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Sunday message 4 June 2017 – 7 things about Pentecost

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

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

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

Here are 7 things about Pentecost worth mentioning today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. THEY WERE EMPOWERED by the Holy Spirit. That was the promise of Jesus before his Ascension: Act 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

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

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

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

6. THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT CHANGED THEIR CHARACTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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Sunday 28 May Ascension Sunday – the anxieties of the age

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

MESSAGE

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

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

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

I think what also grabbed me is what I’ve written about already in the newsletter. It’s about waiting. They were told to wait. Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

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

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

AND THEN OUR PERSONAL STORY SPEAKS

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

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

How do we get that message across?

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

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

ascension RCOMICL

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

ascension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tourism.

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

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

Other trajectories.

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

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

glasses art in gallery

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

People are looking for meaning in interesting places.

  • And then there are the Christians!

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

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

  • The power of His presence – the Holy Spirit Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well do you trust in Him alone?

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

Great question to ponder on this week.

Amen.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s sing that song now.

 

Sunday 15 May 2016, Pentecost Sunday: The inner witness and assurance

Readings: Romans 8:12-17; Acts 2: 1-4; & 14-21; John 14:23-27

Message.

How do you stop yourself on a day like this from trying to present a super bowl kind of grand sermon? The temptation is there – as some see this as the birthday of the church. It certainly was a key day launching the movement.

Others hope for a revival through the Spirit on this day. Some churches have services every day of the week leading up to this day.

The truth is some stay away on Pentecost Sunday – because they are terrified of the label “Pentecostal” and all its connotations. Which is odd really – as the word comes from the Greek word for 50. The real name of the day was the feast of weeks (7 times 7 weeks = 49 – then comes the 50th day). We are only afraid of the number 50 during our 49th year really. As we “age”.

This year I have decided to keep it very simple. A bit like Tuesday’s message and story – which was simply that I like spending time with my children. Quality time. So does God.

The story today is simple.
I heard it from Tim Keller. He heard it from the great Welsh preacher David Martin Lloyd- Jones. Lloyd-Jones heard it from a 17th century preacher named Thomas Goodwin. It’s got to be a good story. It’s been around a lot longer than the stories and gossip you can hear from your friends.

But first a brief overview of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s role we know it is at least fourfold – 1. conviction of sin; 2. conversion; 3. assurance, and 4.sanctification. That should be normal – and revival is really the normal becoming more normal. We all need this renewed life.

It has been said that the average Christian is neither happy or sad. Kind of flat sometimes. That’s why preachers pray for revival. Revival’s story is encouraging for pastors and church leaders, because when revival comes (as suggested by Tim Keller) – sleepy Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted and liven up, and hard to reach people (non-believers) show up – because they see the change in the sleepy and nominal Christians.

The key verse I want to focus on is this one: Romans 8:16 – The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  We are looking at the third role of the Holy Spirit – assurance. It’s the assurance that we get and need.

And so to the story. This is  an account of Thomas Goodwin’s story to illustrate this – about what he saw one day. (Thomas Goodwin – 5 October 1600 – 23 February 1680):
A father and son were walking down the street together. They were clearly father and son and affectionate. But at one point the father picks up the son and hugs him and kisses him and loves him and says “I love you” and the son says to the father “I love you too”. In 17th century English I guess. And the Father puts the son down. You can’t live all your whole life in your father’s arms. On they walk.

Lloyd-Jones says this: Objectively the Father and son were legally father and son. When the boy was in his father’s arms he wasn’t legally more of a son. But he was experiencing the Father’s love – he was experiencing his sonship.

Look at Romans 8:16 again. You know it’s true objectively that you are a son or child of God. But when the Spirit bears witness with your spirit you really experience it. That’s what brings sleepy Christians awake. And nominal Christians come alive too – they get converted – they know it’s real and begin to talk about it. It’s the work of the spirit that brings that assurance of sonship – and the inheritance that goes with it by our adoption.

Churches grow when that happens – because the spiritual growth of the sleepy and nominal Christians means they share their story with enthusiasm and hard to reach people see the results – the change in peoples’ lives as they live out their new Kingdom inheritance as sons – and the gospel is shared. It starts with that inner assurance. Spirit (God’s Spirit) and spirit(our spirit) together in us.

Fanny Crosby’s hymn: Blessed assurance Jesus is mine is about this. That inner certainty and conviction empowers and energises us because it is grounded in love.

