Blog Archives

Sunday Message 23 February 2020 – Mountain tops and valleys

Readings: Exodus 3:1-15; Mark 8:27 – 9:8

What does it take for God to get your attention?

How are you with hearing voices?

We had this interesting conversation in home group this week as we looked at the boy Samuel in the temple hearing a voice but not knowing who it was calling him. You remember the story in 1 Sam 3? Three times he goes to the priest Eli thinking that he was the one calling.

  • Do we need a quiet time to hear God?
  • A retreat?
  • Do you need to be in a temple or church like Samuel?
  • Or at a conference (like yesterday’s?)
  • A mountain top experience?

In both readings today the voice of God is heard when they are up on a mountain.

  • In Moses’ case he hears a voice from a bush that appears to be on fire but doesn’t burn up. (Here in this church the congregation looks at a picture of that burning bush every week when they look at the person reading and speaking from here. It’s the visual motto or logo of the Presbyterian  Church – here on this lectern.)
  • For Peter, James and John, the mountain top experience is pretty unique. They see dead guys talking to Jesus and he looks like he’s been plugged into a power source. Whiter than white he is.

The old KJV in Mark 9:3 has this fascinating language:

  • And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. The fuller there of course is a launderer.
  • The ESV has: and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. This is the “whiter than white” washing powder advert kind of thinking.
  • The NIV has: His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.

It’s not surprising they were terrified.

Seeing dead people does that anyway. I’ve only had that happen once – and it was prescription medication that caused the hallucination. I wasn’t fun.

  • The voice on Mount Horeb to Moses becomes a conversation as he is commissioned to liberate his people from slavery.
  • The voice on the mountain of transfiguration – is a one liner that should have helped assure the three key disciples.

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”

It must have been quite amazing. A real high. But they came down to earth pretty quickly.

YOU CAN’T LIVE ON A HIGH

Life is full of contrasts.

  • You can have a brilliant day and it can end badly.
  • Terrible circumstances can still have good outcomes.

If you follow the characters we have been looking at so far – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and sons, Joseph, Moses and today Peter, James and John – you get enormous contrasts – great successes and serious failures.

One would hope that when certainty is reached in the way that we would sometimes like it – a voice from heaven telling us what’s going on (e.g. Peter) or a voice telling us what to do (e.g. Moses) – that things would be steady and stable.

But no – there’s always a shaking. Something that brings you down to earth.

Take the various scenarios where there are voices from heaven in the Bible:

  • At Jesus baptism where he is anointed by the spirit and his ministry is launched – where a voice from heaven affirms him. In the next verse he is propelled into the desert to be tested by the devil. (from baptism to battle ground)
  • Moses – From the encounter with God in the burning bush to the conflict with a stubborn hard hearted king. (from bush to battle ground)
  • Peter – Confession that he is Messiah (revelation) to rebuke of his devil like behaviour – it’s like going from saint to Satanist. (from revelation to rebuke)
  • Peter James and John – Mountain top camping to a real life-threatening road to the cross (glory to gory if you like.)

The danger of wanting to stay on a high – spiritually emotionally or “conferencially” – is that it can be disappointing. And while you are on the mountain top is not always easy to think straight anyway.

Peter may well have been so overwhelmed to make sense of the vision of seeing Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus that he wanted them to camp out there – what else could he have thought of?

Most of us would have probably wanted to capture the moment. Stay with that buzz of affirmation. (Think of your childhood holidays, when you had to leave a regular holiday destination to go back home – and you may get a glimpse of the feeling.)

But as a good colleague and friend pointed out in our discussion on Friday – self-gratification – our sinful nature – sometimes leads to sensual selfish spiritual experiences – wanting a high all the time. We are at risk of depending on those highs – it  can become all about me – about us. Like those who at the end of a conference say “when’s the next one?” Feelings can drive our train, rather than facts and faith. We need another spiritual fix!

It’s no coincidence that Transfiguration is followed by Lent in the Church Calendar – a sobering 40 days.

And when Peter is less than thrilled by the idea of Jesus being killed, it’s not really surprising that he would try to stop it.

