August 2013 Congregational Letter

Life has been full these past few weeks. Being the sole minister in a a parish which, while small, is very busy. This has left little time for blogging although I hope to correct this soon. But in the mean time I thought I would share the congregational letter for August with you.

 

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Over the past few weeks, in various Bible Studies and conversations the question which has arisen is: How can we tell the difference between God’s testing of us and satan’s attack on us.

It’s a good question. As Christian’s we are in a spiritual battle and as we follow Jesus, grow in spiritual maturity and start to enter into the work God has for us both as individuals and as a body of Christ we will experience that battle. The danger is that we can end up attributing EVERY that happens to us which is not pleasant to satan’s attack, when simply we are experiencing the result of our own mistakes, or bad choices. As one theologian has said we should not flatter ourselves that we are so important as to warrant satan’s personal and direct attention all the time.

On the flip side, we can too easily attribute God’s testing, or loving rebuke, to satan’s attack upon us and thus miss what God is wanting to teaching us.

James 1:13-14 says Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.

And yet James 1:2 that says my brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

What does James mean here? At the risk of being too simplistic, James is saying that while God may send OUTWARD trials to us – things that happen to us outside of our control in order to strengthen and mature our faith God will NEVER send an inward trial, which will entice us to do an evil or wrong act. To THINK about doing something, which is not right, just, or true is NEVER from God and we can NEVER attribute it to God.

However, what tends to happen is that an outward trial, or a severe situation, or circumstance or even a health diagnosis comes into our life and our inward response is to get angry, frustrated and despondent with God – “Lord, why are you allowing this to happen to me”.

The problem is that in most of the situations that we face the question “Is this an attack of the enemy” or “a testing from the Lord” it is not easily discernible. Remember Job? Satan comes before God having been ‘walking the length and breadth’ of the earth – a hebrew idiom for ownership – satan answers God’s question of “Where have you been” with a taunt – “I have been walking on what I own.” God responds to the liar with “You do not own Job”. God is so confident in his servant’s faithfulness that God allows satan freedom to afflict Job in order to prove that God is truthful and satan is a liar. So, to whom would you attribute Job’s trial – God or satan? From Job’s perspective – and the whole issue within the book of Job is Job’s uncertainty as to what is happening to him and why God would do this to him when he had been faithful.

So, how do we tell that a trial is from God or from the enemy? The answer is that it is mostly irrelevant where the trial comes from – the response should ALWAYS be to retreat to Jesus – retreat to Him in prayer, in reading & studying the scripture, in having others pray for you. Seek Jesus – seek Him, seek Him, seek Him. Be faithful to his commands and live in His light in all you do and say. Micah 6:8 says He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? We may never know whether what we experienced was an ‘attack’ from the enemy or a trial from the Lord. What we do know is that our God is the sovereign Lord of the Universe, who loved us so much that He died for us on the cross. He is our strong tower, the rock upon which we stand – the safest place in the whole universe. Jonathan Edwards, the great theologian of the 18th century wrote: Out of the Kingdom of God is no safety: there is no hiding place: the [Kingdom of God] is the only city of refuge in which we can be secure.

In every trial we face – no matter what it is – turn to Christ. Repent of any sin, and seek refuge in his safe arms and in his eternal promises and allow Him to carry you through the storm.

Presiding Bishop Katherine Schori Reveals Her Utter Ignorance of the Bible

Anglican Link has a story about a recent sermon Katherine Schori preached on Acts 16, and Paul’s exorcism of the slave girl. If this is what she said then she has revealed a frightening ignorance of the scriptures. Here is a section of her sermon as reported:

“There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves,”

“But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!,”

Read the whole article HERE

May’s Pastoral To The Parish

Dear Friends,

What follows is a devotional I gave at the April Vestry. I feel that I should share this with you all.

I have told some of you before that there was a lawyer in Georgetown SC who won a huge case and with his share of the settlement, that was in the millions of dollars he bought a yacht and he named it “Never Enough”.

I tell you this story because of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:

I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through Him[a] who strengthens me.

I felt this was a word for us as a church.

We need to be content in who we are in God AND in what God has called us to be. It can be very easy for a church to constantly keep striving to become bigger and better and more impressive. The problem is that sometimes this becomes an obsession that takes up all the energy and focus.

We are Anglican in tradition. We are liturgical in our worship. We aim to be scriptural in our teaching. And we strive to love one another.

We need to understand that not everyone will want to come to our church. Not every visitor will be led to stay with us. That is OK. We are not trying to ‘attract’ people. We are hoping to be a community which worships the Lord in spirit and in truth and seeks to live out our faith in our neighborhoods and work places.

Now, this is not to say we don’t want to grow – yes we do – but we want to grow in God’s timing and in by His grace. We want our growth to be sustained, long term and fruit bearing.

Being content with who we are and what we are in Christ means that instead of coming to church on a Sunday and lamenting what we are lacking or do not have that, which takes our focus off of the Lord, we can come excited to worship and enjoy the Lord’s presence and enjoy each others fellowship.

Someone once said that you should never welcome someone at the door looking over their shoulder seeing who else is coming. Instead we rejoice in  those God has given us and we joyfully minister to them endeavoring to do everything in the strength of the Lord. And when we do that, I believe the Lord will steadily and gradually supply our needs and bless our ministries.

Our job is not to maintain or promote Christ the Saviour but to maintain and promote the gospel message.

It is not our plans that matter, but the Lord’s plans.  We are His servants here and He can do as He pleases with us. Our hearts need to say “Not my will but your will be done”.

Abraham was given a magnificent promise by God, and Hebrews 6:13-20 tells us that Abraham waited patiently for this promise. He waited patiently because he knew that God’s promises are unbreakable – and therefore they will come to pass. ALWAYS!

V19 of Hebrews 6 says 19 We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure.

Paul says in Phil 1:6  I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you[a] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. We know he will because as the author to the Hebrews tells us, it is impossible for God to lie and Jesus has shown us the way – he has gone before us.

As a Church we are to seize the hope set before us – the work of Christ and the promise of the Gospel – and when we do this we will realize that this hope is our stabilizing anchor –  it keeps us close to Jesus, safe and secure – and content; content in Christ and content serving Christ.

Let me close with these from the Apostle Paul:

Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 

With my love and prayers!

 

Entrusted With the Kingdom

I have shared with many of you that it is quite funny how whenever I meet another Brit here in the States we have an almost instant affinity together. We have a bond. We are Brits in America – we have a similar accent – we share similar experiences of our country – we have eaten toad in the hole, fish and chips, steak and Kidney Pie with gravy and Yorkshire Pudding followed by Treacle Pudding and Custard.

We have a bond BECAUSE we are citizens of the United Kingdom, or Great Britain.

Now, if I was back in England, this person may not even be on my radar of friendship. I may not even have liked them if I had met them on streets of London.

But because of the circumstances of living in another country where we are a minority – we instantly come together under the identity of our Citizenship and talk all things British.

The same thing happens with church. Church is a place we gather & meet people we would not necessarily naturally be drawn to outside of the church. In the first century, the Church had a hugely diverse membership, which in the culture would have caused incredible problems. Slaves and masters, rich and poor, the powerful and the weak all gathered as equals under the cross of Christ. Nowhere else in the world could they gather as equal brothers and sisters and therefore nowhere else could they have known one another.

It is no exaggeration to say that the peoples very lives were tied up in the body of the Church in the first century.

And while the cultural gaps between the rich and poor, the powerful and weak the master (employer) and slave (employee) is different, the same principle is at work.

We come together because of a desire to worship the Lord God and to grow in maturity and to be a part of the fellowship and community of Christians. We talk and spend time together but then the rest of the week our paths may never cross.

One theologian has said that in church, what hurts the most is our lack of human relationships. Many worship services in which we participate every Sunday remain devoid of genuine human contact. We scarcely know each other with any genuine mutuality. We do not even consider it very valuable to create community with each other.

Of course, when we gather together in church we say Hi, how are you, great to see you, but so often these relationships cease when we leave the meeting.

A question we might ask ourselves is can there be a preaching church in which one receives something, without a community in which one gives something?

In this account from Luke there are some words which are really quite remarkable – in v29 he says: You are those who have stood by me in my trials and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom.

The Revised English Bible translates this verse as “You have stood firmly by me in my times of trial: and I now entrust to you the kingdom which my father entrusted to me”.

I think that is a better translation.

As Jesus prepared to leave earth and return to heaven, he entrusts to his closest disciples the work he has started. He entrusts to them the kingdom.

The following verses show that ultimately this carries into eternity– the 12 will rule on thrones – but this entrustment, also includes the here and now.

Now, what did it mean to be entrusted with the kingdom of Heaven? Well, of course part of it would be the declaration of who Jesus was and the call to people to follow him, but it also included looking after those IN the kingdom of heaven – looking after the believers.

One of the hardest lessons for us to learn as believers is that we are not just individuals but part of a body. We are not just a collection of people who gather with a common focus on a Sunday but we are a united, joined, force which has at its center the work of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom – we are citizens of heaven – ambassadors for Christ – a community.

But community is not, and should not be about occasional, interspersed interaction.

We must not forget that Jesus Christ lived in community – he lived intimately together with his disciples. His disciples squabbled, argued with each other, annoyed each other and even tried to get places of authority behind each others backs. This was no peaceful commune. Yet Jesus gave himself to the community of those around him; living, walking; teaching; solving conflicts between the disciples, and sharing an intimate meal with them on the eve of his death.

We have also been entrusted by God with his kingdom here in Mount Vernon – and how we live and act in this community of the body of Christ, both outwardly to others, and inwardly to each other, is vitally important.

Our epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 11 shows this vividly. Paul tells us something quite sobering – if one eats the bread and wine of the Eucharist unworthily then they are guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Then V29 says this For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. The question is to what does the word ‘body’ refer? The context suggests it is the body of believers. Paul has, in v20-22 chastised the Corinthians for how they are treating other members of the body. The likelihood is that as they gathered for a communion service, bringing their own supplies of bread and wine for the service as was the custom, the more wealthy began to eat and drink before everyone else had arrived, which meant the poorer people, those who were slaves who had to finish all their work before being able to come to this communion service, arrived to find there was no food, either to eat for a meal nor to have for communion. One theologian says on this verse: Those who eat and drink in flagrant disregard of the physical needs of others in their fellowship risk incurring punishment from God.

In other words, we take communion unworthily when we have ignored or trampled on the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Is our view of community, of this body, simply a weekly, limited interaction for an hour or so?

Or do we feel that we are part of a body – a community that looks out for each other, where no one is alone with their problems; where no one has to conceal their disabilities; where neither the old nor the young are isolated; where we bear with one another even when it is unpleasant and there is no agreement.

Jesus lived in and ministered in community and then he ENTRUSTED THE KINGDOM to this community.

Let us just pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that when we come forward to take communion, we do so not as individuals who happen to belong to Christ the Saviour, but as a body, a community, who has been entrusted with the Kingdom here in this place and that each of us has a role in it.

The Episcopal Church Is Like The Lying Prophets in Jeremiah

Jeremiah 26 has the prophet declaring God’s word to the religious leaders and people. They did not like the word of the God because it offended and contradicted what they had been preaching. v7-9 says:

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered about Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

This is exactly what is happening in the Episcopal Church today. Those, whether clergy, bishop laity, who promote doctrines which are not scriptural (yes, gay ordination and gay marriage) are just like those in Jeremiah’s day who screamed at  Jeremiah “You shall die”. No, the liberal church is not threatening the conservatives with death – but they are just as angry.

One blogger writes: In the actual world of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion there are all sorts of signs pointing to communities of incarnation and resurrection, but in blogland the sour voices of the realignment crowd and the thickheaded call for a return to the “faith once delivered to the saints”makes for dull and deadly conversation.

Really? Those who stand for the truth of God’s word are thickheaded?

Or The Rev. Dr. Luis León, Rector of St John’s in DC. Effectively he tells everyone that unless they agree with gay marriage, pro choice etc you are a bigot.

The Rev. Dr. Luis León is just like the priests which screamed at Jeremiah “You shall die”.

The interesting thing is that the liberal church would have hated Jeremiah. And to hate a prophet of God was to hate God.

 

Criticism

One day a man met Charles Spurgeon, the famous London preacher, on the street, took off his hat and bowed, and said, “The Rev. Mr. Spurgeon—a great idiot!”

Spurgeon took off his hat and replied, “Thank you for the compliment. I am glad to hear that I am a great anything!”

Have you ever had a day, or even a season when people have criticized you?

