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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 18 December 2016: Reflection – “Jesus” – God saves. “Emmanuel”- God with us.

Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

REFLECTION

We’ve looked at three things today as we moved around the three stations in church. One we touched on last week – about the 65 million refugees in the world today – and that Jesus and his family also had to run away from their home country because it was dangerous. I hope you had a look at the world map to see where these people are from. That you pray for refugees and the persecuted church. And include them in your lives.

We were able to write prayers on an angel and hang them on the tree. For those refugees, their countries or persecuted Christians – and for our own needs and those of our loved ones and friends both here and around the world.

In the past we’ve had doves remembering people who are no longer with us or those who are far away. They’re still with us. I have them in a basket from last year.

This time we are hanging angels on the tree – because they are involved anyway – I mean real ones. Watching over our kids and grandchildren – actually the context of the “guardian” angel is that if someone hurts the little ones, their angels are going to tell God. They had close proximity to God. (Matthew 18:10 – “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.).

  • Angels are also involved in watching over us adults and keeping us safe (Psalm 91:11 – For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;) And Psalm 34:7  The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Joshua 5:14-15; Isaiah 63:9).
  • And they are tied up in worship and honouring God (Isaiah 6:2-3 – Isa 6:2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  Isa 6:3  And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”)
  • And they are involved in helping our prayers reach God (Daniel 10 is worth a read sometime).

The main thing is that we pray. We are to ask, seek and knock (Matthew 7:7). And agree in prayer (read Matthew 18:19 – agreeing about anything you ask for. Read verse 20 as well – it is well used and quoted).

And then last but not least the we placed little people at the cradle of baby Jesus. with our Christmas gift to Him written or drawn on them. Okay it’s not really baby Jesus. He’s on loan from Glamorgan school.

But the idea that we should be giving something to Jesus on his birthday is fair enough. Last year at our Pyjama service – the 6.00pm service on Christmas Eve – when I asked the children what they would like to give Jesus for his birthday, one girl very quickly suggested she would give Jesus her big sister. I’m sure you may have some relatives you would like to give to Jesus.

The thing is you can give them to Jesus – in prayer too. Every day we can hold them up to God and pray for His hope, peace, love and joy to flow over them and through them and into them. That God may watch over them and draw them to himself.

If you look at the reading from Matthew today, there are two things about Jesus that really do give us hope, peace, love and joy as we get closer to him.

Jesus  or J’shua (modern Joshua) – means God saves or rescues us from our mess. Including our sins which separate us from God

Emmanuel – means God is with us in our mess. And in our joys and hopes. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

Keep praying – keeping asking – keep trusting Jesus. Keep praying with eyes wide open to see what is happening around you. Pray for our lives, the lives of the refugees, the persecuted church, the poor, the wealthy, the lonely, the depressed, the frail and the suffering – all those who need Him! You’ll discover that we have a lot to be grateful for. We will be spending more time in prayers of thanksgiving I should think.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 16 October 2016 – Pray without ceasing

Readings: Psalm 121:1-4; Micah 6:6-8;  Luke 18:1-8

SERMON      (16 October 2016 at Bay of Islands Uniting Church, Paihia).

We’ve just spent 8 weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer in a series of sermons. Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, and he gave them that template. I’ve enjoyed preparing for these and presenting them. Prayer is at the heart of our faith, our lifeline if you like. (The series starts here:  https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/sunday-7-august-2016-lords-prayer-series-part-1-our-father/  Lord’s Prayer Part 1)

Jesus also models prayer in his own life. He often goes off alone to pray. (Luke 4:42; Luke 5:16 Mark 1:35).

His passion for prayer is seen in the one incident when he looks like a protester. You will remember this startling scene when he clears the temple with a whip in hand, overturning the tables. (Mark 11:17; Matthew 21:13; Luke 19:46 as examples, plus John 2:15 who along recalls the whip being fashioned).

In Luke’s account he declares: “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ (Luke 19:46).

So Jesus gives a parable. Usually parables leave us thinking – even scratching our heads as we try to figure out what their meaning is (with the exception of the parable of the sower).

In the gospel reading today the parable is unusual in that Luke tells us what it is about before we hear the story. Luke 18:1 says:  Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

The parable is often labelled “The parable of the unjust judge” – which is quite topical here in New Zealand. There have been a number of debates and discussions about judges – in our case people have felt some of them have been too lenient. If so they can appeal to a higher court, we are told. And they do.

The case of Oscar Pistorius in South Africa also hinges on the view that the judge was too lenient. It’s amazing how angry people get when they think that justice has not been done. And what experts they are suddenly in law!

In this case in our reading today the judge is more problematic when you think about the context in which Jesus was speaking: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. (v2)

There’s a recklessness in this description. Here’s a judge who sounds like a loose cannon – it’s possible that he has no restraint at all. In those days one would expect at least some fear of God in a judge.

In this case it’s more serious – the greater crime for a judge would be indifference towards the plight of people treated wrongly.

Especially as in this case when a widow is seeking justice. The Scriptures made it clear that widows and orphans were a priority. They were vulnerable – there was no husband to take up their concerns.

We don’t know what injustice had taken place – we know only that she says repeatedly: ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'(v3). In those days she would have to represent herself, even in a criminal case.

We can assume that the case had implications about her survival. Someone had probably done her in financially. Or maybe she had lost her home.

There’s a curious twist in this parable. It’s the reason the judge gives for surrendering to this persistent and bold lady. I’m not sure what Bible translation you use normally.

