Readings: Exodus 3:1-15; Mark 8:27 – 9:8
What does it take for God to get your attention?
How are you with hearing voices?
We had this interesting conversation in home group this week as we looked at the boy Samuel in the temple hearing a voice but not knowing who it was calling him. You remember the story in 1 Sam 3? Three times he goes to the priest Eli thinking that he was the one calling.
- Do we need a quiet time to hear God?
- A retreat?
- Do you need to be in a temple or church like Samuel?
- Or at a conference (like yesterday’s?)
- A mountain top experience?
In both readings today the voice of God is heard when they are up on a mountain.
- In Moses’ case he hears a voice from a bush that appears to be on fire but doesn’t burn up. (Here in this church the congregation looks at a picture of that burning bush every week when they look at the person reading and speaking from here. It’s the visual motto or logo of the Presbyterian Church – here on this lectern.)
- For Peter, James and John, the mountain top experience is pretty unique. They see dead guys talking to Jesus and he looks like he’s been plugged into a power source. Whiter than white he is.
The old KJV in Mark 9:3 has this fascinating language:
- And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. The fuller there of course is a launderer.
- The ESV has: and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. This is the “whiter than white” washing powder advert kind of thinking.
- The NIV has: His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.
It’s not surprising they were terrified.
Seeing dead people does that anyway. I’ve only had that happen once – and it was prescription medication that caused the hallucination. I wasn’t fun.
- The voice on Mount Horeb to Moses becomes a conversation as he is commissioned to liberate his people from slavery.
- The voice on the mountain of transfiguration – is a one liner that should have helped assure the three key disciples.
“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”
It must have been quite amazing. A real high. But they came down to earth pretty quickly.
YOU CAN’T LIVE ON A HIGH
Life is full of contrasts.
- You can have a brilliant day and it can end badly.
- Terrible circumstances can still have good outcomes.
If you follow the characters we have been looking at so far – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and sons, Joseph, Moses and today Peter, James and John – you get enormous contrasts – great successes and serious failures.
One would hope that when certainty is reached in the way that we would sometimes like it – a voice from heaven telling us what’s going on (e.g. Peter) or a voice telling us what to do (e.g. Moses) – that things would be steady and stable.
But no – there’s always a shaking. Something that brings you down to earth.
Take the various scenarios where there are voices from heaven in the Bible:
- At Jesus baptism where he is anointed by the spirit and his ministry is launched – where a voice from heaven affirms him. In the next verse he is propelled into the desert to be tested by the devil. (from baptism to battle ground)
- Moses – From the encounter with God in the burning bush to the conflict with a stubborn hard hearted king. (from bush to battle ground)
- Peter – Confession that he is Messiah (revelation) to rebuke of his devil like behaviour – it’s like going from saint to Satanist. (from revelation to rebuke)
- Peter James and John – Mountain top camping to a real life-threatening road to the cross (glory to gory if you like.)
The danger of wanting to stay on a high – spiritually emotionally or “conferencially” – is that it can be disappointing. And while you are on the mountain top is not always easy to think straight anyway.
Peter may well have been so overwhelmed to make sense of the vision of seeing Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus that he wanted them to camp out there – what else could he have thought of?
Most of us would have probably wanted to capture the moment. Stay with that buzz of affirmation. (Think of your childhood holidays, when you had to leave a regular holiday destination to go back home – and you may get a glimpse of the feeling.)
But as a good colleague and friend pointed out in our discussion on Friday – self-gratification – our sinful nature – sometimes leads to sensual selfish spiritual experiences – wanting a high all the time. We are at risk of depending on those highs – it can become all about me – about us. Like those who at the end of a conference say “when’s the next one?” Feelings can drive our train, rather than facts and faith. We need another spiritual fix!
It’s no coincidence that Transfiguration is followed by Lent in the Church Calendar – a sobering 40 days.
And when Peter is less than thrilled by the idea of Jesus being killed, it’s not really surprising that he would try to stop it.
- This is Jesus the Messiah who has been revealed. There was an expectation of success from messianic figures – they are supposed to win the battle and overthrow the bad guys!
- Jesus lights up whiter than white on the mountain. Moses and Elijah are seen – the representatives of the key sections of the Hebrew Scriptures, the law and the prophets.
- And then this: Mar 9:9 As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has risen from death.”
I am sure they felt – death should not be on this list. Imagine a presidential candidate or political leader saying to his or her followers – vote for me. I’ll be killed and you’ll all run away. It was less than thrilling.
During Lent there is time for us to reflect on the challenges. Jesus calls people to a cross.
Great expectations – followed by this amazing declaration: the voice of clarity: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”
And this gloomy prediction: Mar 9:30 Jesus and his disciples left that place and went on through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where he was, Mar 9:31 because he was teaching his disciples: “The Son of Man will be handed over to those who will kill him. Three days later, however, he will rise to life.” Mar 9:32 But they did not understand what this teaching meant, and they were afraid to ask him.
How do you stay in the centre? I don’t mean like the grand old Duke of York and his 10 000 men where the song goes “and when they were only half way up they were neither up or down.”
I mean not like an emotional yo-yo. Crazy highs and lows.
Mind you. it’s not that easy if you get flicked from one thing to another like a ball in a pin ball machine. We will have highs and lows.
- We need the highs, like the conference we went on yesterday. They embolden us for the lows and the long slow obedience of level ground.
- We need the lows – the challenges – because they strengthen us in a different way. Building resilience and character and faith. Resistance is required to build core strength (just look in on a Gym).
- MOST IMPORTANTLY – we need the relationship – all of these people sought God’s direction or adopted it in the context of a daily relationship of some sort with God.
- We also need the sense of calling and purpose. Without that we will not really want to get out of bed in the morning.
- And like them we need to be seekers. Again and again in the bible is the ones who diligently and seriously seek God that are rewarded. (See Deut 4:29; 1 Chron 16:10-11; 2 Chron 7:14; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 27:8; Psalm 63:1; Psalm 105:4; Prov 8:17; Isaiah 55:6; Jeremiah 29:13. Hebrews 11:6;)
When Jesus rebukes Peter he lays it out clearly to the crowds. this was for all who were listening too, not just his close disciples:
Mar 8:34 – 38. Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
It is a call to risk and faith after all.
- And at the end, Jesus would have remembered those affirming voices at his baptism and on the mountain of transfiguration – when hanging in agony on the cross.