Criticism can be hard to take. It can stir a huge range of emotions in us; it can make us defensive, angry, fearful and even bitter.

Of course, while we would prefer never to be criticized the likelihood is that we probably will be.

As Elbert Hubbard, author of A Message To Garcia said: to avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing!

And of course, we know that Jesus was criticized. A lot!

Just take Mark chapter 2 for example. Jesus is criticized four times in this chapter alone. Every story that Mark tells in this chapter has the Pharisees criticizing Jesus’ or Jesus’ disciples actions.

  • Why does this fellow talk like that – v7?
  • Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners? – v16
  • How is it  that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting but yours not? V18
  • Why are [your disciples] doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath? V24

For most of us, criticism can strike at the very heart of who we are. It can paralyze us; it can immobilize us – it can stop us from doing what we should be doing. We end up scared of being criticized so we do not do anything.

To get criticized does not mean what you are doing is necessarily wrong.  Jesus is criticized four times in this passage – and he had not done, nor does he ever do anything wrong! To do something well, right and true does not mean we will avoid criticism!!

Criticism is always difficult to accept, but if we receive it with humility and a desire to improve our character it can be very helpful. As Proverbs says Only a fool does not profit when he is rebuked for his mistakes.

Several years ago I read a helpful article on this subject. It stated that when we are criticized we ought to ask ourselves whether the criticism contains any truth even when it is not given with the right motivation and in the right spirit.

The article offered these four, helpful suggestions as to what to do when someone criticizes us:

(1) Commit the matter instantly to God, asking Him to remove all resentment or counter-criticism on your part and ask the Holy Spirit to teach you any needed lessons in the criticism

(2) Remember that we are all great sinners and that the one who has criticized us does not know the worst about us.

(3) If you have made a mistake or committed a sin, humbly and frankly confess it to God and to anyone you may have injured.

(4) Be willing to learn afresh that you are not infallible and that you need God’s grace and wisdom every moment of the day to keep on the straight path.

When we are criticized, even when the delivery of that criticism is mean spirited and unfair, let us accept what is true and act upon it; reject what is not true and then commit to the Lord.

Even our Lord was criticized. How we deal with criticism is a sign of our maturity and growth in the Lord.

 

How Should Evangelicals Respond To The Inauguration Prayer Incident?

Joe Carter at the Gospel Coalition Blog has a great post out-lining three positions various evangelicals have taken over Louie Giglio’s withdrawal from the Inauguration because of a sermon he preached 15 years deemed ‘anti-gay’.

I wonder which position you would take?

Position #1: Gabe Lyons, a best-selling author and founder of Q Ideas, says Giglio is a “target of intolerance” and “reverse discrimination at its finest“:

As gays come out of the closet, are Christians meant to swap and go hide back in closets of their own? This zero-sum game is the most un-American of games.

Freedom to speak your mind and live by your convictions—a person’s freedom of conscience—is the first, most fundamental, American right. James Madison believed strongly in the freedom of conscience, even claiming, “This right is in its nature an unalienable right” in his Memorial and Remonstrance written in 1785. Maintaining and defending “freedom of conscience” protects every citizen from being coerced, cajoled, intimidated or bullied into taking a point of view that goes against their deepest convictions.

It’s a sad day in America when that right is up for debate.

 

For the other two positions CONTINUE READING HERE

Time for Novels

Being sick at the beginning of the year meant I read some novels. I have been a great fan of CJ Samson’s tudor detective series featuring Matthew Shardlake, a hunchback lawyer living in the reign of Henry VIII. I read his first book, Dissolution in 2009 and the second book Dark Fire in 2010 (see  HERE and HERE). While sick I completed the series, reading Revelation, Sovereign and Heartstone. What makes these mysteries so good is that the ‘history’ is factual and accurate, thus putting them in the historical fiction bracket – but also Samson’s writing is engaging and a real page turner.

A real bright spot while feeling very cruddy.

If you Don’t Agree – Ditch Them….

One of the accusations of those in the Episcopal Church is that those who have left are schismatics who show no tolerance for others view points.

Of course that is not true – but even more ironically, that is now what the established Episcopalians are doing with the Church of England.

Of course, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lambeth Palace have no actual ‘authority’ over the provinces of Anglicanism. But there is this ‘bond of affection’ which revolves very loosely around the use of the Book of Common Prayer, the 39 Articles the acceptance of Bishop, Priest and Deacon and attendance at the Lambeth conference held every 10 years.

The issue of marriage, and it’s re-definition to include same sex couples has been one of the issues which has divided anglicans and episcopalians. And now, the Church of ENgland has published a paper on this issue in response to Prime Minister Cameron’s belief in allowing same sex couples to marry in Churches.

The irony is the attacks which the writer(s) of this paper have come under for expressing their position. You may not like it. You may not agree, but the inability of liberal episcopalians to engage and to exercise the tolerance they themselves call others to exercise is stunning. Mark Harris, who is a liberal, but often a thoughtful and in many ways at least tries to be objective, writes a post with this as it’s title: Innies, outies, complementarity and other mind boggling foolishness about men and women.

Really? This is an approved paper by the Church of England. This was not written by 12 year olds, but by those who do understand theology, even if one disagrees with their position. To use a title such as this I think is very unfair, and a tad contemptuous and makes fun of the traditional view of marriage, as if the traditional view has been created by traditionalists, rather than stated squarely and clearly in the Holy Scriptures!!

And then another blog writes a post entitled Has the established C of E outlived its usefulness?  So here you have it. The Liberal / progressive view point is this: We, the tolerant faction of the Episcopal Church and Anglicanism, who welcome all people, suggest that you agree with us, or you will be ridiculed. And if you don’t agree with us, your view is not only invalid but has outlived it’s usefulness and so either you go or we leave! 

Why Rob Bell Left Mars Hill…

The Christian Post is reporting on an interview which Rob Bell did with the New Yorker about his controversial book Love Wins.

It is said explicitly what has always been known – the book cost Bell’s place at Mars Hill:

Bell told The New Yorker that the publication of his book resulted in a 3,000-person decrease in membership at Mars Hill Bible Church, which he founded in 1999.

“The book put pressure on the people around Bell, who found themselves having to defend statements they might never have heard, let alone approved,” The New Yorker writes.

“Congregants reported that friends and family members were asking why they were allowing themselves to be led by a false teacher,” the magazine continues.

Wife of the megachurch pastor, Kristen Bell, remembers staying home from service for some weeks because she could not stand the criticism her husband was receiving for his book.

“There was a cost,” Bell told The New Yorker.

 “And part of the cost was, we couldn’t keep doing what we were doing at Mars Hill,” she added.

You can read the whole article HERE

What Is Love?

We live in a world and culture which has generally lost the real meaning of the word love.

We can see glimpses of it, as it manifests itself through some people’s heroism, self sacrifice but generally, love has lost it’s real, deep meaning and it has become somewhat cheapened.

The word Love is now used indiscriminately to affirm the acceptance of all things and all behaviors. To love, in todays world, is to be ultimately tolerant of everything.

To stand against something – or to disagree with someone regarding their attitude, behavior or even belief is seen to be unloving.

Love has become so broad as to be almost meaningless.

A biblical view of love is the exact opposite. In fact, love in the scriptures is very narrowly defined and requires, no, demands, a very specific path.

Deut 6 is known as the Shema. Even today it is recited by orthodox Jews every morning and evening and at the beginning of every Orthodox Synagogue Service.

So important and foundational. is this prayer that boys were required to memorize it as soon as they could speak.

Some rabbi’s caught that the Deut 6:1-9 was the pivot around everything else revolves.

Why?

It is the central foundational commandment between us and God. It teaches us about who God IS and how we might keep his ways. Also it affirms two vital and central things about God and our relationship to him.

The first vital and central thing we learn is that God is ONE. In other words, it affirms God’s central characteristic – his oneness. The word ONE means, as well as numerical oneness, a UNITY.

In a culture of polytheism the Israelites were to affirm that there was only ONE, TRUE, LIVING, UNITED God – Yahweh!

The second vital and central thing is that we MUST love this one, true, living, united God. And this love must encompass our whole being – Heart, Soul and Strength.

The heart was the central part of person’s existence; the soul was the seat of emotional activity and strength, or mind was the intellect and attitudes of a person.

We are to love God with ALL of who we are.

Also, the word love here is not about emotion but will. It is to make a covenant commitment – a determination of the will to be absolutely loyal and obedient to him in every respect.

Now this fits in very nicely with our Multigenerational Class study right now on the Strategy, Aims and Visions of a Church. We saw two weeks ago that the first aim is to show our love for the Lord. That is the first and primary role of the people of God and of the Church.

True love, real love begins and must be rooted in the one, true, living and united God.

This is why I say that biblically love is very narrow, defined and focused. All true and real love emanates from and is found in God.

And remember that this is not a request. It is a command. The first command is to LOVE God with every part of our being!!

One writer has said To love God and worship him and serve him is the highest privilege we can have, so when the Lord commands us to love Him, He is inviting us to that with is the best.

The result of loving God first is that all our other love comes out from this love. God calls us to love others from the foundation, from the well of God’s love in us and our love of God.

This is why Jesus put the two things together in his response to the Scribe’s question – Jesus says Deut 6 AND he quotes Lev 19 – Love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself.

When we do this, that is when we follow Jesus’ command to love God and to love our neighbor, I believe we will see three things happen:

1. our love will last longer and be deeper
2. it will be more powerful
3. it will be a love which upholds and declares truth

Let’s look at these three things.

Firstly, a love which is founded in our love of God lasts longer and be deeper.

A love which is NOT rooted in God, which comes from us, will get tired. It will get frayed. It will run out. We will lose patience. We will find fault. My love – our love, in it’s own strength has limits. God’s love does not.

When we love people in our own strength we will, at times, run out of juice, do and say things unloving.

As Christians we need to be a people whose love for others flows from our love of God. And when we allow our love for God to be the driving force of our love of others we allow God’s power to help us, especially to love those who we find difficult to love.

So firstly, when we love God with all that we are, that allows us to love others and that love will be a lasting, deeper love.

Secondly, a love which is rooted and based in God is a powerful love. It has incredible power. It is SO powerful, it is able to save.

Jesus perfectly manifests the Shema and Lev 19 in his life and Hebrews 7 affirms that this love can save. God invites us to a love relationship with him which saves us and cleanses us from sin.

There is incredible power when we love people from the love of God.

Third and finally, a love which comes from God manifests and declares truth.

The Scribe sent by the Pharisees with the question of “what is the greatest commandment” was being used to try and trap Jesus. My own view is that the scribe himself was actually interested in the question itself. He may have been a pawn in the Pharisees plan, but the scribe was genuinely interested and was not ‘in’ on the plan to trap Jesus.

The question itself was one which was very common and often debated by rabbi’s and leaders – and there was no consensus. There were 613 laws in the Old Testament – 365 negative, 248 positive. To try and say there was ONE great commandment occupied many a debate.

Some argued from the Old Testament itself – the 613 laws were, for some rabbi’s condensed to just 11 in Palm 15. Still others argued that those 11 were further reduced by Isaiah 33 to just 6 and Micah 6:8 reduces these 6 to a mere 3 – Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God..

The famous rabbi Hillel, who died just before Jesus was born, as was followed by many, said that the greatest command was “What thou hatest for thyself, do not do to thy neighbor. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Go and learn.”

Jesus combines Deut 6 and Lev 19:18 into one, inseparable command – they flow from each other.

But when Jesus says this to the scribe, I think the scribe was absolutely stunned and taken a back.

Jesus confronts this scribe with LOVE – the command to love God. And because Jesus was one who loved God with ALL his heart, soul and strength and because loved others, the person and the words combined to become a powerful witness to this scribe.

Notice was the scribe says in response – our reading says You are right! In fact, you could legitimately translate it “Beautiful.”

Beautiful!! Oh what beauty, the scribe says. Jesus’ words have done more than penetrate his mind, it has penetrated his heart! And it opens him up.

When people are confronted by the true truth of the love of God, given not in an intellectual manner, but from the love of God, people stop defending party lines or even their own prejudices.

The Scribe suddenly grasps that Jesus in both word and deed is making love, the love of God and the love of others the most important thing in life because love is fulfilling the law.

We know this because of what he says in response. The Scribe quotes back essentially what Jesus has said, probably with some feeling – but then he says this remarkable statement:

More than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

The scribe sees it. He realizes the magnitude, majesty, power, and primacy of the love of God – it is such that it transcends even the very core of the Israelite worship of burnt offerings and sacrifices.

