we need to give honour to Jesus? What kind of King is he to us today?
  • Are we afraid too? Referring back to the “fickle” crowd. They would have been afraid when Jesus was arrested.
  • Remember the cry “Hosanna” – Hoshiana (v25 of Psalm 118) – which means “save us!” It has become a praise word. It is a song of Passover, which included the line – blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. What do we need saving from? Only you can answer that.
  • Do we allow him to be a prophet to us? Speaking into our lives and cleansing our temples? Is our church also used as a pious hideout while needy people are outside on the margins.

And then the consequences in the temple are worth noting: Mat 21:14  The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. Mat 21:15  But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. Mat 21:16  “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”

  • He turns the temple into a place of healing (the blind and the lame would have been excluded from the temple). With Jesus in the temple worship becomes truly life giving. Is Jesus’ reign manifested beyond our church – where people are really transformed – by the life giving words?
  • The children cry out – and the authorities are rattled by that. Are we? It’s a threat to the chief priests and the scribes. “Do you hear what they are saying” – he responds with Psalm 8:2 – “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” 
  • He is the king who saves instead of oppressing. Heals instead of exploiting! This is a totally different Kingship in every sense. He is the Saviour King.

So do we acknowledge him – wave branches and declare his praises – in our lives? We would do well to go back to Matthew 10:32-3 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

He still makes claims on our lives. Let’s listen to Him especially through this Easter week.

Amen.

18 February 2015 – Ash Wednesday reflection at Rosedale Village

Ash Wednesday Reflection

  • Mat 18:1  At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
  • Mat 18:2  He called a little child and had him stand among them.
  • Mat 18:3  And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • Mat 18:4  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
  • Mat 18:5  “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.
  • Mat 18:6  But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

REFLECTION

What’s your earliest memory as a child?

I have this picture of an ice cream cake at a 4th or 5th birthday. Apart from a pleasant memory like that I remember my first teacher at school – who wore dingle-dangle earrings and had a cane! Scary lady.

Mostly I remember needing my parents – especially when I was unwell. I needed my mum! She seemed to know what to do. And I trusted her.

Becoming an adult meant you had to take responsibility yourself. And in time – if you were blessed with children – they had to trust you. And you had to care for them!

It’s not surprising that abuse of children makes us feel ill and angry. It shouldn’t be like that.

As we get older still – the hard thing is that we have to trust other people to look after us. Our children start parenting us! And we need care-givers again.

In the frailty of advancing years, we become angry once more when frail and dependent people are abused. It shouldn’t be like that!

In Matthew 18 he disciples asked this question: Mat 18:1  At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Jesus used a child as an object lesson when he brought a child to them and said: Mat 18:3  And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Mat 18:4  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Mat 18:5  “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. Mat 18:6  But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

 The “little ones” are all those who are dependent upon others.

One commentator (Elizabeth Johnson) says this:

Jesus then continues talking about “little ones” (hoi mikroi) in the figurative sense — those without power or status in the community of faith. With shocking imagery, he states the utter seriousness of causing the downfall (the Greek verb skandalizõ) of any of these “little ones who believe in me.” Indeed, he warns that “it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).

Johnson goes on to say: This text is well chosen for Ash Wednesday, a day that focuses on self-examination and repentance, remembering that “we are dust, and to dust we shall return.” Indeed, we are all “little ones” before God, completely dependent upon God for the breath of life here and now and for the life to come.

Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent call us to repentance and renewal — to a drowning of the old self in the waters of baptism, with all the old self’s evil deeds and desires and potential for causing others to stumble, in order to be raised to new life from those same baptismal waters. This is dramatic imagery as well, but that which it symbolizes is much better than being drowned with a millstone in the depths of the sea!

The bottom line – for us – for the disciples of Jesus back then – and for those being martyred in this generation – is that we have to depend on God with the absolute trust of a child.

In a healthy family – children trust because they know that their parents are trustworthy. Jesus wants us to know that God is trustworthy too. That’s why he says elsewhere in His teaching on prayer:  Luk 11:9  “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Luk 11:10  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Luk 11:11  “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Luk 11:12  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? Luk 11:13  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

May we be able to trust Him like little children, in the knowledge that we all have sinned and are undeserving recipients of His love and grace. May we also repent for our part in any way in the hurting and abuse of others through our lives.

Amen.

