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Easter Sunday Message – 21 April 2019: Their words seemed like rubbish…

Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12

Key verse: Luk 24:11  “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (NIV)

“καὶ ἐφάνησαν ἐνώπιον αὐτῶν ὡσεὶ λῆρος τὰ ῥήματα αὐτῶν, καὶ ἠπίστουν αὐταῖς.” (GNT – TR)

“…but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (ESV)


I wonder if you’ve ever been “dissed”? It’s an interesting word. It means to be treated with disrespect. I discovered it to be a popular word when working with teenagers. It’s crept into the English language since the 1980s – through hip hop music I am told. Back in the 1920s it meant you were disconnected – like a telephone not working. Something loose in the head. Either way it isn’t a very nice thing – to be disrespected – or dismissed. Or disempowered.

An amazing thing happens in this story of the life of Jesus – through his teachings, death and especially his resurrection. The people who were usually disempowered at the time were taken seriously – lifted above their status in life. Galatians 3:28 sums it up well:

Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

So – there are women in the group from the beginning. They would have been “dissed” by people in those days:

  • Disempowered mainly,
  • Dismissed if they had an opinion.
  • Discarded in divorce if a man got bored with them.

But they are there in Jesus’ team. From early on.

And on Easter Sunday in Luke’s account they are the first witnesses.

The “dissing” continues sadly. Even though there are at least three women named as witnesses.

The translators are kind to us – keeping things polite. In the NIV we read: Luk 24:11  But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Nonsense.

The word is LEYROS. It’s used once only in the New Testament. Here.

It’s translated as an idle tale, nonsense, foolishness, and a fairy tale. Its deeper meaning is more crass. Vulgar. “What a load of…”

And that’s the response you get today to when you tell people that a dead man got up again.

Telling the Christian story today in this generation will get you “dissed” too.

People will think you’re nuts. Loony. Weird. Strange. Daft.

But that is okay.

  • Seeing the impossible.
  • Believing the unlikely.
  • Having hope for the hopeless.
  • Courage in the face of death because you know that it’s not the last word – well let them think you’re mad.

It’s a mad but glad tale – that someone who was dead was raised up

  • That he appeared in locked rooms
  • That he cooked a barbeque of fish for them on the beach
  • That he restored a man who denied him three times and gave him an amazing and exciting job to do
  • That he showed up over 40 days to people – up to 500 at one time, meaning they weren’t all hallucinating
  • That he sent them with a message of good news to the world
  • That he promised never to leave them
  • That they were to wait to for the gift of His Spirit – who would empower them to do the work given

Other writers help us to make sense of the story. Luke records the words of Peter in Acts 10:

Act 10:39  “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, Act 10:40  but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. Act 10:41  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Act 10:42  He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. Act 10:43  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Those who dismiss this story and your testimony of your love for Christ – this risen saviour – will discover that he is judge and the end of all things.

This resurrection account is central in the story of the New testament and the Christian life through the centuries – we speak to, worship, praise, and hear from this Jesus.

Paul writing to the Corinthians prioritises it like this writing to the Corinthians: 1 Co 15:3  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:4  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

And later he says:1Co 15:42  So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 1Co 15:43  it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 1Co 15:44  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

What great news is this for us.

Death is not particularly attractive. We grow cold and begin to decompose quite quickly. Like Lazarus who had been dead four days, well quoting the King James Bible, – in John 11:39, one of those words only used once – the phrase is “he stinketh”

Being raised imperishable, in glory, in power as a spiritual body sounds wonderful.

Going back to Luke 24 – where the women are dismissed, Peter seems to have some redeeming factors. Luk 24:12  Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

He went to look – and gave it some thought. The penny drops eventually. And Jesus appears to him with three questions about his love – as he restores his failed life – because he had dissed Jesus three times – disowned him. He does it over breakfast – that restorative chat.

Hopefully people today will investigate this amazing story as well. If you haven’t figured it out yet – I encourage you to have a closer look. You should while you can – it’s to late when you die and people will say of you if you hang around too long –  “he stinketh’.

Today is a good day to investigate this empty tomb, and to put your faith in Christ the risen Lord. Because the witness of those women was not an idle tale, but a brand new truth to change the world. Death was defeated!

Scripture often says this: now is the hour of salvation. Put your trust in  him today. It won’t only guarantee a new resurrection body in the future. It will mean a real relationship with the risen Jesus today. A friend and Saviour, a guide and provider for you to depend on.



Sunday sermon 4 September 2016: The Lord’s Prayer part 4 – Thy will be done.

Readings: Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 6:9-10; Matthew 26:27-42


YOUR WILL BE DONE – On earth as it is in heaven. Another one of those lines we pray without thinking. And we pray about the will of God quite often in other ways.