For a scribe, a lawyer of the law, to acknowledge that the burnt offerings and sacrifices of the temple are secondary to the law of love in and through God was a remarkable thing.

This is why Jesus says to him “You are close to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Just for a moment the scribe gets it. He lets go of the religious arguments, and legal requirements of the law and is faced with the Love of God and he gets it.

So, real, true, biblical love is not a wide free for all indiscriminate tolerance of everything – but a very narrow and very defined thing, beginning with a recognition of God as One and then to love God with our whole self, and when we love God, we will love others with a love that (1) is deep and lasting, (2) that is powerful (3) and that proclaims truth.

This is the love we are to have – to show and to demonstrate to the world.

Now, you may think “I do not have this love”. That’s OK – look to Jesus – love Jesus – let your first priority to show your love for God and as you and I do this we begin to grown in these aspects of love. We cannot do it ourselves – the love God calls us to lvoe him and others is not manufactured in us. We do not have what it takes – but Jesus does we go to him and through his work in us we can.

Amen

Faith is NOT a Wish – But CERTAIN Hope!

Last week we saw how Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler was aimed at helping him to let go of his ‘penny’, his possessions so that he could open his hands to receive the gift of eternal life, which was worth more than all the riches on the earth.

To do this requires faith – a faith which is not a hope or a wish, but a faith based on certainty and absolutes. Remember we saw that Hebrews 11:1 says Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

And that when you break this verse down, we saw that it could be paraphrased in this way – Faith is the reality of things fully expected, the certainty of things not seen.

And such faith requires a big shift in how we think and view our life and the world.

I think one of the reasons why many believers struggle with faith and the world is because we have one foot in either camp and we end up trying to mix the two approaches together. Just as oil and water do not mix, so the perspective of faith and the perspective of the world do not mix and when you bring the two together a clash happens.

It was this truth that Jesus presented to the rich young ruler, and today in our gospel reading Jesus presents this truth to his disciples who are trying to mix faith and the world together.

James and John are even less tactful than the rich young ruler. At least the young ruler ATTEMPTED to flatter Jesus by calling him Good – James and John simply say “Teacher, Do whatever we ask”.

And what do they want? They want glory, authority and status.

Now, here are two Jews – their culture and life was steeped in the worship of Yahweh – the great festivals governed and shaped their year; they knew the law and the torah – they were men who were spiritual…. AND YET here they try and grasp onto something which was of the world – power.

They have calculated that Jesus, being the Messiah would rule and when he did begin to rule, they wanted to get their candidacy in for the top posts in the upcoming administration.

Now, one of the reasons they probably approached Jesus so readily was that they were cousins – they were the sons of Zebedee and Salome, and Salome was Mary’s sister.

So their thought was that we’re kind of family and so naturally we should be at the top of the tree with Jesus.

Notice Jesus does not rebuke them for asking this – what he says is ‘You have no idea what you are asking”.

Jesus then asks them – Can you drink the cup that I drink and be baptized in the baptism that I am baptized with?

In other words Jesus is saying, “You have no idea what you have to endure and experience in order to get to that position.”

And the two disciples show their absolute ignorance by saying “yes”.

Now the cup and baptism that Jesus refers to are Jewish idoms.

The cup refers to the life and experience that God hands out – both good and bad. So Ps 23:5 says My cup overflows which is a good image, while Is 51:17 says Awake, awake! Stand up, O Jerusalem, You who have drunk at the hand of the Lord The cup of His fury; You have drunk the dregs of the cup of trembling, And drained it out – which is a bad thing.

So Jesus asks first of all – Can you drink from the experience which God is about to give ME.

The second image is baptism. This word means to submerge – be covered over completely.

Hence, secondly Jesus is saying “Can you be totally submerged and covered over in what I am about to submerged in and covered over in.

And what was this experience which Jesus was going receive from God and be submerged in – well of course the cross.

What Jesus asks James and John is can they handle going through Is 53. Can they be stricken, afflicted, wounded, bruised, oppressed and die!

Jesus is not saying “Can you be crucified for the world” – only he could do that – but Jesus point is – You guys want glory – but do you realize what kind of road you have to walk and what the road entails that leads to glory?

The contrast is that James and John wanted for free what Jesus was about to give everything for.

Jesus is saying to them – can you walk the Isaiah 53 road? That’s the road to glory.

What james and John had done was to mix faith and the world together. They saw Jesus as their Messiah but then believed that the way to get the places of authority was to do as the pharisees did – as the Romans did – to campaign, to get the favor of those in authority to advance their own ambitions.They had mimicked the Roman rulers who loved positions of authority and craved them.

The world focuses upon the benefits of position and status.

And while there is nothing wrong in aspiring to greatness we MUST be careful how we define greatness and the motives and reasons behind WHY we aspire to it.

The rest of the disciples reaction to james and John’s request showed that their own ambitions were based on exactly the same principle – it was just that James and John had beaten them to the request.

And so Jesus teaches his followers that you cannot mix the world’s values with faith values.

They needed to choose the right example to follow. The disciples had made a mistake and had followed the world’s values as to what is important and what authority is and
how we obtain authority.

Instead they must follow Jesus’ example. And the road to greatness means submission to servanthood.

And the ultimate example of a life of servanthood was Jesus – he came not to be served (as was his right), but to serve us by dying for us.

Now we all know this, don’t we. We have heard it a countless times in sermons. The problem is that many think and say that Jesus’ example is all well and good, but in the cut and thrust of Wall Street, or the business world, or politics, or law, this is just not practical.

But this is Jesus’ very point! We want success? True success? Lasting success? We want greatness? True greatness? Lasting greatness? Then we must drink the cup and be baptized with the baptism that comes not from the world, or from our bosses, but from Jesus and Jesus alone.

The worlds standard of greatness is power – how many people does a man control – how great an army of servants has he at his beck and call. The Emperor Galba sums up this idea of the world’s attitude to greatness when he said, on becoming emperor, Now, I can do what I like and do it to anyone.

For Jesus the standard is service. Greatness consists not is reducing others to one’s service but in reducing oneself to their service.

Some may say that to live as Jesus asks in the business world,will mean a ruined career. Maybe. Jesus lived what he taught. Our passage from Hebrews 4 this morning tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way just as we were. Jesus knows about the temptations we are faced with. Even Jesus was offered the fast track to success – in his temptation with the devil, the devil offers him all the kingdoms and all the authority of the world right there and then – no cross, no suffering, no humiliation. All he had to do was bow and give authority to the devil. But Jesus does not take the easy road – he took the cup and baptism God had for him and he was killed.

But it was his death which led to his glorification . Romans 1:3&4 say concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.

In other words, Jesus’ life on earth, lived under servanthood, being the slave of all, led to his total glorification where every single knee in the entire universe, whether human or angelic will bow at his name at the end of time. There is no higher place than Jesus.

So, living our life under the example of Jesus, being a servant of all instead of trying to be served by all, may ruin a career but it is the right thing to do, because it is the path to true and lasting greatness.

True faith, being the the reality of things fully expected, the certainty of things not seen, means we are also servants in every aspect of our lives, not just at church, not just in our homes, but servants at our jobs, careers, schools. We entrust our future to God. And when we become servants even in a culture or job which rejects such as attitude, we can then watch God do incredible things by opening doors no one else can open and closing doors no one else can close. And if we do reach the top of our careers or become greatly successful we then know it was not us – but the mercy, power and provision of God working as we sought to follow Jesus’ example of life.

Our Psalm this morning says Because you have made the Lord your refuge, *
and the Most High your habitation,

10 There shall no evil happen to you, *
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.

11 For he shall give his angels charge over you, *
to keep you in all your ways.

12 They shall bear you in their hands, *
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

13 You shall tread upon the lion and adder; *
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent
under your feet.

14 Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.

15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.

16 With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.

Notice how the psalm begins – because you have made the Lord your refuge.

Is Jesus our example today? Is he our refuge? Our careers and our future are not in the hands of men – but in the hands of God. And we can only live our life to the very fullest – when we follow Jesus’ example – we can only achieve ‘success’ and ‘greatness’ when we learn to be the servant of all, just like our Lord.

This is why faith requires us to have such a different perspective, attitude and focus on this world and on our life. The life Jesus calls us to requires radical faith – certain, fully expected, rock solid faith, which has both our feet in Jesus, living lives of outrageous grace which goes utterly against the grain of culture.

Meaning of Life?

When people ponder the question “What is the meaning of life”, in my mind the answer is very simple. Jesus. Now, that may not be a satisfactory answer for many, but it is the true answer. Amos says exactly the same thing this morning – Seek the Lord and Live! What is my purpose, what is my destiny, what is my reason for being on this earth – well, the final answer is Jesus – and when we discover this and embrace this then we discover how that works out in our various roles as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters; careers and education. The question of who we are and what we are can only be found in Jesus. It was one of the frustrations in doing evangelism; spending time with someone you have never meet before – listening to them talk about their struggles and fears of life and then still rejecting Jesus and the message of the gospel – rejecting the key, the answer to their struggles and fears. Now I have said many times to the point ad nauseum, that becoming a Christian does not mean you have no problems or difficulties in life – or that you are shielded from the tragedies of life. What it does mean, aside from the wonderful message of reconciliation with God and the forgiveness of our sins and our adoption as His sons and daughters is that we get a heavenly and spiritual perspective on life which allows us to see beyond what we are experiencing – to see to our future, assured destiny which is to be with Jesus – and this enables us to walk through the dark valleys of life with peace. But in order to get to this place we have to have faith. Now faith is more than just hoping something might happen. The Bible speaks of faith far more factually – Hebrews 11:1 says Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Now, when you break this verse down, you can paraphrase this it this way – Faith is the reality of things fully expected, the certainty of things not seen. In other words, people with faith in Jesus have a view of reality which is different to anyone else; an expectation of what is to happen different to anyone else; a certainty about the outcome of the world different to anyone else. And in order to become a person of such faith – to truly enter into this place requires that we fully let go of everything and fully grasp onto Jesus. There is a story of a little boy who got his hand stuck in a very expensive vase. His parents tried everything to remove without breaking it. Finally the father said: “Son, now listen to me – you need to stretch out your hand as fully as you can”. The boy said: “I can’t”. “Why” said his dad. “Because I will have to let go of the penny”. To some extent this is exactly what is going on with Jesus and the rich man in our gospel reading this morning. This man comes and asks Jesus “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We know this man is young, he is a ruler of some sort – in charge of people, has influence – and that he was wealthy. His question reveals much of where he was coming from: He firstly flatters Jesus – rabbi’s did not allow the word ‘good’ to be applied to them. Only God was good. Now Jesus’ response is not denying he was God – in fact he is affirming it. He does rebuke the man for calling him ‘good’ – he asks the man if he understood why he had called him good, did the young man know what he was saying – or was it just out of flattery. This young man believed he had a right to obtain eternal life. He uses the word ‘inherit’. He was a Jew – a son of abraham – therefore he had a right to it. And yet – by asking this question, the young man knew he did not have it. He did not have assurance that he had eternal life and he is asking Jesus what must I do to get this assurance – this guarantee I will have eternal life Finally, this first question shows that the young man had a very superficial view of sin, and of salvation. He believed that by doing a few religious works, he could settle his account with the Holy god and be set right. His success and and his wealth gave him a false believe that he could accomplish anything either by his own ability or by paying for it. Jesus’ response was to say to him “Let go of the penny”. Jesus says this in two ways to this man. Firstly he tells him some commands, which the young affirms that he has utterly kept. The commands Jesus lists is important – he chooses all the ‘verifiable’ commands – the commands which show outward obedience. And here Jesus is saying – you have kept all these visible commands and yet you come to ask me how to inherit eternal life. The keeping of the law has not given the young man any assurance of salvation. In fact – the law acts like a mirror – it should show you that you are a sinner. This man had kept these commands but has no assurance, no peace that he had eternal life. This man does not see himself as a sinner and he wants salvation on his own terms. Secondly, Jesus then shows him the command he has not been able to keep – it is the final commandment and the one that comes after this list that Jesus quotes – the command not to covet. Jesus does not say it outright but challenges the young man – “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Jesus loves this young man. He sees this young ruler utterly lost – unable to see the truth which was right before him – that you cannot receive a gift if you are holding onto something else – you have to let go to receive. And here is the choice confronting the young ruler – do you really want eternal life? Do you really want to receive it – well you need to let go of everything else to get it. The mans love for money broke the commandment of covetousness. And because he had broken a command he needed to repent and be set free. The issue here is not wealth – it’s not an attack against being wealthy – or that Christians should not have wealth – the issue is the internal state of this young man. Was he willing to let go of everything to grasp onto Jesus? Jesus asks this of us. Will we seek God and live. This requires that we grasp onto nothing else but Jesus. Too many Christians have a view that God will one day hold up their good works and their bad works and if their good works exceed their bad works they will get into heaven. No. The scriptures show very plainly that this is not what God says. God says that we must let go of everything – and receive Him completely. The answer to life, the answer to eternal life is Jesus. This wealthy young ruler believed that because he had success and was able to create for himself his success that he could achieve salvation – all he had to do was achieve something – pay for something – his world focused mind set, which said “you can achieve anything”, made him believe he could achieve salvation on his terms. And Jesus’ response to this approach to life is an emphatic NO! In fact it is as impossible as trying to thread a needle with a camel – ridiculously impossible. The irony of this young man is that his wealth robbed him of God’s blessings. Faith requires a huge culture and worldview shift – and it is only possible to do that by the Holy Spirit in us – and that happens when we utterly surrender ourselves to Jesus – coming to him not with clench fists holding onto something but with open hands ready to receive FROM him. Notice that Jesus’ words effect the disciples. The disciples were also still steeped in the worldview of the rich man. They believed that wealth was a sure sign of God’s blessing. Jesus refuted this. Wealth and success is NEVER an indication that the Lord is with you. It may be – but the factors of wealth and success alone are not guarantees that God is with you. And then Peter asks the question – it’s the question which was on the mind of all the disciples – it’s the selfish question of a person who has yet to receive the Holy Spirit – Peter began to say to him, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” In other words what will we get! Notice Jesus’ words: Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many that are first will be last, and the last first.” The disciples needed to be re-focused – there is a great reward to come – and along with all the blessings notice what Jesus slips in there – persecutions BUT the end is eternal life. The disciples did reach that point – of letting go of everything in order to embrace Jesus and all that he has to give us. So, my encouragement to us this morning is to open our hands to the Lord – lets let go of the penny – lets receive the gift Jesus has for us – to embrace him with open hands, willing to let go of anything which might be holding us back. Now, lest any of you misunderstand me – I am not saying to sell everything you have – or give away all your money. Jesus’ words to this young man were directed at what this man needed to do to inherit eternal life – it focused upon what this man was holding onto and would not let go to receive God. The ‘penny’, the thing we are letting go of may be very different to money – it may be a career – our pride – our reputation – that we think we are better than everyone else – even our very life. God’s call to us is to let go and trust in God completely. Also, God is not a God who desires to see us poor – or struggling – he wants to bless us – Jeremiah says he has plans to prosper us and not to harm us. God may bless many of us with wealth and abundance – but he wants our hearts to be embracing him and not our wealth – and embracing god by saying – Lord use what you have blessed me with for you. We cannot receive God’s gift – His blessings – all that he has for us while holding onto other things. Let’s let go of the penny and embrace the riches God has for us.

