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Sunday message 30 July 2017 – Romans series Part 1 – From sufferings to glory

READINGS:

2 Timothy 3:10-17;  Romans 8:26-39

MESSAGE

It’s great to have Shine TV on free to view these days. I hope you watch it. Do yourselves a favour and record the worship sessions – so you can play them back while you rest or work or whatever the case is. It will save me teaching you new songs. And it will strengthen your relationship with God as you worship at home. And soak in His presence and pray. Of course, you also have to read your bible chapters from Tuesday if you are taking up the challenge.

I was listening to some recommendations – slots with people’s thanks to Shine – for being so positive a channel – compared to all the others that only have bad news –the man said. Shine offers hope while the other channels are depressing.

Fair comment – I also fast-forward the news – but how do we connect the hope to the people who have only bad news – I thought. What is the bridge across which the gospel travels – into the world that needs good news. Is the news always good?

It’s a pain having a questioning mind. It was racing after that. I thought about people sending their kids to Christian schools to save them from the rot they get elsewhere in terms of bad behaviour and language. My mind was asking itself – who will be a witness to the kids who don’t know Jesus?

The real question that came out of the man’s comment on Shine TV – is about suffering. It’s suffering that makes the news depressing. And the evil that causes it. Way back – ten verses back – in Romans 8 before today’s reading is this verse:

Rom 8:18  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

In fact before that Paul writes these marvellous words in verse 15:

Rom 8:15  For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Rom 8:16  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Rom 8:17  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

The truth is – no matter what we see on TV – we as Christians are not exempt from suffering.

In fact Simon Ponsonby in his commentary on Romans writes:

Many may be surprised to see this emphasis on suffering in the context of being the adopted sons and heirs of God. But divinity is no stranger to suffering. Sonship and suffering go hand in hand. Being a Christian, far from exempting you from suffering, actually qualifies you for it. In fact, one can almost say that if you are not suffering your sonship is called into question. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 244). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

Ponsonby talks about:

  • General suffering – natural events like earthquakes and droughts – for example 36 people will die every 10 seconds from starvation around the world during this service – as an example.
  • Human evil that causes suffering – like the 30 million plus people enslaved in this generation. Or that 2.4 trillion dollars are spent on the defense and war industry annually when $175 billion could wipe out poverty.
  • And then there is suffering particular to Christians. Being a disciple of Christ invites hardships, from discrimination to persecution. In all except thirty of the world’s 200 nation states Christians face oppressive measures, ranging from deprived economic or human rights to actual threat to life. And we must add to this the bitter war waged by the enemy of our souls, who aims well his targeted temptations, torments, and trials because we follow Christ. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 245). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

So that puts to bed the objection that being a Christian is a crutch for weak people doesn’t it.

And it means we can make sense of verse 18: Rom 8:18  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Our suffering will end with death – and we will be translated into glory. And the world’s suffering will end when Jesus returns, Simon Ponsonby reminds us.

In verses 19 to 25 Paul talks about the whole world groaning and waiting for its redemption. It’s a wonderful passage. Read it at home.

Point 1.

In today’s reading from verse 26 here’s the first point to encourage us in our personal suffering:

Rom 8:26  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Rom 8:27  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

I remember listening to a Scottish lady called Andrea Wigglesworth speaking at New Wine one year about prayer. I don’t remember all the words she referred to, but one of the words – one word prayer words – was simply this – HELP!

Paul tells us here that deeper than that cry for help  – is a groan.

  • We know that Jesus intercedes for us.
  • Here the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.

Verse 26 is amazing. We don’t know what we ought to pray for. Ring any bells? It’s such a mess – what on earth do we pray? The Spirit intercedes for us with GROANS THAT WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS.

Sounds like my prayers to be honest. We groan too – as in verses 22 and 23

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

Many of us have experienced the most horrendous things – that could shatter hope and wound our hearts to the point of desperation. My response when this happens – is a deep sighing or groaning. A moaning in my spirit because the pain is beyond words.

And that’s exactly what the Spirit does.