“If it be your will” is a standard line when praying for difficult things. I am sure you have heard it many times over the years – or prayed it yourself.

When the prayer is not answered – we are let off the hook to some extent.  “It’s not his will to answer this prayer,” we may say, as we watch a loved one die, or someone suffer.

At a basic level – “Your will be done” in my view is really a parallel thought, another way of expressing the previous line “Your Kingdom come” in the prayer.

Your kingdom come, 

your will be done

– where? – on earth of course (as it is in heaven.)

You’ve heard me say that often before – I am sure. But it’s much more than that of course.

Just as the concept of “Kingdom” is much more than the ideas we talked about last week so too the will of God. We could spend weeks looking at the Kingdom through scripture.

Jesus clearly wrestled with the will of God – from his temptations in the wilderness to his prayers in Gethsemane.

At his temptations he keeps the devil in check by quoting scripture – which is what the devil does first – he’s always so deceptive is the evil one. A master of doubt who twists the truth. Knowing our bibles also helps us stay in God’s will.

In Gethsemane Jesus prays for a way out – and look at the progression as he wrestles with the prayer and the issues at hand:

Mat 26:39  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

If it is possible – may this cup be taken from me. YET not as I will, but as you will.

And then this:

Mat 26:42  He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

This time – if it is NOT possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it….

May your will be done.

If it was like that for him – we should not be surprised that this is a tough one for us too.

God’s will for Jesus was clearly a painful difficult journey with a good outcome!

What about us?



 So that’s a good place to begin – with God’s will for us as individuals.

And like Jesus –  there is often some wrestling to do.

Paul understood that – he gives us this powerful passage in Philippians 2 – after the most profound hymn about Jesus emptying himself and taking on the form of a servant – humbling himself and going to the cross – and being raised and exalted and given the name that is above every other name (we talked about this last week as we looked at Jesus becoming King in the Kingdom of his Father)

When he has said all that, he gives us this amazing verse: Php 2:12  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  Php 2:13  for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

It’s the ultimate paradox – you work it out, because God works in you.

  • It’s that lovely contradiction – an apparent contradiction which is what a paradox is – like we had when I had burn out and needed time off to recover.
  • My dear wife and I were in the doctor’s room and he was saying that I needed to relax more and have time out. Rest etc.
  • Her comment – “he needs to put more effort into relaxing!”

I love it. It’s one of those things I can keep reminding her off – it was very funny at the time and still us.

Paul says: Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  Php 2:13  for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

You have to put work into it – like the 15 people who came here on  Wednesday night to learn together about hearing God.

And he works in us – how does he work? To WILL and to ACT according to his good purpose.

Now the word WILL which is a noun (we pray for his will be to be done) becomes a VERB – he wills and acts.

He WILLS – he wishes or determines that things will happen in our lives. According to his good purpose. (Like Romans 8:28-30).

It’s a huge debate for people who want to ward off the possibility of faith and believing in God – they say  – WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SUFFERING.

We as Christians say that there are two aspects of God’s will.

His permissive will –  the things he allows.

And his active will – the things he causes.

You can’t understand the theory of this without the relationship. Like a human father when he says “no!” – it’s the relationship that makes a child listen and accept. And not be like the little boy at school told to sit down. He did, but said “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I am standing on the inside!”

Knowing God is everything.

  • He does not cause sickness. He does not tempt us. He does not bring about earthquakes and volcanoes. They are part of the natural world.
  • He does not make crazy suicide bombers blow people up. Or fly planes into buildings. Sin and evil cause that – inspired by the evil one.
  • And he does not cause us to get sick. But he does allow it. Sometimes to make us rest. At other times – I have no idea why he allows it. I have some suspicions. But as in my case at the moment it’s not that easy.

So yes – we wrestle with him on this too: Why do you allow it Lord?

Perhaps we should be saying “what can I learn from this God? You’re at work in me.” And probably this: “how do I work this out? How should I respond? Can I trust you God?”

His WILL to be done in our lives now – while we are between the coming of the Kingdom in Christ and the final consummation of the Kingdom (expressed in Revelation 21:4 where there are no tears and no pain), is no different from the will of God in Jesus life in Gethsemane.

We have to pray it through and face it with faith and courage – knowing that this is only part of the picture. Remember – Keep your fork in your hand – the best is yet to come!

So when we pray “Your will be done” for ourselves, as individuals, we are praying

  • that He will have his way
  • whatever that means
  • whatever he allows for our good – to grow our faith
  • what every he wills for us directly – to teach us
  • whatever he sends us specifically for us to wrestle with in faith

His will is that we remain faithful and say in the words of that great hymn by Adelaide Pollard (from Jeremiah 18:3):

Have thine own way Lord, have thine own way, Thou art the potter, I am the clay.

