Sunday’s Sermon

Power. Obtaining it, having it, exercising it and keeping hold of it. It is an obsession for many.

Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.”

Winston Churchill perceptively said, “The power of man has grown in every sphere, except over himself.”

But how can you quantify what power is? One definition of power is position of control. Sir Francis Bacon said that Knowledge is power. Oskar Shindler, the man that saved many Jews from German concentration camps in World War II said, “Power is when you have every justification to kill someone, and then you don’t”. A modern day writer, Amy Tan, has said that power is holding someone else’s fear in your hand and showing it to them.

In each of these definitions, power is portrayed as something to use, possess or harness.

The Bible speaks of power in a different way. It speaks of power as a person.

Psalm 115:3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

Daniel 4:35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

Matthew 28:18 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” All authority – power has been given to JESUS!

We would all agree with the statement that God / Jesus is “All powerful”.

But there is another question that we must face, especially in light of our passages this morning.

That question is: How much of this all-powerful God have YOU and I and the church experienced in our life and how has that changed us.

It is the question that flows through our readings this morning. To acknowledge that Jesus Christ, God, is ALL POWERFUL is good, but it is imperative that this knowledge becomes a reality in our lives.

It is the question which God confronts Job with. Chapter 38 of Job is amazing. Imagine the scene! God comes to Job and tells him that he is about to question Job. I don’t care how big your GPA is – or what fine school you may have graduated from – being questioned by God means we are not going to do well with the answers. Job was never going to be able to answer these questions. So why does God ask them?

God educates Job. Like a good teacher who may question a student in order to elicit understanding, God questions Job in order to teach him something. And God shows Job a tiny glimpse of the immensity of his power – just listen to what he says where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth – who determined its measurements – who shut in the sea with doors.

You can’t get more powerful than that!!

Job was now understanding what power was – not having wealth and influence – but in understanding that God is himself POWER.

And it is this ALL POWERFUL God, the one who laid the foundations of the earth and who determined it’s measurements who, in our gospel reading, slept on a cushion during a violent storm.

Have you ever been in a storm at sea in an open boat? Water would be rushing into the boat – the wind howling, the boat tipping and lurching and here is Jesus, getting wet, maybe even sliding back and forth – and yet he remained a sleep. There are only two ways to sleep through such a storm – narcotics – and lots of them – or utter and complete peace, a peace that has no fear – a peace that is rooted in the truth that there is no power greater than God and his purposes.

If we were able to have asked the disciples the question, “How powerful do you think Jesus is” before they had left the shore I wonder what they would have said – moderately powerful, fairly powerful, potentially powerful? What is clear is that the disciple’s answer would change in the course of this journey.

The storm was violent. When professional and seasoned fishermen are afraid then the storm is bad. Which is shown when the panicked disciples wake him up screaming – “Don’t you care that we are going to die.”

What he does next is a massive learning curve for the disciples – it is like Job hearing that God was now going to question him and educate him – here the disciples are about to get educated because Jesus tells the wind and the storm to be silent – and they were!

Does that not send a shiver up your spine? Jesus Christ proved beyond doubt on this occasion exactly who he is – he is the one who has POWER over nature – over the storms, over tornados and hurricanes.

If that’s not enough for the disciples they then get educated on the fact that Jesus’ power is not limited to just nature. His power is over the spiritual world. They arrive in a gentile territory and a demon-possessed man runs to him and kneels before Jesus. The demon has no choice but to bow the knee before the creator of all things – and he knows his destination – torment. And there is absolutely nothing the demon can do about it – no one to call on to help him. At Jesus’ word he must obey.

The demons MUST do what Jesus commands and simply by Jesus’ word he shows he has POWER over the spiritual realm. And, most importantly for us, he shows he has POWER that stops the demons from destroying this man.

Is this the Jesus you and I know? Is this the Jesus whom we have invited into our lives? Is this the Jesus that walks with us everyday – the one who has the power to command nature – the one who has the power to command the spiritual realm – the one who stops the enemy from destroying us – the one who protects through the storm.

Is this the Jesus you and I know?

This is the Jesus the apostle knew. Paul embodies for us what happens when the knowledge that Jesus is all-powerful becomes a reality in our life.

Paul has been talking to the Corinthians in the previous verses about the fact that we have a heavenly body to come and that we groan for that perfect heavenly place. But before that, all people will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. All people will face what Job faced – being questioned by the God and creator of all things. It is THIS FACT, that ALLL people will face judgment, and that Paul KNOWS the power of Jesus Christ and FEARS the Lord, that drives him to persuade people to believe in Jesus Christ.

For Paul – the driving force of his life is Christ’s love. The Love of Christ controls him, he says, BECAUSE he knows that Jesus Christ DIED for all.

Paul’s message is rooted in the truth that the ALL POWERFUL GOD OF THE UNIVERSE is SO POWERFUL that by becoming a human being he has defeated death through his own death, and demonstrated his power to EVERYONE by rising from the dead in order TO GIVE LIFE AND BE RECONCILED TO ALL WHO BELIEVE IN HIM.