Sources: Elisabeth Johnson – Professor – Lutheran Institute of Theology, Meiganga, Cameroon

https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2355

 

Sunday Sermon 4 January 2015 – The Way of Humanity versus the Way of God!

Sermon ― Bill Davey ― Elder at BBP

 Reading:  Matthew 2: 13 ― 23 – New International Version

13        When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get  up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14        So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,

15        where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had  said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”   (See: Hosea 11:1) 

16        When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

17        Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:  (See: Jeremiah 31: 15)

18        “A voice is heard in Ramah,  weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children  and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.”               

19        After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt

20        and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for              

those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21        So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

22        But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father              

 Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,

Our current Lectionary highlights three elements in our text for clarification:

“The flight into Egypt,”   “The Slaughter of the Innocents,” and  “The Return to Israel”

Before we examine the text let us underpin two principles from the teaching of Jesus:

In Matt. 5: 17 ― Jesus taught:

“I did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets

 but to fulfill them   (Law  /  Torah ― the teachings of God) !”  (NIV)

In John 10: 10  ― when talking about a “Good Shepherd, Jesus taught:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;  I have come that they may  have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV)

A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”  (NAB)

In our text today, we find Jesus ― the Incarnate Son of God as a new-born totally dependent on his parents, and upon the super-natural care for his nurture, protection and provision, including that of His parents.

What does our text show and teach us?

It compares the Way of Herod ― in his Humanity with the Way of God

King Herod displays a particular example of his way of humanity!

[Pride / Independence / Deceit]

We find King Herod: ― ever promoting self-interest with evil manipulation and deceit:

―        He deceived the Magi with his lies, claiming a wish to worship the God-child;

―        He then arranged the slaughter of the Innocents,

(all boy children under 2 years of age) in Bethlehem.

the “Slaughter of the Innocents” (Matthew 2: Verses 16 to 18)

“A voice is heard in Ramah,                          

weeping and great mourning,           

Rachel weeping for her children            

and refusing to be comforted,                       

because her children are no more.”  (Jeremiah 31: 15)

During the octave of Christmas the Church celebrates the memory of the small children of the neighbourhood of Bethlehem put to death by Herod.

Sacrificed by a wicked monarch these innocent lives bear witness to Christ who was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him.

Our Christmas joy is tempered by a feeling of sadness. Our thought goes principally to the glory of the children, of those innocent victims, who are now in heaven following the Lamb wherever He goes.

Those children became known as the “infant Martyr flowers”; the Church’s first blossoms, martyred by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief.(Sermon of St. Augustine)

Question:  Why is the greatest gift of the unconditional love of God set alongside Herod’s [Pride, Independence and Deceit], acts of extreme cruelty and human savagery?    (Comparison? Paradox?)

The Way of God ― (His Divine Plan)

―        Prophetic links to this New Testament passage when referring to the Messiah.

(See: Hosea 11:1) ― Out of Egypt I called my Son!

(See: Isaiah 11: 1  ― The branch of the stump of Jesse!

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him-

The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of power,

the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD —

and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.”

(and see Micah 5:3) ― when she who is in labour gives birth!

 What can we learn from Joseph and Mary?

―        Two unplanned journeys ― one into Egypt, and then a return from Egypt!

both journeys inspired by God for the protection of His Child (The Son of God),

and marked by super-natural timing in the most testing time of circumstance.

Dreams guided Joseph about the when, where and how to journey to Egypt.        Vv 13-14

Dreams guided Joseph about the when, where and how to return to Israel.          Vv 20-23

Dreams guided Joseph about his decision to go to Nazareth rather than Bethlehem.

―        Joseph ―   Listen to God and pray for guidance even as you obey Him!

―        Mary   ―        Listen to your husband and pray for his guidance!

―        By trusting the faithfulness of God ― We can listen to, and obey God, without question!

Our Church culture traditionally teaches us to:         Know God;   Serve God;  Love God!

Today we have considered how important it is to:    Listen to God;

Obey God; Live ― as if you are in the presence of God ― because you are!

 

To summarize:

We have noted the contrast between the way of King Herod and the way of God:

“Slaughter of the Innocents” and the

“Unconditional love of God ― the Gift of His Son ― Jesus!”

We have identified some key elements of the plans of God:

―        the prophetic aspects of the unfolding truth of the escape to and from Egypt;

―        the detailed dream-inspired decisions of Joseph and Mary;

―        the key examples of Listening to God and Obeying God, without debate.