Mould me and make me, after thy will, While I am waiting, yielded and still.

That’s our individual growth path with God. It helps to know Him well. The relationship is everything.

Then there’s our life together. His will for us as a church family:



 Praying for His will to be done on earth “as it is in heaven” has greater implications for us together.

“On earth” is not just about our individual lives – what we suffer, how we succeed or fail, in relation to whether we feel happy or not, successful or not. The individual quest to achieve is not at the centre of God’s will. Listen to Phil 2:3 again: “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit…”.

God’s will is always for us together – to be what He wants us to be together. Christians are by default in the body of Christ. We can’t do it alone.

What is clear about heaven is that God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are in perfect unity and love. You see it in Jesus’ prayers – he is doing what the Father wants. John’s gospel is rich with these images.

And the Holy Spirit too gives glory to Jesus.

Just two verses to unpack this a bit. You will know others:

Joh 17:1  After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.

And this one: Joh 16:13  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. Joh 16:14  He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.

It’s about one another in heaven – and it should be so on earth if God’s will is to be done.

Unity is everything.

Let this be a reminder to those who may be cliquey or divisive in church. Read Psalm 133 again! God bestows his blessing where there is unity.

You can’t just hang out with your mates, folks. As an aside, the whole point of name tags is that you can meet new people and take an interest in their lives.

We are to be united together – that’s the will of God. To be one body, interdependent.

The New Testament is full of “one another” sayings, and suggestions that we care for others and not ourselves.

The reading in Philippians 2 today begins with this – before the hymn about Jesus being given the name that is above every other name:

Php 2:1  If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, Php 2:2  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Php 2:3  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Php 2:4  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Php 2:5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

And off he goes with that powerful hymn about Jesus making himself nothing – you know it already.

That’s the will of God that we pray to be done on earth.

And thirdly:


 There are huge implications that apply to the wider community too. They are very obvious and come out of our wider sense of stewardship since Genesis 1 and 2. We are to care for creation. It’s not negotiable. It’s a gift to care for well. And for people in need.

  • God’s will is for peace, not war.
  • Love, not hate.
  • Care for the world he made, and not destruction.
  • Support for the poor, not indifference.

But you know this. These are the easy bits.

It is his will for Christians is to take an interest in community issues, pray for those in authority, and sometimes get involved in local and national politics when he calls us.

Our prayer life together is essential – and if we follow Paul in 1 Timothy 2 – well listen to what he says:

1Ti 2:1  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 1Ti 2:2  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1Ti 2:3  This is good, and pleases God our Saviour1Ti 2:4  who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.


When we pray for his will to be done – for ourselves, the church family, and the community and world beyond these walls, we often are part of the answer to our prayers. Particularly beyond these walls.

  • His will is for us to be salt and light in the community.
  • Centres of disturbance of hope and joy.
  • People with answers. This time it is Peter who comes to our aid:

1Pe 3:15  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1Pe 3:17  It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

So keep praying “Thy will be done” and listen to God.

  • He will show you what to do when there’s nothing to be done about the situation you find yourself in – he’s there and he will help and guide you. He will work in you if you work out your salvation with fear and trembling – if you put some effort into it.
  • He will work out his will in the unity and well being of the church family.
  • He will work through you if you make a real decision to be a centre of hope and joy where you go each day – as you do his will in the world.

His will be done.


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

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


Praying for the Kingdom to come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what about God as King?

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

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

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

And so three thoughts on how we respond to this:



  1. positions us differently as his subjects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



  1. positions us differently in the community of the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

At a basic level – He says

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

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

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

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

  • Joh_3:3  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” IT’S A SPIRITUAL KINGDOM TRANSCENDING ALL BARRIERS.
  • Mat_18:3  And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. IT’S A KINGDOM THAT IS ENTERED THROUGH FAITH AND TRUST – LIKE THE TRUST OF A CHILD.
  • Mat_19:24  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  IT REQUIRES PAYING A PRICE WITH NEW VALUES – WE HAVE TO DECIDE WHETHER STUFF MATTERS OR THESE SPIRITUAL TRUTHS AND VALUES.
  • Luk_9:62  Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  IT REQUIRES COMMITMENT AND ENDURANCE.

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

We will surely see the difference. So will others.

For now – are we really seeking the Kingdom first?



Sunday 8 May 2016, Easter 7 – Ascension Sunday

Readings: John 17:20-26; Luke 24:44-53



I love this cartoon. It shows up every year somewhere.