The one I have used for over 30 years – the NIV – says this: “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’” (vs 4-5)

The readers of Luke will make the connection to the purpose given for this parable – it’s about persistence in prayer. Her persistence paid off.

The twist is in the phrase the judge uses to explain why he gives in to her pleas – “That she won’t wear me out with her coming.”

The phrase “wear me out” can also be translated as “give me a black eye’ – it’s a boxing term for pummeling your opponent.

That’s persistence. It’s a word that implies bruising! She beats him black and blue emotionally.

So Jesus’ point is this. If persistence can wear down a bad judge, how much more will persistence pay off in our prayers to a good God – a righteous judge.

Remember when Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray? In Luke 11 and Matthew 6 we have these two accounts where he gives them what we call the Lord’s prayer as a pattern for prayer?

  • When you pray say “Our Father.” This is about a relationship. In Luke 11 after the teaching on the prayer he says these important words: If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”(11:13)
  • In Matthew’s account we read: If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (7:11). Again this is about a relationship.

God is not being compared to the unjust judge in terms of similar behaviour – it’s about the contrast – the difference. It’s a classic “how much more” approach which was a standard Jewish argument in those days.

So this is how Jesus explains the parable:

Luk 18:6  And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Luk 18:7  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? Luk 18:8  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.

Psalm 121 comes to mind – He neither slumbers nor sleeps (v4).

How quickly will they get justice? That’s a great question. Sometimes we pray for decades before we see a result. I think sometimes that God’s economy is very different from ours. And God’s sense of timing.

It brings to mind that lovely passage in Isaiah 55: 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.

There are Christians around the world who are crying out to God because their lives and loved ones are threatened. Clearly those who are martyred may not get justice immediately, but that too will come.

Our prayers, also,  are not merely that we be rescued from challenging situations. Even Jesus’s prayer in John 17 touches on this: Joh 17:15  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

The Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:13   is no different:  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

The persistence for us is not just in pleading for God to hear our prayers because we need a solution – or healing – or help. We need to persist in our prayer life because like any relationship, you can drift away if you don’t keep communicating. It’s the relationship that upholds us, that sustains us.

In a broader sense, persistence for us means practicing consistency. Paul says simply “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). This does not necessarily mean a 24/7 prayer meeting, although these do take place around the world. Those who hold down jobs can’t be there 24/7, but their relationship with God is 24/7.

Philippians 4:6 & 7 are a powerful help too: 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.

Once we have presented our requests to God, we are promised peace, no matter what the outcome actually is. The prayer could be answered with a “yes”, a “no”, or a “wait”. The relationship with this good Father is unchanged. And if the end does come, He has a place prepared for us (John 14).

The last line of the parable is worth looking at too. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

For us – it’s about faith now – each day – as we trust him on our faith journeys. Many of Jesus’ parables are about readiness, preparedness, alertness and watchfulness.

May you trust him – may you not give up – may you be persistent as you keep praying and never give up.

May you build a 24/7 relationship with Him, constantly listening to Him and remembering His promises, and lifting all people and situations before His throne of grace (including our leaders on the world and national stage.- see 1 Timothy 2:1-2).

When we were first married, my wife and I lived on the 11th floor of a block of flats. She waited often until she heard the bus then jumped in the lift and rushed off to catch it. Economy of time is one of her gifts. She had thirty minutes on the bus to close her eyes and pray. I complained as I had to drive – one cannot pray with one’s eyes closed when driving!

There’s a lesson in this little story. Pray with your eyes open – watch and see what God is doing, especially when you pray for individuals who are sick or have special needs. Pray with your eyes open as you watch the world around you too. There will also be times when your eyes are closed and you enter into another place with the Lord, into intimacy and into a special sanctuary, wherever you are.

Jesus modeled prayer with his requests to, and time out with His Father. Prof James Torrance of King’s College Aberdeen used to say that “the heart of the New Testament is the relationship between the Father and the Son” (C Kruger Baxter: The Great Dance, p21). With His prayers came a cultivated listening ear and a desire only to do the Father’s will.

Our relationship with God means that we too can pray without ceasing. And we too can seek His will and His ways. Every day.

Amen.

 

 

 

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;

SERMON

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.

HERE’S A QUESTION:

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.

SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH THIS?

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”.

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.

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT NOW

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.

Amen.

 

Sunday Sermon, 17 July 2016 – Mary and Martha

Reading: Luke 10:38-42

MESSAGE

So how are you when it comes to balancing your life?

Work and pleasure                     Exercise and rest

Crowds and solitude                 Noise and silence?

Busyness and devotion?          Doing and being?

Being a Martha or being a Mary?

Hospitality has been a big issue in Luke’s gospel as we’ve travelled along through the story.

You will remember the sons of thunder wanting to call down fire on that Samaritan village which was not hospitable to Jesus. They wanted heaven to “nuke” the lot of them.

You may remember the 72 being sent out – and Jesus’ instruction for them to shake the dust off their feet when they did not find children of peace in a place. You only had dust on your feet when people were inhospitable – otherwise they would have washed your feet when you arrived at their place. We have hospitality-lite in New Zealand – people take their shoes off  and we are let off the hook.

And of course the forgiving Samaritan who rescued a half-dead Jewish enemy arranged hospitality and paid for the man’s stay in a local inn – extravagantly caring for him. You can’t always sit by someone’s bedside when you have work to do – but you can sponsor someone else – in our day like a hospital chaplain.