  • This is Jesus the Messiah who has been revealed. There was an expectation of success from messianic figures – they are supposed to win the battle and overthrow the bad guys!
  • Jesus lights up whiter than white on the mountain. Moses and Elijah are seen – the representatives of the key sections of the Hebrew Scriptures, the law and the prophets.
  • And then this: Mar 9:9  As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has risen from death.” 

I am sure they felt – death should not be on this list. Imagine a presidential candidate or political leader saying to his or her followers – vote for me. I’ll be killed and you’ll all run away. It was less than thrilling.

During Lent there is time for us to reflect on the challenges. Jesus calls people to a cross.

Great expectations – followed by this amazing declaration: the voice of clarity: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”

And this gloomy prediction: Mar 9:30  Jesus and his disciples left that place and went on through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where he was, Mar 9:31  because he was teaching his disciples: “The Son of Man will be handed over to those who will kill him. Three days later, however, he will rise to life.” Mar 9:32  But they did not understand what this teaching meant, and they were afraid to ask him. 

How do you stay in the centre? I don’t mean like the grand old Duke of York and his 10 000 men where the song goes “and when they were only half way up they were neither up or down.”

I mean not like an emotional yo-yo. Crazy highs and lows.

Mind you. it’s not that easy if you get flicked from one thing to another like a ball in a pin ball machine. We will have highs and lows.

  1. We need the highs, like the conference we went on yesterday. They embolden us for the lows and the long slow obedience of level ground.
  2. We need the lows – the challenges – because they strengthen us in a different way. Building resilience and character and faith. Resistance is required to build core strength (just look in on a Gym).
  3. MOST IMPORTANTLY – we need the relationship – all of these people sought God’s direction or adopted it in the context of a daily relationship of some sort with God.
  4. We also need the sense of calling and purpose. Without that we will not really want to get out of bed in the morning.
  5. And like them we need to be seekers. Again and again in the bible is the ones who diligently and seriously seek God that are rewarded. (See Deut 4:29; 1 Chron 16:10-11; 2 Chron 7:14; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 27:8; Psalm 63:1; Psalm 105:4; Prov 8:17; Isaiah 55:6;  Jeremiah 29:13. Hebrews 11:6;)

When Jesus rebukes Peter he lays it out clearly to the crowds. this was for all who were listening too, not just his close disciples:

Mar 8:34 – 38.  Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

It is a call to risk and faith after all.

  • And at the end, Jesus would have remembered those affirming voices at his baptism and on the mountain of transfiguration – when hanging in agony on the cross.
  • Peter would have remembered his great confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi when he hung upside down on his cross. That confession made at a place named after a Roman Emperor – he confessed his faith in the Christ –  for whom he would die too. Peter didn’t falter then.
  • God willing, on our deathbeds I pray that his words of affirmation to us will be in our minds and on our lips. After all we are brother and sisters of Christ our elder brother the beloved. We too are dearly loved children of God (See John 1:12; 2 Cor 5:17; Romans 8:16: John 3:16).

Amen.

 

 

 

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

Reading: John 14:23 – 29

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

Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW?

By the Spirit who makes this possible!

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

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

GETTING SERIOUS WITH GOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL THIS TODAY?

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

The words that keep coming to us are these:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So back to –

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

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

PERSONAL REFLECTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total surrender.

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

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

Look up! Look higher!

Amen.

 

 

Sunday sermon 20 October: Never, never, never give up!

Readings:

2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

Luke 18:1-8

Message

18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 

It really makes it easy when the bible explains the purpose of a parable. What a nice start today!

We tend to see this parable as a simple matter of persistence. Fair enough – always pray and don’t give up – is Luke’s comment here.

In short – if an unjust judge gives in to a nagging widow – how much more will God hear our prayers when and if we persist.

Don’t give up! Winston Churchill comes to mind! Never never never give up – was one of his famed speeches at a school prize giving, if I recall. At Harrow in 1941 at the height of the battle of Britain. And yes – dealing with the Nazis was a matter of justice. If the just war theory holds water it seems to when you have world domination by a man who does ethnic and other cleansing on a grand scale.

The parable itself has more in it that Luke alleges. Listen to it on its own.