John’s Gospel

We have just finished a years study in this fantastic gospel. We meet every wednesday night for about 75 mins. We began our study in October 2011 and finally completed it last week (November 13). It has been a fun journey. The Bible study began a year ago with 3 people and ended last week with some 11 people. It has been exciting!!

What is also a blessing is that I got to read a ton of commentaries cover to cover. Along side some of the standard texts which I read this past year (some for a second or third time such as Don Carson, John Gill, Leon MorrisAndreas J. Köstenberger, William Hendriksen), I read Warren Wiersbe’s two volumes on John , which were really excellent. Wiersbe is an author I have not really read before but his insight and exegetical work was great! Also, I really, really enjoyed Thomas Constable’s commentary on John. Constable, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary has produced excellent Bible commentary, which also uses lots of quotes from other commentators.

The next year is going to be taken up with Genesis 1-11. Again, alongside the standard commentaries (Gordon Wenham, John J Davis), I am really excited to get to grips with some Messianic Jewish understanding of Genesis, especially in relation to Jewish Roots Christianity. I got Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s commentary on Genesis, and already I am so enjoying it!!

 

Why Marriage Is A Symbol of Christ’s Relationship With Us

Here in our reading from Mark, Jesus, as clearly as anywhere in the gospel’s, exposes two things about the Spiritual leaders of Israel: (1) the complete ignorance the Pharisees really had of the law and the word of God and (2) the disregard they had for God’s true heart.

Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Interestingly, Matthew, in his account adds the words “for any cause.” Now, before I go any further I want to say that this is not a sermon about divorce. And the Pharisees are not asking this question because they have a pastoral concern for the men and especially women who have gone through the heartache of divorce. In the first century women were regarded so lowly that a man could divorce his wife for burning the dinner.

The Pharisees ask this question because they wanted to trap Jesus as well as justify their own actions.

The trap is clear – Jesus is in the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas – the one whom John The Baptist preached against for taking his brothers wife. The Pharisees are trying to lead Jesus to saying something incriminating against Herod so that Herod might arrest Jesus and cut off his head just like John the Baptist.

Alternatively if Jesus simply affirms the law of Moses in the way the Pharisees want then he will endorse the Pharisees theology of the law.

Jesus reminds the spiritual leaders of Israel that the reason that God gave this law was BECAUSE OF SIN. The basis of their attempt to trap Jesus is from a law which was based on the hardness of people’s hearts.The irony is that Jesus reveals the Pharisees’ true heart. The divorce law was there to protect women from being heartlessly and cruelly discarded for no reason. And almost certainly some of the Pharisees had divorced their wives for no good reason!

What is interesting is that the basis of Jesus’ response comes not from the law, which was the focus of the Pharisees, but from creation. Marriage is a creation ordinance – God decreed it and set it’s boundaries before the law was given. Genesis 2 says “It is not good for man to be alone.”  Why is not good for man to be alone? Because man is made in God’s image – and God has never been alone because He has been in perfect relationship with the Trinity for all eternity. Therefore if we are created in god’s image it was simply never an option that man was to be alone. So God creates a partner – women. Jesus then emphasizes  what this means – marriage – the joining of a man and woman is so intimate, and so important that what God has joined together, let no man put asunder. Notice this – what God has joined together .

Marriage between a man and a woman is a creation ordinance – a holy act, one in which the two individuals become united in an intimate, special, unique way – one flesh.

Now, we know that not all people will get married, or even want to be married. And the Bible clearly tells us that marriage is an earthly state – Matthew 22:30 that there is no marriage in heaven; For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven.

The issue is that marriage is a symbol. It is an illustration of something far greater – it points to a more  incredible reality – it shows us the primary intimate relationship that humanity is supposed to have is with God. And these religious experts had utterly missed it.

The Pharisees were a self evident example of the hardness of heart that leads to separation.

The symbolism is powerful and somewhat ironic – they are quibbling to Jesus about what constitutes a divorce when they themselves are in the midst of the ultimate divorce – from God himself – and were trying to lead others into the very same place – something which God had expressly forbidden. What God has joined together let no man put asunder does not just relate to marriage but to all God ordained relationships, the greatest of which is the relationship between God and humanity. And when people try and break or damage such a relationship, as the Pharisees were doing, they are disobeying the Lord.

Of course this was not new. The religious leaders of Israel have regularly done this. It was one of the charges that God brings to them through the prophets:

Ezek. 23:37 For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands; they have committed adultery with their idols.

Jer. 29:23 because they have committed an outrage in Israel by committing adultery with their neighbors’ wives and have spoken a lie in My name, which I did not command them. I am He who knows, and I am a witness.” |This is| the LORD’S declaration.

Marriage has always been an illustration, an image of God’s intended relationship between him and us.

A single person, following the Lord with all their heart can receive the intimacy and fellowship a married person has through their closeness to God. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. Equally, many who are married have less intimacy and fellowship because God is not at the center of the marriage.

The message of the gospel is about reconciliation – restoring the relationship between God and us – something we were not able to do – but God did do it by sending Jesus Christ to die for us.

This reconciliation is about intimacy – about a deep and real relationship – a relationship that we were created to be in – each one of us individually and as a whole body being united in Christ. The language of the New Testament is about being one flesh – knowing Jesus is about having the Holy Spirit IN YOU – residing with YOU 24 /7 – until that incredible day when, at the end of time Christ will be married to his bride – the church.

This declaration to the universe that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world and that all who trust in him shall have eternal life and be restored / reconciled to the living God in an intimate and unique way ending in the marriage of Christ to the church – this declaration is a message we must pay strong attention to.

This is exactly what our reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts us to do – to keep this message close to us.

Now, for some of us, we may have heard the gospel decades ago – some years ago, some very recently. Regardless of when we heard the gospel, the writer to the Hebrews warns us that it is too easy to hear and then let the message drift away.

Now when I say drift away I am not necessarily saying that means you lose your salvation. But it does mean that the closeness, peace, intimacy and bless that God offers us is lost.

Relationships require time and effort. We all know this. And just like a marriage or any close relationship we must pay careful attention to this incredible gospel – to the message we have heard.

If we do not take care of this relationship we will drift apart.

I wonder if any of you have heard of Charles Templeton? He was one of the greatest evangelists in America. In the 1940’s, he and Billy Graham toured Europe together. Templeton grew bigger crowds – up to 30,000 people. People regarded him far more gifted than Billy Graham. But Templeton began to drift away – and over time he lost his faith completely. Billy Graham for a short time was called the new Charles Templeton.

This is the writer to the Hebrews point. The readers of this letter had become lazy, slack, passive in their Christian obedience. They had not woken up one morning and decided to reject Jesus – they were not about to make a life-changing decision to abandon Christ – no – but they were drifting and eventually drifting leads to separation – just like in a  marriage – until all of sudden, without deliberate intention, you find yourself in the midst of a divorce. Just as the Pharisees were.

Union with Christ is like a marriage. We must pay careful attention to our relationship – spending time with God – keeping the lines of communication open – being honest with him and being obedient to what he asks of us, which may mean sacrificing our own desires and our own ways. Not that God moves away from us – but we can drift away from him.

Things can get tough in life. Living in the world is not easy. Being a Christian today may bring more issues into your life.

And there are many distractions which can cause us to drift away. And God knows this. He knows we will go through seasons of life enduring suffering, pain, the loss of a loved one, disappointment, heartache.  In those times God can take us being angry with him, or disappointed with him for not granting a prayer we have prayed, for the loss of a loved one or for a relationship that has failed.

God can take us shouting at him, or being angry with him or even being disappointed with him.

But here’s the thing. If we remain angry, if we remain disappointed or frustrated  with him, then we will begin to drift away from him. We will soon forget the promises of God – we will forget that God so longed to have an intimate relationship with us that he died for us.

The writer to the Hebrews says that EVERYTHING is under Christ. God has left NOTHING not subject to Him. But we do not yet see  everything subjected to him. The world does not physically show the Lordship of Christ in it ….. yet. But it WILL.

So, I ask you this morning, do not neglect this incredible intimate, relationship which Jesus made possible through his death and resurrection. Do not let go of the promises that God has revealed to us in the Bible. Do not drift away from the very source of life – the one who through his death destroyed the one holding the power of death – Satan to free those in slavery. Do not drift away from the one in whom all things hold together and one day who will return to restore all things under his rule.

Each day, let us remember this glorious gospel – the incredible reconciliation which Christ has won for us on the Cross, so that we can have the intimate relationship we were created to have with God.

And if you have not known this relationship – then this morning the message of  salvation is offered to you – Jesus Christ died for your sins that all who come in repentance to him, trusting in Jesus Christ, will receive forgiveness and eternal life – you will be reconciled to God and begin a relationship which will take you through death into eternity.

The Seriousness of Sin

The word SIN is a good religious word isn’t it. We christians bandy it around liberally, “You sinner” – “Our sins” “My sin”.

You may already know that the word SIN means to ‘miss the mark’. We miss the mark of the standard God set – which was His law. If we break just ONE law, we have missed the mark and we are unable to have fellowship with God – James 2:10 says For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of |breaking it| all.

Of course, we know that we have the evangelon – the good news – the gospel, which is that Jesus Christ did not miss the mark – he kept the law perfectly and through his death and resurrection we are reconciled to God – we no longer miss the mark because of Jesus.

And yet we also know that we still sin – we still, daily miss the mark. We are not yet perfected and each day we do, think, say and act in ways which miss the mark.

We also know that we have the wonderful privilege of being able to confess our sins. 1 John 1 – if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness!

But here is my point this morning – we must hold two things in equal balance – we must realize, accept and rejoice that we are forgive and set free from sin – but equally we must have a realization of the horror and the evilness of sin of our sin and not be blasé about it.