Our team today is helping getting patients to the chapel service at North Shore Hospital.

So perhaps Martha is just as right as Mary in this event. We read in verse 38: As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

There would have been no place for Mary to sit at the feet of Jesus had Martha not opened her home. And I bet they had yummy food.

So there are some simple lessons today.

1. We’re all different – and that’s okay

We’re different in personalities, in gifting, in strengths and weaknesses.

It’s the nature of the body of Christ that the different parts have different functions. Read 1 Corinthians 12 to remind yourself of that.

And you know – and I know – that our bakers and chefs are critical in church growth – even if we are at risk of the wrong kind of expansive growth.

Hospitality is crucial. Martha was good at that. In fact, she is doing Christian ministry – she is serving. Both the word “preparations” and “work” in verse 40 come from the word diakonia – where we get the word deacon from. That’s the role of our board – it’s real ministry doing the practical caring – and the fixing of things..

There are a couple of verses that commend hospitality – including this one from 1 Peter:

1Pe 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

1Pe 4:9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

It reminds me of the family who invited church friends around for a meal, and the mum said to the little girl “please say grace”. The child responded: “I don’t know what to say”. Mum replied: “just say the last prayer you heard your father pray”. She did – and prayed: “o Lord why did we invite this lot over for tea?”.

Having said that:

2. Food and entertaining isn’t everything

I think I understand the Martha thing in this sense – you can really go over the top.

Martha seems to be a bit obsessed with all the detail – and frustrated enough to ask Jesus to take sides. Ah the joys of sibling rivalry. “Tell my brother to do this dad! He won’t listen to me” In Jesus’s words she was “worried and upset about many things”.

There’s a good approach to enable you to be more hospitable – people have to take you as they find you. And if they don’t like your chaos – too bad.

If you saw the movie “Amazing Grace” about William Wilberforce, you would have remembered the hosts of people eating at his place, and the fact he had to remove a pet – I think it was a hare – to find a seat for someone.

Biblically – perhaps the key verse to balance this should be this one uttered by Jesus at his temptation: Mat 4:4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

3. Mary chose the what is better – only one thing is needed. (v42)

The quote Jesus uses is from Deuteronomy chapter 8 – here it is in context:

Deu 8:2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.  Deu 8:3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

To get back to Luke 10, this account is not about women essentially – although it was unusual for women to be in a rabbis group of followers. It’s not primarily about siblings or catering either.

It’s about discipleship. Following Christ changes our focus.

And many other things also crowd out our time – time we need to take to be really still and listen to Jesus’ teaching.

Whether here on a Sunday – or in our personal devotions – or in the invitation he extends for us to take longer time out – retreat days and extended periods of quiet.

Too much of everything else can choke out God’s life in us.

We become dry and spiritually barren.

The active life and the contemplative life are both important.

But it’s better when what we do flows out of who we are.

Being has precedent over doing. We are human beings after all – not human doings.

If we don’t attend to this contemplative life, and listen, study and digest the words of Jesus, we burn out. And we’re no good to anyone or ourselves. “This little light of mine” that we are supposed to shine – goes out.

RISKS FOR THE CHURCH

Apart from our individual lives and walks with God, we also get distracted by the details here.

Keep focus people. Remember that lovely song:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

There is a second verse of the song which goes like this: “keep your eyes upon Jesus”. Let’s do that.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 15 February 2015 – Mountains and voices

Reading: Matthew 16:24 – 7:8

MESSAGE

There are three accounts of this Transfiguration in the gospels. Like eye-witness accounts of any event, they differ from each other.

In all three, Moses and Elijah are seen. We’re not always sure what to do with that. Elijah was transported straight to heaven. Moses was buried by God, according to Deuteronomy 34. In Moab – at an unknown site. Of course there is an interesting reference to his death in Jude 1:9. Have a read through the week.

What do we learn from this?

In the context of Matthew, Peter is in the background before we even read this account. He’s the first to recognise Jesus as Messiah. He doesn’t fancy the news that Jesus will die – so becomes Satan in the plot. Then he (with the twins with issues – James and John) are given the encouragement of this amazing vision on a mountain.

And Peter again gets a bit confused – wanting to camp out on the mountain in booths or tabernacles. I don’t think Elijah and Moses were planning a vacation up there. Mark says in his observation – “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened”. Luke is more blunt, noting that Peter “did not know what he was saying” which sounds like a euphemism for losing the plot.

We too like Peter have our ups and downs. The mountain top experiences don’t last. And we too would have been afraid.

Visions can be scary. When I was teaching I used to tell my students about the time I saw dead people. Being boys they loved those stories. And the one about the man who was dead for four days and then raised from his coffin. He came to speak at our local pastor’s association – that was interesting! And the boys loved the story of the funeral I did for a gangster. I digress.

The time I saw dead people walk through the walls is the point. It can be scary. In this case the hallucinations were the side effect of post-operative drugs. That was the time – you may remember – that while wrestling with a fever and hallucinations, the phone rang. I answered it and one of Sheilagh’s business associates was on the line. I told her that we were on a high mountain (the Drakensberg which is the name know to Africans) – and that the phone did not work at that altitude. “Please call her on her mobile” I said, and cut her off.