He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” ‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’

Jesus explains further: And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 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? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.

And then Jesus has this to say – in what is a separate issue about the Son of Man returning:

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’

Which involves a separate sermon altogether.

In the reading from Timothy today we read:

 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful (profitable) for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”

And also:

“preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction – says Paul to Timothy.

So what does the word have to say to us today? About

  • Teaching
  • Rebuking
  • Correcting
  • Training
  • Encouraging

Is it about prayer? Yes

Is it saying God is unjust? He is being compared to a pretty horrible judge. No, although some say he is. Remember those long polar nights we spoke about – for some the sun never seems to rise. There are some who mistake the long lesson of waiting for an uncaring God.

This is one of those “how much more” parables.

Like Jesus in Luke 11 when teaching on prayer there. You may remember that message – or you could read it here:  https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/sunday-sermon-28-july-when-you-pray/

It’s the Lord’s Prayer on that occasion. And after sharing that prayer Jesus also said: ‘So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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!’

If an unjust judge can surrender to an apparently powerless woman and grant her request – how much more a Good Father – a Good God – who by the way – says Jesus in Luke 11 – will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Great verse – the Holy Spirit is the presence and power and life changing love of God in action! You need to ask in order to receive! That helps! In fact there is no other way! “Seek the Lord while he made be found” says the prophet Isaiah (chapter 55). “Call on him while he is near!”

So return to Luke 18 – again about asking. In this story – fact or fiction – or fiction based on fact – the woman has no power! This also is about injustice – a sombre reminder of how people are abused. She is in her own strength quite powerless.

In fact at best she is a squeaky wheel – and “it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil”.

Pressing in on God is the key.

We had a taste of that yesterday at our leaders’ retreat – a few hours that went quickly. And not all those hours were prayer hours – but we have to press in! It was a start.

So is it about persistence and constancy? Yes.

But not a silent stoic waiting – here a riotous old widow woman who presses the buttons of this guy – literally “giving him a black eye” – so that he wants to shut her up (or close her campaign down). The term the judge uses is very funny! A black eye indeed – this little widow with no father or husband or son or brother to plead her cause in a man’s world and an unjust judicial system of the day!

So if the bible is useful (profitable) for

  • Teaching
  • Rebuking
  • Correcting
  • Training
  • Encouraging

The lesson to be learned is persistence.

The rebuke to be issued is this – at the worst extreme you can never pray – never ask God for anything because you’ve given up! That way you get nothing! That would be a rebuke! Don’t be daft! There is treasure here!

The correction – and the rebuke probably belong together. There is an interesting twist at the end of the passage. The broader context is the return of Jesus: and so we read: ‘However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ – the implied answer seems to be a bit dubious!

The rebuke – the correction from this story and teaching of Jesus – is a warning against prayerlessness. Faith dies when the praying stops.

It is said that if God was not present and many churches today – many people would not notice.

Here’s my rebuke! And I say this with all sincerity! Chatty noise and riotous friendliness is no substitute for prayer. We are often quite noisy on a Sunday before worship. But prayer is more important than just fun and fellowship. It’s the prayerful congregation which will win the cause! Which will reach people – and which will still be here in years to come – sharing the love of Jesus!

P.T. Forsyth was England ‘s greatest preacher in the nineteenth century and an authority on the power of prayer. Forsyth notes that the worst sin is prayerlessness. “Overt sin,” he writes, “crime or the glaring inconsistencies which often surprise us in Christian people are the effect of this or its punishment. We are left by God for lack of seeking God.”

And then he gives this advice on how to pray:

 Go into your chamber, shut the door and cultivate the habit of praying. Pay no attention to literary form… Read a passage of Scripture and then sit down and turn it into a prayer. Learn to be particular, specific, and detailed in your prayer… Let prayer be concrete, actual, a direct product of life’s experiences.

The training – read your bible and practice what it says about prayer! Do it!  Pray the bible – pray the Psalms! They are powerful prayers and hymns themselves and we can easily relate to the cries of the writers.

Come and do it here together! Wednesday morning – Thursday evening – Sunday before church. In the meeting room! There’s even a prayer box there – pop in and write a note requesting prayer! Sign up for our email prayer list!