This is how powerful Jesus is for Paul – the one who transforms us into a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come.

We must come to know Jesus ourselves in this powerful way.

We must come to know and understand, accept and embrace that Jesus Christ, through his Holy Spirit, who dwells in all believers has power and authority over all creation; over all the spiritual realm; over all disease, over all situations; over all circumstances; over all time and over all space.

As his followers we are ambassadors of this God and of this message -– pleading to the world the power of the gospel.

And here’s the point – we have no power in ourselves. Jesus tells Pilate, the governor of that area in John 19:11 – you would have no power over me unless it had been to you from above. Pilates position and power came from God – God ALLOWED him to have that position.

We must therefore learn to enter the model of POWER that Jesus sets – the model of LETTING GO. The paradox is that Jesus willingly gave up his authority in heaven to become a human being – he went from power to powerlessness, entrusting himself completely to the Father for ALL things, SO THAT, as Paul writes in Romans 1:4, by the resurrection, Jesus was declared to the Son of God in power.

When Jesus walked the earth, he never boasted to people “just wait – you have NO idea just HOW powerful I am”. He gave everything to the Father and did not grasp onto anything himself. The model of Christ is that he did not consider equality with God something to be used for his own advantage. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.

The great wisdom of knowing Christ – of being his ambassador, of exercising authority in the positions he places us in is to know that it is not our power but his. That we must relinquish back to him whatever power or position, or place of authority we might be given in this world, so that when he calls us to let go of it – we can – obeying him and not our own desires – just as Jesus obeyed the Father.

We must not delude ourselves that we have power – there is only ONE WHO IS TRULY AND COMPLETELY ALL POWERFUL. All authority comes from him – any position we may have comes FROM him and we have it because of HIM. And in whatever position God has given us we are his ambassadors – a representive of Christ. We must obey HIS will – we must do HIS bidding – in church, in our work, in our homes. When we realize this – and know God to be all-powerful – we can stop grasping onto things – we can have peace; we can stop worrying or fretting over power struggles, or who has the authority, or whether we have any authority or not. God does. God gives it and he takes it away. Let’s rest in the powerful God we worship and allow him to be powerful in our lives, so that in the storms of our life, when things are tough, we can allow Jesus and his power to calm the storm. As our Psalmist says this morning – Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

Imagine the impact to the Kingdom of God here in Mount Vernon, Ft Belvoir, Alexandria, America, around the world if we truly lived this way.

Of Course, Nature Declares Homosexuality as Unnatural!

The Episcopal Church will be debating and voting on including a liturgy for same sex partnership / marriage services. There is a lot of traffic on this issue on the blogs – not least since the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, rightly, published a letter by the Standing Committee declaring it’s opposition to this move and that they cannot follow the General Convention and the Episcopal Church down this road.

In a discussion I was having on this topic with a journalist friend of mine recently, my friend said something which is very obvious and yet I had not heard – or at least consciously heard. He said that the whole argument about whether homosexuality is ‘natural’ was ridiculous. Nature itself declares homosexuality as unnatural because every single gay person is born through a heterosexual act or process (egg = sperm = embryo – whether sex, or a test tube) – hence homosexuality is declared unnatural by nature itself. Yes, a simple argument – very unoriginal, but quite effective I feel.

Sunday’s Sermon

The drive for Success is a an underlying theme in almost every area of todays life. Even as young as pre-kindergarten, children are being geared towards being ’successful’! Our children are now the youngest and the most tested generation in history. The fact that you can fail kindergarten is a testimony to this.

Of course success is not a bad thing. We are to use the gifts and talents given to us to the very fullest. Christians should never be afraid or ashamed of success personally or professionally.

The issue I would like us to consider, meditate and seek God on this morning is how do you define what success is. What are the parameters by which we can determine that something is successful. It is vital that we define the meaning of success, because if we do not then success almost certainly becomes a problem.

How can success become a problem? In a number of ways. Firstly, without defining what success is you will never be able to determine when you have become successful. Also, success is not limitless, nor endless. There is a time when you have to say – “This is as successful as it can be – and we are happy with that.” Without understanding a definition of success people are pushing for more, and more, and more success. What I find really interesting is that you hear a lot about being successful but you rarely hear of people having succeeded. But as Christians we should be able to know when we have succeeded – and be content int that.

Also, the more successful you are, the bigger you become, the more likely it is that you will face temptations. What type of temptations? Well, temptations such as pride, arrogance and the belief that you and you alone are responsible for the success. Pride, arrogance and the belief you did it all leads people and organizations to make bad decisions – decisions which can not just harm you but harm others as well. As I heard someone say once – the danger is you become a legend in your own mind!

Humility, self awareness, concern for others, and very often justice and truth can be the casualties of success.

That is the point Ezekiel is making this morning in his prophecy to Egypt. They had become hugely successful – a powerful and great nation – in conquest, in ability and technology. The Egyptian empire was utterly impressive. But that did not mean they were truly successful.