- Peter would have remembered his great confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi when he hung upside down on his cross. That confession made at a place named after a Roman Emperor – he confessed his faith in the Christ – for whom he would die too. Peter didn’t falter then.
- God willing, on our deathbeds I pray that his words of affirmation to us will be in our minds and on our lips. After all we are brother and sisters of Christ our elder brother the beloved. We too are dearly loved children of God (See John 1:12; 2 Cor 5:17; Romans 8:16: John 3:16).
Readings: Exodus 1:8; 2:1-4; Hebrews 11:22-29
In my Jewish studies module years ago, we had a lovely Rabbi who taught us. He’s the one who gave me a lift home once and offered me a job. There was a shortage of rabbis at the time. His words were something like this: “it only requires a small operation”. As you can see I stayed with the Presbyterians.
I remember him very distinctly referring to this line in Exodus 1 as a key shift in the story and drama of his people. I’ll say it the way he said it because it’s much more authentic. And to see if you can pick it up. I’ll give you a clue – list for the last word which is a name.
וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף
“There arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”
Genesis 50 ends with Joseph being embalmed in Egypt. Surely people would remember the one who saved them from famine in such an amazing way. The one who dreamed a dream.
The one who was at Pharaoh’s right hand and had all that power. They must have told the story in Egypt. That cup bearer surely remembered Joseph, or did he forget again like he did the first-time causing Joseph to spend an extra two years in prison?
That’s if you take the word “know” as “know about”. There are people who have no idea about their history – or the history of a nation and its heritage. It happens here – the Christian heritage is blotted out from peoples’ memories because the stories are not passed down. It makes it all the more urgent to tell them – teach them – remind people – giving them reasons for the hope that we have – because God is still at work in this country. And of course families have to pass on the story of faith to children and grandchildren.
But there’s another possible layer to that word “know”. It can also mean that he did not look with approval, or did not want to acknowledge his contribution. You know how we say that someone just doesn’t want to know something.
Either way this is about change. This is life. You have agreements – the next generation disregards them. You have a boss and a new one comes and everything changes.
Change is constant everywhere. That’s why the essence of the Christian faith is trust, and hope and not certainty or predictability.
You get changes at work, or move from work to no work. Changes in life when someone dies. Changes in health. Changes in marital status, things that shake your world and can shatter your confidence or self-esteem.
We have to hold on to God’s promises, just has Joseph did when he was dying held to the promises – remember from last week? Gen 50:24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Things can change suddenly – our white island volcano may erupt any day when we’re not expecting it. And especially when change happens, God raises up a new way through the wilderness or the flood or the fire – whatever the challenge is.
He always steps in.
This new king has a plan to kill the Hebrews babies. God raises up brave midwives who save so many of them.
We can’t read this whole story in one day. I just know that losing babies for any reason is one of the most appalling traumas and engenders huge deep grinding grief.
In the midst of terrible treatment of the slaves and this treacherous plan to kill babies, you get these verses of hope at the end of Exodus 1.
Listen as the story continues:
Exo 1:15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, Exo 1:16 “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” Exo 1:17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Exo 1:18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” Exo 1:19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” Exo 1:20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. Exo 1:21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
Of course, there have to be more than two midwives. Otherwise it would be a bit hectic like places in New Zealand where there aren’t enough of them. But this story records these two specifically. I love their answer about the Hebrew women being more vigorous than the Egyptian ones.
I love that they fear God and take risks in the face of tyranny.
But it gets worse in verse 22 as all people are ordered to kill these baby boys:
Exo 1:22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
You can imagine families listening to this being read to them as Jewish families passed on the story. How awful to imagine such cruelty.
But as the kids take a breather and go for a quick drink of water, they can come back to listen to the ongoing story.
Chapter 2: (says the reader/dad)
Exo 2:1 Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, Exo 2:2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. Exo 2:3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. Exo 2:4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
This unnamed couple have a son. Of course he was a fine child. Every baby is beautiful! This is their third baby, and he must have looked really special.
The writer to the Hebrews backs this up in 11:23: (ESV) Heb 11:23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
The NIV has this: Heb_11:23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
The child was exceptional, elegant, well formed (in the Latin).
I love this passage. There is a sense of expectancy in the midst of their crisis here:
- There is this unusual child, as some of the translations say.
- Jochebed – the mother whose name we hear of later, hides him for three months. How do you do that. Did he never bleep?
- Miriam – the sister, well listen to the message’s version:
The baby’s older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. She was probably about 15.
Such anticipation. Mum sticks your brother in a basket in a river probably with crocodiles in it and you cross your fingers.
They would have no idea what the outcome would be. Or did they?
Sometimes things can be overwhelming and we wonder – what difference can I really make? It’s all too much. This world has crazy things happening right now.
There are heroes in this story who would have also felt their world was going nuts.
- Midwives are not supposed to kill babies.
- Mums are not supposed to put your baby in a basket in a river and let him float away.
- Men are not supposed to be treated so ruthlessly as those Hebrew slaves were treated.
Let’s hear the end of this chapter of the story as we end today and come to the table which symbolizes God saving people in hopeless situations through the cross of Christ.
This is the point of it all. God does work in impossible situations.
The outcome is neat. Precious really. Listen. Here’s the last reading for today:
Miriam is watching on tippy toes (v4). Imagine dad reading this to the kids before bed. They might have said “what happened next?”
Here it is.
Exo 2:5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. Exo 2:6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Exo 2:7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Exo 2:8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Exo 2:9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. Exo 2:10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
Perfect. What a great ending.
The baby killer’s daughter takes him out the river.
Young Miriam bravely offers to get a nurse for him – Moses’ mother– and there it is. The baby killer’s daughter even pays Moses’ mum a wage to nurse him. By about the end of his second year or maybe even the third she would give her son back to a princess.
God was at work. Using whoever he chooses for his purposes.
There’s a South African saying that goes like this: “Moenie worry nie, watch net.” Don’t worry, just watch this.
Be like Miriam at the river side watching on tip does to see what will happen to a three month old boy in a river at a time when he had a death sentence on him.
We used to sing this song by “Living Sound” years ago: “God can do it again and again and again, He’s he same God today as he ever has been, yesterday and today, now forever ever the same, God can do it again and again and again.”