Important to learn:   How well will I or we listen to, and obey God, in this coming year?

How well do I or we know the way of our Lord?

Let us pray: . . . .

Lord help us to: Listen to you O Lord; Obey you O Lord; and Live ― as if we are ever in your presence ― because we really are!

Amen.

 

Acknowledgement of www.electronicprayerbook.com

Sunday sermon 21 December 2014 – children of God

Reading – John 1:1-14

MESSAGE

John 1:11-14  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Whose son are you? Who do you belong to? To whom do you belong? Whose child are you?

In the movies people are often labelled as son of a something or other! You can use your imagination – especially if you are a cowboy movie fan.

We’re a funny old community – those of us who have made New Zealand as our home. Very strange really.

It’s a bicultural nation. Made up of people of the land, and people of the treaty.

It’s fast becoming one of the most multi-cultural places to live, especially in this city.

So you often have to write down your ethnicity, when you fill in various forms. And that too makes no sense, because of the fact that you may be recognised as an ethnic European who was born in Africa, for example. And a permanent resident here.

John’s gospel today divides the world into two different groups. Listen to verse 11 and 12:John 1:11  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John 1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…

  • His own – who did not receive him. Jesus was Hebrew, Semitic, born into a Jewish family.
  • Those who received and believed – who become children of God.

This new family identity does not depend on ethnicity or language, or even citizenship or permanent residence.

Verse 13 continues: John 1:13  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

A Spiritual birth. A spiritual identity. That’s the key.

In Chapter 3 John records the words of Jesus as follows: John 3:3  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

A better translation is this from the NRSV: Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 

“Above”  – refers to God of course – we are to be His children.

Who are you then? Who do you belong to? Which of these two categories? Those who receive Him or those who don’t?

If you haven’t figured that out – this is a good time to do so!

Christmas carols tell the story well.

O little town of Bethlehem – a favourite by Phillips Brooks – has these lines:

How silently, how silently

The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

And then there’s this great carol by Charles Wesley:

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Whose child are you? This last verse refers both to resurrection life and new birth!

When you’ve figured that out – then your life’s purpose is redefined – things can never be the same again.

What wonderful news this Christmas! What a wonderful faith!

Amen.

Sunday sermon @ 10.30am, 6 July 2014 – Come unto me, take my yoke upon you

Readings: Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30;

Message.

Our eldest – at pre-school – had to deal with being a pastor’s kid living next door to the church. So he saw me going off for funerals and weddings. On one occasion I asked him “what happens when people die?”. He responded: “they get married” (as opposed to buried!).

In the Gospel reading today Jesus proves again to be a good observer of human beings – in this case children.  We read his words in Matthew 11, verse 16 and 17:They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:  “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’”

It’s a game of weddings and funerals – like my son’s mix up between marriage and dying (and they are very close actually) – the kids must have had a game in which they pretended. I’m sure you did this as a child. Playing house, or in my sister’s case “teacher and schools” – the crayons were sorted into their different sizes and you have an instant school with different year groups! She is still loving being a teacher!

Imagine children saying – “we played a flute for you and you did not dance” is like saying – “it’s not fair! (when playing cowboys). “I shot you and you didn’t die”. It’s a wedding and you’re supposed to be happy! We’re playing funerals – and you’re not crying! Typical kids. In fact in those days the kids did play weddings and funerals. Those were the public rituals they would have seen and acted out. Except in Jesus’ illustration they were surly and unresponsive to the one calling them – “come and play”

One commentator on this passage says that for pastors – it all sounds horrible familiar! You can’t please people!!! Good point – pleasing God is what really counts.

Of course Jesus was really talking about the adults of his day and not the children! They complained about John the Baptist and Jesus! Couldn’t please them all! The complained because of Johns ascetic lifestyle (withdrawing from the world and living in a desert) – and muttered because Jesus was too friendly with sinners (he made friends with everyone! Tut Tut!) Or to put it differently: John is too holy; Jesus is not holy enough. John was too strong on repentance! Jesus to strong on acceptance! Sounds familiar to me.

The passage ends with this statement: “But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” This really is the same as “by their fruits you will know them”. In short – the people who complained only had to see what was happening – Matthew 11:5, a little earlier in the passage, tells us; “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

If you want to see whether Jesus was the one (despite his association with the outcasts of the day) then you have to bear witness to his miracles AND listen to his teachings of course.