Ezekiel tells the Egyptians that as with all mighty empires there is a lesson to be learned. The one vital ingredient for true and lasting success is God at the center. Without that – regardless of how big you become – how great you may think you are or how successful everyone acclaims you to be, you they will fall. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Rome – all great empires – at times untouchable and invincible were all eventually brought down.

So, we must learn to define what success is – and then we will be able to recognize it. What does success look like when it has God at the center.

There are two issues I want us to consider from this mornings readings:

Firstly, unless we partner with God we cannot experience or reach true or lasting success; secondly, and this follows on from last weeks sermon, success is not gauged just by what we see physically.

So, first, Unless we partner with God we cannot be successful.

We must understand and recognize that God is the source and sustainer of all our success. The gifts we have received – the abilities we have – the entrepreneurial attitude – all comes from God. It’s is more than just saying God has blessed me. It is a real, deep recognition that ALL we have and ALL we have achieved is by and through the grace of God. When we recognize God’s role in the success of our life it stops us from becoming prideful and it makes us grateful to God. When we acknowledge God’s role in what we achieve we are partnering WITH God in HIS purposes.

We see this in Jesus. What was Jesus’ mission? How did Jesus define success?

John 5:20 says  “I can do nothing on My own. I judge only as I hear, and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”

John 8:28 “I do nothing on My own. But just as the Father taught Me, I say these things”

Jesus was never, ever an individualist. Jesus never seeks to take the credit for himself. He does only what the Father tells him to do. His success comes because he partners WITH God. Jesus knew who he was, where he came from, where he was going. It was all in and through the Father.

The gospel reading this morning reminds us that spiritual growth is like growing crops. The farmer sows the seed into the ground but he cannot MAKE anything grow – that is out of his hands. He does his part and then he waits. He has to trust the natural process. And the seed grows WITHOUT the continuing work of the farmer! The framer partners with God in the growing of his crops. The farmer does his job – and then the Lord works and the harvest comes. This is why God asks for the firstfruits of the harvest every year in the Old Testament. It is a reminder that the crops grow only through and by the grace of God. The farmer does not take all the credit for the harvest – he must give God his due.

This is so vital for us as a church. We must recognize that the success we have or the ‘growth‘ we have is not just about us. We can and we must do our part – use our gifts – but then we wait just as the farmer waits. We do what we must do and then we await for God to do his work. When we partner WITH God, and do what we must do then we can trust in and rely on the Father to grow the seed.

The growth is never our responsibility nor our success. We are to sow. God will grow it.

The second issue for us to remember is that success is not gauged just by what we see physically .

Jesus goes on to emphases that what appears to be very small, is not necessarily insignificant.

When Jesus began his ministry he announced that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Now, how did it LOOK when Jesus said this? The Romans were still there. The Israelites were still occupied. Where was this kingdom? To what could you point to to say “yes Jesus, I can see that the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

The beginning of the kingdom was small and discouraging. So insignificant was Jesus in terms of the wider culture there are only 3 (and these are disputed) possible brief references to Jesus by 1st century writers outside the Bible. Jesus experienced rejection and left this world as an apparent failure. Last week we saw that we need to look spiritually at situations. Jesus says that the very small can become very large when God makes something grow – when we leave it to the Lord. The mustard seed was a very small seed and yet it’s growth, it’s end result belies it’s small beginnings. A mustard seed could grow into a small tree some 10 to even 15 feet tall! This is why bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to God.

We all know that when Jesus died he had 120 or so followers. Compared to the Sanhedrin; or the local zealots; or probably countless other organizations it is probably quite pathetic. Only 120. Was Jesus not capable of attracting more people?

Do not judge a book by its cover. What may appear small and unimpressive may, in partnership with God, become large, fruitful and useful.

Paul says in our epistle reading that we have been given the Spirit as a down payment. The Holy Spirit – the presence of the living God in each of us, the Spirit that hoovered over the creation, that raised Jesus from the dead is right now in you and I.

And yet we look around and maybe we think that the spirit does not seem very impressive or even a very convincing guarantee or downpayment.
Again we must stop in our judgment of success.

We must not judge the significance of results by the size of the beginnings.

We saw last week that the same spirit which raised Jesus from the dead is in each of us. He is in the church. We may not LOOK like a group of crack spiritual warriors – but in the spirit we are! We may not appear to be massively successful from the world’s standpoint – but if we are partnering with God to fulfill his purposes – and to do the things he is telling us to do then by definition we are successful – and therefore we know that God will grow us and bless us and provide for us.

When we realize that our success is from God, we are able to hold the success in perspective – perspective which allows us to 1. not grow in pride, or arrogance or boastfulness, thinking we are the ones who did it and 2. we are able to recognize the true success behind success .

For all of us our earthly success will diminish. In every area of life, whether you are the head of your field, or company, or division, or church eventually someone else will take over. We may get a portrait in a gallery or a plaque in a wall or even maybe a building named after us but our earthly success is temporary and temporal. When we know our success is from God, then we know that our success is eternal – for when we desire His purposes we know that we desire eternal purposes.