A different mountain. Tom Wright writes about the mountain in these words:

Mount Tabor is a large, round hill in central Galilee. When you go there today with a party of pilgrims, you have to get out of your bus and take a taxi to the top. They say that God is especially pleased with the Mount Tabor taxi-drivers, because more praying goes on in the few minutes hurtling up or down the narrow mountain road in those cars than in the rest of the day, or possibly the week.

He goes on to say:

Mount Tabor is the traditional site of the transfiguration, the extraordinary incident which Matthew, Mark and Luke all relate about Jesus.  Actually, we don’t know for sure that it took place there. It is just as likely that Jesus would have taken Peter, James and John– his closest associates– up Mount Hermon, which is close to Caesarea Philippi, where the previous conversation took place. Mount Hermon is more remote and inaccessible, which is of course why parties of pilgrims have long favoured Mount Tabor. From both mountains you get a stunning view of Galilee, spread out in front of you. *

They weren’t up there for the view, says Wright. This is one of those key moments – like Jesus’ baptism – where he is affirmed by a voice, and his followers are stunned and also told not to tell the story to anyone. There was obviously something specific for the three key men in Jesus’ team.

Here’s the key:

  • Mark 9:7 – Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
  •  Matthew 17:4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
  • Luke 9:34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
    35  A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
    36  When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.

There’s a conversation happening between Moses, Elijah and Jesus.

Peter makes a plan to build shelters and starts sharing his ideas.

In two of the three gospel accounts, while Peter is speaking – God interrupts.

Does he? Or is in fact Peter interrupting God’s work. The cloud of the presence descends. Things grow strange, perhaps a little dark – all three gospels talk about them being “enveloped” by the cloud.

  • Then the voice.
  • And the identification of the Son – Jesus – how he is valued, loved, chosen, with whom God is well pleased.
  • And then the command: listen to Him.

APPLICATION

Peter was on the wrong page really. But he got there in the end.

When Jesus was pinned up on the cross on another mountain – Calvary, Peter did badly again. As Lent begins this week and we prepare for 40 days until Easter, we are faced with our own faith response.

Are we sometimes on the wrong page? Think about that for a while. There were voices at our Session meeting this week – as we wrestled with some issues.

It was about when we meet for worship. Since my speech issues, we have been meeting at one combined service. We will ask you for your thoughts.

There was one voice that won’t go away in my head. It was the question about how we reach the people of Browns Bay on a Sunday morning – those down at the market.

That one I think will come around again.

On Mount Tabor – or Hermon, whichever it was, there was a command to the disciples: Listen to Him.

And when all is said and done, the commands of Jesus are crucial.

I suspect that the important ones include:

  • Love one another as I have loved you.
  • Do this in remembrance of me (communion today)
  • Go into all the world
  • Make disciples of all nations

You’ve probably got some that grab your attention too.

The disciples did listen to him. They made mistakes, they got things wrong, but they did follow Jesus! And most of them gave their lives in the service of the gospel.

I want to quote Tom Wright again – I can’t say it better:

Matthew, here as elsewhere, highlights the parallel between Jesus and Moses. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and then, before completing his task, went up Mount Sinai to receive the law. He then went up again, after the Israelites had drastically broken the law, to pray for them and to beg for God’s mercy. (Elijah, too, met God in a special way on Mount Sinai; but Matthew’s interest, throughout the gospel, is in the way in which Jesus is like Moses, only more so.) Towards the end of Moses’ life, God promised to send the people a prophet just like him (Deuteronomy 18), and gave the command: you must listen to him. Now, as Moses once again meets God on the mountain, the voice from the cloud draws attention to Jesus, confirming what Peter had said in the previous chapter. Jesus isn’t just a prophet; he is God’s own son, the Messiah, and God is delighted with what he is doing. The word to the disciples then is just as much a word to us today. If you want to find the way– the way to God, the way to the promised land– you must listen to him. *

That’s the gospel we have to tell others about. That’s why we are here.

May we listen to Him.

Amen.

 

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

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

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

SERMON

So how’s it going being yoked to Jesus?

An easy yoke? A light burden?

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

Have we missed it? I think we may have.

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

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

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

What does an easy yoke actually look like?

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 12:1-2 says this of course:  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s called grace.

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

Grace is not just about celebrating forgiveness of sins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A theological aside

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

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

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

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

THE VISION AND THE YOKE

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

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

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

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

The yoke of Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

What about them?

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

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

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

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

But in the meantime.

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

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

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

Later in Matthew we read this:

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

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

Yay! Yea and Amen!

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.

 

Sunday sermon 29 September – Under His Wings

Reading: Psalm 91:1  – 6 ;  14 –16                                         Preacher: Ann Martin

Part 1  verses 1-6

(Story) John was struggling with failing health, financial concerns and depression. In desperation he made an appointment to see the Vicar, wary of platitudes and dubious about the prospect of relief from his troubles. The young pastor listened to John’s concerns before opening the Bible at Psalm 91. The Word of God proceeded to provide healing and hope to John in a way that no medicine and indeed no minister ever could. John was like a different man afterwards because God had spoken directly to him. On the surface nothing had changed, but the knowledge that God was with him in the “deadly diseases” and ”the terror of the night” was enough to bring comfort.

Psalm 90 reminds us that the Lord is ”a dwelling place” throughout all generations (v1). Now Psalm 91  reminds us that He is also a ’shelter’ from the storms of life’  a ‘refuge’ when we are frightened and a ‘fortress’ that keeps us safe from attack.

Exodus 14 v 13-14 tells us: Fear not, stand still (firm, confident, undismayed) and see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today…The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace and remain at rest.