Read Romans 5:5 again:
Rom 5:5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

  • That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • That’s how Jesus keeps his promise to be with us always. Through the Spirit.
  • And there is a boldness – which is evidenced in Acts 2 and spoken of in Acts 1:8.A passion.

They got up and told the story. They travelled across the known world to share it.
They had come to follow Jesus. They came to understand sin, their need of a Saviour and got converted, and received this assurance all from the same Holy Spirit. The sonship is key. They knew they were sons – Jesus taught them to pray “Abba Father”. But when they really felt it – for real – they became unstoppable and brave. And their embryonic faith grew.

If you have your bible open at Romans 8:16 look at the verse before:
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.”

Martin Lloyd Jones puts it like this:
“A little child has confidence. He does not analyze it… he knows that ‘Abba’ is his father. Grown-ups may be standing back at a distance and being very formal; but the little child comes running in, rushes right in, and holds on to his father’s legs. He has a right that no-one else has…”

Makes sense does it not? Didn’t Jesus talk about receiving the Kingdom of God like a little child? (Mark 10:14-15).

We don’t want to just hold on to his legs though. Hanging on is good for times in our life when our faith is clingy and desperate. The transformation of us to be more like Jesus is described by Paul like this: And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthian 3:18)

We used to sing a song based on this verse – “from glory to glory he’s changing me.” From the KJV. (All those songs were from the King James Bible!)

Well is He? Changing you?

One more story to make this point stick. Tim Keller tells it – about his early years in ministry when he was more idealistic in counselling:

He was counselling a 15-year-old girl who was discouraged and depressed. The conversation went something like this;
You’re a Christian? Many blessings? Yes. So you’re still depressed? Yes. The girl says:
“Yes – I know that Jesus loves me and I know he saved me and I know I will get to heaven. But what good is all that when not a single boy at school will even look at you. In other words – “I’m in 9th grade and not a single boy will ask me out.”
He says this – the great preacher Jonathan Edwards would say – “she had the opinion that God loved her but she had no real knowledge that God loved her.”

Why? Because the love of boys was more real to her heart than the love of God – or she wouldn’t have been that depressed. Edwards would say she needed to be shown the love of God in such a way that it began to get real to her heart and balance out how popular she was or wasn’t.

That’s assurance. Young people today need that real assurance through the reality of the Holy Spirit. We all need it – older ones too 🙂 Continually. I bet the boy liked being embraced again and again by his 17th century father over time.

That’s why Paul talks about being (continually) filled with the spirit. It’s not that the Spirit is like petrol and we run out. It’s that we need to be saturated in his love – because we are like a hardened sponge – or can become like one.

Eph 5:17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Eph 5:19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
Eph 5:20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We need more and more pouring out as in Romans 5:5  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

May you know His presence, power and love again today. Or even for the first time. Open your hearts.

Amen

 

 

 

Sunday sermon 1 May 2016, (archive) – Seeking the reality of the power, presence, and peace of God.

Reading: John 14:23 – 29

(Archive sermon – from Sunday 5 May 2013. We had a visitor today and our focus was on CAP – Christians against poverty. This sermon may be of interest to those who did not make it. Sermons from the archives are sometimes dated because of their context but the truths are still there.)

Message

It’s Pentecost in two weeks’ time. Pente is not just the name of a board game. It means 50 (Pentagon and Pentagram – you know all those words).

Fifty days after Passover was this Jewish Feast – also known as the feast of weeks. On that day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church – and the disciples empowered to preach the gospel and heal the sick. Celebrated in some churches as Whitsunday. Why?

There’s a real danger that we mark the day in our calendars and say – WOW look at that – and nothing actually happens to make the experience real for us.

The truth is that the work of the Holy Spirit is not a one-off experience. A day on the calendar. It is a central part of our Christian lives.

Reminds me of the story Nicky Gumble tells of the Religious Education teacher at school who asked his class one day: “How many people believe in God the Father?” and most put up their hands. “And how many believe in God the Son?” Quite a lot responded. And then finally he asked: “How many people believe in God the Holy Spirit?” And there was silence. Eventually a child responded: “sir, the boy who believes in the Holy Spirit is absent today!”

The Holy Spirit has often been a side-lined person in the Trinity.

One can understand the fears of people who look at the word “Spirit” and think of strange and spooky things. But we must remember that all we have of God is only possible through the Spirit.