Let me end with the Psalmist.

Those who are planted in the house of the LORD * shall flourish in the courts of our God;

They shall still bear fruit in old age; * they shall be green and succulent;

That they may show how upright the LORD is, * my Rock, in whom there is no fault.

The Sad Situation of Some Biblical Scholars….. .

I was sad to read this by Peter Enns:

I’ve had far too many conversations over the last few years with trained, experienced, and practicing biblical scholars, young, middle aged, and near retirement, working in Evangelical institutions, trying to follow Jesus and use their brains and training to help students navigate the challenging world of biblical interpretation.

And they are dying inside.

Just two weeks ago I had the latest in my list of long conversations with a well-known, published, respected biblical scholar, who is under inhuman stress trying to negotiate the line between institutional expectations and academic integrity. His gifts are being squandered. He is questioning his vocation. His family is suffering. He does not know where to turn.
I wish this were an isolated incident, but it’s not.

Read the rest HERE

This Is Indicative of Many Clergy’s Rejection of God’s Ways and Truth

Giles Fraser is an ordained member of the Church of England and a former dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. He is also an influential writer. His recent article in the Guardian Newspaper shows exactly how distant clergy like Giles Fraser are from God and his ways. The Church of England says it is against gay marriage. Not in my name is Fraser’s rant against the fact that the Church of England has come out against gay marriage. He is ‘spitting blood’ over this – furious that the Church of England has claimed not to be homophobic. Fraser’s anger and disgust shows the intolerance he has towards others who hold a traditional viewpoint and wish to continue in the the traditional teachings of the Church and the problem the Anglican Church is facing. People like Fraser are screaming CIVIL RIGHTS violations against that which is clearly not allowed in the Bible – and then demanding that everyone MUST agree with his position or be seen as bigots and homophobes.

Of course Fraser will discount all the arguments of the Old Testament and New Testament against gay relationships – and many liberals discount the Old Testament as irrelevant citing the ‘unreasonable’ violence and antiquated laws which should not apply today. This is one of the biggest indicators of their incredible lack of understanding or scholarship of the Bible and Old Testament. Moses speaks of Christ – the sacrificial system speaks of CHrist and the Law speaks and point to Christ. ALL the law in the Old Testament comes from the mouth of our loving, righteous, holy heavenly Father. To discount the Law of the OT is to discount everything about God – and so to dismiss the passages of Holy Scripture which speak out against gay relationships is a dangerous thing to do.

William Webb has written a fabulous book called Slaves, Women and Homosexuals. He shows that the Bible clearly has a redemptive movement towards Slaves and women (i.e. slaves and women are to be treated better under the law than any other ancient nation would allow) – but that NEVER happens with homosexuality – it is always condemned and there is no redemptive movement in scripture towards its acceptance.

This does not mean God hates homosexuals. Of course not. He loves them and desires that they be in full relationship with Him. But the fact is God does not allow homosexuality to be a good or righteous lifestyle choice, just as as God does not allow promiscuity among heterosexuals to be a good or righteous lifestyle choice.

But to say that gay people can be married in the way that God ordained marriage is not just wrong – but impossible. Marriage CAN ONLY be between a man and a woman. And to advocate not just a civil move towards same sex marriage but to demand that christian churches HAVE to marry gay people and thus violate God’s words is something that for many christian leaders and clergy just won’t happen. And when even Anglican clerics move away from this fundamental biblical truth and yet claim to be leaders in the church we have a massive problem. Although it is a problem that even Jesus encountered when he faced the Pharisees and the Scribes and their perversion of the law of God to suit their own beliefs and desires.

Sunday’s Sermon

036 Proper 5 Year B
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We have all experienced moments of doubt, haven’t we. Self-doubt can come from within or without. It could be from an event, or a even a comment from someone challenging your competency.

Self-doubt is incredibly destructive. And it is one of the weapons used against the Church and Christians by the enemy.

Genesis 3 tells us that the serpent was cunning, more cunning than any beast of the field. He does not come against God and what God had said directly. No – he is subtle. What he does is to begin to sow seeds of doubt into Adam and Eve’s mind. I say Adam and Eve because Adam is almost certainly standing next to eve as this conversation takes place as v6 shows, and he does not intervene.

The doubt that the serpent sows is very, very powerful. First he slightly twists God’s words to Adam. “”Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” Now the serpent knows full well what God actually said. What he is doing is setting Eve up. The issue is not WHAT he said, but WHY he said it. Eve corrects the serpent, although her correction is not right – she too misquotes God. And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;
[3] but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”

Of course, God did not say that to touch it would result in death. Eve shows she is not certain what God has said. And so the serpent lowers the boom:

“You will not die.
For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Satan effectively questions God’s motive in forbidding Adam and Eve from eating the fruit.

The serpent has now placed into Eve’s mind doubt. And what is that doubt? That God is holding back on them. She is doubting the fullness of God’s word to her. Satan has weaved a suggestion into her mind that the reason why God forbids them to eat from this tree is because it would benefit them to do so in a way God does want to them to experience.

