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Sunday 28 August 2016 – The Lord’s Prayer part 3: Your Kingdom Come

Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:16-28; Matthew 6:9-10; 31-33


Praying for the Kingdom to come.

We’ve talked about God as Father – this heavenly Father – and what it means to make his name holy in our lives.

The focus of the prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer” thus far is about honouring and adoring this amazing God.

So close to us – yet so different and perfect – holy is the word we use.

The transition to the next concept may seem all too familiar to us. After all we can pray this prayer blindfolded and without really thinking about the words and their meaning.

  • A Father, loving and faithful
  • A holy God before whom we cry like Isaiah “woe is me” because we are unholy
  • And now a KING.

Images of royalty – singing “God save our gracious Queen” – the idea of a King Charles verses a King William – all these come to mind.

And on Wednesday the world will think again of the tragic death of Princess Diana – and at the same time thinking people will wonder why people made so much fuss, when one considers aspects of her lifestyle.

The current Queen has a much greater sense of duty and decorum – of being worthy of the role she has faithfully carried out.

But what about God as King?

  • If it’s his Kingdom we are to pray for – then he is the King.
  • How do you feel about that?

When you wander into this place on Sunday (whether on time or not) – in the presence of the King – do you think our approach is worthy of his Kingly honour?

Or are we more like people in a shopping mall or a market? Just a thought.

And so three thoughts on how we respond to this:



  1. positions us differently as his subjects.

John the Baptist, and Jesus, spoke about the Kingdom being near. For John the preparation required that people clean up their act. The axe was at the root of the tree – a symbol of judgement.

For Jesus – his ministry ushered in the Kingdom – which was effectively a declaration of war on the powers of darkness – sin, sickness, and sedition if you like. Sedition or revolution – the usurping of power – symbolised by Satan himself who rebelled and was cast out of heaven because his behaviour was not fitting for that holy place.

And Jesus spoke endlessly about this Kingdom – near us, within us, and described in the many parables as a new force with upside down qualities like the first being last, the last being first, and the greatest being servants of all.

If his Kingdom came in Christ – and we are to pray for it to come – we suddenly find ourselves with a different agenda – to line up our lives with the values and standards of this King.

And since the death and resurrection of Christ – and His exaltation – Jesus is the King – the one with the name that is above every other name – whom we worship and obey.(Philippians 2).

Praying for the Kingdom to come as Christians positions us differently – we are no longer self-serving. We serve Him. We obey Him.

And we do this until the end – whatever generation of Christians is around at the end. Paul gives us a glimpse of how this Kingdom will be wrapped up. Just as there is a succession process in the House of Windsor – there is one in heaven too.

Listen again: 1Co 15:22  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1Co 15:23  But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 1Co 15:24  Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.

1Co 15:28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.



  1. positions us differently in the community of the Church

You have to read Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians to understand the implications of Christ being King and head of the church.

We talk about his often – how we are members of His body – that each part matters – that all gifts are valuable – that we are to build each other up in love.

All we do here – the things we reflect on today in the AGM reports and plans for the future – are actually not about a club having a meeting to pat ourselves on the back each year – they are actually because we want to glorify the King, obey Him, and see his Kingdom touch the lives of others.

As we have said before – the church is the only organisation that exists for an invisible head and for it’s not-yet-members – whom we want to see enter into the life of the Kingdom of God.

And Christ is the head of the church. We have to be connected to Him. (And not like a headless chicken running around  – they eventually fall over.)

All we do together and for each other – is to the glory of the King.

  • Our first priority is always WORSHIP. As the shorter Westminster confession says in its very first question: 

           What is the chief end of man? (What is the main purpose of people?)

           Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

  • And we have to listen to what he says. King Jesus commissioned his followers to proclaim the gospel to everyone – here at home and beyond to every nation. PROCLAMATION.
  • King Jesus commissioned us to make disciples and teach them to live by his teachings. DISCIPLESHIP.
  • King Jesus gave us the new commandment to love each other – declaring that people would know we are his followers by our love. That’s what drives our pastoral care in our FELLOWSHIP. It’s not keeping members happy like a club. It’s care that is linked to DIAKONIA – ministry or service of those in need in the community too, the hungry, homeless, lonely and depressed.



  1. positions us differently in terms of our priorities in life.

At a basic level – He says

  • “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33)
  • When you pray say: “Your Kingdom come” (Matt 6:10)

And then we have the rest of our lives revisiting his teaching on the Kingdom.

He didn’t speak so much about the Kingdom for fun.

Just a couple of his declarations about the Kingdom for today:

  • Joh_3:3  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” IT’S A SPIRITUAL KINGDOM TRANSCENDING ALL BARRIERS.
  • 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. IT’S A KINGDOM THAT IS ENTERED THROUGH FAITH AND TRUST – LIKE THE TRUST OF A CHILD.
  • Mat_19:24  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  IT REQUIRES PAYING A PRICE WITH NEW VALUES – WE HAVE TO DECIDE WHETHER STUFF MATTERS OR THESE SPIRITUAL TRUTHS AND VALUES.
  • Luk_9:62  Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  IT REQUIRES COMMITMENT AND ENDURANCE.

If we get out our bibles each week – and look for one parable or teaching on the Kingdom – perhaps we may begin to grasp the depth and width of what it’s all about.

We will surely see the difference. So will others.

For now – are we really seeking the Kingdom first?




Sunday 7 August 2016 – Lord’s prayer series part 1 – “Our Father”

Readings: Isaiah 64:1-8;  Galatians 4:6-7;  Matthew 6:5-9;


How are you when it comes to intimacy? I’ve been reflecting on the word, and how different people see things differently when it  comes to matchmaking. You get these programs on TV where people who don’t know each other are married off – and you wait to see whether the marriage will survive. There’s another program where they try to find the farmer a wife. Reminds me of the kids’ song we used to sing?

“The farmer in the dell.” It has a second verse: “The farmer takes a wife (x2) – Hey-ho the derry-o the farmer takes a wife.” You may remember the verses. Farmer – wife- child – nurse – cow- dog – cat – mouse – cheese –  the cheese stands alone at the end. It originated in Germany for what it’s worth.

It reminds me of the classic story about a farmer who was single and wanted a wife. The farmer put an ad in a newspaper that read: “Man, 35, wants woman about 25 with tractor. Send picture of tractor.”

Problem with intimacy it seems? Rather business like. Cerebral perhaps – all about thinking and planning and rationalising things. If I could just get a new tractor… Let me think…

Presbyterians are historically a rather cerebral lot. Intellect is really important. That’s why ministers are often trained to a level that defies common sense. University faculties sometimes get people thinking right out of their faith. But you can understand the commitment to training and knowledge. And nobody wants to base their faith on feelings.

You can’t base your marriage on feelings either. Yes I’m married, no I’m not… Best get the marriage certificate out as it states a fact!

Feelings and emotions change too much.

Intimacy is a little different though. It’s not necessarily driven by emotion – there is emotion involved but at its heart – I think – there is certainty and trust. A sense of safety and warm connection.