When troubled times come our way, one of our biggest challenges is to stay calm. Our natural tendencies are to fear, to worry and to try to do something to fix the situation or solve the problem. But we must learn to get our emotions under control, so we can think clearly, act wisely and pray in faith.

Moses often had to help the Israelites calm down. When Pharaoh’s army was gaining ground on them, they kept running, but knew they were headed straight for the Red Sea.    Death seemed certain. Exodus tells us the people were frightened and angry with Moses, and they decided they would have been better off as slaves to the Egyptians than trying to outrun Pharaoh’s soldiers. Moses said “Stop it! I know the situation looks hopeless, but don’t be afraid.   Just be still for a minute and watch what God is going to do for you”. Before Pharaoh’s army reached the Israelites, God rolled back the waters of the Red Sea so His people could cross over on dry land. When they were all on the other side, the sea closed again and Pharaoh’s fighters were drowned.

This same miracle working God is on our side still.  He still fights for His people. Our job, if we belong to Him is to “hold our peace and remain  at rest.

There are some things in the Christian life that we do not need to ask for—they are part and parcel of God’s provision for us as His children. And the continued presence of Jesus Christ in our lives is one of them. But concerning some things in life, we would have to say in all honesty that we are not sure if we know the mind of God about  them. Thus, before we can proceed, we pray for light and direction.  But no Christian need be unsure of God’s promise to dwell in the hearts of those who are His children.    He has put the issue beyond all possible doubt by assuring us that He is always with us.

Why then do we find ourselves so often praying for God to be with us, instead of simply affirming it? We need this to be a deep conviction so that, when adverse conditions develop, we will not be left wondering if He is still with us.

Opinions are something we hold.   Convictions are something that hold us. So drop your anchor into the depths of this reassuring and encouraging revelation and never again raise the anchor.  God is with you always. Let the truth pass from being an opinion, into a firmly held conviction. Behind it lies all the authority of heaven.

Psalm 91 v 2 tells us this: “I will say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God;  on Him I lean and rely, and in Him I (confidently) trust”

When we are frustrated, it is often because we are trying to do something in our own strength, instead of putting our faith in God and receiving His grace and help.

Little faith can become great faith when we see the faithfulness of God as He meets our needs. You can become a person who enjoys great peace by trusting God.

One thing that is clear about the area of relationships is this, ”relationships can hurt”. A friend of mine says “God calls us to relate to people who are guaranteed to hurt us and fail us”. Which is why we must find a source of security that is not in people, but in God, the unfailing One. This does not mean we must withdraw from people, but that we do not use them as the source of our life. Once we see that God and God alone is our true security then when earthly relationships fail we are shaken but not shattered. There will be a 5 foot drop and not a 1000 foot one.

How will secure people behave when in the midst of a broken relationship? Having reminded themselves that God’s grace is ever sufficient and having looked at any way in which they may have contributed to the difficulty and thrown themselves in utter dependency upon God, they will be strong enough to sit back and wait for God to show them exactly what to do. Once you move your point of dependency from horizontal to vertical and are following God’s direction and guidance in all things, then, though you may still hurt, you will not be destroyed.

Psychiatrist Leonard Zunin said: ”Loneliness is mankind’s biggest problem”  and is the main reason behind the many and varied symptoms I see in the people who present themselves before me day after day. By loneliness I don’t mean aloneness. There is a great difference. It is possible to be alone and yet not lonely.It is also possible to be lonely in a crowd.

What is loneliness? It is the feeling we get when we are denied meaningful human companionship. It is a sense of isolation, of inner emptiness, deprivation and worthlessness. The poet Rupert Brooke tells how, when he first set sail from Liverpool to New York on 22nd May,1913, he felt terribly lonely because no one had come to see him off. Everyone else had friends waving then goodbye– but not he. Looking down from the deck,  he saw a scruffy little boy and swift as thought he ran down the gangway and said to him  “Will you wave to me if I give you sixpence”?  “Why yes” said the little boy. The sixpence changed hands and that day Rupert Brooke wrote in his diary  “I got my sixpence worth in an enthusiastic farewell.

Those who have never felt the pangs of loneliness will find it hard to understand a story like that. But to others it will carry a world of meaning. It is a desolating experience to be lonely. Yet the Presence of God can become so real as to dispel all feelings of loneliness. We need never feel lonely,  or in danger or afraid because God’s Word assures us of His protection and company whenever and wherever we are.

Deuteronomy 31 v 6 “Be strong, courageous and firm;  fear not nor be in terror,…….. for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you”.

If we know by faith that God is with us, we can take on any challenge with confidence and courage. We may not always feel God’s  presence, but we can trust His Word and remember that He said He would never leave us or forsake us.

God encouraged Joshua again, saying, ”Be strong, vigorous, and very courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Basically, God was saying to Joshua, ”You have a big job to do, but don’t let it intimidate you. Fear not.   Do not be afraid, because I will  be with you.”

In the Bible, the basis for not fearing is simply this; God is with us. And if we know God’s character and nature, we know He is trustworthy. We do not have to know what He is going to do; simply knowing He is with us is more than enough.

Isaiah 41 v 10 Fear not, (there is nothing to fear) for I am with you, do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God, and I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties.

What does this mean?  It means God makes us stronger and stronger as we go through things. It means that over time, we become less affected by the difficulties and challenges we face.    It is like exercise.     When we first do it, we get sore, but as we press through the soreness, we build muscle and gain strength. We must go through the pain to get the gain.