What did I say earlier? There is no certainty in life that we can depend on – only faith. The centre of the Christian faith is not certainty or predictability, but faith – trust and hope. As Hebrews 11:1 reminds us: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen” (KJV) or “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV)
- Kings that don’t “know Joseph” are always rising up in the land.
- People in power will always manipulate the truth to get what they want (the Hebrews weren’t really getting to be more numerous than the Egyptians. It’s almost as if they become reclassified by today’s political standards as terrorists.
- Change is certain, and what does that call us to? It calls us to trust, to trust the Lord of the covenant who is constant in His love and in His self-giving in the midst of change.
- And the people in this story must speak to us about our capacity to make a difference whoever we are and however humble our position in life. There are five great women in this account who have no great power but yet have great influence (our Famous Five if you like).
Moses’ mother Jochebed, (named later in Exo 6:20) Shiphrah and Puah the midwives. Miriam the 15-year-old big sister. And The Egyptian princess.
it’s been described been described as a “cross-cultural intergenerational alliance of these women”. Shiphrah and Puah, Jochebed, Miriam and the Pharaoh’s daughter who all disobey the king. Our famous five live out faith with genius and courage.
A commentator writes this: “God uses what the patriarchal and power-hungry Pharaohs of the world consider as low and despised in their eyes (Hebrew women) as instruments to shame and overthrow the arrogant and the strong.” (Dennis Olson)
You get a similar theme of the lowly over throwing the strong in the prayers of two other famous women – Hannah and Mary. (Our famous five become the super seven!)
Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10) – 1Sa 2:7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 1Sa 2:8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s; upon them he has set the world. 1Sa 2:9 He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. “It is not by strength that one prevails;
Mary – Luk 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord Luk 1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, Luk 1:48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, Luk 1:52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
Paul continues along the same lines in 1 Corinthians 1. – 1Co 1:26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 1Co 1:27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1Co 1:28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 1Co 1:29 so that no one may boast before him.
And there’s this lovely connection with the bigger story. The word for boat/basket for baby Moses is only used one other time – and it’s the word for the ark (Noah’s ark).
And Moses’ is named by the princess (traditionally his parent name for him is said to have been Joachim.) And Moses (Mashah – Moshe) – means “one who draws out” – pointing forward as he will draw them out of Egypt. The Exodus story is that rescue.
More about Moses next time. The plot will thicken!
For today let’s remind ourselves of the one greater than Moses who is our rescuer as we come to the Lord’s table. We meet here with Jesus who also modelled humility before victory is totally trustworthy and he empowers us too.
Watch and see what God can do in our generation.
Through ordinary people like us.
Readings: Acts 4:23-37; Romans 15:1-7; John 14:25-27;
- Are you a son/daughter of encouragement?
There are many Bible people – like Barnabus (Acts 4:36), Tychicus (Acts 13:15; 20:2) and others, who are very encouraging people. Barnabus gets our main attention today. Luke introduces him in the reading from Acts 4:
Act 4:36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), Act 4:37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Barnabus’ name means “son of prophecy” in Aramaic. In Luke’s Greek it becomes “son of encouragement”.
Lloyd Ogilvie, during his tenure as Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California (a church noted for more than half a century as a centre for biblical preaching and exposition) writes this in his commentary on Acts:
In two brief verses we are introduced to one of the most admirable personalities of the New Testament. If all we had to enable us to know this man’s character were these two verses, we’d still have enough to stand in admiration and then desire to be like him.
I think one of our home groups should be telling the story of Barnabus. They have been studying him in detail.
My attention to him is with mixed motives. I want us to be like him – yes. But I also would like us to understand the significance of groups that use his name – like the Barnabus Fund – as we approach our World Mission Sunday focussing on the persecuted church around the world.
This man is Joses – or Joseph. He is from Cyprus where there was a colony of Jews. A Levite. And a cousin of John Mark – so he had connections in the Jerusalem church. (Mark was mentored by Peter of course).
Ogilvie suggests that if Joses aka Joseph from Cyprus, names Barnabus by the apostles, would have been in Jerusalem at Pentecost, or at least after that when the Holy Spirit came in power. His life was changed. By the Holy Spirit – became committed in full to God’s work – hence his generosity. (Churches today that give, give fully in response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and a passion for God’s work!).
Here’s the wonderful thing.
I wonder if you picked up on the link between the readings today?
Lurking beneath the words in English (and not beneath the surface of our murky dams that we spoke about last week) – are treasures and gems.
Encouragement is a key word in the reading from Acts and Romans. In Acts 4 we are introduced to Barnabus. In Romans 15 encouragement comes from God – with endurance – in Paul’s prayer for a spirit of unity amongst the Roman believers.
Rom 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Rom 15:5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus
The Gospel passage is the one in which the word treasures are hidden!
Joh 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. Joh 14:26 But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Joh 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
So what is the link?
- Yes – peace is encouraging.
- Not letting your hearts be troubled is an encouragement to be steady in faith and feelings.
- The power word?
Verse 26. the Counsellor.
Here’s the lovely truth. Ogilvie puts it best really:
The apostles, who spoke Aramaic, named him Barnabas. The name is power-packed, having the meaning “son of prophecy,” from bar, “son of,” combined with nebū‘ā, “prophecy.” Some scholars have given it a slightly different emphasis, “son of refreshment.” In Luke’s Greek, however, we have the reflection not just of translation into another language, but the intimate personal observation by the physician of Joses of Cyprus. In a powerful parenthesis, Luke uses huiòs paraklḗseōs, which can be rendered “son of consolation, exhortation, or encouragement.” It is exciting to understand that the same basic word was used to translate Jesus’ Aramaic promise of the ministry of the Holy Spirit:
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Joh_14:16-18).
In this case the Greek word for “Helper,” or as it is in the RSV “Counselor,” paráklētos, means one who is called to one’s side to help who strengthens and helps us to stand. Joses had clearly displayed inherent inclination toward being that kind of person.
huiòs paraklḗseōs and paráklētos are the two key words.
Barnabus got his name because he was emulating the work of the Comforter – the helper – the Holy Spirit. He was empowered by the spirit! Clearly!
And of course it’s not a trick. Comfort and encourage are very close to each other in meaning.
- Encourage from French into Middle English. It means to “make strong” or “hearten”. Or to put in courage! To spur on. To help.
- Comfort is stolen from Latin. Com-forte means to strengthen much! Fortis is Latin for strong! Forte is the Italian term for loud or strong in music! (Piano means soft! Pianoforte means a soft loud – as it has a pedal I suppose!)