You’ll only really appreciate it fully if you’ve had a child with ADD grow up in your house.

I suspect the whole church may have Ascension Deficit Disorder.

  • We’re often missing it.
  • Missing the point.
  • Not seeing clearly how significant the Ascension is.

Thursday – Ascension Day – came and went – I mistakenly thought someone might pop in at church to pray sometime through the morning.

We miss the point of Jesus being Messiah King.

We had our Messy Church evening on Friday and looked at the 10 commandments. And we tried to get the kids tell us what mom’s ten big rules were, and what dad’s were. You know the drill for mom – make your bed, clean your teeth, go to the toilet before you go to bed. And dad’s rules – which include switch off that TV and less computer time please.

I suggested that the most important rule for dads to teach their kids is simply this: LOVE YOUR MOM. And of course God’s ten big rules include HONOUR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.

Jesus’ big rule is actually this – I AM MESSIAH KING. He is the “I am”. Look to me!

The whole of the Bible – all of life – everything that we do that has any meaning at all – has to be seen through that lens.

It’s like going to Specsavers. When you get these glasses on – it all makes total sense.

In Luke 24 (and I think you should  read the whole of this chapter) – in all the engagements with the disciples after the resurrection – especially the Emmaus walk – there is an attention deficit problem. That’s why he says to them in verse 25:

“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Luk 24:26  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Luk 24:27  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (It’s quite direct – and not very pastoral!).

Note that he speaks about himself here as the Christ – the Messiah – which means the King.

Here he says that the whole Bible is really about him.

  • When you start at creation – you have to recognise John 1 – that nothing was made that was not made through Jesus.
  • If you look at Moses – you have to see that Jesus is the perfect law giver.
  • If you look at any of the prophets – Jesus surpasses them all in clarity of message as he speaks God’s word – because he is the Word of God supreme.
  • If you look at any of the Old Testament characters – they are pointing to Jesus. Joshua shares his name but Jesus really brings us to the promised land. Joseph forgives his brothers – but Jesus forgives us all.

In fact, John Calvin’s most profound and moving writing has to be what he pens about “Christ in All the Scriptures, Christ for All Our Needs” in a preface to a translation of the New Testament in 1535. He puts it like this:

For, this is eternal life; to know one, only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, whom he has established as the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation.

He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death.

He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards.

He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition.

He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek, who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all.

He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of our hearts by his Spirit.

He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land.

He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection.

He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity.

He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.

He goes on to say:

If follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for Our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt cancelled, labour lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal.

Isn’t that  brilliant!

You have to begin to see the victorious Christ – the Messiah King – at His ascension.

When you see the ascension – you see the resurrection. You see the resurrection – you see the cross. You see the cross – and you see human sin. You see human sin and you see the fall of man. You see that and you understand the mess of the world and the need for hope. See that – and you see the need for a Saviour – one who can rescue us. Then you end up back at Christmas – with the birth of Jeshua – meaning “God saves”. You see that and you see people in relationship with God. You see that – and you see the point of life. You see the relationship people can have with God – and you see a better world where people get on and love like Jesus did.

And when you see that – you give thanks to God and worship the risen ascended Jesus – and not something else. All glory goes to Jesus! Not unto us! And it puts the ten commandments into perspective too – One God only, no idols, keeping His name holy – and keeping His day – this is all for Jesus too.

It’s all about Messiah – King Jesus.

He’s done all this – and he is the One who has to be at the centre of our lives.

Tim Keller – an American preacher in New York – talks about the deficit we have in our thinking about Christ the King in this way.

He tells the story of a British preacher John Guest who ends up living in American and visits Philadelphia and a revolutionary war museum – where he sees a sign that made him realise he really was in a different country.

It was from the time of the American revolution and on the wall in a pub or tavern. And it said this: “We serve no sovereign here”.

Keller goes on to say that democracy – and American democracy has got to be the most fascinating type in the world – has been described by C S Lewis as medicine and not food.

In Britain and Europe – and indeed the dominions like New Zealand where we are, Australia – and Canada – people still understand what it means to serve to a sovereign. In Asia people would see the benefit of respecting authority.

But not in America. America has sold us the idea of individual freedom more than any other power or philosophy. We all believe we have the right to veto everything.

If democracy is medicine and not food – what really feeds us?