If God removed all challenges, we would never grow and overcome obstacles. He often permits difficulty in our lives because He is trying to reveal something that needs to be strengthened or changed in us. Our weaknesses are never revealed in good times, but they quickly show up in times of trial and stress. Sometimes He shows us what we are afraid of because He wants to deliver us from that fear and strengthen us for things that will come in the future. In those times, we need to say, ”Thank You God, for allowing me to see that fear in my life. It reveals an area that needs to be dealt with in me.” Once that particular area of fear is dealt with, the enemy will have a very hard time bothering you—and succeeding—in that area again.

Think of a situation that once made you fearful but you now handle without fear. Some things you go through in life may not feel good initially, but they will work out for your good if you keep going forward and trust God to strengthen you each step of the way.

The Psalms are full of references to God’s saving grace, His presence and protection. I did a little study and before I had gotten halfway through the book of Psalms, I had found more than 24 places that tell of God being with us to save and to protect us and to be a fortress for us.

Let me read Psalm 91 verses 1– 6 again, but this time in the first person. “If I go to the Lord for safety, if I remain under the protection of the Almighty, I can say to Him, ”You are my defender and protector.  You are my God, in You I trust.   You will keep me safe from all hidden dangers and from all deadly diseases.  You will cover me with Your wings and I will be safe in Your care.  Your faithfulness will protect and Defend me. I need not fear any dangers at night or sudden attacks during the day.”

An incident, while on holiday recently,  illustrates God’s care rather well. We were staying by the Lake at McLaren Falls Park near Tauranga. We saw several families of ducks. One mother had fourteen ducklings. Brian picked one up. The Mother duck made such a fuss. When Brian put it down it made straight for Mother and she fussed over it and kept it close under her wings.

Part 2    Verses 14-16.

This portion of Psalm 91 is like an echo of the first part but this time from God’s point of view.

(story) On a chilly March afternoon (Northern Hemisphere) before going home for dinner Pastor Walter Klempel fired up the church furnace in preparation for Choir Practice.   When it was time to return to Church with his family they were delayed because his daughter changed her clothes.   At the same time student Ladona Vadergrift was struggling with a geometry problem and stayed at home to work on it.   Sisters Sadie and Royena Estes’ car wouldn’t start. Herbert Kipf lingered over a letter he’d put off writing.    Pianist Marilyn Paul fell asleep after dinner and her Mum the Choir director had trouble waking her.  Pals Lucille Jones and Dorothy Wood were late because of a radio broadcast. Every single choir member was late;  something that’s never happened before or since. Was it just a fluke?  No! At 7.30pm that night the West Side Church was flattened by an explosion from a gas leak ignited by the furnace….directly below the EMPTY Choir Seats.

God’s looking out for you, when you don’t even know you’re in danger! As His child you, ”live within the shadow of the Almighty”…..sheltered by …God…He rescues you from every trap.   He will shield you with His wings….His promises are your armour….He orders His angels to protect you wherever you go (Ps 91 v 1-11).  The Bible says, “the Angel of the Lord guards and rescues all who reverence Him (Psalm 34 v7)    To trust in God means safety (Psalm29 v 25)

You can call it coincidence, chance, fate or you can call it what it really is—divine protection.

After the September 11th Twin Tower disaster many people told  of why they were late that day and so survived.    And I am sure you have heard of other  occasions when God demonstrated His protection over us.

The film “Bruce Almighty” is mainly an excuse for a series of plastic explosions from Jim Carrey, but there is some pretty good sermon material in there too. Bruce keeps hearing voices building up. He discovers they are people’s prayers waiting for an answer. He attempts to answer them individually through email, but finds he just can’t keep up with the demand, until finally he sets his email to automatically respond, ”Yes” for every request. Good idea he thinks. Everybody gets what they want. The film goes on to illustrate the pandemonium this care-free, couldn’t-care -less approach to prayer has. It makes an important point. Prayer is not about having God as your personal ’genie in a bottle’.  Prayer is about living in a relationship with God. Prayer is a gift, not a duty. Prayer is about getting close to God. Yes, sometimes He will give us what we want, but sometimes He won’t. God loves us so much that sometimes He gives us what we need and not what we ask.

Sometimes, it will seem like He’s not even answering. God is your Father, and the time you spend with Him is the point.

Psalm 145 v 18 reminds us:  “The Lord is close to everyone who prays to Him, to all who truly pray to Him.

Similarly, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, is hooked up to the Internet.  Using the Internet, subscribers can send email to other internet users.     So when “The New Yorker” magazine published Bill Gates email address, he quickly got into Trouble with email overload. Now, anyone on the Internet was able to email the computer genius. In no time he was swamped with thousands of messages– he simply couldn’t handle it.  So he armed his computer with software that filtered his email, allowing important messages through and sending all the others to electronic oblivion.

We are limited,  we can handle only so much and do only so much— God on the other hand, never tires of Smail, (spirit mail). His ear is always open to  our prayers. And He has an unlimited capacity to help.  You’ll never hear Him say. “Due to an unusually high call volume I am unable to take your message at this time.   Please call back or leave a message.” No! The Bible says, ”he shall call upon Me, and I will answer him.  I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him.    Psalm 91 v 15.

“The desire of the righteous will be gratified (Proverbs 10 v 24)

“The prayer of the upright is His  delight” (Proverbs 15 v 8)

“Call to me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know (Jeremiah 33 v 3)

“If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. (John 15 v 7)

It’s impossible to be a healthy Christian without a good prayer life.