  • Our regeneration – we are born of the spirit (John 3 – the Nicodemus passage)
  • Our sanctification – we are transformed by the spirit (2Co 3:17  Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 2Co 3:18  But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. KJV)
  • Our experience of the presence of God – Jesus is with us through the spirit  (Matt 28:20 – “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
  • Our development of Christian character – we have the fruits of the Spirit – which we should know by now – recite together…  (Gal 5:19  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; Gal 5:20  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions Gal 5:21  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control.)
  • Our appropriation of the gifts of God – the charismata are the gifts of the spirit and include the gift of healing which is a gift of the spirit (and by the way the gifts are not for our benefit alone but are there to bless others). 1Co 12:3  Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. And then they are listed…
  • The peace of God – which is made real by the Holy Spirit. This peace is more than just one of the fruits of the spirit. It is a special gift of Jesus as we see in today’s passage.

And so we come to our first verse of the reading today – a most remarkable line which should get our attention immediately:

Jesus replied (to Judas whose question arises in this different discussion): (John 14:19  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. John 14:20  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. John 14:21  Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”)

John 14:22  Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

It’s quite a complicated discussion and one of the few references to the other Judas in the team (not Judas Iscariot). It’s a question about Jesus revealing himself to his followers and not to the general public or the greater world stage. The reply is interesting in that context. What do we need? Listen: John 14:23  Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

The Father and the Son will make their home in those who love and obey. Love Jesus and take his teachings seriously.

They will MAKE THEIR HOME in those people who are committed to love and obedience.

Now I know you like the hymn “Trust and obey” but this is “love and obey.”

HOW?

By the Spirit who makes this possible!

To seal this Jesus continues in verse 24: John 14:24  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

This is serious business! This is Jesus transmitting the words of the Father to the disciples!

GETTING SERIOUS WITH GOD

Getting serious with God is the only way to really experience all he has for us!  And so we read on to understand more: John 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. John 14:26  But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:28  “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. John 14:29  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Not only do we have the presence of the Father and the Son who make their home in us through the Spirit (verse 26 re-enforces this – it is the counsellor – the Holy Spirit – who will become their on-going teacher, who will remind them of Jesus’ words), we have with this experience the PEACE OF GOD – NOT THE PEACE OF THIS WORLD.

So many people want the peace – but they don’t want a bit of this God business!

The world that Jesus speaks of is the world of people who are outside of God’s influence – by their own choice. In Jesus day they were around – in the crowds – in the towns where he visited. They would have heard but not believed.

Hence Judas’ question in verse 22 – John 14:22  Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Well God may have loved the world so much that he sent Jesus – but the truth is the world in general did not open its arms to the Gospel and still does not!  The world is made up of people who are spiritually dead in their sins. So they would not discern spiritual things. And today it seems that nothing has changed – in fact it seems that peoples’ hearts are more firmly set against the things of God!

If you go back in John 14 to earlier verses you will read this: John 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command. John 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever— John 14:17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL THIS TODAY?

“Very interesting” you may say – or “very confusing” – yes John’s gospel is not simple because it records the words of Jesus who clearly saw the need to repeat some key things. Like preachers often have to. For years sometimes!

The words that keep coming to us are these:

  • Love
  • Obedience
  • A presence that gives us peace.

How serious are you about seeking the reality of the power of God?

While the presence and power of God is really a gift of grace – the bible constantly reminds us that we appropriate the fullness of the Lord’s power when we actively seek him!

Reminds me of one of my favourite passages from Jeremiah 29: Jer 29:11  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer 29:12  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jer 29:13  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

So I ask again: How serious are you about seeking the reality of the power and presence of God?

And that begins with LOVE. Our love for Him! The greatest commandment is about loving God!  Jesus re-enforced the Deuteronomy 6 teaching of Moses in these words in Mark: Mark 12:30  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

And when you really love someone – you want to please them – not out of duty – not to earn their love – but because you delight in the relationship!

Christians who are serious about God the Father and the Son making their home in us (through the Holy Spirit) – have some housekeeping to do! (read Psalm 24!  Psa 24:3  Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? Psa 24:4  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. Psa 24:5  He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Saviour. Psa 24:6  Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob )

Just like the old days when you tidied up when the pastor came to visit and got rid of the dodgy things lying around – perhaps you tidy your place when you have visitors in general – the idea of a Holy God making your life His dwelling is quite challenging. Or you clean up when the landlord is coming to check on the house! 🙂

I’m not sure if we can biblically call this place the house of God – because it isn’t according to the Bible. We probably need to get out of that habit. Let’s be biblical: Paul in Athens talking in the context of an altar built to an unknown God says this: Acts 17:24  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. Acts 17:25  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

So back to –

  • Love
  • Obedience
  • A presence that gives us peace.