It’s right there in Jesus’ prayer life – in the calling of God “Father” or “Abba” which is almost like daddy. Most of the time its “Father”. Especially in John’s gospel where he uses the phrase repetitively.

And “Abba” – which twice is referred to in relationship to the Holy Spirit by Paul (in Galatians 4:6 which we read and the well-known Romans 8:15) – is used specifically by Jesus in Mark 14:36 when he prays in Gethsemane. At the toughest time of trial – he calls on Abba.

That has to be one of the most intimate prayer moments – facing the cup of suffering.You need to be close to God in a crisis!

When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray – it begins with “Father” or “Our Father”. You saw the differences between Luke and Matthew’s record of this two weeks ago when we looked at the Lord’s prayer.

The idea of God as Father is not entirely new in the New Testament.

It does crop up in the Old Testament occasionally.

Isaiah 64 is a great example which we heard today.

It’s a famous passage used in prayers for revival and sermons about revival. That desire for God to really move in power to stir people up to repentance, faith and spiritual fervour and commitment.

Listen again: Isa 64:1  Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! Isa 64:2  As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!

What is the prophet seeking? The presence and power of God. He prays that God would tear open the heavens and come down and shake things up on earth.

In verse two he prays that God would come down and make his name known to enemies and nations.

And while Isaiah wrestles with this desire for God to tear open the heavens and make his presence and his name known, he recognises that it had happened before. Look at verse 3:

Isa 64:3  For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

And then there’s this wonderful expression of faith and hope: Isa 64:4  Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

Ring any bells? Paul quotes and expands this amazing passage in 1 Corinthians 2 where he writes in verses 9 and 10: 1Co 2:9  However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”—1Co 2:10  but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

Again it’s the work of the Holy Spirit who makes these things known to us.

There is a beauty and an intimacy in this expression of God’s love and promise for those who love him. What he has in store for us is beyond expectation entirely.

Paul captures some of this expectation in his doxology in Ephesians 3:

Eph 3:20  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, Eph 3:21  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

The stumbling block in Isaiah’s time is the sin that separates people from God. He continues to wrestle with this in the next three verses:

Isa 64:5  You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? Isa 64:6  All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isa 64:7  No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

Sound familiar?

A brother of mine walked into my office the other day – concerned that we might become over-confident in our own righteousness – rather than the imputed righteousness of Christ – and dumped a gift on my desk. Guess what it was? A really filthy rag. I think he had Isaiah 64:6 in mind.


Are you not troubled today by the excess of sin and shameful behaviour in the world, the flagrant disregard for truth and justice?

Of course the difference is that Isaiah is praying about the people of God – who should have known better. There was a remnant seeking Him of course.

So –  there is always hope. The passage ends with this beautiful line:

Isa 64:8  Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

So God as Father is not a new idea that Jesus invents.

But he does own it. And particularly in John’s gospel where there are more than a hundred occurrences.


Following Jesus, knowing God as Father is really fundamental to our faith.

Some helpful suggestions.

  1. Don’t get your idea or picture of God muddied by any bad experience you may have had of a human father.

It’s a different thing. This is the Holy Father who is just, and has our best interests at heart.

When we let our image of a failed earthly father cloud our view of our Heavenly Father’s love and faithfulness, it can be a deception of the devil to blind us to the reality of this heavenly Father’s love and care for us. The devil is the father of lies remember. (John 8:44)

  1. Focus on your communication with this Father. Prayer is everything.

The context of Jesus’ teaching on this prayer pattern – which is not really the Lord’s prayer but the believers’ prayer – people praying out loud in the synagogue, and later pagans and their long-winded prayers.

Listen again: Mat 6:5  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.Mat 6:6  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

This room – or closet – is really an inner room. The point is that intimacy is not meant for the public eye. And there is a huge difference between public prayer and private prayer. When you lead people in prayer – you take them into the presence of God and help them with key points to focus on.It’s not about you – but it’s all about all of us.

When you pray on your own – while you can’t avoid praying for everyone else – you can spill your guts – open your heart – and really tell your Father how you feel.

  • You can ask God all the hard questions.
  • You can say it like it is.
  • And you can balance the hard questions with counting your blessings and thanksgiving and gratitude.

But don’t stay there – focusing only on the hard questions. Because your loving heavenly Father really wants to embrace you. Wait on God. Be still in His presence.

Let God speak to you. Through intuitive thoughts – through ideas he pops in your mind – and especially through the bible.

And look at the second part of verse 6 again: Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

What an interesting line. We kind of avoid the notion of reward. We are allergic to any idea that suggests we earn salvation or God’s love.

That truth remains. We don’t earn salvation. You can’t buy it through years of service.

But it is God’s nature to want to bless us as His children. He rewards us with a greater sense of faith and certainty, confidence and courage – and an overwhelming sense of being loved and safe in His hands.

Those private times of prayer are important. It has been suggested that you find a place – and have a notebook with your bible. The notebook is to write down thoughts and ideas you get – but also you need a separate column for when you have distractions – like things to do – jot them down separately and put them aside.

Focus on God’s presence. And a prayer book is helpful too. The NZ Anglican prayer book has daily prayers for each morning and evening.

These help us focus. There are other prayer aids. And listening to hymns and worship songs helps us focus on the Lord too.

In Matthew 6 Jesus continues: Mat 6:7  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

Mat 6:8  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

You don’t need to go on and on. Don’t babble like pagans! That’s pretty direct isn’t it?

Don’t be like them.

This is your Father who knows what you need before you ask Him.

Watch out for the long shopping list. He knows.

In a close relationship you can also sit in silence.

Sometimes all you have to do is groan. Do you remember that passage from Romans 8 – a few verses after the Abba Father verse (v15)? Listen to it again:

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

We groan in despair at fallen world and long for the new creation – we experience the firstfruits and long for the completion of the new creation. We have this taste of the perfection to come.

We have our new status now – but the full inheritance as sons is yet to come.

I want to end with an old story – forgive me if you’ve heard it before – but it really is helpful to explain what is yet to come. It’s called “The Fork”.


There was a Christian lady who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things “in order,” she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. The woman also requested to be buried with her favourite Bible. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.

“There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly.

“What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply.

“This is very important,” the woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”

The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. “That surprises you, doesn’t it?”, the woman asked.

“Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the pastor.

The woman explained, “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main courses were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, “Keep your fork.” It was my favourite part because I knew that something better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance! So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, “What’s with the fork?” Then I want you to tell them: “Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.”

The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman good-bye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of Heaven than most Christians did.

She KNEW that something better was coming.

At her funeral people were walking by the woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing, her favourite Bible, and the fork placed in her right hand.

Over and over, the pastor heard the question “What’s with the fork?”

And over and over he smiled.

During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right.

So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you ever so gently, that the best is yet to come.


Remember John 14 J Jesus speaking to them before his death: Joh 14:1  “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. Joh 14:2  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.

We can be really intimate with the Father now – and the place where we will end up is the Father’s house.

When you pray – start with “Father” or “our Father”. And stay with Him. Remain with Him.As a child is safe in His father’s presence.