So let’s check:

  1. How’s my consistency? If you can’t remember when you last took time to pray, you need to do something about it.   Without prayer you’re uncovered and unprotected.
  2. How’s my sincerity?  Are my prayers more liturgy (ritual) than life? Daily, but dull and dry?  That’s because you don’t know enough about who you’re talking to, or how He feels about you.  The better you know Him, the more time you’ll want to spend with Him.

3.  How’s my faith? Do you wonder if prayer really changes anything?  Or why on earth a God in Heaven would want to talk to you, or hear anything you had to say?    (If He already knows it all, what can you tell Him anyway? And if He decides everything, why even bother?

Prayer is not for God’s benefit—it’s for ours. Where else can we go to bare our souls without fear, and walk away cleansed, comforted, counselled and  corrected?    Our Prayers work, not because of how well we say them, but because of  how well He hears them.

We don’t have to understand prayer to enjoy it’s benefits, any more than we have to understand aerodynamics in order to fly.  Just do it! Pray! Get on the plane and trust the Pilot to take you where you need to go.    Forget about the wrapping, and just give the gift. It’s better to pray awkwardly, than not at all.

“He will call upon Me, and I will answer Him”  (Psalm 91 v 15) There it is in black and white. God’s invitation to ask and His promise to  answer. What more do you need?

Prayer is an unnatural activity! From birth we’re taught the rules of self-reliance. Growing up we struggle to achieve self-sufficiency. Prayer flies in the face of those deep-seated values!     It’s an indictment of independent  living.

To people in the fast lane, prayer is an embarrassing interruption,  totally alien to our proud human nature. Yet all of us reach the point of falling on our knees and praying. We may look both ways to be sure nobody’s watching;  we may even blush’  but in spite of the foreignness of the activity—we pray. Why? Because the most intimate communion with God comes only with prayer!  Ask people who’ve faced tragedy or trial, heartbreak or grief, failure or fear, loneliness or discrimination. Ask what happened in their souls when they finally fell on their knees and poured out their hearts to the Lord; ”I can’t  explain it, but I felt like God understood me. I felt a comfort and peace I’d never known before.”

And isn’t that what God promised? (Philippians 4v6-7) “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.” You won’t believe the changes that will occur in your life once you are convinced to the core of your being, that God is willing, that He is able, and that He has invited you to come before His throne to do business in prayer.

We love to be generous to our children. That’s why Jesus said (Matthew 7 v 11) “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?” Think how brutal this would be if it represented your attitude as a parent, (a) I’m too busy, I don’t want to hear about your lost bike, or your school problem. (b) don’t bother me with your personal requests.    I’ll take care of everyone else but you.    If you love me you’ll survive on bread and water.   (c) sure I’m rich, but why should I give you anything –back off! Good parents  don’t talk like that because they don’t feel that way about their children;  they want only the best for them. So take a good parent’s feeling for his or her child, multiply it hugely, and you’ll have a slight idea of how your Heavenly Father feels about you. Nobody’s voice sounds sweeter to Him than yours. Nothing in the world would keep Him from directing His full attention to your requests. So come to Him every day in  prayer.

An enemy had just arrived, intent on wiping out Israel. So Moses says to Joshua. ”Take your best soldiers and go out to meet them. I’m taking two men and I’m  going to climb that hill that overlooks the planes, raise my hands toward heaven and pray for victory.”  As Moses hands stretched heaven ward, Joshua’s troops prevailed in battle.  But when Moses’ arms grew weary, and he dropped them to his side the tide of battle shifted before his eyes.     Joshua’s troops were being struck down.  Again Moses stretched his arms towards heaven bringing the matter before the Lord.  Immediately, the battle’s momentum shifts back to Joshua. Then Moses realises—if he wants to open the door to God’s supernatural intervention here on earth,  he must keep his arms stretched toward heaven in prayer.

So, If you’re willing to invite God to involve Himself in your daily living, you’ll experience His power in your home, your relationships, your career, and wherever else it’s needed.

But the other side of the equation is sobering, it is hard for God to release His power in your life when you put your hands in your pockets and say, ”I can handle this on my own.”

If you do that, don’t be surprised if you get the nagging feeling that the tide of battle has shifted against you. And that you’re powerless to do anything about it. Too many of us are willing to settle for lives like that. Are you one of them? In Psalm 91 we read of a God who responds to us. Check this out, (verse 15) ”When they call on Me, I will answer”  Wow! That’s a wonderful promise!

Who is this God who will answer us? The psalmist tells us that He is the ”Most High the Almighty (v1) Both terms stress His position and limitless power. And in verse 2 we read that He is Yahweh, the great ”I am”, who is our Lord.

Psalm 91 calls for us to take shelter in the Lord. It assures us that God will protect us from danger.

In verses 3 & 4 it features the metaphors of a mother bird and of armour as our protection as it details the fullness of His power and presence. The picture of a mother bird safely tucking her young under her wings. There they are secure. There is a very tender touch stressing the warmth of God’s love and concern.    But not only  is there a tenderness in God’s care, there is also a toughness as is seen in the imagery of the armour. God Himself promises to keep in safety those who love Him and call to Him.  He does reply and watch over us.

You must make a Choice to take a Chance or your life will never Change.

Do you know the ABBA song “Take a chance on me”? Well!    I challenge you to take a chance on God.