The encouraging – that’s always easy. Especially if you are powerless! Persist. And sometimes you have to be a squeaky wheel. Keep reminding God of the situation – the need – the challenge – the pain – the injustice of your situation. Cry out to God!

Martin Luther, we are told, used his dog as an illustration about our passion for God. He once dangled some meat in front of the dog – showing observers the dogs persistent barking and leaping. His comment was that he wished he could pray with similar passion, desire and longing – with the dog’s intensity and concentration. He went on to tell his onlookers that with that kind of single mindedness his heart and soul would look only to Christ.

How much more us and God! We don’t need high clever language as we pray. We wouldn’t speak to our friends in fancy English. Our approach to God ois more like that of children and their parents! We do need to persist and not lose heart as we bring our prayers to God!

Never, never, never give up!

Amen.

Sunday sermon 5 May – Seek the Lord

Sunday 5 May 2013

John 14:23  Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

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

John 14:25  “All this I have spoken while still with you.

John 14:26  But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:28  “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

John 14:29  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Message

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

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

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

The truth is that the work of the Holy Spirit is not a one-off experience. A day on the calendar.

It is a central part of our Christian lives.

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

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

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

·         Our regeneration – we are born of the spirit (John 3 – the Nicodemus passage)

·         Our sanctification – we are transformed by the spirit (2Co 3:17  Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 2Co 3:18  But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. KJV)

·         Our experience of the presence of God – Jesus is with us through the spirit  (Matt 28:20 – “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

·         Our development of Christian character – we have the fruits of the Spirit – which we should know by now – recite together…  (Gal 5:19  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; Gal 5:20  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions Gal 5:21  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control.)

·         Our appropriation of the gifts of God – the charismata are the gifts of the spirit and include the gift of healing which is a gift of the spirit (and by the way the gifts are not for our benefit alone but are there to bless others). 1Co 12:3  Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. And then they are listed…

·         The peace of God – which is made real by the Holy Spirit. This peace is more than just one of the fruits of the spirit. It is a special gift of Jesus as we see in today’s passage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW?

By the Spirit who makes this possible!

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

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

GETTING SERIOUS WITH GOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL THIS TODAY?

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

The words that keep coming to us are these:

·         Love

·         Obedience

·         A presence that gives us peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So back to –

·         Love

·         Obedience

·         A presence that gives us peace.

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

PERSONAL REFLECTION

I’ve done a lot of heart searching over the past weeks.  I’ve been here just over two years. Jesus ministered for three years. Paul was in Ephesus for two, and Corinth for 18 months.

They seemed to get a lot more done in shorter amounts of time! It’s a lot harder today it seems – wherever you go ministering in the church.

I think this – this is my personal reflection – that the world has crept into the church. We want a whole lot of things that are not really on God’s agenda.

Yes we want to do things well – but pastors are not entertainers or nursemaids.  Some folk don’t seem to even open the bible! But they want bells and whistles and they seem to want everything on a plate.

The point is – are people here to hear and see what they like and enjoy? Or to meet with God and hear what he has to say to us?

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

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

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

Our preacher at our second service captured things well last week – when she talked about real peace. About being peace-makers. People who gossip and criticise are not peace makers. People who complain that church doesn’t suit them are not peace makers. They are divisive.

If your group meets and spends all its time talking about others you are not peace makers. It’s called gossip. In fact Paul – again to the Corinthians – wrote: 2Co 12:20  For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.  Perhaps there is a reason why Paul had an issue about certain groups of people being silent in church. In his day it was the women in the Corinthian church who clearly were out of order.

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

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

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

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

I wouldn’t mind if we shut up shop and just met for 6 months to really seek the face of God. No entertainment. No – “that’s my favourite song or hymn”. No more chocolates and celebrations.      No more worldliness in measuring things – sermons, songs, programmes – to see if they are up to scratch or if they work for ME.

Just prayer – Just cultivating a deep love for God, real obedience to God, and the presence, power and peace of God. Seeking to be the people of God who have Him with us and working through us. Fully. Totally. Completely.

Total surrender.

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

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

Look up! Look higher!

Amen.