It’s the teaching that really interests me in this passage:

Mat 11:25  At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Mat 11:26  Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. Mat 11:27  “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Mat 11:28  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Firstly Matthew 11:25-26: “At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

If you want to know what people believe – listen to their prayers.  “At that time” refers to the verses before – which are left out in the reading today. Like the comparison between weddings and funerals, between John and Jesus, people choose their responses. The cities that Jesus referred to are judged by whether they believe or not! In fact the three cities that failed to believe – says Jesus – will be judged more severely than Tyre, Sidon and Sodom, which will be judged because of their evil ways!

In the context of this pronouncement Jesus prays: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

I spent five years in a school – where the focus was on learning rather than wisdom. The truth is that people do set themselves up as wise and learned. And since being back in pastoral ministry for over three years (and in the 19 years in parishes before) – I have found the same thing in churches. There are always those who set them up as knowledgeable and superior.

Jesus in his prayer reflects a clear understanding that the Lord of Heaven and Earth hides these things from the wise and learned.

It is because he doesn’t want them to know the truth?

Or is it rather that their way of going at things is counter-productive. One can only guess that Jesus is referring to religious leaders of his day. I don’t think Jesus minded people using their brains. He probably had issues with people who allowed their thinking to be distorted. And more than ever – he had issues with people who were given the truth – like the Torah – and missed the point of it all.

Isn’t it amazing and lovely that it was for the Father’s good pleasure that little children receive the truth! The children of this church are a delight – not just because they are smart, which they are – but because they believe what we tell them.

The children at Messy church are also a delight. I got a big hug from one on Friday – I only see him once a month. I’m sure the hug represents the acceptance and love he finds among our team of creative people there.

Children  have open hearts. And it helps when parents believe and model faith. It used to break my heart when I worked with 5 years-olds some of whom were cynical and said “there is no God”.  I guess they were imitating their parents.

And now verse 27:

Mat 11:27  “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Verse 27 is a fascinating verse. It’s been described as a “bolt from the Johannine heaven” because its sounds more like John! It’s a great Presbyterian verse!

It places all the emphasis on God’s choosing – the sovereignty of God! We’ve seen already in our conversation at a young adults focussed sermon (they chose the theme) that the conversation about free will and election is complicated and challenging!

What is lovely here is that the relationship between Father and Son is quite unique and special. And think of it this way – we have a glimpse of the amazing love of God through Jesus.

In what way do you think Jesus knew the Father? I should think that the extent of the amazing profound redeeming love of the Father was known to Him. Think of how Isaac trusted Abraham on that altar. Multiply that by an infinite number of times and you get a glimpse of the Father’s love – the Father who commits “all things” to the Son! This “knowledge” that they have of each other is quite exceptional. And we are invited into that relationship.

Think again of another prayer of Jesus: Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

And after this comes the amazing invitation and directive:

Mat 11:28  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Here’s the real treat in the passage. If this were a meal (and it is because we should eat these words!) – here’s the main course!

The one that they accused of being a drunkard – the one which the wise and learned still reject – the one whose words cities that had seen miracles would not believe – plays his cards!

He issues the invitation above all other invitations! Yes “follow me”, “believe also in me” are all good and essential. “Come to me” is gold!

Come to me all! All who are WEARY AND BURDENED” AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST!

There are a number of ideas that come to mind when you think of rest! A siesta. RIP – which is long term! A snooze. Collapsing in a  heap…

The word is quite interesting – it’s really close to “respite” which is almost like recovery time.

This is not a laid back kind of Christian holiday camp.

The rest prepares you for the journey – for the yoke that Jesus has for you. The concept of a yoke was not unknown to them as a symbol of burden – even Peter uses the term at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. He says:

Act 15:10  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?

Take my yoke upon you is Jesus’ directive. And his reason for this is quite amazing, considering who He is:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (v29)

“Learn from me” says the best teacher in the world.  Why?

  1. “I am gentle and humble in heart”. Few teachers would claim that as their credentials. This is the Son of God giving us a reason to be yoked to Him – connected closely in a trusting relationship – by faith.
  2. You will find rest for your souls.