All too often, when we think about ‘serious’ sin, we think of the big ones – murder, lying, stealing – all the ‘thou shalt nots’. And we say to ourselves “Phew! I do not do that”. But then, even subconsciously, we tend to minimize, or think little of our besetting sins – the white lies, the gossip, the speaking badly of someone, the temper tantrum.

Now, please, I am not trying to make you all feel guilty this morning – we are cleansed people today because of the blood of Christ – we are forgiven. We are loved of God. he is our Father in heaven. However, we must understand the seriousness of sin. You have heard the old cliche that if you were the only person on earth Jesus would have died for you. It’s wonderful, but think about what it is saying! Our sin was SO bad, SO serious, SO destructive that it cost the life of Jesus Christ, the living God. And when we minimize it, we minimize the cost Jesus paid.

The  Old Testament uses three words in conjunction with sin. Leviticus 16:21 says Aaron will lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites’ wrongdoings and rebellious acts—all their sins.a He is to put them on the goat’s head and send |it| away into the wilderness by the man appointed for the task.

This passage calls sin rebellion.

The second word is found in 1 kings 13:21: He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have defied the word of the LORD and have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. 

This passage calls sin defiance.

The third passage is 2 Sam 12:9:  Why then have you despised the command of the LORD by doing what I consider evil? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife as your own wife—you murdered him with the Ammonite’s sword. 

So, the Bible says that sin is to rebel against, defy and despise God.

Every single sin – whether of the smallest to the largest is to rebel, defy and despise God.

Now our readings this morning give us two examples of missing the mark and it’s seriousness.

We see the first example  in our Old Testament reading. Despite the incredible miracle of being rescued from the greatest military power on the earth, and had seen the visible manifestation of the pillar of fire going before them and protecting them from behind – and even then, the people of Israel start to complain. They are complaining about God.

They are complaining about and despising the provision God has given them. They want meat – and the manna which is being provided for them every day – the manna which was feeding them, keeping them healthy and being provided for without their toiling or working for it – this manna they are fed up with!

They rebel, defy and despise God in their complaint. They even compare slavery in Egypt MORE favorably than the grace of God who brought them out of Egypt.

Let’s be clear. The Israelites have absolutely nothing to complain to God about. Nothing! And notice where the complaining began. The mixed multitude, i.e. the non Jews, who came out of Egypt with the Jews were the ones who started to complain and the complaining spreads into the people of God. So often that happens with us – with those in the Church. We get caught up in the grumblings and complaining of the world and we bring in into the church and then sometimes even direct it to God himself.

And as a leader Moses is utterly frustrated!

Now, the sections which the lectionary leaves out of Numbers 11 is important. God hears their complaining and says they will have meat – meat for a month – so much meat, God says, that it will come out of their nostrils. And as they ate the meet, v33 tells that While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very severe plague. 

To miss the mark, to defy, rebel or despise God and provision is a very serious thing.

Our second example is found in the Gospel reading and it hits a little more close to home.

John comes to Jesus and tells him that he had found a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name and had forbidden him to do this.

Now, notice the reason he gives for forbidding him – we forbade him, because he was not following us. Not because this man was doing something wrong, or saying anything bad, or because he was misusing Jesus’ name.

John forbids him because the man was not part of the inner group – he was not part of the ‘in’ crowd – he was not a member of the privileged ones.

Now, look at Jesus’ reply. He tells John that he should not do that – that ANYONE who helps them because they are Jesus’ disciples will be rewarded and then that ANYONE who causes one of these little ones who believe in Jesus to stumble, it would be better if a millstone where tied around his neck and thrown into the sea.

Jesus was referring to John. John, if you by your attitude of exclusiveness or superiority causes one who believes in me to stumble – that is to stop doing something of God and therefore to sin – you should be drowned.

Hey, Jesus, over-reaction buddy!

But no! John had made a mistake. He had missed the mark. He had sinned in his action. And we may look at this and think, “Wow, not the worst sin you might have committed” but it was sin.

Why was it sin. John had despised God. He had assumed that God was not working outside of the 12. That they only were the purveyors of the truth. John was doing exactly what the pharisees were doing – excluding any possible work of God which was not authorized out of their own group. And yet truth is truth – and God is working in the world.

Jesus’ message is very clear – sin is so serious that you should cut it out!!

Now, the imagery, you would be glad to know, is only imagery. Of course He is not telling you to cut parts of your body off. His point is that sin is so dangerous, so bad, so infecting that you must get rid of it at all costs – at all costs.

We must not entertain it, we must not play with it, we must not dabble in it. Because if we do,  it will be nasty.

In fact the image Jesus uses of Gehenna – hell – was so vivid everyone knew it.

I am sure many of you know that next to Jerusalem was the valley of Hinnom. It was in Jesus’ day the garbage dump of the city – the place of refuse. It was the location of Israel’s most terrible lapses into pagan worship. It was were Ahaz instituted fire-worship to Baal and the sacrifice of little children into the fire – (2 Chron 28:3). And it was were Josiah, in 2 Kings 23:10 declared it to be an unclean place . In Jesus’ day this valley was constantly smoldering with fire and huge, gross worms bred in the refuse.

When Jesus talks of sin and Gehenna – he is linking the word with a visual example – sin is gross and it is unclean and  everyone would do whatever it took to make sure they did not get thrown into the Valley of Hinnom.

Sin is very, very serious and we must realize this.

Remember we must hold the grace of our forgiveness on the one hand, and the realization of the terribleness of sin and it’s power and consequence.

Which is why James exhorts us to Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

As we begin to submit ourselves to God – and to consciously resist the devil – the two go  together; when we submit to God we will automatically resist the devil – as we begin to do this we will start to know the power of God lifting us up. We will start to be set free from some of the sins we have struggled with.

When we depart from the Lordship of God, when we begin to sin, even a ‘little’ sin – we begin to walk on very dangerous ground – we walk outside the protection of God – we leave the safety of God’s provision.

When we realize the seriousness of sin, it should drive us harder into the arms of God. It should spur us to keep short accounts with God – to confess our sins regularly and as this happens we begin to keep our distance from the dangerous ground of sin.

I want to end with a quotation from Charles Spurgeon. I found this a wonderful illustration and succinctly encompasses my message this morning. He says:

Have you heard of the minister who complained to the devil for running off with one of his church members? The fiend replied, “I found him on my premises and therefore I claimed him.” I may say “Stop” to the arch-deciever but it will be of no use if he finds you on his territory. Every fowler claims the bird which he finds in his own net. This is the argument, “I caught him in my net and therefore he is mine.” We shall in vain try to dispute this right of property with the arch-deceiver, for possession is 9 points of the law.

Superstorm Sandy has come…But are we ready for the even bigger storm?

Living 14 miles south of Washington DC we watched the path of Sandy very carefully.

It is fascinating, being a Brit living in the States, watching people prepare for a major storm or hurricane. They become diligent in making sure that they have all the supplies they need – some buy generators – almost all batteries for flash lights – food, water, clearing the yard of any loose items, if necessary nailing boards to windows and making sure your car has gas in it.

Each year you can get a hurricane preparedness kit to help you plan for a any possible storm.

To not be prepared is regarded as stupid and irresponsible, not just by putting yourself and family in harms way but by possibly putting first responders in harms way when they try and come and rescue you!

And yet, as a Christian, I look and cannot help but  see the parallel of what is still to come. While people are diligent in their preparedness for a weather storm, the exact opposite is true with regards to people’s preparedness for the great storm to come – the coming of the King of Kings.

Sandy’s strength and size meant that the federal government ground to a halt. The President of the United States had no power to stop, divert or lessen the impact of the storm. He was frankly helpless and weak against it’s onslaught.

The same will be true when the Shofar is blown from heaven and the Lord Jesus steps into the world again as the returning king.  All the diligence and work and preparedness which was poured into riding out a weather system is one thing; and yet so many  people are being stupid and irresponsible in their preparedness for the coming of Jesus Christ. Nothing can stop it – nothing can divert it. To believe it will not happen is as dumb as refusing to leave your house that is in the direct path of a hurricane.

I guess our job as the Church is to tell people that an even greater storm than Sandy is coming – a storm so big, so universal that every single person on the face of the planet will be caught up in it. It is our job to tell people it is coming and to help them be prepared.

Do Not Show Partiality, Even T0 Your OWN Life

Our reading from James this morning always causes me a pang of guilt – I know that I have showed favoritism in the past – that I have not been partial. It’s hard not to. You are naturally drawn to people who are like you – those with whom you have much in common. Those who are different to you – both socially and physically cause us to withdraw. But James is very clear, is he not, partiality is a sin.

Now, partiality can be shown in many different ways. James’ example is with regards to a poor man and a wealthy man. Remember that James is speaking to a Christian Church. This obviously has happened and James is warning them that this is not acceptable in God’s sight. We can show favoritism or partiality even unconsciously in many different ways.

But our gospel reading shows another type of partiality or favoritism.

Jesus has asked the disciples who he is. They have responded with various reports of being Elijah or a prophet but Peter, by revelation, proclaims Jesus to be the Christ. That is, the one sent from God to redeem Israel. Now, Christ was not a name, but a title. And Peter’s understanding of that word is important. Because by declaring Jesus the Christ he had a vision of what that would entail. Peter would have believed that the end of the world was near and that the great battle, where the nations – the gentiles, would rise up and battle and Israel. But the Christ would take the field and make war and destroy the gentile nations. The Christ would denounce them for their ungodliness and for their wickedness and would display before them their contemptuous dealings – and when he had reproved them he would destroy them. The Christ would be the most destructive conqueror in history. There then would follow the renovation of Jerusalem and the dispersed Jews all over the world would be gathered into the new Jerusalem. Palestine would become the center of the world and the rest of the nations would be subject to it.

This is what Peter’s understanding of the Christ would have been – violent, destructive, nationalistic and vengeful.

And then Jesus says to the disciples that he would suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Can you see why Peter reacted to Jesus’ words so strongly. This did not sound like the Christ he thought would come and so he tells Jesus – no you’re not going to die.

Peter is showing favoritism here – the Christ cannot suffer like this – that’s ridiculous – his status can not allow such a thing.

And Jesus’ response to Peter’s rebuke shows the battle that was going – “Get behind me satan.” After Jesus had faced the devil in the temptations we are told that the devil left until another time. Here was another time – the devil using Peter to tempt Jesus off the path. No, you Jesus should not go down such a road – you are too important, too great too powerful to be killed – you’re life is too valuable.

It is to this that Jesus teaches in the rest of our gospel reading.

And what he says is hard.

Do NOT show partiality or favoritism to even your own life.

This concept is probably the hardest for the world to grasp about the Christian faith – in order to have life you must die, and if you try to live, you will instead die.

And it is one of the hardest things for us as Christians to grasp too!

One theologian has written: God gave us life to spend and not to keep. If we live carefully always thinking first of our own profit, ease, comfort and security, if our sole aim is to make life as long and as trouble free as possible, if we will make no effort except for ourselves, we are losing life all the time.

Now, notice, he does not say live recklessly. This is not about giving everything away to the poor or never having anything or being embarrassed by success. The point is that as followers of Jesus we must give up favoritism to our own life, or lifestyle – that we say to God that it is his and he can use it as he sees fit – and when we do this we receive real, eternal and glorious life.

If we say to God – I want to SPEND my life for you Lord – for others – for your kingdom, we are winning life.

Jesus never sugar coated the Christian life. He never tried to bribe anyone by the offer of an easy way. He did not offer peace in this life: He offered GLORY!

Also Jesus NEVER preached something which he himself was not willing to show. On one level Peter was right – the Christ, being arrested, tormented and killed – that is outrageous. And it is outrageous. And yet Jesus does not just SAY that you must DIE to yourself; he SHOWED us, modeled to us HOW we die to ourselves.

Jesus does not show favoritism to his own life. He lays it down willingly. Jesus has known this was coming since the beginning of creation. Isaiah prophecies this in our Old Testament reading – notice what God says I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. 7 For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

This suffering servant – Jesus – will be smitten – and yet will not suffer shame because God helps him! John’s Gospel speaks of the cross as Glorification for Jesus. Jesus never holds onto his life but gives it completely into the Fathers hands knowing that whatever happens to Him will end with Him in God’s presence.

And that is what Jesus asks of us. When Jesus says “take up your cross and follow me” – he was speaking of death. When ever you saw a man carrying a cross you knew that he was going to die.

Jesus says – we must die and follow Jesus. We must not show favoritism or partiality even to our own life.