And when that thought hit home for Eve and then Adam the horrific damage was done – they doubted God’s word to them and they doubted God’s goodness to them.

If the enemy can force us off the path of complete trust in God; if satan can get believers to begin to doubt God – to get them to think that God is holding back something – whether it’s a blessing, or a healing, a job, or a baby, or a spouse, or finance – if we get tot he point of thinking “why is God holding back this blessing from me” then the enemy has done his job.

I have said this before – satan is not looking so much to have Christians lose their faith – or to turn them so that they would become unbelievers. For the most part that can’t happen. What satan wants to do is for us to live our life without deep, trusting faith; without the peace of God ruling in our lives; without joy; without happiness; without experiencing the destiny and fullness God has for us in this life.

If we can become ineffective, fearful, oppressed, joyless, pessimistic and doubting then we have become useless for the kingdom of God. We ourselves will go to be with the Lord when we die, but we would have wasted the life God had given us on earth and satan would be delighted with that.

This is the tactic that satan used against Jesus and his ministry. Our gospel reading shows us two ways that satan went after Jesus. The first was to try and sow seeds of doubt into the hearts and minds of those who SAW Jesus’ ministry. Throughout the gospels, the opposition of the pharisees and the sadducees was extremely significant. Because they were the established religious rulers – the historic episcopacy if you like – their opposition to Jesus caused people to doubt Jesus’ claims and even his signs. In this account satan is using the scribes. The accusation was that Jesus’ ability to drive OUT demons was in fact a demonic gift. In the light of how Jesus’ responds to this issue; if a kingdom is divided against itself how can it stand; we may think this is a somewhat lame and pathetic attempt. Yet consider who the scribes were. These were the teachers of the law – the experts in the law. ALL they did was study the hebrew scriptures and they were entrusted as judges in the sanhedrin. If 95% of the senate and 95% of the house of representatives and the president all said that a particular personw as wrong – would you defy them?

The fact that Jesus’ response blew the Scribes argument out of the water is somewhat irrelevant. Doubt has been sown into peoples hearts, simply because the scribes rejected Jesus.

You see this in the fourth gospel, chapter 7 – the people are looking for Jesus at a feast: The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?”
[12] And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.”
[13] Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.

The fear of the Jews – the fear of being thrown out of the synagogue; the fear of being ostracized.

The second way that satan attempts to derail Jesus’ ministry is through his own family. Having sown deeds of doubt amongst the people, Jesus now is confronted with the doubts of his own family. V21 says that the family had come to ‘seize’ him because he was beside himself. Well, the RSV is being polite – the more literal rendering is “he is out of his mind.”

Again, imagine the situation. Your son, your brother is causing ripples amongst the highest levels of your nations hierarchy and saying things which sound as if he is the Messianic hope which had been promised by the prophets!

They had begun to doubt Jesus, they had begun to doubt his state of mind, and their doubt was an attempt to make Jesus doubt his own ministry and calling – something which never happened.

From the moment Jesus left the peaceful refuge of the workshop where he had learned his trade as young boy and the quite village of Nazareth to begin his public ministry, Jesus was bombarded with doubt and accusations and attempts to discredit him, to derail his ministry and, through the temptations by the devil, to deny his destiny.

And yet Jesus never once had doubted his ministry, nor his Father’s goodness to him, nor his destiny.

My friends, the enemy will do all he can to bring your faith down to a point of being ineffective. And he will use many things, including disillusionment, troubles, disappointments and, of course, doubt.

We are all going to experience the waves of doubt. But we must be both prepared and equipped to fight those waves off.

We begin by keeping our focus on Jesus and his ways in every area of our life. In our epistle reading look what Paul says – if you have your bulletin at hand follow me as I read it: knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.
[15] For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
[16]
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.

[17] For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
[18] because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Now the context to what he says here is found at the beginning of the chapter. He is telling the Corinthians not to lose heart or to doubt. Yes, the Christian life is hard. Yes, the ministry is hard. The gospel can seemed veiled because people do not see it. But Paul encourages them to keep preaching the gospel of Christ. And Paul contrasts the fact that our bodies while fragile, earthen vessels, have the excellence of the power of God in them.

So, even though We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;

[9] persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
[10] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies, we must not give up – nor are we to not lose heart.

The key for Paul is to focus on what is NOT seen. We have become so conditioned to simply look to the natural, even as Christians. We let the natural have supremacy in our thinking and we too often ignore the spiritual realities. This means that when we focus on what we can see, we can doubt the promises of God because we start to try and work out HOW something can change. But our own working out usually does not work. How can anything good come from this mess? How can this situation EVER be turned around? From our own perspective, it can’t – we see no way out and this leads to despair and a lose of peace and even panic.

But that is when we must look into the eternal, spiritual realm. We look into the promises of God and then we see that our God can do all things – no economic situation, or national crisis limits our God or reduces his power. Therefore we can trust in him – have faith and trust in him to do what he has promised to do, and to lead us, take care of us and uphold us.