The prophet Jeremiah said this many years before: Jer 6:16  This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Sound familiar? “We will not walk in it” was their response to an invitation to go on the ancient path, the good way – where there would be rest for their souls! Tragic and still true of so many.

Here are some ideas I found which expand the concept of the yoke. I think they are quite useful.

The Yoke  (LMP)

Of love                                 L

If you think about it, the one we are yoked to has walked this way before! He is not unsympathetic. In fact he has been tested just like us! His temptations were real temptations. Jesus was fully human! So his empathy is real! It is a yoke of love as he helps carry and directs! It’s not a burden laid upon us like the Pharisees did – cold and harsh.

Of meek obedience       M

You can’t pull in the opposite direction! When you’re on Jesus’ road – obedience is not a chore either because there is wisdom in the one who has done this before! Like an ox – the older wiser ones teach the younger headstrong ones!

Of personal allegiance  P

It is “his” yoke – not a general impersonal journey with Jesus! In fact the first series I preached some 27 years ago when they finally let me loose as a preacher was “Journeys with Jesus” – “Journey with Jesus the one who satisfies! The bread of life! The living water!”

Of faith                                                F

The Yoke is a yoke of faith. It involves faith in the simplest yet deepest sense – TRUST! You have to be committed in faith to Jesus and trust Him when you choose to journey with Him in this way.

It’s risky too – who knows where he may lead you. Often on a Sunday we look at that challenge – what could the Lord be saying to you about your life and the world that needs the Gospel?

It speaks to our young people too – maybe God will call some to reach the ends of the earth with Good News! And Kiwis have great opportunities to work in interesting places – as this country has credibility that opens doors.

Of conscience                   C

And it’s the yoke of conscience! Imagine this – being yoked with Jesus means that HE goes where you go. That’s a bit limiting really. Or is it?

Just recently I told the story here about Tony Campolo – a great American preacher and sociologist – who describes how as a minister he used to pop into the pub – and someone would notice things and say loudly ‘HELLO PASTOR!”. Just so that the people would tone down the jokes.

It makes you think – doesn’t it – about wrong decisions – when Jesus is right alongside. It also makes you think about the things people share on-line – one has to ask whether they are a good Christian witness.

I think we need to pray more for our friends -and especially our children and grandchildren to be yoked with Jesus – to save them from being yoked to their peers or to society’s dodgy standards!

“You will find rest for your souls”

There is something deeply attractive about rest for your souls – not unlike that favourite Psalm – Psalm 23 in which David says HE RESTORES MY SOUL.

We come to him because we are physically weary and heavy laden, because he offers physical rest. But then we find a deeper rest – for our souls.

The deepest needs we have are met when yoked to Jesus.

We have to respond! Come unto me (all you who all you who are weary and burdened – “all ye that labour and are heavy laden” (KJV)) and I WILL GIVE YOU REST.

Will you come? When you do a new adventure begins:

 Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The easy and light bit has to be in comparison to other heavier loads placed on God’s people before Jesus. And of course still placed on people today by unscrupulous leaders.

It certainly keeps us on track. And the burden is symbolically halved by the image of the yoke.

In reality it’s the grace of  God that enables us to put our hand up and say “yoke me” – “strap me into the chair – wherever this machine goes I’m in”.

Amen.

Sunday message @ 9.00am 6 July – Yoked to Jesus, an easy yoke, a light burden?

Reading: Matt 11:16-19, 25-30

SERMON

So how’s it going being yoked to Jesus?

An easy yoke? A light burden?

One has to wonder what we’ve done with this. (I’ll talk about the rest later – maybe tonight if you come along. Or perhaps the rests – following that great preacher Spurgeon who indicates more than one kind of rest.) For now – here – today – what about the light and easy stuff? This burden and yolk Jesus offers.

Have we missed it? I think we may have.

I suspect that the Jesus we think we know is a tad different from that warm attractive witty compassionate person who hung out with the fringe members of society – and found them repenting and being transformed – without the frills of our theological systems.

Oh and children were there too. Drawn to Jesus. As were sinners of all kinds and shapes.

They had the freedom there to totally be themselves. And I reckon they had a lot of fun. And they clearly were changed people.

What does an easy yoke actually look like?

Well rabbis would use a yoke to describe a way of life. The whole life. Most would have said they were to be yoked to the Law. That in itself would have been challenging –  there were so many laws! We barely remember the big ten by heart!