Hold onto that truth every moment of the day. It defines who we are and what we will become.

Thank you Father.



Sunday Sermon 19 June 2016 – liberated!

Readings: Luke 8:26-39


Luk 8:27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. Luk 8:28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”

I wonder how you would have felt doing some pastoral visiting at this man’s place.

It’s not exactly welcoming.

The average church pastoral team would rather call a medical emergency line. Or simply dial 111. Or 999, depending where you live.

It’s a cemetery for one thing.

My first church posting as a pastor alone was in a town where the church met in a national monument made of stone strategically placed between two cemeteries. There was no power – the organ ran on a petrol generator.

In time we moved out to a local school, and after I moved on they built a church building.
We never did have evening services between those two cemeteries.

This man –
• He lived amongst the dead
• He was in chains
• He was naked

And I’m sure people were comfortable that he stayed there – that he didn’t wander into town at night.

Trust Jesus to show up there. He’s had a nap on the boat ride over. Just by the way – the sea of Galilee is an inland lake 166 square kms (for kiwis, Taupo is 616 square kms.) It was a bumpy ride in a fierce storm.

He’s had his followers accusing him of not caring that they might drown.

He’s calmed the squall – we love that story because we’d all like our storms in life stilled – we all want peace.

And now he encounters this! With all its potential for violence and plenty of drama.

This was not Jewish territory. The pigs give that away.

The man was unwell by any standards – and there were no psychiatrists back in the day. In today’s medical terms he would probably be classified as mentally ill. And institutionalized because he was a risk to others and himself. Possibly Psychotic at the least. Not to speak of the terrible loneliness and isolation. And self-harm and ferocity.

The encounter with Jesus is also intriguing. Why is he so afraid of Jesus tormenting him? Okay perhaps it’s the demon voices speaking – if you are a strict literalist. On the other hand, it could also be symptomatic of a real desire of this sick man not to face reality. Perhaps it’s all too hard for him.

Someone has suggested that strangers would be kinder to us if we are seriously ill – because they would have no special concern for us and would try to make us feel good.

Those who love us, on the other hand, would ask the hard questions and want us to face real change.

I take the demonic in scripture very seriously – but not all the people Jesus healed were demonized. It’s more complex than that.

Whatever the cause of this man’s oppression, he would have been terrified of change. His home among the dead was at least predicable in some way. And he would hardly have been welcome in so called normal society. The prejudice is just as real today if we are off the spectrum in terms of our mental health.

The truth is that most of us are at best ambivalent about dealing with radical change in our lives.

Jesus addresses these demons – the Legion. They don’t want to go into the Abyss – a unique word in Luke it seems – the place of the dead perhaps, the deep (Psalm 107:26 cf. Romans 10:7) – or an equivalent of hell or hades (Luke 16:23). (cf. Rev 9:11 and Jude 1:6).

It’s a troubling thing for the locals that the demons ask for permission to go into the pigs.

2000 pigs according to Mark. At $50 each conservatively that’s $100 000 worth of disruption for the locals.

What a story to share with your neighbours. The grapevine would have been red hot.


• There are degrees of brokenness. But we are all broken.
• There are degrees of sickness.
• But we are all vulnerable.

No matter who we are – we are part of this broken world.

And there are plenty of people out there tormented by oppression, mental illnesses, addictions, loneliness and despair.

At a very basic level this story gives hope – and disturbs people all at once.

Luk 8:34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, Luk 8:35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.

The naked mad one is doing what we all need to do – sitting at Jesus’ feet. Doing the Mary thing (which Martha struggled with if you remember).

And he’s dressed.

And in his right mind.

And the people are afraid! And rightly so – if Jesus can do this – perhaps they thought – what then could he do in my life? Do I want that?

Do you want that? Radical transformation? or would you prefer respectable Christianity – tamed religion.

The locals didn’t want it. Look at verse 37: Luk 8:37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

But the story does end with such a positive statement:

Luk 8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, Luk 8:39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Note the shift from God to Jesus.

When we meet with Jesus ourselves – we too can’t stay on a high as it were. On the mountain top – or in the boat after the storm.

We have to go home and tell others about it.

He does it: So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

We missed verse 36: Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.

There’s the key. The word cured also means healed and saved, liberated. We need that too. How much Jesus had done indeed.

Marvelous. Brilliant. Wonderful. Stunning. Fantastic. Miraculous.

Praise God for His grace. He still sets people free today.


Sermon 15 June – O you of little faith!

Readings: Psalm 55:1-8; Luke 8:22-25


Have you ever wanted to fly?

I don’t mean on an aeroplane. I mean if you could just grow wings and go wherever you want.

In Psalm 55 David is having troubles with a whole lot of things and people. Crazy scary emotions. His heart is in anguish – probably racing – he is experiencing fear and trembling and horror – and he prays this prayer which has been sung for many years around the world since written in 1844 by Felix Mendelssohn the German composer:

Psa 55:6  I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—

Psa 55:7  I would flee far away and stay in the desert; Selah

Psa 55:8  I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.

Here it is to listen to:

Of course you wouldn’t really want to be a dove –  there are horrible cats out there and birds of prey that can nab you.

But there are times when we feel like escaping the storms of life. The troubles out there and our fears and concerns in our hearts.

It does feel like we are in a storm tossed boat.

The bible reading from Luke today is about a scene like that.

A number of Jesus’ followers were fishermen and they did travel by boat at times – Jesus was quite busy around Lake Galilee. Which actually is quite big – 166 square kilometres. Not as big as Taupo though – which is 616 square kilometres.

I’s not surprising Jesus is asleep in the boat. He would have been ministering to many people and large crowds tended to follow him.

His followers are really stressed by this storm. It’s described here as a squall – by Mark as a furious squall, and by Matthew as a furious storm. Maybe Matthew the tax collector didn’t have sea legs and it felt much worse.

So they wake Jesus up – don’t you care we are going to drown?

Sounds like our prayer lives. Save us! Don’t you care? It’s all a bit much in the storms of our lives.

Amazingly he speaks peace – and the storm is stilled.

And of course he tells them off – you of little faith! (Matthew). Do you still have no faith? (Mark). Where is your faith? (Luke).

If you are in a storm today in your life.

If your boat is been overwhelmed by the waves and you feel you may sink.

And it feels like He is not hearing your cries for help – that he is sleeping – be of good cheer and have faith! Trust him!

Listen to Psalm 121  – which is one of the Psalms they would pray as they went up to Jerusalem to worship. Let it speak to you.

Psa 121:1  A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from?

Psa 121:2  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psa 121:3  He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;

Psa 121:4  indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

Psa 121:5  The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

Psa 121:6  the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

Psa 121:7  The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;

Psa 121:8  the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

He is not asleep. He’s right here with us.

Receive His peace today.


Sermon, 29 May 2016 – Amazing Faith

Reading: Luke 7:1-10; Psalm 96


Do you remember the first place Jesus preached at? That great sermon quoting from Isaiah – “the spirit of the Lord is upon me”

Quiz question 1: Where was that?

Nazareth – where he had been brought up.