Deny yourself – that is, say no to self. Gal 2:20: 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The biggest temptation we face is to regard our life with favoritism. We may be able to give up many things us – some money, some comfort, even careers for the Lord. But we lay down boundaries don’t we, when it comes to the possible impact on our life. But God asks of us everything – even our very life for the truth of the gospel.

One of the results of Christian maturity, of sanctification, is that we begin to stop regarding our own life with favoritism. That we truly begin to give it over to God, that God would use our life for his purposes and that we would be willing to put ourself in any situation God asked of us.

Telemachus was a Christian monk in the later 4th century. He went to Rome. At this point in history, Rome was Christian. No longer were Christians killed in the arena. However, in this ‘Christian’ city, there were still gladiatorial games. Instead of Christians, prisoners of war, those captured by the Roman army in their battles, were used to entertain the Christian crowds. Telemachus went to the arena and was appalled at what he saw. Foxes Book of Martyrs says this:

Suddenly there was an interruption. A rudely clad, robed figure appeared for a moment among the audience, and then boldly leaped down into the arena. ….These were his words: “Do not requite God’s mercy in turning away the swords of your enemies by murdering each other!”

Angry shouts and cries at once drowned his voice: “This is no place for preaching!–the old customs of Rome must be observed!–On, gladiators!” Thrusting aside the stranger, the gladiators would have again attacked each other, but the man stood between, holding them apart, and trying in vain to be heard. “Sedition! sedition! down with him!” was then the cry; and the gladiators, enraged at the interference of an outsider with their chosen vocation, at once stabbed him to death. Stones, or whatever missiles came to hand, also rained down upon him from the furious people, and thus he perished, in the midst of the arena.

The few who knew him told how he had come from the wilds of Asia on a pilgrimage, to visit the churches and keep his Christmas at Rome; they knew he was a holy man, and that his name was Telemachus. His spirit had been stirred by the sight of thousands flocking to see men slaughter one another, and in his simple-hearted zeal he had tried to convince them of the cruelty and wickedness of their conduct. He had died, but not in vain. His work was accomplished at the moment he was struck down, for the shock of such a death before their eyes turned the hearts of the people: they saw the hideous aspects of the favorite vice to which they had blindly surrendered themselves; and from the day Telemachus fell dead in the Colosseum, no other fight of gladiators was ever held there.

The last known gladiator fight in Rome was on January 1, 404.

Another story i want to tell you is of Nate Saint. He was an evangelical Christian who was one of five missionaries killed while participating in Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Waodani people of Ecuador.

Just before he left on his final mission his young son asked him if he would use his gun to protect himself against the Waodani if they should attack. His response was “ Son, we can’t shoot the Waodani –  they are not ready for heaven. We are.”

The point of these two stories, and this sermon as a whole is not a guilt trip, or a call that we must go and do something life threatening if we want to be real christians – but that we understand that Jesus’ words, ‘Take up your cross and follow me’ and ‘Deny yourself’ are not metaphorical, or illustrative but a real request – that Jesus asks that we no longer hold onto our own life with partiality or with favoritism and that we really do want to say to God:

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
*Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

What does taking up our crosses and following Jesus look like in our society today? What does it look like to say “Lord, I will not show favoritism even to my life?”.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6: do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body[a] and in your spirit, which are God’s.

It is a willingness to stand up for truth, justice, righteousness and to glorify God in our actions regardless of the cost to us. It is about never shying away from an action which we know is right and true because the result might appear to impact us negatively.

We don’t need to worry about what happens to us. We are ready for heaven. So many are not!!

Preaching Politics From The Pulpit?

October 7th was a Sunday whereby many preachers broke the ‘rule’ of endorsing a candidate from the pulpit – and even sending the recording to the IRS. Technically, preaching politics can lose you your tax exempt status.

I have mixed feelings about this. I deliberately do not mention directly politics or political views from the pulpit. Not because a pastor’s views should be silent – if a congregation member asks you directly how will you vote I think you should respond (with discernment of course). But because it can all too easily degenerate into a nasty mess. Of course God is neither Republican or Democrat. And this particular election has, from my perspective, become quite nasty not just between the candidates, and the ads, but between people. Just recently a bus driver told a 12 year old child that maybe his mother should have aborted him, just because the family had a Romney sign in their yard.

The pulpit is about the gospel. Jesus Christ. The Saviour of the world. There is healing and reconciliation in the gospel – there is none in politics.

 

 

A Recent Sermon Prov 9v1-6 Eph 5v15-20 John 6v53-59

It is calculated that the average American adult makes 30,000 choices every single day. Most are very easy simple ones which we spend no time contemplating. However in every aspect of life we are confronted by choice all the time. Not only that but in every aspect of life we are able to make a choice. From the mundane of what to watch on television and how we watch it to what we buy and wear, to where we live. how we are educated and the jobs we do.

Our culture today has even allowed us choice in terms of morality and truths. We are able to decide what we think is right and wrong in many areas,  even when to choose life and when to end life.

Choice is everywhere and has infiltrated every part of society. Choice has become a right.

Now, the problem we face is that because we are so used to having choice and to exercising OUR choice, we have lost the gravity that faces us in some choices. Whether we watch Fox Sports or ESPN, or CNN and MSNBC, or shop at Giant or Walmart or Trader Joe’s are ultimately irrelevant choices. We can exercise the choice but the outcome is of no consequence.

However there are choices which are very important – and I fear that these important choices, or at least the gravity of the choice has been lost in the sea of choice.

As someone has said When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice

Today we have made the acknowledgment of God a choice – take it or leave it. Believe it or not. The issue with a a so called atheist is not so much they have made a choice not to believe, as if it is on the same level as whether to watch Fox News of MSNBC – the issue is the so called atheist has decided to be foolish. To rebel and to reject and ignore God. It is a foolish choice and a dangerous choice. It has grave consequences. And yet our culture covers this up. We, as followers of Christ, are called to show people the gravity of the choice.

This is exactly what our reading from Proverbs 9 is saying.

If you read the whole of Chp 9 you will see that it is about a choice between two things – wisdom or folly. Each has their stall set out to entice people. The thing is, when you compare the two stalls – what wisdom and folly offer, the wisdom stall outstrips everything. The description we have in our reading shows how obvious the choice should be – wisdom has built a house with seven pillars. The number seven is the number for perfection or completion in scripture. We don’t have time to talk about the number seven in detail but: The seventh day was the holy day; the seventh month was specially hallowed by its number of sacred festivals; the seventh year was the Sabbatic year of rest for the land: while 7 x 7 years marked the year of Jubilee (Lev 25:4,8).

Wisdom’s house, what it can offer is perfect. And what wisdom provides in terms of food and drink is exactly what we need – perfectly nourishing.

To choose not to enter this wisdom, God’s wisdom, or to choose to be without it is foolishness. It is also rebellion against God.

Also notice that the choice to enter or accept God’s wisdom is not because you are already wise – we do not choice God because we have wisdom, we choose God because we acknowledge we are without wisdom.

Jesus shows us this in Luke 10:21 “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

Paul echoes this a number of times not least in 1 Corinthians: 1 Cor 1:26 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  1 Cor 3:18 Let no one deceive himself. fIf anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”  20 and again, i“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

Paul never equates wisdom with human wisdom. We see this in our epistle reading in Ephesians. Walk not as unwise but as wise. The word for wise is sophos – it does not relate to brilliance or scholastic training but the ability to apply with skill what one knows. The New Testament uses this word in regards to applying spiritual truth to ones life.

When we choose to apply spiritual truth to our life we are sophos or sophia – wise.

v17 of Ephesians 5 lays it out clearly. To not be foolish or unwise you must understand the will of Lord – application of spiritual truth to our lives.

The problem is that when we try to apply spiritual truth to our lives the world will either scream at us that we are foolish, or that the choice is irrelevant. The world does not see a live given over to the worship and following of God as a wise thing to do.

Some of you have heard me say that when I was in Lloyds Bank in the city of London, just after I was converted, I had started to be involved in church more and more. This meant that I would leave work on time, not staying behind to do overtime and I did not work on the weekends. When my annual review came up with my senior manger he said to me that I needed to make the same choice he had to make as a young banker. He was in a rock band and he had to decide whether to pursue music or a career in the bank – I now, he said, hd to choose between the bank or God.

Now looking back that seems like an obvious choice but as a young man, recently married, the world was screaming at me that I would be a fool to choose God over a career in a premier global bank.

I have appeared foolish to may people over my life – the decision to leave a career in banking to go to seminary – to become a youth minister – to sell everything we had and leave England to move to America.

Eleanor Roosevelt said:

One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words. It is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die.

So in the midst of the 30,000 choices we are going to make today and tomorrow, we must each day make one vital and all encompassing choice – that today we will walk as one who is wise – we will follow the Lord.

How do we do this? We must absorb wisdom. What do I mean. Wisdom has her food and drink and the invitation is to eat and drink. Food and drink enter our body and nourishes us and the food and drink become a part of our body.

That is the wisdom we are called to choose. And the food we are to eat is the word of God. And who is the word of God? Jesus.

And that is the point of our Gospel reading in John this morning.

The whole of John 6 is about what really nourishes a person. Jesus begins chp 6 by feeding 5000 people. They then want to follow Jesus about because they think they will be feed for free all the time. Jesus challenges them on that in v26 “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

Jesus then goes on to tell the real issue – v27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life. That is what Jesus is doing for the rest of chp 6.

And in our reading this morning we reach the climax – the choice he lays before the people v53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 

[54] he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

That’s the choice before the people right here.

Of course we know that Jesus is not talking about eating his literal blood and literal body and that Jesus is making an illusion to the Lord’s Supper. But it is more than that. It is an image of Proverbs 9 – Jesus is wisdom – and we are to eat and drink of God’s wisdom – we are to be nourished by it and this is the choice we must make everyday – that the by the Holy Spirit, through the word of God and in relationship with him in prayer and worship we have Christ in us.

This is the wisest choice we make in our live and we must choose it everyday – to walk in the ways of the Lord. Out of this we will find that all our 30,000 other choices  will come from the foundation of this one choice of Christ in us.

v56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

In a few moments we will come the Lord’s Supper. This part of our worship is a remembrance of Jesus’ words here – and it is also to testify that we have chosen wisdom – that Christ abides in us and we abide in Christ.

And it is only from this place are we able to say to others that their choice regarding God has eternal consequences and that they should turn to the living God and recieve wisdom.

May it be so!

Tennis Mornings

One of the fun things I did over the summer was a little tradition Sam and I have had. We got up early and headed out to the tennis courts which a few minutes away. 7am has been fairly cool (77-79 degrees). We play for an hour and then head home.  By 8am the temp has risen to around 85 degrees and getting a tad uncomfortable. A great way to start the day!!

A New Archbishop of Canterbury… And He Must Be….

The Church of England are at the beginning of the process to elect a new Archbishop. While the Anglican Archbishop does not have direct powers around the whole Anglican Worldwide movement, he has influence and virtueonline has published a letter from Bishop is the global south asking the commission to remember some things when in the discernment process. One is:

At a time when the Christian faith faces challenges from other religious as well as secular worldviews, the new Archbishop of Canterbury must be committed to uphold the orthodoxy of the Christian “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3), To fulfill his calling and vow as Guardian of Faith, he must have the capacity to collectively put into effect the decisions taken at Lambeth Conferences and Primates Meetings, especially on issues that have led to the present crisis in the Communion.

Read the whole letter HERE

Where Would The Diocese of South Carolina Go?

The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina is in discernment. According to the scepiscopalians Bishop Mark Lawrence has returned from vacation with a vision to move the diocese forward. Of course scepiscopalian.com is saying that Bishop Mark is going to jump ship and that the plan he has is to take as many parishes with him. If Bishop Mark is about to jump ship – that is leave the Episcopal Church, where would he and the following parishes go? Rev. Steve Wood is about to be consecrated a Bishop in ACNA and thus lead the ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas, so it would appear ACNA would not be a destination. So where? A while back, in a conversation I had with a former Bishop of South Carolina, I said that Bishop Mark should petition for the Archbishop of Canterbury in order to come under his jurisdiction, even for only a temporary period. Wouldn’t that be a wild idea. Of course the Archbishop of Canterbury is very unlikely to say yes – but what if he did say yes… that would put the cat amongst the pigeons!!

Liberal Democrats Face Wipeout in 2015

In the past couple years I have posted the odd blog post on British Politics (see HERE). I basically have said that the Liberal Democrats coalition with the Conservatives was likely to wipe them out.