The trouble is we sometimes see the yoke as a burden in a spiritual compartment – or as service of God – doing his stuff – when many people (as I do) think it’s more to do with our relationship with God – what we used to call communion with God. We are to be closely connected with Jesus.

Listen to this man writing about his ministry: His name is John Ortberg – you would have heard from him in home groups last year. (Remember – it all ends up in the box). A Presbyterian pastor.

I trained originally to be a therapist—a clinician, but discovered I wasn’t as good at it as I hoped and found the work quite draining. I discovered, instead, that I really loved the church. But after a few years in ministry, I began to become frustrated. I found myself asking, “What does it mean to be human? How do people change? Why is change so hard? Why doesn’t it happen more often in the church?” I found that we’re pretty good at helping newer Christian deal with surface bad habits. But after a while, people feel like the change process kind of stalls out. (As a second language teacher I would have used a different phrase from language learning – it plateaus! Levels out!)

People attend, volunteer, tithe, serve, avoid scandalous sins, but most don’t seem to be transformed more and more into joyful, loving, winsome persons. What is more disturbing than that is that no one really seems to expect such transformation. No one says we need a consultant to deal with this terrible problem. We rarely see the kind of renewal described in Romans 12:1-2, and we don’t seem to see this as a big problem.

Romans 12:1-2 says this of course:  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. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

It’s about transformation! (Paul in 2 Corinthians talks about us looking to the Lord with unveiled faces – and transformation follows:  2 Cor 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Cor 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.) 

Ortberg says we settle for second best – by using what he calls boundary markers. We set up boundary markers. These are visible signs of our belonging to the organisation – for the rabbis back on that day it was keeping the Sabbath and circumcision – today it could be something else in which we measure who is in and who is out the club – whether it be clubs for hippies, yuppies or bikers. Or churches. Like Christians carrying big bibles and wearing big smiles to church. We all have visible boundary markers -signs of belonging.

They’re no measure or sign of actual transformation. But they help us placate our consciences as we tick the boxes we regard as important. And we do it too. Trying to measure church’s success by numbers or style rather than obedience. Measuring spiritual growth by activities – how many things we attend. Or who is here each week (again we tick boxes, although the intention is look out for the missing ones!)

Ortberg suggests that the easy yoke offered by Jesus –  for ministers at least – begins with joy! Our whole life is meant to be lived “in Christ”. The most important thing we ought to do as minsters or pastors, he suggests – is to live a real Christian life – with deep contentment and confidence and joy – confidence in our everyday lives (Ortberg follows the thinking of Dallas Willard here). For me this is about a life that is characterised by integrity, reality, a genuineness (and not being fake).

And should think that this kind of congruence should apply to all Christians. What we say on Sunday should add up on Monday – wherever we find ourselves.

For pastors and those in ministry – success is not measured by impressive buildings and statistics.

It’s about sharing a life that is as attractive as Jesus’ one. And being able to laugh is one of the keys! It’s actually infectious. (I am blessed with a fairly healthy sense of humour – through which I have to laugh at myself a lot too!) Joy is a sign of a real life that is yoked to Jesus.

But in case you think I am trivialising this – behind the ability to laugh (which is not measured or rated by training and skill) – is the real Jesus stuff which oils and lubricates and fuels real Christian joy.

It’s called grace.

And – we are reminded – grace existed in God before sin came into the world.

Grace is not just about celebrating forgiveness of sins.

Grace made possible the amazing GIFT of creation – the very breath of life being breathed into the first human  (Genesis 2:7) – the CONVERSATIONS in the cool of the day in Eden when they walked and talked together (implied in Genesis 3:8-9 where God walks and is wondering where they were hiding).

Our first waking moment – and every day we live and breathe – is a celebration of grace. Our Messy church celebration of WINTER on Friday included a reference in our story time to the celebration of the fact that we as people of dust received the breath of life from God! All of this is part of our prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude.

And you do hear it in people’s prayers don’t you – that sense of gratitude for the gift of life and salvation, creation AND redemption. (Or for some redemption AND creation!)

If you only thank God for sending Jesus to die for us each week – what’s up with the rest of the gift He’s given? Where are we hiding that? It pops out in our open times of prayer, especially when children pray, thanking God for the daily blessings of life, family, fun and holidays etc.)