Encouraging people come along side you and sustain, strengthen and uplift you.
Is that you? Am I always like that? Great questions.
We will revisit Barnabus again. I encourage you (in the very ordinary sense of urge, prompt and suggest to you) that you look him up in your bibles through the week.
For today a couple of important matters. Are you a son/daughter of encouragement – was our first question or point today.
The second is this – how do we become like this? Point 2 is simple – the Bible and encouragement.
- The bible and encouragement
Listen to Romans 15 again – in case you missed it. We focussed on verse 5. Listen to verse 4 again:
Rom 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Rom 15:5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.
You can’t be encouraging unless you know the truths of scripture. Like you can’t know God’s character without knowing your bible – and you can’t get to know and trust God without knowing his character!
The endurance and ENCOURAGEMENT of the Scriptures brings hope!
Barnabus’ name is close to the name of the Holy Spirit – and the two go hand in in hand – the Bible, the word of God, and the work of the Spirit!
Here’s a good biblical reason to illustrate that they are two sides of the same coin.
Letting the Word of God make its home in us, and being filled with the Spirit!
Two of Paul’s letters show this clearly. Colossians and Ephesians.
Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Col 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, Eph 5:19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, Eph 5:20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The outcome of the input of both word and Spirit is worship, praise and thanksgiving and gratitude.
And people like that are very encouraging to have around.
A further thought today about people who are like God and speak God’s word to us in a prophetic sense. And so our third point:
We saw that Barnabus in Aramaic meant “son of prophecy”.
It’s interesting that prophecy is the most desirable gift in 1 Corinthians 14. But this is not like the Old Testament prophets’ way. Paul writes this;
1 Corinthians 14:3 – But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.
God wants to speak into our lives – through his word, his Spirit, and the proclamation of preaching and prophecy (or prophetic preaching) to build us up.
We need to be strong. The battle is tough! How much more for the persecuted church!
But finally, our last point:
- God and Jesus encourage us.
If figures really. The Holy Spirit the comforter/encourager is just like them!
Listen to Paul in 2 Thessalonians: 2Th 2:16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 2Th 2:17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
What a lovely blessing!
Lloyd Ogilvie shares about the Barnabus name again in this way. A good way to end our thoughts today: He talks about Luke – and suggests that Luke may have known Paul’s letter to the Ephesians or heard him dictate it and understood his desire for the church to be like Christ in chapter 4. He says this of this passage: “It is a charter and guide for a challenging Order of Saint Barnabas in any congregation today.”
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Eph_4:1-3, Eph_4:30-32).
He concludes: “ Only the indwelling Lord could produce an affirmer and encourager like Barnabas. And it all was focused in his stable loyalty to the Lord, to his friends, and to new believers. What would we do without the Barnabases? And with the Paraklētos in us, can’t we go beyond just emulating Barnabas, and become the Lord’s own unique miracle of an encourager? Whatever our name is now, it can be loyal encourager.”
Reading: Psalm 91:1 – 6 ; 14 –16 Preacher: Ann Martin
Part 1 verses 1-6
(Story) John was struggling with failing health, financial concerns and depression. In desperation he made an appointment to see the Vicar, wary of platitudes and dubious about the prospect of relief from his troubles. The young pastor listened to John’s concerns before opening the Bible at Psalm 91. The Word of God proceeded to provide healing and hope to John in a way that no medicine and indeed no minister ever could. John was like a different man afterwards because God had spoken directly to him. On the surface nothing had changed, but the knowledge that God was with him in the “deadly diseases” and ”the terror of the night” was enough to bring comfort.
Psalm 90 reminds us that the Lord is ”a dwelling place” throughout all generations (v1). Now Psalm 91 reminds us that He is also a ’shelter’ from the storms of life’ a ‘refuge’ when we are frightened and a ‘fortress’ that keeps us safe from attack.
Exodus 14 v 13-14 tells us: Fear not, stand still (firm, confident, undismayed) and see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today…The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace and remain at rest.
When troubled times come our way, one of our biggest challenges is to stay calm. Our natural tendencies are to fear, to worry and to try to do something to fix the situation or solve the problem. But we must learn to get our emotions under control, so we can think clearly, act wisely and pray in faith.
Moses often had to help the Israelites calm down. When Pharaoh’s army was gaining ground on them, they kept running, but knew they were headed straight for the Red Sea. Death seemed certain. Exodus tells us the people were frightened and angry with Moses, and they decided they would have been better off as slaves to the Egyptians than trying to outrun Pharaoh’s soldiers. Moses said “Stop it! I know the situation looks hopeless, but don’t be afraid. Just be still for a minute and watch what God is going to do for you”. Before Pharaoh’s army reached the Israelites, God rolled back the waters of the Red Sea so His people could cross over on dry land. When they were all on the other side, the sea closed again and Pharaoh’s fighters were drowned.
This same miracle working God is on our side still. He still fights for His people. Our job, if we belong to Him is to “hold our peace and remain at rest.
There are some things in the Christian life that we do not need to ask for—they are part and parcel of God’s provision for us as His children. And the continued presence of Jesus Christ in our lives is one of them. But concerning some things in life, we would have to say in all honesty that we are not sure if we know the mind of God about them. Thus, before we can proceed, we pray for light and direction. But no Christian need be unsure of God’s promise to dwell in the hearts of those who are His children. He has put the issue beyond all possible doubt by assuring us that He is always with us.
Why then do we find ourselves so often praying for God to be with us, instead of simply affirming it? We need this to be a deep conviction so that, when adverse conditions develop, we will not be left wondering if He is still with us.
Opinions are something we hold. Convictions are something that hold us. So drop your anchor into the depths of this reassuring and encouraging revelation and never again raise the anchor. God is with you always. Let the truth pass from being an opinion, into a firmly held conviction. Behind it lies all the authority of heaven.
Psalm 91 v 2 tells us this: “I will say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God; on Him I lean and rely, and in Him I (confidently) trust”
When we are frustrated, it is often because we are trying to do something in our own strength, instead of putting our faith in God and receiving His grace and help.
Little faith can become great faith when we see the faithfulness of God as He meets our needs. You can become a person who enjoys great peace by trusting God.