Paul says that even our suffering – our affliction is but for a moment compared to eternity. We have eternity inside of us by the Holy Spirit. We are being renewed spiritually every day. What most of us SEES every day is our bodies growing old and failing with aches and pains and grey hairs. But the REALITY is that we are being prepared for life in the presence of Jesus and we will live for eternity. DO you feel this morning that you will live forever?

When we hold that vision front and center – when we see the glorious wonders that our trust in god has given us – then we can face the waves of doubt head on and then say – “No – I do not doubt because what I know is true: He who raised Jesus from the dead WILL, WILL raise you and I up WITH Jesus and present us into the presence of our lord and Saviour!!

So when doubt comes, when the enemy seeks to rob you of your peace, joy and hope, look to the Lord – look to the eternal – As our Psalm proclaims:

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
[6] my soul waits for the LORD
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
[7] O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plenteous redemption.

Overview of Numbers

Numbers is probably one of the most difficult books in the OT in terms of “what on earth is going on”.

Numbers is filled with a mixture of things – narrative, additional laws, census lists, oracles from a pagan prophet (Balaam) and it is not easy to see how it all fits together.

To understand Numbers you need to remember the driving force of the Pentateuch as a whole – God’s promise / covenant with Abraham that his seed would inherit the land of Canaan. This is what underlines everything in the book of Numbers. God WILL bring about the fulfillment of this promise, even in the face of Israel’s reluctance and disobedience.

A summary of the content of Numbers: The Israelites long stay in the desert as they journey from Mount Sinai to the Plains of Moab – a journey which takes them 38 years. During the journey they are given supplemental covenant laws.

A summary of the Emphasis of Numbers: Preparation for military conquest of the promised land – God’s covenant loyalty towards Israel – Israel’s repeated failure to keep covenant with God – God’s leadership of his people and His affirmation of Moses’ leadership; preparation for entering and worshipping in the promised.

The book itself opens with a Census – The Lord spoke to Moses…. a pattern seen in Exodus.

So Moses, in Chps 1 & 2 takes a census of the people and then tells them to camp around the Tabernacle – Num. 2:1-2   1 The LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron: 2 “Every one2 of the Israelites must camp3 under his standard with the emblems of his family;4 they must camp at some distance5 around the tent of meeting

The purpose of the census is to list all those who were to be fighting men for the coming conquest of the land of Canaan. According to Num 1:1 this takes places on the first day of the second month the second year after God brought them out of Egypt.

Israel is being prepared, as we saw last week, to be God’s people, and to take the claim of Canaan in order to do the work of the Lord.

One of the characteristics of Numbers is that the people of Israel are not shown in a good light at all.

Chp 11:1 When the people complained; 11:4-5 If only we had meat to eat. We remember the fish we used to eat freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic. But now we are all fried up and there is nothing at all before us except this manna! 16:1ff Now Korah son of Izhar the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the son of Eliab and On son of Peleth who were Reubenites took men and rebelled against Moses. 20:3ff The people contended with Moses saying, ‘If only we had died when our brothers died before the Lord. Chp 21:4-9

Each time Israel complains God punished them. They should have known better. They had witnessed untold miracles and still they refused to trust in God’s provision for them, even wishing they were back in slavery.

But in the middle of this complaining and grumbling something goes horribly for the wrong for the Israelites.

Chp 13 – Spies are sent out to look at the land and coming back they all, apart from joshua and Caleb, say that Israel cannot win. They show their distrust of God’s power, despite knowing how he defeated Egypt.

God punishes them by promising they will not dwell in the land:

Num. 14:20   Then the LORD said, “I have forgiven them as you asked.36 21 But truly, as I live,37 all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. 22 For all the people have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tempted38 me now these ten times,39 and have not obeyed me,40 23 they will by no means41 see the land that I swore to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it. 24 Only my servant Caleb, because he had a different spirit and has followed me fully–I will bring him into the land where he had gone, and his descendants42 will possess it. 25 (Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites were living in the valleys.)43 Tomorrow, turn and journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.”

Now begins their long desert journey. Numbers overs the 38 years they are in the desert as the original generation, except Joshua and Caleb die.

In this period of ‘wandering’ in the desert the Israelites are prepared for warfare.They encounter hostile Canaan and Amorites Kings who come to fight and God tells the Israelites to attack the Midianites. Scholars talk about this being the second stage of the Holy War. The first stage – against Pharaoh in exodus was carried out by God himself, extracting his people fro Egypt and killing the Egyptian army. This second stage is the conquest of the land and this stage requires the people’s co-operation and participation.

Hence, after the 38 years, a second census is called by God, so that the second generation will be recorded and ready to take the land God had promised them. The Israelites were now by the Jordan opposite Jericho and ready to go!