Quiz question 2: What happened next?

They chased him out. Like modern hearers of sermons they were less than thrilled. In Luke 4:29 (another reminder on 29th May) – they tried to throw him off a cliff.

I always find that comforting when people are less than thrilled by my sermons. It’s never got as bad as Luke 4:29.

In this case Jesus walks through the crowds and goes on his way.

Quiz question 3: where did he go next?

Capernaum of course. Everybody should know that. Here’s a more recent picture of Capernaum than the ones Jesus took on his Kodak bible-matic camera of the day:


Can you see the Octagonal church there? It’s built over the site of an older church which in turn was built over the site of whose house?

Quiz question 4: whose house? Which disciple and first pope? Why Peter of course. We all know that.

Stuff happened in Capernaum. It was a town of about 1500 and the fishing village where Jesus called Peter, James, John and Andrew to leave their nets and follow him. And it was also the village of Matthew the tax collector.

The man in Luke 4:35 who is cleansed of an evil spirit is set free in the synagogue in Capernaum. That got peoples’ attention. It wasn’t your average Saturday synagogue session.

In 4:36 we read this:
Luk 4:36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” Luk 4:37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. 

Jesus goes to Peter’s house after this – and heals his mum in law. That got them talking I’m sure. Rebuking fevers and what have you.

It gets so frenetic – well just listen to Luke: Luk 4:40 When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.  Luk 4:41 Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.
Luk 4:42 At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them.  Luk 4:43 But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

In Luke 5 there’s another commotion. Such a crowd – that these people carrying a paralysed friend break a hole in the roof of a house to let him down so that Jesus can heal him.

Here’s the line that sets a cat among the theological pigeons: Luk 5:20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

The Pharisees are less than thrilled. Knowing what they are thinking, he says:

Luk 5:23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
Luk 5:24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
Luk 5:25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.

Now you may wonder – why all these details about Capernaum.

Well – it’s because when we get to Luke 7 which is today’s reading – he’s back in Capernaum. We’ve seen quite a bit of faith in Capernaum. Point well made.

But in Luke 7 – this is not a Jewish setting or a synagogue gathering.

Suddenly out of nowhere there’s a Roman centurion in the mix.

Weird. Fascinating. A man from an oppressive foreign power.

With all those Jews less than thrilled about Jesus forgiving sins and healing on the Sabbath – some Jewish elders come with a request on behalf of a gentile occupier from a foreign army.

There’s a bit of sending going on here.

The centurion sends the Jewish elders to ask for Jesus’ help with this sick servant.

The reason they give is fascinating too: “This man deserves to have you do this, Luk 7:5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”

So Jesus goes along. Game? Curious? Compassionate?

On the way the centurion sends others – this time friends – with a message.

“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Luk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Luk 7:8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Up to now people were amazed at Jesus and his works.

This time its Jesus who is amazed. Listen again: Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

We’ve heard and sung about Amazing Grace. This is amazing faith.

At this point – let’s stop for a while and consider this picture. Ask yourself – is this funny? Is it fair? Where are you in this situation? Are we like Eugene?

Eugene Cartoon

DISCUSSION (in small groups or with the person next to you).

Talk about Eugene and his faith in the cartoon on screen. Here are some questions to discuss about our prayer life and our faith:

1. Are there things I am still asking for after 47 years?
2. Should I give up?
3. What are the big things I am trusting Jesus for?
4. How amazing is my faith?
5. How does it compare with the faith of the centurion?
6. What do you find amazing about his faith?

(group time).

SHARING TIME: So what “ponies” are you still praying for? Do you still have amazing faith for some things – for a break through – for a prayer to be answered.

Go back to Luke 7:

Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
Remarkable that Jesus should say this.

The man’s words are remarkable: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Luk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Luk 7:8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”


1. “I am not worthy” – it’s so like the prayer of humble access in the Communion liturgy of some churches:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy:

It’s so like the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15:

Mat 15:25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
Mat 15:26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
Mat 15:27 “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Mat 15:28 Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Sometimes our prayers make us sound presumptuous.

2. It speaks of who Jesus really is. The real stunner is this – that he says that Jesus did not even have to be there physically for the healing to take place.

This cuts across everything people believed and experienced about faith healers. Just say the word. He’s saying something about who Jesus is – as the God who speaks and things come into being – like creation. Remember John 1 – nothing has been made that was not made through Jesus, the Word of God.


The troubling things about this whole story is where we fit in.

How amazing is our faith?

Are we a bit like the Jewish people who wanted to debate things? Who had preconceived ideas? Cherished notions we don’t let go of?

Especially on healing and whether God really speaks. In two weeks’ time we will have Tony and Sue Kerr and their team here. Will we really expect God to speak and act?

Are we open to learning how to minister like they do? Because they are willing to come along and equip us to be used to bring God’s restoring power and love into other peoples’ lives.

(Are we on another level? Do we think – I wish we had a centurion who would sponsor our synagogue/church?)

Have we given up? – like Eugene’s friends who tell him – “we’re tired of hearing your prayer request. Go and buy a pony!” in other words – solve it yourself.

As we travel through Luke’s gospel we will find other amazing things that God does.

This one is about Amazing faith.

Maybe we need to ask for “amazing faith” ourselves.

Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

What’s he saying to the angels now about the faith he finds here in Browns Bay?


Sunday Message 10 April, Easter 3 – Harvest Sunday

READINGS: Deuteronomy 8: 7-18;  2 Corinthians 9:6-15;  Luke 12:16-30


Have you given anyone a gift recently? I wonder what the occasion was. Perhaps a birthday, Christmas, or the celebration of a new life – the birth of a baby. Perhaps a grandchild?

Think about the gifts you have received in the past year.

  • Do you remember who gave them to you?
  • Did you remember to thank them?
  • Do you think about them when you use that gift?

The overwhelming idea in the passage from the Old Testament today is a warning that we should not forget the gifts God gives us – the blessings he bestowed – the things he has done. And I would add the prayers he has answered.

Over the years I have had amazing conversations with people who have really considered believing in God – or have prayed to him (when they usually didn’t) – or have even come along to church for a while in a crisis. Who contact me in emergencies for spiritual help and prayer – and when things are going well they are suspiciously silent. We pray for people who have needs – are unemployed or unwell –  their prayers are answered and we don’t see them again for a long time.

Deuteronomy 8 reminds us of this amazing gift of life and creation (whether it’s the land promised to Israel or this beautiful country we enjoy) – that we should not forget and become proud about our achievements (v14) – and it also says that he gives us the ability to produce wealth! (v18).

It’s that old attitude of gratitude. We often realise too late when people are dead and gone what a blessing they were. And so too many other things we enjoy.

  1. DON’T FORGET THE LORD! This is the first point today. This generous God – we should not neglect to speak of his kindness and grace, and to praise him constantly for his gifts. Which leads to the second point worth remembering today: 


The reading from Corinthians picks up the harvest theme from a different angle.

Again it is God who “supplies seed to the sower and bread for food” (2 Corinthians 9:10).