The groan of God’s people in Egypt in slavery was the same – and God heard their cry and rescued them. If you are crying to God for someone or something – don’t despair. He hears you.

Did you know that John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, spent a total of twelve years in jail for preaching the gospel – something prohibited to all but licensed and ordained Anglican vicars! He wrote, “The best prayers have often more groans than words.” (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 248). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

That’s the first point in the face of suffering. God hears your groaning, your cries, your sighing. And Jesus and the Holy Spirit pray for you too – and the Holy Spirit shares your cry.

It’s taken me a while to finish point 1. Don’t give up. The Father hears your cry. The Son and the Spirit are praying.

Point 2

is simpler: It’s verse 28:

Rom 8:28  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

If you don’t like that translation, then go for the other common option as the original is quite difficult:

(NRSV)  We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

I prefer the first – that God works all things for good for his people. It puts Him in control.

It means that it’s not just a question of things panning out on their own.

It doesn’t mean that it will all come out in the wash.

His purpose is often different. His glory is not the same as human glory like that on “America’s Got talent” – fame and fortune.

Isaiah 55 comes to mind:

Isa 55:8  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. Isa 55:9  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Don’t despair. Keep crying out to God. Two out of the three of the Trinity are praying with you!

AND God learn verse 28 off by heart!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Amen.

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Sunday Message 25 March 2017 – The name of Jesus

Readings: Philippians 2:1-11; Acts 4:23-37

MESSAGE (What’s in a name then?)

Names are interesting. They reveal culture and the generation in which people were born. My aunts and uncles were from the generation of Enid, Eunice, Phyllis, Eileen and Violet, with Bertram, Herbert, and a couple of Stanleys. In many cultures names have clear meanings and are chosen specifically because of the circumstances of the child’s birth.

The names and titles of Jesus are also interesting and loaded with meaning. Jesus (Joshua/Jeshua), Christ (Messiah), Emmanuel (God with us), Son of God and Son of Man are the most obvious. So when we pray, his names and titles feature.

  • In the name of Jesus or In Jesus’ name.
  • Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We hear so many variants of this in people’s prayers and in prayers especially for others who are sick. Clearly the New Testament church prayed for people in the name of Jesus.

We sang that powerful song today – what a beautiful name it is, what a powerful name it is.

The reading from Philippians makes it clear that this is about a name that requires bowing down in worship, in acknowledgement of his kingship.

Paul writes about Jesus’ humility and his kenosis (a self-emptying), that as a consequence (look out for the “therefores” in Scripture):

Php 2:9  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, Php 2:10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  Php 2:11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father

This is not just Jesus aka Joshua – meaning God saves.

Not Just Jesus the Christ – the anointed one (not necessarily a divine character but set apart to rescue and save God’s people)

This is Jesus who is LORD meaning GOD.

  • He has the name above every other name!
  • At his name all bow
  • At his name all confess – agree – declare out loud – that he is LORD to the glory of God the Father.

“All hail King Jesus!” We used to sing that in the song “Majesty”.

This name – when used in prayer – was not and is not a magic formula, but a statement of authority – so that the ones sent in His name carry with that name all the powers of the Kingdom it represents.

That’s why we pray as Jesus tells us to in the Lord’s prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” – here on earth as in heaven.

“Heaven” here  represents alignment with the will of God – not in a slavish autocratic sense, but in terms of a release of wholeness seen in the healings, the signs and wonders – and the values of love, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit that come with ministry in His name.

So we need to learn more about how we pray the kingdom in – in our prayers of “intercession” – as we stand in the gap and pray for others and various human situations.

And we pray this kingdom in in the face of another kingdom.

Col 1:9  For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

 

Col 1:12 … giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Col 1:13  For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,

The dominion of darkeness is dominated by the enemy, who is described as the “god of this age” – remember – who blinds unbelievers. (2Co 4:4  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God)

IN OUR PRAYING –

We are not merely to ask for things. We are the little flock to whom he gives the kingdom:

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.

INTERCESSION means standing in the gap between this King Jesus and the people whom we really want to experience the wholeness and restoration of the Kingdom. We seek the Kingdom in our life goals, in our praying, and trust God to meet our other practical needs.