Too many people want to go straight to the peace! We want the feel good factor – our problems to end – the world to be a place of harmony – and cats and dogs to get on well. Sorry to pop the bubble – it’s not like that. You can’t get this happening in your life if you do it the world’s way. Let me try to explain.

PERSONAL REFLECTION

I’ve been here just over five years. Jesus ministered for three years. Paul was in Ephesus for two, and Corinth for 18 months. They seemed to get a lot more done in shorter amounts of time! It’s a lot harder today it seems – wherever you go ministering in the church.

I think this – this is my personal reflection – that the world has crept into the church.

When you bring the world into church you can easily quench the Holy Spirit – you can put out the light and stamp out the life.

We sometimes make it about us. And it is not about us. If you get caught up with trying to please people then we miss God. It’s a distraction.

It is – according to what we read about Jesus’ teaching to his disciples in John 14 – about love, obedience and God’s presence that gives us peace – not as the world gives! That changes us so that we can make a difference in our families, our places of work, and the world where we live.

John 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command. John 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—John 14:17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

We can be like the world when we focus on the wrong things, and then we can’t discern what God the Holy Spirit is saying or doing in our midst. Paul speaks about this again to the Corinthian church when talks about his preaching which was – in his words – “not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor 2:4). He goes on to say in that most amazing passage in verses 9 and 10: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— 1Cor 2:10  but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. And then he says this: 1Cor 2:14  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them..

All this church stuff we do – has no buying power, no currency – without the Spirit leading and directing. In fact – scary thing – churches can carry on doing the same thing for years – without necessarily being led by the Holy Spirit.

I read this amazing account about Judson Cornwall  (15 August 1924 – 11 February 2005) – a great preacher and prolific writer who started preaching at the age of 7 in the depression who went back to a church where he had ministered. Twenty years before he had taught them to seek more of God – and they had not listened. In fact he’d had a dream which he shared with them at the time – where the church members were in a large store and told to take anything they wanted – it was all free. They did – stuffing their pockets with cheap trinkets. Higher up were shelves with really valuable things for free too. Cornwall, in the dream, told them: “look up! look up!” But they didn’t. He resigned some time after that. (p94 – “More” by Simon Ponsonby). At the reunion dinner a lady said: “Oh pastor isn’t it wonderful? We still have all those gifts which God gave us in that renewal when you were here twenty years ago.” He excused himself from the party, returned to his hotel and fell on his bed weeping.

I wouldn’t mind if we shut up shop and just met for 6 months to really seek the face of God. No programs. Just prayer – Just cultivating a deep love for God, real obedience to God, and the presence, power and peace of God. Seeking to be the people of God who have Him with us and working through us. Fully. Totally. Completely.

Total surrender.

John 14:23  Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:24  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

May the Holy Spirit speak to us today. May He speak to you! Don’t be like the people in the department store getting the cheap trinkets. Imitation.

Look up! Look higher!

Amen.

 

 

Sunday sermon 8 June – Pentecost

Readings: Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

 Act 2:1  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

Act 2:2  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

Act 2:3  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

Act 2:4  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

 

Act 2:12  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Act 2:13  Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Act 2:14  Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

Act 2:15  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!

Act 2:16  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

Act 2:17  “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

Act 2:18  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

 

1Co 12:3  Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

1Co 12:8  To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,

1Co 12:9  to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,

1Co 12:10  to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

1Co 12:11  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

 

D-day.

What an amazing couple of days we’ve had – the 70th anniversary of the landings at Normandy.

TV programmes have played hours of footage about that crucial day in history.

I wonder whether the day of Pentecost has the same impact on you as D-day has on those who remember those terrible years of war?

We celebrate all kinds of other days with gratitude. Wedding anniversaries, birthdays, and often the day of peoples’ deaths brings those reflective moments and immense sadness mixed with thanksgiving. We’ve had a couple of those anniversaries this week in our church family.

So what about Pentecost?

Like our Communion service – this is not a kind of Memorial Day thing.

Communion reminds us of more than Jesus’ death and resurrection – the reality is that there is a reality now – His presence with us.

So too Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is God present here now.

He is the foundation of our ability to believe. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12: 3 – “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” 

He brings us to a knowledge and conviction of our sins – our need for forgiveness and a saviour – and our need for power to transform our lives.

And on that day they were waiting for = 120 of those believers – the church was launched if you like – catapulting from 120 to about 3120 after one powerful thrust shown by wind and fire and a great sermon, preached with boldness.