One thing that is clear about the area of relationships is this, ”relationships can hurt”. A friend of mine says “God calls us to relate to people who are guaranteed to hurt us and fail us”. Which is why we must find a source of security that is not in people, but in God, the unfailing One. This does not mean we must withdraw from people, but that we do not use them as the source of our life. Once we see that God and God alone is our true security then when earthly relationships fail we are shaken but not shattered. There will be a 5 foot drop and not a 1000 foot one.
How will secure people behave when in the midst of a broken relationship? Having reminded themselves that God’s grace is ever sufficient and having looked at any way in which they may have contributed to the difficulty and thrown themselves in utter dependency upon God, they will be strong enough to sit back and wait for God to show them exactly what to do. Once you move your point of dependency from horizontal to vertical and are following God’s direction and guidance in all things, then, though you may still hurt, you will not be destroyed.
Psychiatrist Leonard Zunin said: ”Loneliness is mankind’s biggest problem” and is the main reason behind the many and varied symptoms I see in the people who present themselves before me day after day. By loneliness I don’t mean aloneness. There is a great difference. It is possible to be alone and yet not lonely.It is also possible to be lonely in a crowd.
What is loneliness? It is the feeling we get when we are denied meaningful human companionship. It is a sense of isolation, of inner emptiness, deprivation and worthlessness. The poet Rupert Brooke tells how, when he first set sail from Liverpool to New York on 22nd May,1913, he felt terribly lonely because no one had come to see him off. Everyone else had friends waving then goodbye– but not he. Looking down from the deck, he saw a scruffy little boy and swift as thought he ran down the gangway and said to him “Will you wave to me if I give you sixpence”? “Why yes” said the little boy. The sixpence changed hands and that day Rupert Brooke wrote in his diary “I got my sixpence worth in an enthusiastic farewell.
Those who have never felt the pangs of loneliness will find it hard to understand a story like that. But to others it will carry a world of meaning. It is a desolating experience to be lonely. Yet the Presence of God can become so real as to dispel all feelings of loneliness. We need never feel lonely, or in danger or afraid because God’s Word assures us of His protection and company whenever and wherever we are.
Deuteronomy 31 v 6 “Be strong, courageous and firm; fear not nor be in terror,…….. for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you”.
If we know by faith that God is with us, we can take on any challenge with confidence and courage. We may not always feel God’s presence, but we can trust His Word and remember that He said He would never leave us or forsake us.
God encouraged Joshua again, saying, ”Be strong, vigorous, and very courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Basically, God was saying to Joshua, ”You have a big job to do, but don’t let it intimidate you. Fear not. Do not be afraid, because I will be with you.”
In the Bible, the basis for not fearing is simply this; God is with us. And if we know God’s character and nature, we know He is trustworthy. We do not have to know what He is going to do; simply knowing He is with us is more than enough.
Isaiah 41 v 10 Fear not, (there is nothing to fear) for I am with you, do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God, and I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties.
What does this mean? It means God makes us stronger and stronger as we go through things. It means that over time, we become less affected by the difficulties and challenges we face. It is like exercise. When we first do it, we get sore, but as we press through the soreness, we build muscle and gain strength. We must go through the pain to get the gain.
If God removed all challenges, we would never grow and overcome obstacles. He often permits difficulty in our lives because He is trying to reveal something that needs to be strengthened or changed in us. Our weaknesses are never revealed in good times, but they quickly show up in times of trial and stress. Sometimes He shows us what we are afraid of because He wants to deliver us from that fear and strengthen us for things that will come in the future. In those times, we need to say, ”Thank You God, for allowing me to see that fear in my life. It reveals an area that needs to be dealt with in me.” Once that particular area of fear is dealt with, the enemy will have a very hard time bothering you—and succeeding—in that area again.
Think of a situation that once made you fearful but you now handle without fear. Some things you go through in life may not feel good initially, but they will work out for your good if you keep going forward and trust God to strengthen you each step of the way.
The Psalms are full of references to God’s saving grace, His presence and protection. I did a little study and before I had gotten halfway through the book of Psalms, I had found more than 24 places that tell of God being with us to save and to protect us and to be a fortress for us.
Let me read Psalm 91 verses 1– 6 again, but this time in the first person. “If I go to the Lord for safety, if I remain under the protection of the Almighty, I can say to Him, ”You are my defender and protector. You are my God, in You I trust. You will keep me safe from all hidden dangers and from all deadly diseases. You will cover me with Your wings and I will be safe in Your care. Your faithfulness will protect and Defend me. I need not fear any dangers at night or sudden attacks during the day.”
An incident, while on holiday recently, illustrates God’s care rather well. We were staying by the Lake at McLaren Falls Park near Tauranga. We saw several families of ducks. One mother had fourteen ducklings. Brian picked one up. The Mother duck made such a fuss. When Brian put it down it made straight for Mother and she fussed over it and kept it close under her wings.
Part 2 Verses 14-16.
This portion of Psalm 91 is like an echo of the first part but this time from God’s point of view.
(story) On a chilly March afternoon (Northern Hemisphere) before going home for dinner Pastor Walter Klempel fired up the church furnace in preparation for Choir Practice. When it was time to return to Church with his family they were delayed because his daughter changed her clothes. At the same time student Ladona Vadergrift was struggling with a geometry problem and stayed at home to work on it. Sisters Sadie and Royena Estes’ car wouldn’t start. Herbert Kipf lingered over a letter he’d put off writing. Pianist Marilyn Paul fell asleep after dinner and her Mum the Choir director had trouble waking her. Pals Lucille Jones and Dorothy Wood were late because of a radio broadcast. Every single choir member was late; something that’s never happened before or since. Was it just a fluke? No! At 7.30pm that night the West Side Church was flattened by an explosion from a gas leak ignited by the furnace….directly below the EMPTY Choir Seats.
God’s looking out for you, when you don’t even know you’re in danger! As His child you, ”live within the shadow of the Almighty”…..sheltered by …God…He rescues you from every trap. He will shield you with His wings….His promises are your armour….He orders His angels to protect you wherever you go (Ps 91 v 1-11). The Bible says, “the Angel of the Lord guards and rescues all who reverence Him (Psalm 34 v7) To trust in God means safety (Psalm29 v 25)
You can call it coincidence, chance, fate or you can call it what it really is—divine protection.
After the September 11th Twin Tower disaster many people told of why they were late that day and so survived. And I am sure you have heard of other occasions when God demonstrated His protection over us.