Jesus hints at what really satisfies: John 4:34 – “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

C S Lewis suggests that we were made to be ruled. And if we don’t acknowledge Jesus as King (as Tim Keller puts it) we will serve somebody. Or something. Human nature is such that If it doesn’t get food it will gobble poison. Keller suggests simply:

  • Obey him – treat Him as King.
  • Trust him – faith means trust at a basic level.
  • Rely on Him – prayer if anything is talking to him about our need of his help and support and purpose. Don’t say you believe in Him and depend on your career – or your family – or your stuff – to give you worth and meaning in life.
  • Treat him as a king in prayer; expect much – John Newton has a hymn that captures this well: Thou art coming to a King, Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much; None can ever ask too much.

In the light of this, Jesus’ departing words make sense. Listen again:

Luk 24:44  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Luk 24:45  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, Luk 24:46  and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, Luk 24:47  and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  

The whole Bible story – salvation history as we know it since the story of Adam and Eve where God is a missional God looking for Adam – is about Jesus the Messiah King. It all points to him and focusses on Him. And it will end with Him too when he comes again.

And the disciples clearly had their work cut out for them –  telling this story. So Jesus says:

Luk 24:48  You are witnesses of these things. Luk 24:49  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luk 24:50  Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Luk 24:51  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. Luk 24:52  And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; Luk 24:53  and they were continually in the temple blessing God.  

The story of Luke goes on in volume 2 – what we know as the book of Acts. They are to wait those long ten days for the promised Holy Spirit. We’ll be here Tuesday and next Sunday to consider that.

But for today – take this home. The gospel ends with them worshipping Him – bowing to a Sovereign King. And this King who is so reliable and worth serving and obeying – is doing what He always does – we see him in verse 50 and 51 – blessing them.

Let Him bless you as you take Him anew as Messiah King.


Sunday Message 10 April, Easter 3 – Harvest Sunday

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now to the third point today:


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

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

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

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

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

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

What could he have done?

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

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

Following on from this warning is our last point:


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

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

He ends with this:

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

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

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

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

To recap we should work on:

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

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



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

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


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

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

 Verse 1

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

Verse 2

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

Verse 1 (the second version)

This, this is the God we adore

Our faithful unchangeable Friend;

Whose love is as great as His power,

And neither knows measure nor end.

Verse 2

‘Tis Jesus, the First and the Last

Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;

We’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for all that’s to come.

The one version starts like this:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“This, this is the God we adore!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds good to me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul goes on in these beautiful verses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because God is good!

Later in the letter there is this favourite passage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This, this is the faithful God we adore –

This, this is the God we adore

Our faithful unchangeable Friend;

‘Tis Jesus, the First and the Last

Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;

We’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for all that’s to come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for all that’s to come.


Sunday sermon 1 June 2014 – time waiting on God


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


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

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

As if we were in the upper room.

The in-between times of life are challenging generally.

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

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

The times waiting in other horrid situations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When he calls us to be still and wait.

Not enough waiting. Not enough surrender.

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

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

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

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

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

Those disciples waited – and then the power came.

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

And so in the reading from Acts we heard today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And to be discerning:

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

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

Of course the favourite passage is this one:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How scary that you should want to use us!

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

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

Left hanging.

It’s not an easy passage.

There is some clarity again about His authority:

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

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

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

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

But the simple bits jump out:

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

And then another glimpse pf hope and encouragement:

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

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

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

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

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

Why should God protect us?

So that we may be one!


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

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


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

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

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

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

So what’s to be done?

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

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

He wants to take away our self-sufficiency.

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

But most commonly its failure.

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

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

It’s okay.

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

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



Sunday sermon 2 March 2014 – Don’t worry be happy

Readings: Isaiah 49;8-16  1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

New International Version – UK (NIVUK) – Matthew 6:24-34

24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Do not worry

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So how are you doing when it comes to getting rid of worry?

In the last two weeks I have asked you about getting rid of anger! There are ways to change your response to situations that make you mad. If you develop the right frame of mind (or mindfulness) where you are not allowing things to get to you – but rather when you step back and reflect on what is happening (being led by the Spirit) – things can be different.

Worry is a tricky one. It’s a word similar to anxiety.

I’m not sure that we should start with worry though!

We need to start with God.

All three readings today are interesting as we look at this theme.

THE OLD TESTAMENT READING – a lovely reminder from the OT

Isaiah 49 is a beautiful passage about restoration and comfort.

The word that is repeated three times (vss 10,13 & 15) is compassion.

It reaches a crescendo with these moving  words:

15 ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;

(your walls are ever before me.)

If you are worry-pot – God is being described as having compassion – “can a mother forget the baby at her breast? Of course we instinctively say “Nooooooo!”.

The prophet is more down to earth:

Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!

I love that assurance and it goes on to this most precious statement of God the mother’s brag book:

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (v16).

This is not a picture drawn on the hand – it is more like a tattoo cut into the flesh.