The Daily Telegraph seems to agree with me. The article in todays paper says that the polls are predicting an 80% loss of their MP’s at the next election. This was inevitable. The coalition was both unequal and unhealthy. The Liberals Democrats should have forced a second election rather than create a coalition with either party. But that is the past and every decision has a destination and for the Lib Dems the destination is not a good one!

Some Short Thoughts on Daniel – Vacation post 11

I am on vacation until 6th August. Until then here are some short thoughts (given originally as devotional talks) on Daniel….

Most of us have heard the phrase “A quiet life.” How many of us have said to ourselves “I just want a quiet life – no hassle, no problems, no conflict, no hard work – just a nice quiet life.”

We look at retirement as the time to enjoy a quiet life. The problem is as believers, we probably will not get a quiet life.

For as long as Jesus decides to remain in heaven Christians will have the task of declaring the name of Jesus to the world.

Over 60 years have passed since the young Hebrews first arrived in Babylon. Daniel is now in the region of 80 years old. He has spent his lifetime in this foreign land. He had spent a lifetime in exile. He had spent a lifetime in exile still worshipping God.

Daniels lifetime of worshipping Yahweh had turned him from a tenacious teenager to a provocative pensioner.

And Daniel is not going to have a quiet retirement!

At the end of chp 5 we have Babylon falling to Darius the Mede, who now rules Babylon, and he appoints Daniel as one of the rulers over the Satrsps.

And even after 60 years, Daniel keeps making enemies. Daniel is not liked. His abilities, his willingness to everything as well as he could made people jealous of him. They were jealous that Darius planned to make Daniel the number one guy in the Kingdom.

Faithfulness to God requires us to be faithful in EVERYTHING we do, from friendships to chores in the house, to obeying our parents, to doing our school work. And as we are faithful, people will see that we can be trusted and that we are honest.

Joseph, in Genesis, was just the same. His brothers sell him into slavery, he is sold to Potiphar who then sends him to jail on a false accusation – but in EVERYTHING Joseph did he did it well, even when he was in prison.

Jesus was faithful to the Father in EVERYTHING he did – and that led him to the cross.
Being faithful, honest and trustworthy does not lead to an easy life, or even to being liked by people.

One person that you will definitely make an enemy of as a believer is the devil – and he will never stop trying to destroy YOU. As a believer in the one God of the universe, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, you have made an enemy of Satan. There will be no rest bite – there will be no quiet life as long as you declare jesus Lord.

But Daniel’s behavior was such that they could not find any charges against him. He was a man of integrity – trustworthy, not corrupt or negligent.

I wonder what would happen if someone tried to find some dirt on us? How easy would it be for them to discover something about us? Would it be easy or hard? Would someone trying to make trouble for us discover that we too are trustworthy, not corrupt, false or negligent?

In the end the only way to try and get rid of Daniel was to dupe a gullable Darius into signing a decree that meant everyone had to worship Him for the next thirty days.

Darius probably fell to flattery and pride – how would you like a nation to worship YOU for 30 days. It showed Darius’ weakness. Being influenced by flattery is so easy isn’t it! There is an old saying which says: beware of the person trying to butter you up – he is preparing to fry you!

What is interesting about this is that they limit the time to 30 days. This shows that they knew Daniel’s way of life and that there would be no doubt that Daniel would break this law.

There is a strong connection between this chapter and chapter three where Shadrach, Meshach and Abedego are thrown into the fire. The similarity is striking – but there is one difference – the three where thrown into the fire for REFUSING to worship an idol.

Daniel is condemned for REFUSING TO STOP WORSHIPPING YAHWEH.

Despite the peer pressure – the public pressure – the pressure of death, Daniel KNEW that it would be a SIN to stop worshipping Yahweh – no matter who said so and matter the cost.

Is there anything that would stop us from worshipping God? Peer pressure? Public pressure? Family Pressure? Reputation pressure?

Daniel knew it would be so wrong to stop.

And his enemies KNEW this too – which is why they set this plan up.

Daniel would get caught because while he did not flaunt his faith he did not hid it either – windows open he prayed to God three times a day.

And this is the key to Daniel’s survival in Babylon. How did this man thrive in Babylon for 60 years? How did he maintain, and grow in his relationship with God?

Prayer.

Prayer is the source of Daniel’s survival, growth and success.

Daniels prayer was a consistent habit. His enemies knew he prayed. He had probably prayed like this for the entire time of his life in Babylon and before in Jerusalem. He was consistent to make sure that he set the time apart so that he could go and pray. Prayer can only happen if we consistently create space to GO AND PRAY!!

His prayer was a conspicuous habit. People knew he prayed. There was nothing hidden about Daniel’s prayer life. Do people in your youth group know you are a prayer! Do you know that you are prayer!!

His prayer was a committed habit. Daniel was highly unlikely to break this pattern for the sake of the Kings new law. What priority does your prayer life have in your life.

This habit of prayer is neither short-term nor superficial. It was not panic prayer ‘Oh God help me” – it was not pleading or bargaining prayer, “God if you this I will do that…”It looked beyond what Daniel could see and focused on God, seeking his perspective and his view point.

It is through prayer that Daniel finds a different center to his life and through prayer that he maintains it.

Whatever else might help us through changed and changing times the one thing we cannot do without is a commitment to pray.

No-one, and I mean no-one who claims to be a Christian can maintain a rich or growing faith without prayer.

No relationship can exist without communication. The same goes for God. The practice of prayer is inseparable from the nature of the Christian life. The Christian life is all about being “In Christ” – knowing Jesus as our Lord, learning about Him, growing in Him and He growing in us though his Spirit. But in order for this relationship to happen and continue requires us to spend time with Jesus, both through Scripture and in talking with him.

And one of the incredible things that we learn through prayer is that there is another world beyond the visible. Daniel knew that Babylon and Persia and all the other Kingdoms to come do not have the last word.

We really have no idea what power we have in prayer. Prayer is an incredibly powerful thing to do – to speak to the King of the Universe. This is not about wielding power as we want it – that we pray because God will yield to our wants. But as we seek God and ask him to be involved in our life we will see some incredible things.

That is why Daniel went to prayer, as he always had done, with his windows open, knowing that it would lead to a possible death sentence. God is God and deserves worship and praise regardless of what anyone says – and Daniel knows that he must be faithful to this.

When Darius realizes what has happened and that his own decree is going to put Daniel into mortal danger, he is upset.

Darius likes Daniel. He knows of Daniel’s prayer life – he tells Daniel that he hopes that the God he prays to will save him.

I find this incredible. Daniel’s faithfulness, his integrity, his commitment to worship God is attractive to Darius as it was attractive to Nebuchaddnezzar.

And yes, Daniel’s faithfulness to God saves him, just as our faithfulness to God will save us.

But faithfulness is grown through prayer and through prayer we will continue to be faithful.

Learn to be consistent in prayer, to be conspicuous in prayer and to be habitual in prayer. To do this will be a battle for you. Andrew Murray, author of Christ in the School of Prayer, said that “the devil’s greatest tool is to keep the believer from praying.”
Today, make a decision to get rid of your misconceptions about prayer. Admit that maybe your too busy, too lazy or too tired to pray. Acknowledge that prayer was the VERY method of communication that Jesus used to talk to God! And if Jesus needed to pray, wanted to pray, was compelled to pray…what makes us think we could ever live without it?
The first step in a, consistent daily prayer time starts with a
humbling, surrender of ourselves and our sin of prayerlessness.
Second, make a decision to pray every day for the rest of your life. Rather than considering it a legalistic gesture, think of it as your unwavering commitment to your relationship with God.
But it begins with your time.

An Intervention – A Comment On the American Coverage of the London Olympics

I am still on vacation. I have not checked my email since the 22nd july. Done nothing in relation to work and won’t until Monday 6h August. However, I did need to vent. It pains me to say this (I enjoy living in the US – two of my sons are US Citizens) but the Americans HAVE NO IDEA how to cover the Olympic Games well. The NBC coverage is woeful!! Come on NBC – learn a thing or two from the BBC. Send some of your guys on internships to the BBC and get trained. PLEASE!

Some Short Thoughts On Daniel – Vacation Post 10

I am on vacation until 6th August. Until then here are some short thoughts (given originally as devotional talks) on Daniel….

There is a true story of a man who preached at the funeral service of a friend. The man spoke to the congregation that we do not know the time, place or circumstances of our death. It could be today, tomorrow, next week, next month or decades away. His point was that all of them had to be ready.

The moment he sat down from speaking he collapsed and died of a heart attack.

For him, it was minutes.

My question this evening for you is: Are you ready to meet God now? What would God say to you should you die tonight? What would you say to God if you faced him tonight? What would God write on the wall of your cabin if he showed up?

Only you (and God) can answer that question. Only you know truly where you stand with God.

We can fake it pretty well with our friends, family, youth leaders and youth pastors – we can do and say the right things which give us the image of knowing God. We can know in our heads all the right knowledge and we might even be able to pray out loud.

You may even genuinely believe that God exists – but as the Bible says, even the demons know God exists and they shudder. Belief IN God is not the issue. The issue is DO YOU BELIEVE GOD. Do you believe what he says, and what he has done and what he will do. That was why Abraham, in Genesis 12, is credited with righteousness – not because he believed in God but because he BELIEVED GOD.

Belief in God does not necessarily change your behavior or your heart – BELIEVING GOD, THAT EVERY WORD IN THE BIBLE WILL COME TRUE AND WILL HAPPEN, WILL CHANGE YOU, INSIDE AND OUT.

This is why your youth pastors desperately encourage you to read the Bible and pray. It is not a religious exercise that you have to do – it is the way you learn to draw near to God, to hear his voice so that your inside matches your outside appearance.

Belshazzar knew about Nebuchadnezzars encounter with the living God.

He knew about the 7 years Nebuchanezzar spent away from his throne, being humbled and cut down and he knew of Nebuchadnezzars restoration. He knew about the dreams which were interpreted and he knew about Shadrach, Meshach and Abedego.

And he ignored it.

It’s interesting that Belshazzar is condemned not so much for the drunkness or the great, sumptuous banquet he held in his own honor – he holds a party so that he can say look at me. The specific charge against him is the use of the goblets which were from the Jerusalem temple.

Belshazzar had used the things dedicated for God’s use, in a way which showed he had no respect or belief in God, his power or his authority.

This may have been a way of trying to show that he was a tough guy. Nebuchaddazzar had his reputation as a war king – he kept his officials loyal by being willing to execute anyone who disobeyed him – which one way of getting people to do what you want them to do. Nebuchanazzar had great accomplishments – yet he was also intelligent. After beating up Jerusalem he takes the holy things from the temple and puts them in the temple in Babylon. Nebuchadnazzar knew these things to be holy. He had respect for them.

Belshazzar has no mighty reputation. He has no battles to his name. The only way to show his authority is to through a massive, drunken party to try and bribe his officials into liking him.

He wants to be popular and cool – he wants to establish authority he does not have.

And he tries to be tough by demanding something that was sacred – and then using it badly. Maybe he had father issues with Neb and wanted to flick him the bird, we don’t know.

But he takes something that had been dedicated for God’s use and defiles it.

Belshazzar despised the holy things of God.

We have lost the sense of God’s majesty in our Church today. Listen to the words of the prophets – Isaiah knows he is in God’s presence and says “woe is me, I am ruined, for I am a man of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

When did we last begin prayer like that?

Or Ezekiel who says that when he saw the Lord “he fell face down”. Or Peter who, when in Jesus presence, tells Jesus to leave him “because he is unworthy.”

The God we worship is a holy, righteous, powerful God and we need to recognize both that he is our Father in heaven but also that he is holy and he is not to be messed with.

Belief in God, worship of God, claiming to know God is not to be taken lightly – because if we do, we are on dangerous ground.

Belshazzar despised the holy things of God.

Do we?

How do we regard God’s word, the Bible? Do we really believe it is the full, true, word of God, which speaks to us today? Do we spend time reading it, praying over it, asking God to speak to us and for his word to dwell richly in us? Do what it says? Or do we ignore the Bible; do we rarely read it; do we doubt what it says; and do we ignore what is asks of us?

How do we regard God’s grace? Do you know that the God of the Universe died for you? Are you humbled that God took your punishment? Do you REALLY know that God has dealt with your sins on the cross. Or don’t you really care?

How do we regard God’s church? Is it boring? Irrelevant? A joke? Is communion just a routine that you need to go through in order to get out of church? Paul, in the New Testament says that:

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 1 Corinthians 11:27.