The generosity of spirit in both practical and spiritual things – with cheerfulness – is the natural outflow of knowing we are blessed to be a blessing.

And so Paul says to the church in Corinth (in the context of their giving):

2Co 9:6  Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 2Co 9:7  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

We are not always known to be cheerful givers. The offering time in many churches is not noted for excessive happiness and hilarity!

Paul was dependent upon peoples’ gifts to keep the work going – so that the gospel could reach all the places he travelled to on his missionary journeys. He says:

2Co 9:10  Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 2Co 9:11  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 2Co 9:12  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. (As an aside we need to thank God regularly for those who serve with us here).

God has blessed us – we bless others and give to the work of the gospel as part of our thanksgiving and worship.

The riches we receive are not physical here. This is not a prosperity business – giving to be blessed – even though we are told we will be blessed!

We give to those in need to glorify God! We need to be generous kids of a generous Father. Generosity is contagious. Like love – its catchy!

And now to the third point today:


The gospel reading is a stark reminder of the power of sin – which focusses on me mine, what I will do for myself. It comes through clearly in the words of the barn man:

Luk 12:17  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Luk 12:18  “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. Luk 12:19  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘ Luk 12:20  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ Luk 12:21  “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

What is this guy really after? A nest egg and early retirement? God calls him a fool.

What matters when the plug is pulled and we are gone from all this stuff in a flash?

There’s nothing wrong with providing for oneself and family. But this man is totally obsessed with  himself. The context is greed. Look at the preceding verses Luke 12:13-15:

Luk 12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Luk 12:14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Luk 12:15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

What could he have done?

Probably being content with what he had would be a start. Paul says this on the matter:

1Ti 6:6  But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1Ti 6:7  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1Ti 6:8  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 1Ti 6:9  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 1Ti 6:10  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Following on from this warning is our last point:


The gospel passage today ends with that wonderful reminder about God the provider:

Luk 12:22  Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Luk 12:23  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Luk 12:24  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Luk 12:25  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Luk 12:26  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Luk 12:27  “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. Luk 12:28  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! Luk 12:29  And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. Luk 12:30  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.  

He ends with this:

Luk 12:31  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Luk 12:32  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 

Worry is an unprofitable emotion indeed. Remember last week how I said we have to fill our minds with scripture to offset all the other stuff we are fed.

My prescription for you today: Read this passage at least once a week. It reminds us that we are more valuable than the birds who are provided for. He will take care of us!

  • Guard your heart – that insidious love of money and stuff can destroy you.
  • Seek his Kingdom, little flock. He has been pleased to give us the kingdom! This means not storing up for heaven as a kind of investment, but living for different lasting values and priorities now.

To recap we should work on:

  • Not forgetting the Lord – being thankful!
  • Being like Him – generous.
  • Living lives in a mode opposite to greed and selfishness.
  • Trusting Him – he is our provider. The Kingdom kids have the King’s kindness to depend upon! Remember Luke 12:30 “Your Father knows that you need them”.

May His Kingdom come and His will be done on earth – as it is in heaven.



Sunday sermon 13 September 2015 – How good is the God we adore

Readings: Psalm 37:1-6   Mark 10:17-31  1 Thessalonians 5:12-24


We had some fun figuring out the words of Lynda’s song she asked us to sing today.

The two versions are really saying the same thing – but it helps to sing the same thing on the same day. We talk about “being on the same page”! Here they are:

 Verse 1

How good is the God we adore
Our faithful unchangeable Friend
His love is as great as His power
And knows neither measure nor end

Verse 2

For Christ is the First and the Last
His Spirit will guide us safe home
We’ll praise Him for all that is past
And trust Him for all that’s to come

Verse 1 (the second version)

This, this is the God we adore

Our faithful unchangeable Friend;

Whose love is as great as His power,

And neither knows measure nor end.

Verse 2

‘Tis Jesus, the First and the Last

Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;

We’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for all that’s to come.

The one version starts like this:

How good is the God we adore
Our faithful unchangeable Friend
His love is as great as His power
And knows neither measure nor end

It got me thinking (yes I do think… ) about Jesus’ comment to the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10:

Mar 10:17  As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Mar 10:18  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. What an amazing statement – the Son deferring to the Father.


Do you remember when you met someone and fell in love? It was probably a while back! And you told you best friend about him or her. And you got this response – “so what’s he like then?” (Of course if you told your dad and mum, they would also ask “what’s he do then? (For a living I suppose)”. These days they would be asking all kinds of other questions as well.

What God is like is fundamental to who we say we are as Christians and how we share this story – this Gospel or good News.

Our faith is stronger – our witness is more powerful – in fact the Holy Spirit can work more powerfully in us- when we know what God is like! The Holy Spirit brings things to our remembrance (John 14:26).

I chose some other passages today for the readings to illustrate this – of course the whole Bible is filled with stuff about the character of God!

When we know what he’s like – it is also reflected in our prayers! And we have things to say, truths to share with people as we pray for them – we can say as in the first line of the song:

“This, this is the God we adore!”

Psalm 37 is one of them – one of our passages for today. It’s a great Psalm:

Listen again to the juxtaposition of these three verses. That’s a fancy way of saying – look how these three verses hang together:

Psa 37:3  Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Psa 37:4  Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psa 37:5  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:

  • Trust (in the Lord) and do good
  • Delight (yourself in the Lord) – and he will give you the desires of your heart.
  • Commit (your way to the Lord) – trust in him and he will do this

Psa 37:5  Put your life in the hands of the Lord; have faith in him and he will do it

Psa 37:5  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:

Psa 37:6  He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Sounds good to me!

He is a God who calls us into a relationship of faith – trust – relationship in which we delight ourselves in him – he is known and experienced as a reality who not only knows the desires of our hearts but seeks to bless us by meeting those desires.

We are to commit our ways to him and again TRUST HIM. Verse 5 in the Bible in Basic English says this: “Put your life in the hands of the Lord; have faith in him and he will do it.” (BBE)

You get this idea of the faithfulness of God – of one who acts- who does it! Who hears our prayers, who acts for our cause.

It comes up in the reading from 1 Thessalonians which we shared in our Alpha group this week. We were actually talking about the work of the Holy Spirit – through whom God acts, and works in power in our lives.

There are a whole list of injunctions, or strong suggestions, given by Paul to the Christians in Thessalonica. The truth is they are not new commands – but just the natural outcome of this relationship of trust.

1Th 5:16  Be joyful always; (delighting ourselves in Him)

1Th 5:17  pray continually; (trusting Him)

1Th 5:18  give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (rejoicing in Him – always grateful rather than grumpy)

1Th 5:19  Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;

1Th 5:20  do not treat prophecies with contempt.  (He speaks truth!)

1Th 5:21  Test everything. Hold on to the good. (Because God is good!)

1Th 5:22  Avoid every kind of evil. (Because God is good! All the time!)

Paul goes on in these beautiful verses:

1Th 5:23  May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1Th 5:24  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

You can see where this takes us. It’s about endurance. About trusting Him through thick and thin. (The context of so many passages in the New Testament is challenging to say the least.) Paul – writing about rejoicing in the Lord always (Tuesday’s discussion from Philippians) – was in prison.  In that same letter he writes in the first chapter:.