So today we could have a cake – celebrating the ancient birthday party of the church.

I could wear my crown of flames that Helen helped me make on Friday at Messy Church – to remind us of the tongues of fire – in Luke’s words:

Act 2:3  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

Or I could illustrate the power of the invisible – like the wind (balloon release for children).

Of course Luke reminds us that it was the sound that got their attention:

Act 2:2  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  

And then the flames of fire that did not burn their heads.

We could give some thought to those images – and then call it a day –  we could go to tea – as we do on a Sunday – pleased with ourselves that we have endured another sermon – and perhaps the quickest sermon of the year.

Or we could think a little more about the Giver and His gifts. 

The waiting was for the gift Jesus’ father had promised. Remember Acts 1:4 and 5:

Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

In fact this is all about the Giver. God gives His Son:  

Joh 3:16  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 

The gift of the Son brings the gift of salvation. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:

Eph 2:8  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

Eph 2:9  not by works, so that no one can boast. 

And then we read: … wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 

And when the gift came – there was a commotion – so that Peter has this to say:

Act 2:15  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!

Act 2:16  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

Act 2:17  “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

Act 2:18  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 

And in Corinthians today we heard again about the gifts that the Holy Spirit in turn gives gifts to us.

Pentecost – looking back – always puts us on the spot. 

If we pretend that it’s all in the past – then we are dishonest with the bible text, and the reality of Christian history. If we take the view that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were only meant for the church’s launch – then we are probably quenching the spirit. Being the spiritual fire brigade – putting out the fire.

We can just give it some thought and move on – or we could wrestle with the text that tells us that the Holy Spirit actually wants to use us – give gifts to us as part of the body of Christ, the church – in Paul’s words:  1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Note – that all of this operating is for the “common good”.

If we’re open to the reality of the Spirit’s work in our lives now – we could find a whole new life that means real power and transformation now. If we are open to His leading and power.

I’m not sure that we have bought into this really. Perhaps that’s the wrong idiom.

It’s a gift – we probably don’t know the giver well enough to recognise the gifts that we havae – and to allow them to have their proper impact:

  • The gift of salvation
  • The gift of the Spirit Himself who brings power
  • The gifts of the Spirit too – all for the common good of the people of God – to strengthen the church in its witness.

It’s up to us really – to be the kind of receivers that put the gifts to work. If we do – it might break the paralysis we have in terms of people putting their gifts to work in the life of this church.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 25 May 2014 – The reason for the hope that you have

Readings:  Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Message

Fifty years in church.

50 sermons a year.

A possible 2500 sermons.

What possible difference will this one make today?

That’s a fair question. It will make no difference to those who’re not here. It will make little difference to those who are asleep in the sermon slot.

It will make little difference to those who have pre-read the text and get frustrated because I don’t say the things they think I should say.

Well I’ve said this before. You don’t remember every meal you’ve had, but the food did keep you going somehow. God does use preaching as a way of reaching people with the Gospel.

Trouble is the people who need to hear the Gospel are not here either.

They’re out there in the community.

I love the passage from Acts set for today. The verse before (verse 21) says this:

Act 17:21  All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.

It’s a lovely comment. The point is Paul was there – and after walking around he speaks into their situation like this:

Act 17:23  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

And off he goes with his sermon.

I suppose the culture and context allowed that. Today the same thing happens when people are actually on the lookout for opportunities to engage the society we live in.

It’s in the pubs and clubs that the conversations take place. For some of you it’s in the dining halls of your retirement home – or in the supermarkets.

For some more IT savvy it’s on the internet on web pages and chat forums.

Paul talks to them of course about an altar to an UNKOWN GOD.

Now we could have a great theological debate about that today. We could talk about “other gods” and other faiths – whether there are really other gods- or just skewed views of them.

MIssiologists do this. They study Mission and how the gospel connects with other people’s faiths and world views.

We talked about Missional church too – and debated it in leadership – about how the church would reach this generation.

The truth is more than two years of debate about how relevant the church is to younger people has actually worn me out. So much blame was thrown around that what I offered here on Sundays was not relevant or modern enough.

Hours and hours I spent on power points which for some of you were merely a distraction.

Lucky for you I’m on the 40 hour famine of food and technology this weekend.

So you just get my voice today.

My point is this – in all this time how many people have we actually led to Christ?

How many people have we actually witnessed to?

Some of you are good witnesses – keep going. Well done!

But most of us are pretty average or less than average.