So the character of God is the point! Trust Him. Don’t worry.

THE GOSPEL READING – a stronger reminder from the Gospel reading today

The Gospel reading reinforces this of course. These comforting and familiar words:

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

We used to sing a song from scripture ( in the day that we only really sang from scripture):

Jehovah Jireh, my provider, his grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me (eek a repetition!!)

My God shall provide all my need, according to his riches in glory, he will give his angels charge over thee,

Jehovah Jireh cares for me….

Can you guess the scriptures? (for a pat on the back – no more chocolates during church!)

Php 4:19  And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Providence! God provides!

Of course the context in Philippians is that they provided Paul’s needs! They were generous in giving. Just a few verses before this he says.

Php 4:12  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Php 4:13  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

And then the other verse about the angels?

Psa 91:11  For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

Never mind if you didn’t know that one. It’s about protection.

The key concept is providence!

I love watching sparrows. Any birds. But especially sparrows – because of Jesus’ attention given to them:

Mat 10:29  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.

Mat 10:30  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Mat 10:31  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

No comments please about the numbered hairs on my head!

The sparrows are provided for. The birds don’t have to shop at Countdown (they would boycott it anyway as they are kiwi sparrows!).

So again:

26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Of course it’s not that easy when you’re unemployed or homeless.

The funny old thing is that he calls us who are provided for to provide for those in need!

“Chip off the old block” is an English idiom that applies when God’s children share his compassion and provision!

Or “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

So worry and anxiety are not the characteristics that we should be manifesting.

And yet we do! A lot! We frantically scramble for quick solutions to all kinds of things!

The solution is usually in the stockpile we have. We have enough to help those in need – who need not be afraid of asking!

Are you going to have an answer at the judgement? Listen to the words Jesus uses when he describes that judgement:

Mat 25:35  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

Mat 25:36  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

You know how it goes? They say “when Jesus?” And he says – whatever you did not for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did not do for me (verse 45).

Sheep and Goats  are separated in this judgement scene. Sheep and goats featured in our children’s song today – ” I just want to be a sheep” which has the line  “I don’t want to be a goat, no no no no”.  (Will the parents every forgive me for teaching them this??)

Out of the nature of God’s providence, we are called to provide for others.

Hospitality and generousity are key qualities of the Christian.

I don’t have to say more about the gospel reading today. Just read it!

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

And of course the first verse of the reading – don’t forget the first verse:

24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Speaks volumes.

Seeking first the Kingdom of God involves the dollar. No way around that one friends!

It’s a funny old thing how he provides even more creatively when you are generous to those in need – and faithful in tithes and offerings.

THE EPISTLE READING – Paul and the Corinthians

It would be easy to overlook the reading from Corinthians. We’ve looked at this book over the past couple of weeks.

How they were divided and partisan – one lot following Paul, the other Apollos. And Paul tells them – the only thing that counts is God causing the growth. And how our work will be judged – the building of our lives. Remember?

Did you read the verses left out last week? Here they are JUST IN CASE you forgot:

1Co 3:11  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

1Co 3:12  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,

1Co 3:13  his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.

1Co 3:14  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

1Co 3:15  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Good stuff. What’s your life built on?

What’s the quality of your work like – Kingdom of God wise?

Now that’s got you worried.

Don’t worry!

Look at how Paul handles this. It’s just another angle on things. These verses from 1 Corinthians 4 are usually ignored – but they are quite profound:

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

1Co 4:2  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

1Co 4:3  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.

1Co 4:4  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

So let’s have a look at these in more detail. There are treasures here. Last’s week’s passage (the end of chapter 3) ended like this:

1Co 3:21  So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours,

1Co 3:22  whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,

1Co 3:23  and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

There is this great provision for us in the Kingdom of God – we live in another place in terms of what we value.

Today’s passage goes on in chapter 4:

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

Who is he talking about? In Matthew 13 we read this –  a good reminder and support of 1 Corinthians 4”1

Mat 13:52  He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Ministers – church (apostles in those days, Paul, Apollos and Cephas) are to be regarded not as treasures themselves (that’s how cults begin) but as stewards of God’s word.

Paul elsewhere says to Timothy:

2Ti 2:15  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)

(ESV)  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Rightly handling the treasures – like custodians at a museum – or people discovering who they are on TV – they put on white gloves before handling special things.

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

1Co 4:1  Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

So this is a freeing thing. It fits well with the concept of Provision and not worrying in all kinds of fascinating ways.

He provides His word of truth. We are stewards – especially those ordained to preach and teach. The secret things of God – the mysteries of God – are entrusted to me. And countless others. I take it very seriously.