FIRSTLY JESUS STANDS IN THE GAP

Jesus stands in the gap in more than one way:

  1. Just as Jesus intercedes before the father on our behalf, He “owns us” before the father and we are to “own him” before people. (Note the warning if we disown him – Mat 10:32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. Mat 10:33  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.)

He acknowledges us as his – working for the coming Kingdom. How is this possible? Because of his position of importance and authority. Listen to Hebrews 1:

  1. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Paul says something similar: Col 3:1  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

       We are to set our hearts on things above. Not that we are thinking about heaven all the time – like an escape route. Rather that we align our thinking to God’s will. As in heaven – so we desire things on the earth.

And he stands in the gap as he intercedes for us as we find more specifically in Hebrews 7:

  1. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER BIBLE PEOPLE STANDING IN THE GAP?

  1. Moses is an example – in Exodus 32. He is remembered by the Psalmist here:

Psalm 106:23  So he said he would destroy them— had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath from destroying them.

  1. Daniel in Daniel 9 – comes before God on behalf of the nation with identificational repentance and confession.

 

Dan 9:4  I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, Dan 9:5  we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. Dan 9:6  We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. Dan 9:19  O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST – the prayers of the early church in the New Testament.

The example today draws things together.

After Pentecost, the church grew as people ministered in the power of the name of Jesus.

The account we picked up is a continuation of Acts 3. If you think of your Sunday school days, I’m sure you may have known the story and the song that went with it. It went something like this:

” Peter and John went to pray, they met a lamb man on the way, la la la la la la la la (I have forgotten this bit of the song)  and this is what they had to say:  “silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. (From Acts 3:6)”

The song continues: “He went walking and leaping and praising God…”

There’s a commotion of course. The people realize that this was the beggar who sat at the gate called Beautiful. (Acts 3:10) Leaping and jumping and praising God! Walking! A man disabled from birth.

Peter preaches in Solomon’s Portico. It does not go down well. In Acts 4 they are thrown into jail. But people still believe because of the message. (v4) 3000 increases to 5000.

And the elders and chief priests gather. And they don’t rejoice in the miracle of jumping Jack. The “big guns” gather: Act 4:6  Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. Act 4:7  They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them:

 And what do they ask:  “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Peter’s reply is direct: Act 4:10  then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

When we pick up the story in our reading today – Peter and John have been released. AND when you read the response in prayer – it’s not about them!

  • It’s all about this bigger picture.
  • Creation
  • The nations
  • The kings of the earth taking their stand against the Lod and his anointed one! Who IS that? Jesus – Jeshua – Messiah.
  • Herod is mentioned – Pontius Pilate – all these powerful people who react against this Carpenter from Nazareth. Because of who He is.

 Act 4:24  When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. Act 4:25  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? Act 4:26  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’ Act 4:27  Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. Act 4:28  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

 They have a clear picture of what goes on behind the scenes.

There’s a conflict of Kingdoms.

And they end with another great prayer of intercession:

  • Lord – they are a threat to what you are doing!
  • Act Lord!
  • Do something!

Empower us more to do these things THROUGH THE NAME OF YOUR HOLY SERVANT JESUS. (Act 4:29  Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Act 4:30  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”)

And what happens?

 Act 4:31  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

We used to sing “in the name of Jesus…. We have the victory!” Because we do! There are some things we need to learn I think about praying in this name of Jesus – and standing in the gap in intercession.

The final questions to consider are these:

  • Are we fully aware of the power and authority of the name of Jesus?
  •  Would we like to grow in intercession and stand in the gap for others?
  •  Not just for a few – we can learn to be intercessors
  •  Perhaps we need to grow in discernment as we see the bigger picture as a conflict of two Kingdoms

Amen.

Sunday’s PowerPoint is available below:

26 March 2017 The name of Jesus

 

Sunday sermon 1 June 2014 – time waiting on God

nectamen

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

MESSAGE: TIME WAITING ON GOD 

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!

Why?

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.

Why?

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).

Amen.