The film “Bruce Almighty” is mainly an excuse for a series of plastic explosions from Jim Carrey, but there is some pretty good sermon material in there too. Bruce keeps hearing voices building up. He discovers they are people’s prayers waiting for an answer. He attempts to answer them individually through email, but finds he just can’t keep up with the demand, until finally he sets his email to automatically respond, ”Yes” for every request. Good idea he thinks. Everybody gets what they want. The film goes on to illustrate the pandemonium this care-free, couldn’t-care -less approach to prayer has. It makes an important point. Prayer is not about having God as your personal ’genie in a bottle’. Prayer is about living in a relationship with God. Prayer is a gift, not a duty. Prayer is about getting close to God. Yes, sometimes He will give us what we want, but sometimes He won’t. God loves us so much that sometimes He gives us what we need and not what we ask.
Sometimes, it will seem like He’s not even answering. God is your Father, and the time you spend with Him is the point.
Psalm 145 v 18 reminds us: “The Lord is close to everyone who prays to Him, to all who truly pray to Him.
Similarly, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, is hooked up to the Internet. Using the Internet, subscribers can send email to other internet users. So when “The New Yorker” magazine published Bill Gates email address, he quickly got into Trouble with email overload. Now, anyone on the Internet was able to email the computer genius. In no time he was swamped with thousands of messages– he simply couldn’t handle it. So he armed his computer with software that filtered his email, allowing important messages through and sending all the others to electronic oblivion.
We are limited, we can handle only so much and do only so much— God on the other hand, never tires of Smail, (spirit mail). His ear is always open to our prayers. And He has an unlimited capacity to help. You’ll never hear Him say. “Due to an unusually high call volume I am unable to take your message at this time. Please call back or leave a message.” No! The Bible says, ”he shall call upon Me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. Psalm 91 v 15.
“The desire of the righteous will be gratified (Proverbs 10 v 24)
“The prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15 v 8)
“Call to me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know (Jeremiah 33 v 3)
“If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. (John 15 v 7)
It’s impossible to be a healthy Christian without a good prayer life.
So let’s check:
- How’s my consistency? If you can’t remember when you last took time to pray, you need to do something about it. Without prayer you’re uncovered and unprotected.
- How’s my sincerity? Are my prayers more liturgy (ritual) than life? Daily, but dull and dry? That’s because you don’t know enough about who you’re talking to, or how He feels about you. The better you know Him, the more time you’ll want to spend with Him.
3. How’s my faith? Do you wonder if prayer really changes anything? Or why on earth a God in Heaven would want to talk to you, or hear anything you had to say? (If He already knows it all, what can you tell Him anyway? And if He decides everything, why even bother?
Prayer is not for God’s benefit—it’s for ours. Where else can we go to bare our souls without fear, and walk away cleansed, comforted, counselled and corrected? Our Prayers work, not because of how well we say them, but because of how well He hears them.
We don’t have to understand prayer to enjoy it’s benefits, any more than we have to understand aerodynamics in order to fly. Just do it! Pray! Get on the plane and trust the Pilot to take you where you need to go. Forget about the wrapping, and just give the gift. It’s better to pray awkwardly, than not at all.
“He will call upon Me, and I will answer Him” (Psalm 91 v 15) There it is in black and white. God’s invitation to ask and His promise to answer. What more do you need?
Prayer is an unnatural activity! From birth we’re taught the rules of self-reliance. Growing up we struggle to achieve self-sufficiency. Prayer flies in the face of those deep-seated values! It’s an indictment of independent living.
To people in the fast lane, prayer is an embarrassing interruption, totally alien to our proud human nature. Yet all of us reach the point of falling on our knees and praying. We may look both ways to be sure nobody’s watching; we may even blush’ but in spite of the foreignness of the activity—we pray. Why? Because the most intimate communion with God comes only with prayer! Ask people who’ve faced tragedy or trial, heartbreak or grief, failure or fear, loneliness or discrimination. Ask what happened in their souls when they finally fell on their knees and poured out their hearts to the Lord; ”I can’t explain it, but I felt like God understood me. I felt a comfort and peace I’d never known before.”
And isn’t that what God promised? (Philippians 4v6-7) “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.” You won’t believe the changes that will occur in your life once you are convinced to the core of your being, that God is willing, that He is able, and that He has invited you to come before His throne to do business in prayer.
We love to be generous to our children. That’s why Jesus said (Matthew 7 v 11) “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?” Think how brutal this would be if it represented your attitude as a parent, (a) I’m too busy, I don’t want to hear about your lost bike, or your school problem. (b) don’t bother me with your personal requests. I’ll take care of everyone else but you. If you love me you’ll survive on bread and water. (c) sure I’m rich, but why should I give you anything –back off! Good parents don’t talk like that because they don’t feel that way about their children; they want only the best for them. So take a good parent’s feeling for his or her child, multiply it hugely, and you’ll have a slight idea of how your Heavenly Father feels about you. Nobody’s voice sounds sweeter to Him than yours. Nothing in the world would keep Him from directing His full attention to your requests. So come to Him every day in prayer.
An enemy had just arrived, intent on wiping out Israel. So Moses says to Joshua. ”Take your best soldiers and go out to meet them. I’m taking two men and I’m going to climb that hill that overlooks the planes, raise my hands toward heaven and pray for victory.” As Moses hands stretched heaven ward, Joshua’s troops prevailed in battle. But when Moses’ arms grew weary, and he dropped them to his side the tide of battle shifted before his eyes. Joshua’s troops were being struck down. Again Moses stretched his arms towards heaven bringing the matter before the Lord. Immediately, the battle’s momentum shifts back to Joshua. Then Moses realises—if he wants to open the door to God’s supernatural intervention here on earth, he must keep his arms stretched toward heaven in prayer.
So, If you’re willing to invite God to involve Himself in your daily living, you’ll experience His power in your home, your relationships, your career, and wherever else it’s needed.
But the other side of the equation is sobering, it is hard for God to release His power in your life when you put your hands in your pockets and say, ”I can handle this on my own.”
If you do that, don’t be surprised if you get the nagging feeling that the tide of battle has shifted against you. And that you’re powerless to do anything about it. Too many of us are willing to settle for lives like that. Are you one of them? In Psalm 91 we read of a God who responds to us. Check this out, (verse 15) ”When they call on Me, I will answer” Wow! That’s a wonderful promise!