Php 1:2  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Php 1:3  I thank my God every time I remember you.

Php 1:4  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy

Php 1:5  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,

Php 1:6  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Because God is good!

Later in the letter there is this favourite passage:

Php 4:4  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!   (Again – delight yourselves in the Lord!)

Php 4:5  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Php 4:6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

On Tuesday I shared this reflection: John Henry Jowett (b1863 – 1923) shares his experience regarding Christian joy:

Christian joy is a mood independent of our immediate circumstances. If it were dependent on our surroundings, then, indeed, it would be as uncertain as an unprotected candle burning on a gusty night. One moment the candle burns clear and steady, the next moment the blaze leaps to the very edge of the wick, and affords little or no light. But Christian joy has no relationship to the transient setting of the life, and therefore it is not the victim of the passing day. At one time my conditions arrange themselves like a sunny day in June (December here, or January!); a little later they rearrange themselves like a gloomy day in November (June in the Southern Hemisphere!). One day I am at the wedding; the next day I stand by an open grave. One day, in my ministry, I win ten converts for the Lord; and then, for a long stretch of days, I never win one. Yes, the days are as changeable as the weather, and yet the Christian joy can be persistent. Where lies the secret of its glorious persistency?

Here is the secret. “Lo! I am with you all the days.” In all the changing days, “He changeth not, neither is weary.” He is no fairweather Companion, leaving me when the year grows dark and cold. He does not choose my days of prosperous festival, though not to be found in my days of impoverishment and defeat.

It’s all about this faithful and good God who does not change! (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8)

This, this is the faithful God we adore –

This, this is the God we adore

Our faithful unchangeable Friend;

‘Tis Jesus, the First and the Last

Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;

We’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for all that’s to come.

One final thing about this faithful God in whom we trust so fully and rejoice always.

The Gospel reading where we started – where Jesus makes it clear that God is so good! God alone!

Mar 10:25  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Mar 10:26  The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

Mar 10:27  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Mar 10:28  Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”

Mar 10:29  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel

Mar 10:30  will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.

“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (v27)

What a good reminder. Peter of course seems to be having one of his moments – a pity party of some sort about the price they paid to follow Jesus. Jesus reminds him of the blessings and rewards now (in the church family as in Acts 2:45) and in the age to come. Of course there is always a warning: “and persecutions”. We get the same troubles as Jesus, but in the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:

2Co 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
2Co 4:17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
2Co 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 

The great benefit is there – of serving Him – to the end. Here it is again::

Mar 10:28  Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!” Mar 10:29  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel Mar 10:30  will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.

We’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for all that’s to come.


Sunday Sermon 5 July 2015 – Paul to the Galatians (5)

Father God

Readings: Hebrews 1:1-5; Galatians 4:4-7; Matthew 6:7-15

Story: A group of first graders was asked to draw a picture of God in their Sunday School class. Their finished products contained some interesting theology. One child depicted God in the form of a brightly coloured rainbow. Another presented him as an old man coming out of the clouds. One little boy drew God with a remarkable resemblance to Superman. The best snapshot, though, came from a little girl. She said, “I didn’t know what God looked like, so I just drew a picture of my daddy.”

It would be great if every boy and girl could see God in his or her father. Sadly – it’s not so. The statistics are frightening. In Britain for example, I read this week about the statistics regarding absent fathers:

85% of children exhibiting behavioural disorders come from fatherless homes

90% of all homeless and runaway children come from fatherless homes

80% of all rapists motivated by displaced anger come from fatherless homes

70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes

85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in fatherless homes.

The writer continues: “We live in a fatherless generation. We need to point them to God’s paternal, compassionate, restoring, gracious desire, and offer to make up that which is missing.” Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 229). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.

Here’s a question for you.

Which Bible story illustrates the Fatherly love of God the most? In your view?

My favourite (again I have many favourites) is Luke 15:11 ff – which is the story of the Prodigal Son.

There’s a good argument to suggest that it’s also a story of a prodigal Father – if we take prodigal to be excessively wasteful. Simon Ponsonby puts it like this:

And here is where we see what God is like: the father is waiting and watching, scanning the horizon on the edge of his land, looking longingly as he clearly has done every day since his son left. When he catches the silhouette of his boy, knowing intimately how he carried himself and walked, the old man begins to run and run, and when he gets to his son, breathless, wet with perspiration and tears, he pauses, then crushes his pig-stinking, bag-of-bones boy in his arms of love. Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 230). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.

A party is thrown, because the dead son is alive, the lost son is found, and a son is with his dad! This is the most amazing good news – because this is what God is like.

David knew this when he wrote in Psalm 68:

Psa 68:5  A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. Psa 68:6  God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

In our series about Galatians – God is the giver. We know from other passages like John 3:16 that God the Father gives his only son. In Galatians Paul shows that the son gives himself to rescue us.  You may remember from Galatians 1: 3-4 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father

We come to him by faith (Galatians 3:26-27) – becoming sons:  Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

  • And then the focal verse in Galatians 4:6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father. The spirit is given to the sons of God – so that we can become all we were meant to be.

And – interestingly enough – in this early epistle you can see the formation of a doctrine of the Trinity, even though the term is not used. God the Father of our Lord Jesus is at work. The son is given to rescue us, and the Spirit is given to transform us.


In simple terms, three points!

  1. It’s all about grace.

We don’t have the issues that the Galatians had – whether we need to become Jews in order to become Christians, or whether we are overloaded with burdens from trying to keep the law as they did. The church today is in no immediate danger of over- keeping the laws of the Old Testament in every detail. Too many ham sandwiches in church pot luck suppers? Men’s breakfast would never be the same here without that amazing bacon!

Whatever the law we follow, we will certainly not keep it on our own. We’re not able to. If it is by our doing, then we are setting aside the grace of God. As Paul says in Galatians 2:21:  I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

  1. It’s all about the truth of the gospel

What we do have from our travels through the letter to the Galatians is a real sense of the truth of the Gospel as something to be treasured and guarded against wrong teachings. There are no substitutes or additions that can be made. The gospel came at the right time in every way.

The gospel, like the exodus from Egypt, is a rescue mission so that we can be set free from our enslavement to the power and consequences of sin. It is initiated by God. At the right time.

Listen to Galatians 4:4 again: Gal 4:4  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law

And listen to Hebrews 1 again: Heb 1:1  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, Heb 1:2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

God initiates this rescue. We who are not Jews – in other words Gentiles (to whom Paul is specifically sent with the Gospel message) – are equally bound and captive. Our wrestling is with sin, the devil, and his minions.

We equally need to be set free. And only God can do this. We are enslaved, and need to be liberated.  We too worship other gods – create our own idols of every sort.

The fact that the Galatian gentiles choose to remain slaves by going back to circumcision and thus the pre-Messianic faith is helpful for us as a warning. We have to hold on to the truth of the gospel.