In the readings today Paul preached a great sermon. The gospel went out. It matters not how they responded. Some believed – others tried to kill the messenger on his preaching trips. Some said they wanted to talk to him again about the message he brought.

Paul’s missionary journeys were full of adventure risk and pain. In a discussion in 2 Corinthians he writes this:

2Co 11:24  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.

2Co 11:25  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,

2Co 11:26  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.

2Co 11:27  I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

Last week we read of the martyrdom of Stephen. His was such a bad sermon that they stoned him. Perhaps you’ll want to throw something at me today. Go right ahead.

God used the people who were scattered after the persecution that followed Stephen’s death to plant one of the most important churches – the one in Antioch. If you came to Tuesday church this month you would have heard that message.

God honours his Word.

Stephen never saw the fruit of his labours. He saw rocks fall on his head. Then he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God! Standing note! Not sitting. Chances are Jesus was putting in a word for this faithful spirit-filled deacon who also was a teaching elder.

SO WHAT ABOUT US?

A couple of essential things about our mission and witness jump out of the readings today. The first one does more than jump out. It screams at us.

1Pe 3:15  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

This only works if the first part applies.

Remember what we talked about last week? Where are you hanging yourheart? Remember my story of the hat and coat stand it took me two hours to assemble?

Your God is where your heart hangs – said Luther.

Peter says: But in your heart set apart Christ as Lord.(v 15)

Αγιασατεis the word. Honour Christ in your heart. Sanctify him as Lord. Set apart comes from the word for holy – which does not mean perfect but “set apart” or even dedicated.

If you haven’t done that – the rest won’t happen.

Here’s the outflow of this:

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

Listen to it again!

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

Well do you have hope?

Does it ooze from your lips and shine out of your eyes and roll of your tongue – hope – hope – hopeful –hopeful – hopefulness and more hopefulness!

Does it?

Are people saying to you? WHY WHY WHY can you be so positive when things are so bad! It’s soooooooooo bad after all. I’m soooooooo blue.

The church – the economy – my marriage – my spouse, you may say – if only you knew how blue it all makes me!

No – says Peter (writing to a persecuted church – I hasten to add).

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

AND OF COURSE:

But do this with gentleness and respect,

1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

There’s no need to be arrogant. Or rough with people with different views. In fact we should respect them.

All we should do is be is:

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

Challenging isn’t it?

And if Jesus were speaking to us this morning – once Peter has unnerved us with his reminder of how we should be a witness to Christ – who is the reason for our hope, is He not?

Jesus would say – as He did in John 14:

Joh 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command.

That creates a few problems does it not? No – it’s not another attempt to make us wither away in shame.

John 14 is the most amazing passage.

It started with “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.

And here it speaks words of such power and encouragement again:

Joh 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—

Joh 14:17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

It’s this last verse that gets to me.

It’s this last verse that gets to me. I was lying in bed the other night with tears in my eyes as I thought of children I know who have lost both parents – and the kids without parents because of AIDS and war – and so many other horrible things that happen – and this scripture was in my head:

Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Jesus’ promise to us that we will have the spirit of truth in us and with us is profound.

There’s no need to pray for God to be with us. He is!

We’re just not always with it. Our eyes and hearts are not always open.

Even in witnessing – especially in witnessing – He promises to lead us. Did Jesus not say in Luke 12:

Luk 12:11  “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say,

Luk 12:12  for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

As we are nearing the end of the Easter Season – the finality of Jesus’ departure becomes more pressing.

We’ll be here on Ascension Day on Thursday night – a very special day in our calendar – because Jesus leaves them to be the exalted King of kings and Lord of Lords.

That in itself speaks volumes about where we hang out hearts.

But of course the waiting follows – and His promise not to leave them as orphans is fulfilled at Pentecost.

Here’s the key. It’s the presence and power and person of the Holy Spirit working in us.

When He has his way – then there is no fretting “O dear I am not a good witness”. Rather there is a natural (supernatural) boldness in us.

Then we will need more than two services if people come in here seeking what we have – that which gives us hope.

I’m not sure that we actually believe it to be possible. It’s called revival.

If requires faith to walk down that road. And even Jesus was hamstrung by people in places where they had no faith.

So the challenge remains for us. When we come alive to these things by His Spirit – then the world is somehow changed as we walk out of the door! Not that people become victims of potential bible bashing.

But that the people of hope begin to shine – and these portable light houses cause a commotion as others say –“tell me why you’re so different?”

Amen.