Who is this God who will answer us? The psalmist tells us that He is the ”Most High the Almighty (v1) Both terms stress His position and limitless power. And in verse 2 we read that He is Yahweh, the great ”I am”, who is our Lord.
Psalm 91 calls for us to take shelter in the Lord. It assures us that God will protect us from danger.
In verses 3 & 4 it features the metaphors of a mother bird and of armour as our protection as it details the fullness of His power and presence. The picture of a mother bird safely tucking her young under her wings. There they are secure. There is a very tender touch stressing the warmth of God’s love and concern. But not only is there a tenderness in God’s care, there is also a toughness as is seen in the imagery of the armour. God Himself promises to keep in safety those who love Him and call to Him. He does reply and watch over us.
You must make a Choice to take a Chance or your life will never Change.
Do you know the ABBA song “Take a chance on me”? Well! I challenge you to take a chance on God.
Make the choice to take a chance on God and Your life will change for the better.
I leave you with Jeremiah 33 v 3: “Call on me and I will answer you. I will tell you wonderful and marvellous things that you know nothing about.”
God bless you.
Readings: Psalm 25:1-6; Romans 5: 1-5; Matthew 12:9-21
Over the years I have often spent time with people who have been nearing the end of their lives. Thankfully there have not been too many children. It’s hard to explain to little children what we believe about time and eternity. I remember when teaching year 2s how one little boy asked me one day during the lesson: “Is David dead?” speaking of King David in the Bible. “O yes” I replied, “a long time ago!” Then the questions came: “When was he alive?” “Did he die as long ago as when I was small? How long is a thousand years?”
With adults – when you’ve lived a long life – dying seems easier to face, although it can still be a fearful thing. And HOPE is always factored in – the HOPE of life after death. For Christians, it’s the certainty.
Hope isn’t just a concept when we’re dying. It’s something we have when the stuff we are facing each day feels like death! Like a long lesson for young people at school – or a boring sermon in church (I recall seeing a whole book about things you can do during a boring sermon) – or a difficult task at work, or the prospect of the day being long and uninspiring, or lonely. The HOPE of Friday and the weekend seem to keep many people going. And also those who are hopeful as they look forward to Christmas and the holidays!
In the readings tonight – we read David’s words in Psalm 25: No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. Hope here is closer to trust. His enemies were real and his war a real war. His faith in God’s presence with him extends to the hope that God would give him success.
For St Paul, there are troubles too. The Christian life is not a simple life – listen to the progression of ideas which include hope:
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Rom 5:3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
Rom 5:4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Rom 5:5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
It sounds like a challenging ride. Sufferings – Perseverance – Character are aspects of a life of faith and adventure. They produce HOPE – not just because we hope for things to get better (i.e. no more trials and tribulations) but, for Paul, this HOPE does not disappoint us! It’s not a vain hope. Why? Because we are not alone – because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us! God’s love keeps us through these trials!
Love is a powerful thing! Think of your grandchildren today – who seem to plod along. When teenagers fall in love – especially the boys – it’s amazing what can change in their lives!
God’s love is a different kind of love – not romantic, although the prophets complained that when people turned their backs on God that they were being unfaithful and adulterous– not physical, although the relationship between Jesus and the Church is described as that of a Bridegroom and a bride!
God’s love is POWERFUL and strengthening. His presence gives us confidence and courage – whether we are facing challenges in life or death at the end of life – we are full of hope which does not disappoint.
I love hopeful people!
* They are optimistic!
* They look for solutions.
* They are open minded and good listeners – because they see the best in people, even when they may have made mistakes.
And you can’t get a more hopeful person than Jesus. He chooses people for his leadership team who you would not have on your short list.
* He takes the rough and risky ones like Peter – knowing that the impulsiveness was not always a weakness, but a sign of strength in the long term. He knew that Peter – even though he would fail – would be strengthened in character to the extent that he could face anything.
* He models hope in his life and death as well. At Christmas, Easter is never far from our thoughts as this was God’s whole plan – and we are consistently reminded again – that the worst possible scenario – DEATH – was overcome by resurrection. That gives us hope.
And so as you face your week ahead, remember
– That Sunrise follows the darkness of the night
– That Spring brings new growth after the desperation of a bad winter
– That a new beginning follows every failure or disappointment.
As we close tonight there is a challenge for us to pray as we are reminded of a verse from the readings in Matthew 12:21: “In his name the nations will put their hope.”
It’s a great prophecy quoted by Matthew from Isaiah 42. While we don’t see countries putting their hope in Him, nations here is not necessarily governments. It more than likely refers to the variety of people on the earth. Ethnoi is the word, from which we get the word ethnic. Our city is very cosmopolitan – and the great news is that many nations are coming to find Jesus as their hope.
May you be encouraged in your prayers to continue to pray for all without hope, and especially for those who are desperate in this city – that they may be drawn to a Christian fellowship where they can meet this hope of nations, Jesus.
Readings: Philippians 4:4-8; John 13:1-5; I Peter 5:7
We are so very connected in this generation. The trouble is that we get so much bad news so quickly. By text, phone, email, skype, facebook, twitter and plane old TV it comes our way. Too much bad news is discouraging and can be depressing as well. Think about the news that we do get. Here are some examples.
PERSONAL NEWS – one man put a bumper sticker on his car that said: “Eat Right, Exercise, Die Anyway.” The Bible seems to back this up as Proverbs 5:11 says, “At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent.” A body that doesn’t cooperate is certainly depressing. A lot of personal news we receive is about people who are suffering in various ways.
INCOME TAXES for some people are depressing. I read that in a survey that most Americans would rather be mugged than audited by the IRS. Jesus did say of course, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21).
A story about taxes: A little boy wanted $100 badly for a new toy and prayed to the Lord for two weeks but nothing happened. Then he decided to write a letter to the Lord requesting the $100. When the postal authorities received the letter addressed to the Lord they decided to send it to President Bush. The President was so impressed, touched, and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a $5.00 bill. President Bush thought this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy. The little boy was delighted with the $5.00 and sat down to write a thank‑you note to the Lord. It said: Dear Lord, Thank you very much for sending me the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington, DC and as usual, those jerks deducted $95.