How about the celebrations that we should enjoy? The recognition of the gift of life to us all and our responsibility to care for that life (in the broadest sense including the environment and the world of resources). There should be much more laughter and fun here! Christians together should be experts at celebrating EVERYTHING!

We have an amazing time sharing our lives at our home group – as an illustration. We read and pray and learn together. But there’s more. I think our curry nights as a home group are spiritual things too – not because of the potential for cleansing – but because of the intricacies of the tastes and flavours – the variety – the detail – and the people we share it with.

They too are gold! Choice, bro! It’s all a celebration of worship!

My sister in law – who lives in Brisbane now – once gave me a poster that said: don’t worry, don’t hurry, and don’t forget to smell the flowers!

It’s a deeply spiritual statement – of trust – restfulness – and thanksgiving along the way.

Jesus died for our relationship – not just a clean slate – he died for us to live in a new network, if you like. Full access. Network Trinity. And the network of his international and local family on a shared journey of faith. In a created world that despite its brokenness is still worth celebrating each day.

A theological aside

In the midst of these words from Jesus today – about people expecting the wrong stuff especially from religious leaders (neither John nor Jesus satisfied them, One too ascetic. One too happy really.)

In the midst of this,  the relationship thing creeps in:  Mat 11:27  “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  No one knows that Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him!

There’s a separate challenge. It’s not even up to us who comes into this network. In an amazing way not understood by us he includes those whom He chooses. That to is an example of sheer grace.

It’s not our job to understand this aspect of His will. It is our job to share the vision He has given us.

THE VISION AND THE YOKE

People sometimes ask me for a vision – which usually means they want a business strategy for ministry. For a successful church. And I understand the reason for this. If a church dies off – then what about the next generation? I understand this desire for a vision and a strategy – I used to be a church development consultant helping churches to plan to be effective.

In fact the best analytical question for church growth and future thinking is this: If all of us (as a local church) disappeared overnight (say we were beamed up somewhere like on Star trek) and were nowhere to be found. would we be missed? (You can ask that of any local church). Do we make that much of a difference (say as salt an light) that people would mourn?

When it comes to local churches –  God brings the life generally where He chooses too. And some of the big growing machines in the mega church families can look like something quite foreign in my view. That’s my view anyway. The vast majority of Christian churches and communities around the world are fairly small (probably under 80 in active numbers).

Here’s the vision I offer today. This is what makes the difference in all those communities.

The yoke of Jesus.

Yoke up! Jump on the eternal life bandwagon – which means getting to know Jesus and the One called FATHER who sent Him. Remember another of Jesus’ prayers in John 17?

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:1-3)

It’s a vision of God – and how glorious and generous he is – and how wonderful his grace is – and what a difference it makes to be yoked to him!

Simple really. Knowing Him. In fellowship – communion with God.

The church theological police (the wise ones from Matthew 11:25)  will scratch their heads and bang their pointing fingers to the text and say – “what about this and that!” –  (all those conditions that they lay down for people to come to Jesus…)

What about them?

Show me your life that is full of grace across it all – and I’ll say it’s the yoke of Jesus that’s doing it. It’s being connected to Him that changes us. You and me.

You have to be connected (yoked) with God to be beautiful for God to do beautiful things for Him!

And quite often what the world deems to be success (image, wealth, fashion, modern goodies and the latest cars) is a world away from the life Christ calls us to.

  • We look upon His beauty on the cross. We see the grace in His praying – “father forgive them”. We see His suffering, and often will share in that suffering. (Read Colossians 1:24-29 as a Bible study this week).
  • We gaze upon His majesty at the resurrection. We look at death and suffering in the light of this ultimate transformation beyond this life. (1 Corinthians 15 is worth reading as another study this week).
  • We cast our eyes heavenward for His return. (1 Corinthians 15:42 onwards. And also Acts 1:4-11). This is our eternal perspective.

But in the meantime.

We are to be Him in the in-between years – Christ in us the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27) – showing His grace and love without a dour disposition and miserable load of old rubbish that we carry around and want others to carry like the Pharisees used to. (See Matthew 23:4:  They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.)

In the midst of these verses Jesus speaks about how we need to de-clutter it all and de-complicate things:

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Mat 11:25-26 

Later in Matthew we read this:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child and had him stand among them.
And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-3)

There is something simple in being yoked to Jesus in a close relationship.

Yay! Yea and Amen!