Num 26:2-3 “Take a census of the whole community of Israelites, from twenty years old and upward, by their clans,3 everyone who can serve in the army of Israel.”4 3 So Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them in the plains of Moab, by the Jordan River5 across from Jericho

God’s promises will come true – He is patient – he is true and even in the midst of our failings, our sins, our mistakes, God’s promises will happen.

Two things stand out very importantly in Numbers – firstly, is the constant challenge to Moses and Aaron’s leadership.

Chp 16 we see korah challenging Moses. Some of this is jealousy – v3 Why then do you exalt yourself above the community of the Lord – most of it is about the fact that things are not going the way they thought it would go.

The issue here is not that Korah thinks God has NOT spoken to Moses – or that Moses is doing something that God has said NOT to do. The issue is korah does not LIKE what is happening

Following the Lord’s calling, both individually and together as a community is not about a free ride – that everything goes smoothly, without any hitch or challenges. It can be HARD, the challenges can be huge and the outlook can sometimes look bleak EVEN when you follow the way of the Lord.

Korah wanted things his way in his own time. That’s not how things are done – and when we push our own agendas and our own ways and our own timings we rebel against God. This is why Korah’s punishment is so dramatic.

The second thing is the narrative about the pagan prophet Balaam.

Here we have a wonderful image that when you walk in the paths of the Lord, you shall be protected. Notice something here. This is going on behind the back of Israel. Apart from the fact that God obviously tells Moses what happened so to put it in the book, this whole episode is happening without the Israelites knowledge.

If you were aware of every spiritual battle that took place over your life you would be terrified.

The King of Moabites goes to Balaam in order to curse the Israelites. The fact that God intervenes to speak to and direct Balaam shows that this was a real issue – the curing of the Israelites would have had consequences.

Yet God intervenes. Balaam is unable to prophecy a curse against the Israelites to the chagrin of the king.

The big theme then of Numbers is that despite ISrael’s sins, wafflings and complaints, this is above all God’s story and God will keep and fulfill his part of the covenant with Abraham.

The issue is whether Israel will keep the covenant with God – and Numbers reminds you over and over again that the divine provision for them to do is always ready at hand.

There are some major events in Numbers which are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture – Joshua and Caleb alone think Israel can take the promised land (Num 13-14 / Jos 14:7); Moses striking the rock and water coming out (Num 20:11 / Ps 106:32); Moses lifting up a bronze serpent on a pole so that believing Israelites may be healed (Num 21:6-9 / John 3:14) & Balaam was rebuked by his donkey (num 22:21 / rev 2:14).

OK, to sum up – in this book the people of God tested God’s patience and he in turn tested their endurance and faithfulness. Though the people failed many times God showed his own faithfulness by his constant presence leading the way.

What can Numbers teach us? Well, the apostle Paul helps here: 1 Cor 10:1-6 says:   For I do not want you to be unaware,1 brothers and sisters,2 that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized3 into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were cut down in the wilderness. 6 These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did.

Let’s not doubt the goodness of God – even when we feel we are in the wilderness – let’s rejoice in his provision for us, even when it may appear mundane and let us not crave other things beyond what God has for us. A re we grumbling? Are we rebellious? Can we be like the Israelites?

The Wonder of the Universe: Hints of God in Our Fine Tuned World by Karl Giberson

Karl Giberson has really written two books here. The first, which is the first half of this book, is a wonderful overview of science and some of the great scientists of history. Giberson looks at the major discoveries, the evolution of understanding about our world, the universe and space; the smallness of earth in comparison to the vastness of space and much more. Giberson’s overview is extremely well written both in terms of content and information.

The second half of the book looks at the argument of design in the universe. Giberson does this very well. He is both a scientist and a Christian but he does not make exaggerated claims either way but seeks to navigate a very sensible, logical process. He writes “I have tried in this book to be cautious but not timid in drawing connections between the wonder of the world and belief in God. I don’t think the profound character of mathematics proves that God exists. But I do think it makes belief in a reality that transcends the physical world entirely reasonable and, I would argue, necessary.”

Giberson is not a theologian trying to find a theology – but a scientist who obviously loves science and the process of discovering information, looking at the process of science through the lens of a believer in God.

I have a non-existent background in science – but I found this book more than just readable, but enjoyable as well as informative.

Recommended!

Trinity Sunday

Our Psalm this morning gives us a wonderful and glorious image of our God. It speaks of Him as one who reigns – robed in majesty and armed with strength – mighty, holy and eternal. Paul writes in his first epistle to timothy that God is: the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

So, how is it that if God is so majestic, if God lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see, how is it that we can have a relationship with Him this morning.

Well today is Trinity Sunday and we are going to look together at how it is we can not just know about, but have an intimate relationship with this majestic, holy and eternal God?.

The first thing we need to understand stand is that we are unable to know ANYTHING about God expect for that which God has revealed to us.

Without God directly revealing himself to us, we would know NOTHING about God. We may have known something OF God – through the magnificence of creation and the power of nature, but we are unable to discover anything ABOUT God without His direct intervention.