FINANCIAL PROBLEMS create stress too. I often hear voice mails that go like this: “you know what to do”… One man put this message on his answering machine. “Hi. This is John: If you are the phone company, I already sent the money. If you are my parents, please send money. If you are my financial aid institution, you didn’t lend me enough money. If you are my friends, you owe me money. If you are a female, don’t worry I have plenty of money.”
Again the bible seems sympathetic. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” It is depressing be enslaved by debt. One man commented, “If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.”
The list goes on. And most of these things have been around for a long long time. Add to this PERSONAL FAILURE and BAD RELATIONSHIPS.
There are some challenges that are really disconcerting however in this generation. A LACK OF PURPOSE is a big one. In the movie Fight Club, Tyler Durden one of the characters played by Brad Pitt says this:
“We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. Our generation has had no Great Depression, no Great War. Our war is spiritual. Our depression is our lives.”
No purpose leads to depression. Purposeless in life is endemic. It’s a huge problem amongst our teenagers – New Zealand at present has the highest suicide rate amongst young men in the OECD countries. It’s no wonder we really area concerned about building good things into the lives of young men in this community.
The Bible reveals this kind of attitude too, as Solomon wrote, “Everything under the sun is meaningless, like chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). That’s a good reason not to use the bible as a kind of game of chance – opening it up randomly for help – you might land up at that verse! The truth is many Christians feel like life is like chasing the wind.
Strangely PERSONAL SUCCESS can be depressing. Elijah the prophet as an example had the greatest victory in his prophetic ministry, but a few days later was fleeing for his life. He then says: “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4)
Legend has it that Alexander the Great wept after he had conquered the world, saying, “There are no more worlds to conquer.” When you finally reach your goal after working hard, you can experience depression. We are not as famous as Alexander the Great! But if the project or job we do becomes more important than who we are in Christ, we will be in trouble.
PESONAL SIN – of course also causes stress and anxiety. A personal struggle with SIN can be depressing. The Bible soberly reminds us in Titus 3:3 – “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.”
Perhaps you are enslaved by an addiction and the struggle never seems to end and its discouraging to battle the same old behaviours. No need to list those – we are all familiar with them!
Here’s a story to lighten things up a bit: A little boy’s mother had just baked some fresh cookies and placed them on the counter to cool. The little boy made the comment to his mother about how good the cookies smelled. The mother told him he was not to eat any of the cookies. A few minutes passed and the mother walked back into the kitchen and caught the little boy eating one of the cookies. She asked for an explanation to which the little boy replied. ” I climbed up on the counter to smell the cookies and my teeth got caught on one.”
If you find yourself constantly sinking your teeth into sin don’t be surprised if you are feeling down or even depressed. The Bible again reflects this reality in the life of David in Psalm 38, “I am troubled by my sin. O Lord do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God.” David’s sin had caused him to be depressed.
DEALING WITH DISCOURAGEMENT AND DEPRESSION
So what is to be done? So many people struggle with an overwhelming sense of discouragement and even depression. Here are some ways through it:
1. Remember who God is.
PRAYER, PRAISE AND WORSHIP IS THE KEY
We’ve seen already that Bible people got depressed: Even Jesus sounded pretty bad in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” (Mark 14:34). He prayed the most intense prayer and of course his disciples fell asleep!
David! Listen to him: Psalm 42:5. “Why so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Saviour and my God.” David knew that the way out of his depths was to worship. Most people think being on their own helps and they isolate themselves. We know that being together with Christians is a better plan! Pray and worship!
Of course a greater example is Paul and Silas singing Hymns at midnight in jail! There is power in praise!
Prayer, praise and worship put things into context, reminding us to see things from God’s perspective. And of course Paul in our reading from Phillipans 4 tells us: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (v6)
2. Remember what God says!
SOAKING UP SCRIPTURE filling your life with the Bible is a brilliant solution. The Scripture are HUGELY encouraging as they affirm the faithfulness of God in the darkest situation. Even the most well known passages like Psalm 23 have secret keys that unlock our struggles:
23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. The valley of DEEP DARKNESS! Even in the darkness God has promised to be with me!
Soaking up scripture TRANSFORMS our thinking – as we see how faithful God is!
JUST THINK OF JESUS: The ultimate example is Jesus! Success is not necessarily a sign of being on the right track in life! Being on the CROSS in those days was the sign of a curse! The Bible reminds us: Heb 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
But Jesus was on the right track. He was in the right place at the right time. Gethsemane. Before Pilate and Herod. Humiliation and rejection. All exactly right. Dying on the cross – crying out MY GOD WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME. All perfect obedience.
Again read Philippians and 1 Peter 5:7 to put things into perspective. The Peace of God is promised in Scripture, and also Peter tells us to “cast all our anxiety upon him” for he cares for us!
3. Remember who you are!
Our identity and destiny is in our being children of God and co-heirs with Christ. As children of God we are heirs of his promises. That makes us secure just as Jesus was secure as he faced his crucifixion. He knew exactly who he was and what he was about. Today’s gospel reading helps us to see this. Listen to John 13:1-4
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
4. Remember what He has done!
GET CONNECTED WITH THE PAST. Why do I say this? I have often been branded as a modernist, charismatic, anti-establishment kind of person! People love to brand you of course. I am a traditional person actually. I value the TRADITION handed down to us!
I value the so called “main line” church – which includes the Roman Catholic tradition. What Bible would we have today without the meticulous care of the church through the centuries preserving these sacred pages. I value the reformed tradition. That same mother church needed correction – and the Luthers, Calvins, and other great men of God heard God and spoke a corrective word pertinent for their generation. The Bible! Faith! Grace! These are our foundations! I value the Presbyterian tradition! It is a tradition which has ELDERS govern the church. It’s in joint discernment as a community of overseers that we discern The Lord’s will – it prevents us from being mislead by any one individual.
I value especially what Paul tells us about the tradition – that which he passed down to us: I Corinthians 11 tells us:
(v23) For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, (11:24) and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
The Communion service is the one connection we have with the past! It’s through his death – his blood shed – that we find cleansing, healing, restoration and healing.
More than that we meet with Him and he with us in this special communion. Let’s do that now! We do it together – because we are strengthened by one another – by our joint commitment to each other in community. There is one loaf – one body! We belong – and that gives us courage when we are struggling!
And as you take the bread – hand over to God whatever it is that you need to give to him today. The verse we need to focus on is this one – Phillipians 4:6-7 again:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
May you be free from anxiety and discouragement and may the peace of God guard your hearts and minds!