  1. It’s all about our relationship with God

We do have this – this is the most important thing today: we have a model for prayer and living in an intimate relationship with Abba, Father.  (And of course the Lord’s prayer begins: ‘Our Father’”)

The word Abba is an Aramaic word and is only used three times in Scripture. Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:15. Guess what the other verse is? Yes it’s in the garden of Gethsemane when the firstborn only begotten son wrestles in prayer with his looming execution.

Mar 14:36  – “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

And then these two from Paul: Gal 4:6  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

He unpacks this in his later letter to the Romans in chapter 8: Rom 8:14  because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Rom 8:15  For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Rom 8:16  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

What a privilege that we can pray like Jesus did. The Holy Spirit cries “Abba” though us. (Galatians) And we can cry “Abba!” (Romans) Simon Ponsonby, who you recall came out from the UK for New Wine Festival again last year – puts it like this:

This passage unveils to us perhaps the most beautiful and glorious insights into the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer. Through faith, the believer has been justified (Romans 3– 5; Galatians 2: 16; 3: 6) and simultaneously has received the Spirit (Romans 5: 5; Galatians 3: 2). They have moved from being slaves, living in fear and servitude before the Law and the devil, to being free sons of God.

Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (p. 231). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.

Free sons of God – with Jesus as the elder brother in the family. What a privilege to be his children. (We have to learn about freedom in the light of all this. More about freedom later as we go through this letter together.)

This new status of adoption is rich with historical cultural baggage – adoption under Roman law conferred full rights to inherit on the adopted child.

He adopts us. We can’t choose Him. Most of all is the simple fact that He chooses us. (John 15:16  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last…)

We can’t earn it or buy our way in to the family. He has redeemed us. He pays the price for our freedom.

This is the gospel – that we are saved into an intimate relationship with the Father. And we have the inner witness of God’s spirit – that blessed assurance – as Paul says in Romans 8: 8:16  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Conclusion (Quoting Simon Ponsonby)

We have been made sons of God; a party has been thrown in our honour, with status, dignity, inheritance, and authority conferred on us. We can live like sons in the Spirit or like slaves – it’s up to us. The Galatian Christians chose to live like slaves. The second son in the parable of the prodigal chose to live like a slave, bemoaning “all these years I’ve slaved for you” while in fact “all the father had was his”. Such a revelation of our position before God, on the basis of the decree of the Father, the death of the Son, and the deposit of the Spirit, should revolutionize our lives. God is Abba – our Father. I am his son, not his slave. I serve him freely and without fear – I relax in my sonship: security, identity, inheritance, and freedom from anxiety and fear.

Being God’s own sons should cause us to wonder and worship with all our heart. It should cause us to walk with our head held high, that such dignity has been conferred upon us, sons who perpetuate God’s name and inherit his estate. It should compel our passionate witness to this broken, lost, fatherless generation. Ponsonby, Simon (2013-05-24). God Is For Us (pp. 234-235). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.

It also means that this Abba, Father, is one in whom we need to rest.

He knows our needs before we ask! (Mat 6:8  Do not be like them (the pagans), for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.)

And if we go astray – he is always longing for us to return. Like the prodigal Father and his prodigal son. It’s interesting that in Luke’s gospel when the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son are recorded, there is this wonderful verse:

Luk 15:10  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.


IF you feel astray – lost – if you don’t have that intimate relationship with God through Christ and His spirit, there is always today!

Sunday Sermon 21 June 2015 – Paul to the Galatians (3)

Readings: Acts 11:19-26,  Acts 13:1-3; Galatians 2:11-21


I once went to two mental asylums in one day. No –  I was not looking for a bed or room. I was completing a Masters in Pastoral Counselling and Psychology, and it made sense to visit the places where people were locked away for their safety and ours. There were all kinds of people who thought they were prime ministers or famous heroes – one lady claimed to be Margaret Thatcher.

Which reminds me of the story of Margaret Thatcher visiting a retirement home – and introducing herself as the British Prime Minister. Thatcher spoke to one of the inmates and asked him: “do you know who I am?” The patient replied: “No, dear, but I should ask the nurse if I were you. She usually knows.”

I don’t think any of us really would know what it must be like to learn again from scratch who you are – say after an accident where you lose your memory. Amnesia is the word.

These lines from Paul’s letter to the Galatians are actually quite difficult to understand – precisely because they involve losing one identity and gaining another.

Refugees have to work on that don’t they – and oh my there are a lot of them trying to get to new countries at the moment. (Just by the way, Saturday was international refugees’ day – and the numbers are higher than they have ever been.) Emigrants also have to find a new identity. This many of us know.

Paul’s conflict in this letter is not just about other missionaries with a different point of view. Or a different interpretation of the gospel. It’s about fundamental Christian identity – who you are in the Messiah Jesus.

Paul’s conflict with Peter is over the same issue – and his conflict with the churches in Galatia.

Peter had had a vision – if you remember – a sheet coming down from heaven loaded with forbidden un-kosher food. He was convinced about the need to break out of that Jewish mould. He associated with gentiles and ate with them.

But here he changes his tune – and refuses to eat with non-Jews.

In short, Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. The word means wearing a mask. And much to Paul’s horror, his partner Barnabus, known as the son of encouragement, went along with this. For some reason they were concerned about what the Jewish contingency would think about eating with non-Jews.

The point is – the church in Antioch we read about in Acts 11 and 13 – where Paul and Barnabus were sent out from – was a multicultural church, and they certainly weren’t all Jewish. This was where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). The moment you identify with this label – and call yourself a Christian – your identity shifts from being a Torah-keeping Jew or a “Gentile sinner” excluded from God’s family – into the family of the New Covenant – your identity is in the Messiah Jesus.

We used to sing a song years back about this shift. “It’s no longer I that liveth – but Christ that liveth in me.” (Galatians 2:20 from the KJV).

I’m not sure that I understood back then. The key verse is Galatians 2:20, which lines up exactly with Paul’s teaching on baptism in Romans 6.

Gal 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. He goes on to say: Gal 2:21- I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

If we have died to our old selves, then our new identity is “in Christ”. In fact that phrase “in Christ” is key to all of this. Listen to Paul elsewhere:

  • Rom 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
  • Rom 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
  • 1Co 1:30 It is because of him (God) that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

And probably my favourite:

  • 2Co 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

Those who are “in Christ” – Christians – are part of a new fellowship, a new covenant and a new family.

Tom Wright reminds us that the identity marker for Jews was circumcision. The identity marker for Christians is faith. He continues:

And if we are ‘in’ the crucified Jesus, that means that our previous identities are irrelevant. They are to be forgotten. We are no longer defined by possession of the law, or by its detailed requirements that set Jew over against Gentile. ‘I died to the law, that I might live to God.’ We must now learn who we are in a whole new way. Who then are we? We are the Messiah’s people, with his life now at work in us. And, since the central thing about him is his loving faithfulness, the central thing about us, the only thing in fact that defines us, is our own loving faithfulness, the glad response of faith to the God who has sent his son to die for us. This is the very heart of Christian identity. Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 26). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

And one of the sure signs of being together in this New Covenant is to eat together. Tom Wright put it this way: To have separate tables within the church is to spurn the generous love of the Messiah. One of the marks of Jesus’ public career was open table-fellowship. God intends it to be a mark of Jesus’ people from that day to this. Wright, Tom (p. 27).