That was one of the major distinctions between Yahweh and the other ‘gods’ such as Baal. Ancient pagan worshippers had no idea what their ‘god’ wanted from them. They would pray for rain for crops but if their crops failed they would pray harder. And if that did not work they may have cut themselves. And if that did not work, they would have sacrificed something and if that would not work, then they may have killed a child. Their whole system was about trying to get their god to act, with no knowledge of how to appease their god.

Yahweh reveals himself to humanity and through the words he speaks shows the people EXACTLY what he wants and how to do it. We are left in no doubt about what God wants and how we are to approach him BECAUSE he has revealed himself to us.

Our God is a God who reveals himself. He is a God of revelation. Theologians speak of two types of revelation – General revelation – that which we discern from nature – from which we may conclude that their IS a God. But their is also special revelation – revelation which is given BY God so that we can know WHO he is.

Moses experiences Special Revelation in our Old Testament reading this morning. Moses, while going about his normal day, sees a sight which catches his curiosity. A bush on fire and yet not being consumed. As he approaches the bush God speaks to him: This is holy ground, he tells Moses. He then reveals himself to Moses: I am the God of abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Without this, Moses would never have found Yahweh – he would never have discovered his destiny – God HAD to reveal himself to Moses in order for Moses to know what to do.

Our God is a God who reveals himself to us – not just to show us who he is – but to also reveal to us our destinies and to show us why we are on earth. God’s revelation to us gives us purpose.

So why does God reveal himself to Moses in a burning bush? Well, Fire is a common theme in both exodus and the scriptures to describe God.

Ex. 13:21 By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.
Ex. 14:24 During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.
Ex. 19:18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountainb trembled violently.
Ex. 24:17 To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.

Lev. 10:2 So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.

Deut. 4:24 For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Also this fire is a cleansing fire – a purifying fire – Malachi says: Mal. 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.

If God revealed himself in his full majesty we would be unable to take it – in fact we would probably be consumed. If God had revealed his full fire that day in the desert Moses would probably have been incinerated. God reveals himself in a way we can both understand AND endure.

God revealed some of His power and holiness to Moses to show Him who He was and that what He said was true.

Another way God reveals himself is in such a way as to invite us into a relationship with Him. God walked with Adam in the Garden of Eden – he was not a distant God, but one who showed Himself and wanted to be in relationship with us. After the fall that we were separated from God but God promised to restore that relationship and in the Old Testament he restores that divine presence with his people through the building of the Tabernacle. The tabernacle was the sign of God’s presence upon the earth with his people – he dwelt with his people and his glory rested on the Tabernacle (Ex 40).

Jesus is the ultimate expression of this. He came to earth and dwelt with his people. God reveals himself to his people this time by becoming a Human being and dwelling amongst his people in order to teach, bless and heal.

Paul describes this majestically in his epistle to the Colossians:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

For us today, God has continued to reveal himself, in and through the Holy Spirit. Last week we celebrated Pentecost which marked the beginning of the New Covenant – the fire falls on the disciples, who have seen the revealed son of God and now they are equipped to proclaim the message of the God who reveals himself to all people – a message which promises that everyone who believes will also receive the spirit and know the revelation of God intimately in their lives.

Paul says in our Epistle reading this morning that The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. The Spirit in us reveals to us that we are God’s children – children will all the rights and inheritances of a child. The Holy Spirit in us does many things – among them is the testimony to us of who we are in Christ. The HS in us is meant to witness to our Spirits that we are indeed God’s children – that we are His and His alone.

This is what Jesus was trying to get Nicodemus to see. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born of water and the spirit (or wind) to be saved – in other words Nicodemus must KNOW this inward testimony of God’s revelation through the Holy Spirit and for Nicodemus to experience this he must be born of water and the spirit.

This basically means he must be cleansed and filled with the Spirit. As soon as Jesus mentioned water and the spirit Nicodemus woudl have almost certainly thought of two Old Testament passages:

Is. 44:3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. Some will say, ‘I belong to the LORD’; others will call themselves by the name of Jacob; still others will write on their hand, ‘The LORD’s,’ and will take the name Israel.

Ezek. 36:25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

The fact that God reveals himself, the fact that God shows people who he is, is in order that they may accept him and be cleansed and receive the Holy Spirit.

Why is it important to believe God is Trinitarian? Because ONLY THE Trinitarian God is able to reveal himself to humanity. Only a trinitarian God can reveal himself to humanity and remain Holy and unapproachable. Only a trinitarian God can come and live on earth as a full human being and die for the sins of the world and remain untainted by sin. Only a trinitarian God can promise to dwell inside every single believer by the Holy Spirit.

Unless you have a Trinitarian God, there can be no salvation; without a Trinitarian God there is no atonement for sins. How could God have been born as a human being, emptying himself of his divinity, and still remain sovereign over the universe? How could God know what love is and how to love if he has spent eternity alone before creating the world? Only a God who has been in a perfect eternal relationship in the trinity can know and then create in his image beings who can love.

God has to be Trinitarian to be the God who loves us and who has rescued us from sin. No other God is able to save.