And by the way the steward is the oikonomos – from which we get economics.Oeconomia – Latin.

Good hey! The real economics is not battling the dollar books but the spiritual books in the kingdom! These are the treasures of truth we are custodians of.

But the word before is more important. We are to be regarded as servants

And this is nice. This is not your average word for servant – diakonos – from which we get deacons. Our Board members biblically are deacons. They serve by ministering in the practical ministries of property and finance, and also care for the poor. Read Acts on deacons.

This isn’t even that well-known word.

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ

This word is good!  ὑπηρέτης Huperetes.

Listen to this description:

The word translated “servants” came from the description of a particular Roman slave. On the great galley ships there were slaves whose work was to row the ship. Those slaves who were on the lower bank of oarsmen were called “under-rowers.” They labored only as the master directed. Paul felt that he and the other apostles did only as God directed them as His servants. In a sense, every Christian needs to see himself or herself in this relationship with God, whatever our position in the work.

We – as preachers especially – are accountable to God. Just as we will all give account for any careless word spoken (remember last week from Matthew 12?) – those who teach from God’s word are under scrutiny.

This is the liberating thing for me – when it comes to worry. There’s worry about food, drink and clothes (don’t!). Then there’s the worry of public speaking! And what to preach every week! That’s a lovely challenge.

James understood the responsibility. In chapter 3 he soberly says:

1  Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (NRSV).

The liberating thing for Paul (and for me) is that while people get all caught up in their heroes (following Paul, Apollos or Cephas) they – we are only servants.

Under-rowers in a boat. Labouring as the master directs as we sail the kingdom journey together.

The rest of the passage makes sense now. Listen again:

1Co 4:2  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.

1Co 4:3  But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.

1Co 4:4  For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

Don’t judge me – says Paul. I don’t even judge myself! The Lord judges me!

Verse 5 is challenging:

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

That’s a liberating thing!

  • Know God’s character – his motherly compassion and brag book – tattoo on his/her palm
  • What is required is gratitude for his provision!
  • Being like Him in sharing what he gives us! Hospitable and generous people he wants!
  • Acknowledging this provision for all the world! That makes it all a treasure which needs to be looked after (since Adam and Eve who were given dominion over creation). So some need to join Greenpeace! Caring for the world and the environment does matter!
  • Realising that the Kingdom that we seek first is the real treasure (you can’t love two masters!) . The gospel of Jesus is the treasure!
  • Coming to terms with the fact that if Paul – amazing as he was and still is today – was okay with being subject to God’s judgment – so should we! We are His stewards and His servants – the under-rowers. He guides the boat as the captain or pilot.

No good worrying about it. About all these things. We have to trust him for physical and spiritual provision!

And we have the spiritual one anyway: All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

And we are stewards of the secret things of God – the mysteries that have in fact been revealed to us as the Church. Paul speaks in Colossians about this:

Col 1:24  I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,

Col 1:25  of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,

Col 1:26  the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.

Col 1:27  To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Col 1:28  Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

Col 1:29  To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.

This treasure – ultimately – is Christ in us – the hope of Glory!

What amazing provision.

What a great reason not to be a worry-pot.



Sunday sermon 6 October – Matters of faith

Readings: Lamentations 3:19-26; Luke 17: 1-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14


I read this weekend that I should  – well let me read it for you. This pastor wrote: think the single most important thing a pastor can do is wake up each day and focus his energy on enjoying Jesus and having as much fun as possible. This is the only thing I know of that will protect you from the burnout most pastors experience from the relentless strain of preaching and leading a church. I don’t think there’s much power in preaching grace if you yourself are not revelling in grace. (30 September 2013 by Justin Buzzard)

But I thought today’s reading was about faith – you say.

Actually no. Both really!

All the readings today are also about God’s grace!

From the depressing state of Jeremiah lamenting over a destroyed city of Jerusalem – to the perplexed disciples who are told not to be a stumbling block to other Christians – and to keep forgiving others (together with all the other things Jesus told them to give up or hate as they learn to love him) to the young Timothy who learned like some of us about the love of God from His granny – all the characters, the speakers in these passages and those listening to Jesus’ words or hearing Paul’s letters – none of them – NOT ONE – could save themselves or work up enough faith to qualify for a Nobel Peace prize or the meekest of human trophies.

For Jeremiah – deep in the depths of despair and depression – listen to him again:

Lam 3:19  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.

Lam 3:20  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

There is a word of Hope:

Lam 3:21  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Lam 3:22  Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

Lam 3:23  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

And the key word here? Chesed – meaning mercy or loving kindness. The LORD’s “great love” is the one to look out for in the NIV.