Communion is one of the special meals with profound significance. Every meal together is an intimate sharing amongst those who are family in Christ. And like the church in Antioch – our background is irrelevant!

It’s a new identity that comes with being rescued from the evil age which we spoke about two weeks back: Gal 1:3  “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Gal 1:4  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age …” reaches a climax in Galatians 2:20 – “And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live within the faithfulness of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Kingdom New Testament).


Sunday sermon 1 June 2014 – time waiting on God


Readings:  Acts 1:6-14: 1 Peter 4:12 – 14;  5:6-11:  John 17:1-11:


This is a challenging day. It’s the 1st of June. That in itself is not remarkable.

But it is that one Sunday – symbolically – when we are in-between Ascension Day and Pentecost.

As if we were in the upper room.

The in-between times of life are challenging generally.

The times between being a member and citizen of one country and having full rights and acceptance in another.

Immigrants know all about this. The in-between – ness of it all. Being born in one country and growing up in another can make you uncertain – betwixt and between as the English idiom says.

The times waiting in other horrid situations.

  • Between the ward and the hospital theatre.
  • Between life and death when the end comes.
  • Between a death and a funeral – for a family
  • Between jobs – for the unemployed.
  • Between doctors with half-suspected diagnoses – wanting yet not wanting the truth because of what it many mean for our lives.
  • Between homes – knowing we have to move out and down size – and not really knowing where we will land up.

You may know some of these times. As a church you will know this.

  • In a church – between ministers (the so-called vacancy)
  • In a church – between Session Clerk’s and Administrators. We seem to be in between them all at the moment.
  • In-between leaders in mainly music and messy church – no one stepping up. And mission support. And in time pastoral concerns.

These things can make you insecure. Scared. Uncertain. Worried. Vulnerable. Especially if you’re in my shoes – when you’re the minister.

They are times of waiting – and especially waiting on the Lord. What do you want us to do Lord?

We’re not good at that really. Even our “best at prayer” (Presbyterians – anagram) rush in with their requests each week in our prayer meetings – asking God to bless our busy lives and our many activities. And we sit a little worried by the silence – and tend to want to scurry off and do something practical.

When he calls us to be still and wait.

Not enough waiting. Not enough surrender.

I asked more than a year ago – in the context of our leadership (probably two years ago) whether we would be prepared to stop it all – and only do the things we really knew we should.

I don’t think anyone took me too seriously. And now we may have to let some of them go.

And now we have to seriously ask Him what we should do – and some things may end. We can’t do it all – we don’t have the resources – financial or people.

And the test is probably whether the things are getting the good news to people who need to hear it! Whether they are part of the great commission.

Well on this symbolic Sunday between the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit – almost a vacuum in history – let’s think about waiting on God some more.

Those disciples waited – and then the power came.

It was never their power of course – it was Jesus’ power (we sang that old song again – all power is given in Jesus’ name – and in Jesus’ name I come to you to share his power as he told me to – He said freely freely).

And so in the reading from Acts we heard today:

Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to trust.

But in the in-between times – in the age in which we live between his ascension and his return – we are empowered to witness.

Not complicated. It’s not all about us! It’s about the mission we have.

Luke tells us after he left them – this is what happened in Jerusalem:

Act 1:14  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

The lines we heard from the last chapters of 1 Peter – were written to a church that was waiting desperately for His return – as they were persecuted and suffering.

They are exhorted to stand firm in their suffering – to rejoice when suffering for doing good.

And to be discerning:

1Pe 5:8  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

1Pe 5:9  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Of course the favourite passage is this one:

1Pe 5:6  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

1Pe 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

We listened to Simon Ponsonby again this week in home group – speaking about desert or wilderness experiences.

He starts with Jesus being led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the desert in Matthew 4. And of course we too have those desert times too.

In fact he quotes Selwyn Hughes who lists a number of experiences in life where we as Christians are tested: failure, suffering, humiliation, bereavement, estrangement, doubt and dereliction.

God allows these things because they are good for us – they make us really wait on him and depend on him – so that we don’t become self-sufficient.

On Ascension Day we stopped to say – you Lord Jesus are the Head of the church! And we are your body!

How scary that you should want to use us!

We’re so helpless and weak really. Vulnerable. And that is probably where we are meant to be.

So when we come to the Gospel reading today – we are still in the zone of suspension.

Left hanging.

It’s not an easy passage.

There is some clarity again about His authority:

Joh 17:2  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.

There is one clear-ish Johannine verse that I like to quote:

Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

The passage – the prayer – goes on and is not easy to fathom.

But the simple bits jump out:

Joh 17:9  I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 

And then another glimpse pf hope and encouragement:

Joh 17:11  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. 

What a huge relief – that the Father has given us to the Son – and that he prays for us.

He recognises we are still in this messed-up and complicated world.

Thankfully he prays that the Father will protect us by the power of His name!

What is the name that the Father gave Jesus – by which we are protected?? I’m not entirely sure what this means. Probably simply this: “I am who I am” – the name given to Moses at the burning bush, which by the way is still the principle logo of the Presbyterian Church – born in the fires of persecution – NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR –  burned but not consumed. Our all sufficient One! Jesus was certainly comfortable using the “I am” part in in his various “I am” sayings.

Why should God protect us?

So that we may be one!


Because that’s how people will know that we are Jesus’ people.

As you read the rest of John 17 – twice more he prays for our unity.


Because it’s when we are united – sometimes with our backs to the wall – that we are the most effective witnesses.

It’s a testimony that we can actually be one – because the odds are stacked against us as human beings. Our default settings are I, me mine and myself. Narcissistic obsession – loving ourselves. Our default settings include a propensity to war and violence.

We’re so judgemental of the terrible things people do – especially when people are murdered in our safe little country – forgetting that we all have the same capacity. We are not just children of Adam. We are related to Cain who killed his own brother out of anger and jealousy – in a quarrel about what? Offerings! Religious matters!

When we’re in the in-between times – vulnerable and uncertain – we all too easily lash out, blame, and seek some reason outside of ourselves. When it fact both blame and sin crouch at our own door.

So what’s to be done?

  • Wait.
  • Watch and pray.
  • Seek his face.

Crying out to him in our desperation – that’s what he wants.

He wants to take away our self-sufficiency.

And he sometimes does that pre-eminently – through failure. It could besuffering, humiliation, bereavement, estrangement, doubt and dereliction.

But most commonly its failure.

  • Failure is followed by repentance
  • Repentance has with it new faith and absolute trust
  • And when we walk with a limp forever after that –as Simon Ponsonby rightly says – we limp so that we can’t run ahead of God on the journey.

Wait on him – let him reduce me and you to barely nothing – so that he can be everything.

It’s okay.

It’s not for any other reason than that He allows it to happen for our long term good. And for His glory!

At the end of the day – our FAITHFULNESS is tested more than anything else. Not unlike Job – who says: “though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15 KJV).