Make the choice to take a chance on God and Your life will change for the better.

I leave you with Jeremiah 33 v 3: “Call on me and I will answer you. I will tell you wonderful and marvellous things that you know nothing about.”

 God bless you.

Sunday Sermon 10 February @ 9.00am – Listen to Him

MESSAGE (Sunday 1)                    Reading: Luke 9:28-36

It’s a great passage – I love it.

  • It reminds us that the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah) are fulfilled in Jesus.
  • That Jesus is greater than the prophets (or a prophet) and the greater teacher (than Moses)
  • It’s a foretaste of heaven, and heaven and earth meet here on this mountain
  • It’s a powerful description of the transformation of the face of Jesus – and the brightness of his appearance
  • It reminds us that we have mountain top experiences – and that like Peter we want to stay up there on the mountain with those wonderful experiences! Of course we don’t stay on the mountain tops!
  • And that it was in prayer that Jesus was transfigured (verse 29) – reminding us that we too are transformed in prayer! (Only Luke mentions that this was in the context of prayer. Yay for three gospels!)

But here’s the thing. There’s one of those voice from heaven passages – and it’s a great reminder that God speaks!

That this is all about God revealed to us!

The cloud (verse 34) is about the presence of God! That’s what we need and that’s actually the privilege of access we have (access in Ephesians is referred to in chapter 2, verses 7-8 –  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. And in Romans 5:1-2 – Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. We have a new place of grace to stand before God! By grace!

And the voice! This is so important! Listen to verse 35 again:

35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

Are you listening to Him?

That’s the key to all of this really.

I remember being taught – if you haven’t a clue where you are in life and what God’s will is for your next step – go back to the last thing He told you to do! And do it! Listen!

I was reading one of George Whitfield’s sermons on this passage! I love it! This short interesting Anglican of the 18th century who preached to tens of thousands at once in England and America!

I want you to listen to what he said to his hearers:

I can now only mention one thing more, and that is, Did the Father say, “This is my beloved Son, hear him?” then let every one of our hearts echo to this testimony give of Christ, “This is my beloved Saviour.” Did God so love the world, as to send his only begotten Son, his well beloved Son to preach to us?

Then, my dear friends, hear Him.

What God said seventeen hundred years ago, immediately by a voice from heaven, concerning his Son upon the mount, that same thing God says to you immediately by his word, “Hear him.” If ye never heard him before, hear him now. Hear him so as to take him to be your prophet, priest, and your king; hear him, so as to take him to be your God and your all. Hear him today, ye youth, while it is called today; hear him now, lest God should cut you off before you have another invitation to hear him; hear him while he cries, “Come unto me;” hear him while he opens his hand and his heart; hear him while he knocks at the door of your souls, lest you should hear him saying, “Depart, depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Hear him, ye old and gray-headed, hear him, ye that have one foot in the grave; hear him, I say; and if ye are dull of hearing, beg of God to open the ears of your hearts, and your blind eyes; beg of God that you may have an enlarged and a believing heart, and that ye may know what the Lord God saith concerning you.

Must have been great preaching in those revival days. In England and America.

They didn’t listen politely and go off to tea. They fell to their knees and wept in repentance.

Now I know that Presbyterians are not given to too much emotion!

But this preacher didn’t mince his words!

This is good stuff: “If you’ve got one foot in the grave – hear him! If you are dull of hearing – beg of God to open the eyes of your hearts!” Whitfield is preaching scripture here! Where is it from? Ephesians again! He’s preaching these truths: Ephesians 1:18-19  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, Eph 1:19  and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

And of course he wants his hearers to have enlarged and believing hearts! Again Whitfield is preaching from scripture – as Psalm 119:32 says this: (MKJV)  I will run the way of Your Commandments, when You shall enlarge my heart.

And of course he wants them to know what the Lord was saying concerning them!

We’ve watched a video about the response of some Lutherans in America on this passage – have a look at this:

VIDEO: Bible story jam video Luke 9:28-36    http://vimeo.com/58940441

Interesting how different people read and responded to this text.

I liked the last man’s comment about “this I can do” – listening to his voice. I can do this – if I work on it!

And also my thought was – listening to what he has to say to us and about us.

If the Father says to the Son: “my son whom I have chosen” in Luke’s record. In Matthew the writer says: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). And then Mark puts it this way: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)

We get three versions – and of course it’s not surprizing as Matthew Mark and Luke were not up there – only Peter James and John.  The passage ends with these words:  “The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.”

I don’t know about you, but they’re all rather encouraging are they not? Chosen, Loved, well pleased. While they are directed at the disciples (‘This is my son’, not ‘you are my son’) the Father still encourages the Son in this amazing time of prayer! Apart from the reminded of the voice there is the unique  nature of the transfiguration itself. I’m not going to try and figure that out today.

I’m really keen that we listen to the Son!

As an aside – I suspect that the Father also wants to tell us as children (the younger brothers and sisters of this elder brother Jesus) how much he values us too! That’s a different issue of an affirmation of his love for us – especially where we face challenging times.

But here it’s about listening to Jesus – and that’s a life changing habit we need to work on in our prayers.

The conversation about this passage can continue.

  • The Son still speaks!  Please listen to Him!
  • We must not ignore Him!
  • We need to open His book (the Bible) and give Him time so we too can encounter him and He can speak to us!

Let this conversation continue as we reflect on it. Over tea, or better on our knees!

Amen!