The loving kindness of God is at the heart of it all. Mercy is right there.

With that the endless forgiveness that Jesus talks about in Luke 17:

Luk 17:3  So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

Luk 17:4  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Of course the Lord’s prayer backs this up. There is only one line in the Lord’s prayer about what we do:

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us!

It’s the heart of it all – it’s built into the loving kindness and mercy of God!

By the way – what do you think of the disciples response to this challenge? It follows hard on the heels of the warning against causing others t sin in verse 1: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.”

Their response is simple: Luk 17:5  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  

He replies: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

Jesus’ response has been interpreted in a couple of ways:

1.       A rebuke – chiding them for not having enough faith. Can you think of other times when he did this?

(In the context of worry) (O Ye of little faith?)  Mat_6:30  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

(In the context – a storm) Mat_8:26  And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

(In the context of Peter walking on the water) Mat_14:31  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

(When they were discussing bread) Mat_16:8  But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?

(In the context of a demon they could not cast out – although in an extra verse (textural variant) he adds prayer and fasting as a requirement for recalcitrant demons). Mat_17:20  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

So he says on this occasion: (In Luke 17:6) “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. This could be a rebuke – if you had just a tiny particle of faith – if you only had that tiny speck of faith like a mustard seed).

2. Humorous – there is an amusing angle – in the piucture of this mulberry tree

Luke 17:6  He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. There is an amusing angle to this too. The particular mulberry tree was known to have a very complex root system. It was a sycamine tree -a kind of mulberry, with a root system so intricate that it would take six hundred years to untangle it, according to the rabbis. The idea of it being planted in the sea is odd – almost a joke. It would look a bit strange.

3. The main focus is on the faithfulness of God in impossible situations!

In Matthew we read the mountain version of this.  Mat_17:20  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Some of our problems are like mountains. We say things are insurmountable. Basically that means impossible. Overwhelming.

Something like the destruction of Jerusalem – the wasted city of Lamentations. Think of any bombed-out city in the world. Everything gone. Think of hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and the mess that you land with.

How do you find hope in that situation?

In your relationship with God, there are some key responses – prayer (pray the Bible) and worship (sing the Bible) especially – both of which build faith!

As an example we used to sing years back: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases – his mercies never come to an end –  they are new every morning, new every morning, Great is they faithfulness Oh Lord! Great is Thy faithfulness!”

It is hard to find hope, though – especially in the face of wholesale destruction as Jeremiah had faced with the people of God. Those of you who have seen terribly traumatic things – or even have lost a loved on under less horrible situations – or those who battle with depression – understand how hard it is to find hope.

Consider this picture – a sculpture from 1894 by William Wetmore Story – carved for his wife’s tombstone and ultimately his. It is called the “Angel of Grief”. Have  a look:

angel of grief

It’s the angel mourning on the tomb! It’s a picture for many of the darkest day of the year – linked by Christians to Holy Saturday – Easter Saturday – where Jesus himself is remembered as dead.

The gloomy mood of all of Lamentations captures these terrible feelings of loss. And yet there is hope in this passage!

The truth is we often have to grieve first – as did Jeremiah. His poetry is gloomy and sad. That must happen in bereavement and loss of all kinds.

There’s a great moment in the movie “Four weddings and a Funeral” – not at the weddings but at the funeral where the dead man’s friend recites W H Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues”.  It will resonate with those of you who are grieving. It certainly does for me. It goes like this:

W. H. Auden  (Wystan Hugh 21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973)                       Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Brilliant and real. And  that kind of grieving is normal and important – as it shows the extent of love and loss in a powerful way.

Depressed people can get stuck in the desperation of hopelessness and persistent loss. People can get a kind of frozen grief. I have encountered that with the losses of immigration – you find it with refugees too.

In that kind of desperation another drum begins to beat out a different song:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…”

Or if you like:

“ Great is thy faithfulness oh God my father, there is no shadow of turning with thee….”

Morning by morning new mercies I see!

The morning prayer time seems significant as we tackle the day. Think of the beauty in the KJV of Psalm 5: Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.  Psa 5:2  Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.  Psa 5:3  My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

It is important to start the day well like that – recognizing his mercies and looking up, because

“All I have needed they hand hath provided!”

The point is – the bottom line is – you can’t work up your faith.

You only need a tiny bit – like the size of a mustard seed – to move that mountain or cast the tree into the sea!

It’s about the greatness and faithfulness of God.

Let’s close by listening to this song – sing along as we declare these truths.

Song: Who alone could save themselves?

Have a listen and as you do ask God to birth new hope in your heart: we all need faith and grace!

Click on the link and listen:

Who alone could save themselves?

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.