How do we regard one another? Humanity is created in God’s image. We are called to love our neighbor as ourself. To love and pray for our enemy. To think of others more highly than ourselves? Do we do this? Do we do this at school? At Youth Group? With our friends? If we hate someone we are despising the things of God because God created that person.

Belshazzar deliberately, knowingly chose to despise the things of God. He chose darkness over light.

And God steps in and pronounces Judgment.

DON’T DESPISE THE THINGS OF GOD.

You know your heart. Be honest with yourself about who you really are, what you really think, what you really believe and your relationship with God.
If and when you get doubts about God tell Him – tell your youth pastor. Don’t pretend. To pretend is to despise the things of God.

To be honest will open your heart to letting God speak to you and lead you and change you.

Some Short Thoughts On Daniel – Vacation Post 9

I am on vacation until the 6th August. While away, I am posting some short thoughts on Daniel…

 

 

How do you view the world? How do you view yourself? Are you pleased with what you have accomplished in school, sports, music?

Are you popular? Are you liked? Are you unpopular or disliked?

How much of who you are and what you are and where you hope you are going do you think is down to you?

Most of us, if we were truly honest, have had that moment when we have said to ourselves – I am GOOD; I Did it; I am Talented; I am Cool; I am the Man!

What is presented to you by our society is that you can be what you want to be. You can achieve what you want to achieve. You can fly as high as you want.

Is that not the American dream? You have within you all that is needed to make you successful – you just need to try harder!

Also, power, authority and status (and money) are the places to crave – to aspire to. If you have power, authority and status (and money) you are strong – anything else is seen as weakness.

The point of Daniel 4 is that no matter how far you fly, how powerful you become, how good you are, how popular you become God is the ultimate source and determiner of your future and your place.

What you achieve, you do so ONLY because God has given it to you. When we stop realizing this then we are in danger.

This is why, in all we do we must do it FOR GOD and for NOBODY ELSE.

Nebuchanezzar was the ruler of the known world.

He was as powerful as you get – as important as you get. For him he had accomplished a lot. He was the ruler – he was the victor – he was the dude – everyone wanted to hang with him, to please him, to get his attention. He was the center of everything.

He was about to go through a tough lesson.

And it’s a lesson we need to learn, not just for now, but for the rest of our lives –

GOD IS SOVEREIGN.

Sovereign means
having supreme rank, power, or authority.
7.
supreme; preeminent; indisputable: a sovereign right.
8.
greatest in degree; utmost or extreme.
9.
being above all others in character, importance, excellence.

Which means that there really is only one person you need to worry about, God. But for most of us we only think about God a few times a week, at church or youth group or bible study.

But God is involved in every aspect of our existence.

One of the most famous passages of scripture can easily slip by us in its meaning – Matthew 28 says ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME.

All authority is God’s and he has given that authority to the incarnate Christ.

This was the lesson Neb was going to learn.

Chp 4 is Neb’s testimony of how he came to change his worldview – how he realized that there was something more about life.

Do you have a testimony of what God has done in your life? Can you write down your testimony of how God has changed you – from the then to the now? A testimony is not just about WHEN you were converted to Christianity because for many the process was a journey which happened over time.

We should have many testimonies – some big, most small, about how God has been involved with our lives, how we have seen him move and act and help us and bless us and encourage us.

That is why I think it is so important to write down the experiences we have – whenever we say “Wow, God showed up” write it down – no matter how small the situation – so that you can look back and see how God has moved in your life.

Neb has a dream and Daniel is called to interpret it. And Daniel knows the gravity of this dream. God is going to do something to Neb which is frightening.

But the purpose of this, Daniel says, is so that Neb will know that GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER THE NATIONS.

Neb has seen the power of God. He has experienced God’s help in interpreting dreams but he has not yet acknowledged that this God should be his God.

And God is about to bring him to the place of knowing that.

And Daniel knows that the easier why for Neb would be to repent right now – give his life to God. Daniel almost pleads with him to change – v27 Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

God never judges for the sake of judging – he judges to turn people to him. He judged Israel so that they might turn back to him and he judges Neb in the same way.

The purpose of God’s dealings with Neb was to convince the King that there is NO OTHER WAY TO LIVE LIFE.

The choice before Neb was this – repent, give ALL your life to God, live life for God now, or Get floored by God and then give your life to God.

And God floored this great King by removing everything from him – his power, status, position. To some extent what had happened to Israel and to Daniel happened to Nebuchadezzar – he was stripped of everything!!

THIS IS SO AMAZING BECAUSE IT SHOWS THAT GOD IS JUST AND RIGHTEOUS. HE JUDGES ALL WHO IGNORE HIM, BE IT THE ISRAELITES OR THE KING OF BABYLON, THE CHRISTIAN OR THE ATHIEST.

My question to you this evening is this – Does God need to floor you?

That is a frightening thought. But if we persistently refuse to do what God asks of us and yet we call ourselves believers God will at some point floor us. For Neb it was a full year after Daniel had made his interpretation and challenge.

Neb had reverted back to thinking it was all about him – walking in his garden admiring all that he had made – and God steps in.

God will step in into our lives and floor us if we continue to ignore him.

But the point that God brings Neb too is two fold:

1. Neb realizes exactly who God is and it changes him. This chapter is remarkable coming from the King of Babylon – he says in v34 that he looked to the Most High and he honored and glorified ‘him who lives forever.’ It worked – Neb changed – he recognized God for who he was.

He then goes on to say his dominion is an eternal dominion one and that no one can hold back his hand.

2. That he is not to be the same person – he is to have a different view of authority and power because he knows it comes from God.

Biblical faith is not about letting go of authority or power but about its right use, especially on behalf of the powerless.

Is your life one of serving God and being a servant? Are you one who champions those who are weaker, especially at school – who stand up for truth, who fights injustice. Do you use your position to protect those who are bullied, or those who are ridiculed, or those who are shunned, or those who are friendless.

But, you might say to me, you don’t understand what would happen to me if I do that – people will think I am a dork, or a loser.

SO WHAT. This is not about you – its about God and if you refuse it God will floor you – eventually!

A powerless Daniel, a captive and exile, who has lost everything and whose God is in apparent disgrace stands before the most powerful king on the earth and tells him he is wrong and he needs to repent and that God will cut him down if he does not.

Daniel put his life on the line to do what he must do for God.

No less than that is the call God has asked of YOU!!

Some Short Thoughts On Daniel – Vacation post 8

I am on vacation until the 6th Aug. While on vacation I am posting some thoughts on Daniel…

 

Recently, two American missionaries in England were stopped from handing out tracks to Muslims in a Muslim area of England. They were accused of a hate crime. In England it has become improper for a Christian to try and convert a Muslim because it will OFFEND THEM! So Christians are discouraged to try and force an ethnic minority to believe in ‘Christianity.’ Part of that is because Christianity is seen as western, white, religion, but also because it is politically incorrect. Our Culture says that no-one has the right to tell you what to do or believe.

 

And that alone, challenges Christians to compromise aspects of our belief in God.

 

Christians are seen as bigoted, or fundamentalist, or unloving, intellectually stupid and even weak for believing in and trusting what scripture has to say and so we step back, and do not say the things we should say or do the things we should do because we are afraid of the consequences or what people will say to us.

 

If you see someone at school getting beaten up do you step in between them and stand with the person getting beaten? Or would you just slip by? Hey, wait a minute, you might say, that’s not fair. I could get beaten up – I would lose my reputation – I couldn’t make a difference – but you WOULD be making a difference to that one person and for most of us stepping in is just too much trouble for us.

 

So, what is it that makes Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego NOT worship Nebuchadnezzar’s statue?

 

How easy it would have been to just bow, shout and make believe that they were worshipping the statute.

 

Yet their action in NOT worshipping it is so noticeable that some of the dudes they work with tell the King that they are not obeying the command to worship the statute.

 

Now notice something here – they are ratted out by the people they work with. I don’t think Sadrach, Meshach and Abedego were the cool kids on the block – part of the gang. There seems to be some jealousy here. They were looking for a reason to drop the three into something that would get them into trouble. Maybe the three were vocal about their trust in Yahweh. Maybe they were known as the geeks or the egg heads because they did everything to the best of heir ability.

 

What ever it was they are not liked by their peers.

 

You know Jesus said something very interesting – he said in John’s gospel, that if the world hated him, its going to hate us. Does the world love you or hate you. Most of the time the world loves us because we really love, or at least like the world – that is not God’s way.

 

Now, as an aside, why does Neb decide to build this huge statue? It would have looked a little odd – ninety feet high and 9 feet wide – tall and skinny.

 

Remember the dream Neb has about the big statue with the head of Gold and the body of different metals and the feet of clay that Daniel interpreted?

 

Daniel’s interpretation of this dream, as we saw a few nights back, was telling Neb of the inevitable future.

 

Yet Neb here seems to have built this statue in an attempt to unify Babylon. The statue is not of different metals but of all gold – unified, one metal – and he demands that ALL worship it – a monotheistic religion – a one, unified idol to worship.

 

Yet our three guys refuse – they do not love the world –  and they are brought before the King.

 

I do not know what your greatest fear is. What is the thing that will wake you up in a cold sweat? Disease, death, drowning, burning alive, spiders, snakes.

 

But imagine being brought face to face with your greatest fear. How would you respond? Would you pray? Would you acknowledge God’s power and love? Or would you break down weeping and crying like a baby, and try to get away?

 

Sahrach, Meshach and Abedego are faced with certain death.

 

And yet their answer is one of the most remarkable answers in scipture because it is filled with Faith – a faith that is a Christ based faith – a faith that we need to learn from and begin to live out.

 

Now V17 in the NIV translation is not that good. But the excellent TNIV has adjusted it – the TNIV says If the God we serve is able to deliver us, then he will deliver us from the blazing furnace and from your majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, your majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

 

Please notice something – the TNIV leaves room for doubt – IF THE GOD WE SERVE IS ABLE TO DELIVER – I find that so cool. Here are three men who have seen their country  destroyed by Babylon, are captive and have, according to their culture, seen their god defeated. They are expressing normal, expected doubts – our God has been silent and so we are not sure he can save us – AND HERE IS THE AMAZING PART – despite not being sure of all of these things –  THEY STILL WILL NOT WORSHIP THE STATUE.

 

THEY ARE WILLING TO DIE FOR A GOD WHOM THEY DO NOT EVEN KNOW HAS THE POWER TO SAVE THEM – BUT THEY KNOW HE EXITS AND THAT HE IS REAL AND THAT HE IS WORTHY OF WORSHIP!!

 

 

What faith!! What faith!!

 

Here are three things for us to learn about this kind of faith that Shadrach, Meshach and Abedego showed:

 

1. Our faith needs to be rooted in who God is – not in who we are or where we are. Faith based on our circumstances – hey, life is great, God is good; life is crap God is…….  Is not a good place to be. If our faith is based on what is happening to us we will not benefit from faith nor will we be able to group as a Christian. Faith based on a God who is Lord of the Universe even though he seems silent should still be able to give me peace, even when we face our worst fears.

 

2. Our faith needs to be rooted in BOTH the power of God and in his goodness. God can be trusted. Therefore we need to be able to leave the decision of whether God will protect us or rescue us to Him. Shadrach, Meshach and Abedego say that their trust in God is not based on whether they are save dor not – he is God, he is Good – they trust that!!

 

3. Our faith should be about loving God for his person not for his performance. Too often we pray to God as if we are sending God coded signals to dictate his behavior like a performing pony. Instead we should approach God like loving parent who will do what is best for us. Can we, WILL we trust his decisions?

 

This is the type of faith we are called too. Resilient, (able to cope in tough situations) adaptable (able to survive the unexpected in life) and strong, able to face even our worst fears knowing that God is God.

 

There are times when we will want God to show up so badly, but we will say or try and think that it does not matter if that prayer or desire is not answered – when in fact it does matter and we silently get angry with God – and there are the times when we have prayed and then the things we asked for happens and we are totally stunned God showed up

 

Sahrach, Meshach and Abedego held the tension between “it really does not matter whether God shows up” and “we are totally shocked that he has shown up.”

They really didn’t care either way – it would not effect their thinking or decisions.

 

As the three are thrown into the fire, Neb sees a fourth person in there with them. God shows up and the three guys don’t faint shocked that God did rescue them.

 

Now if I was one of the guys I would popped my head out of the furnace and gone – “Nanananana”.

 

Who was the fourth person in the fire? Jesus.

 

And this was not just for the benefit of the three guys, although I am sure the three were vaguely happy to see God. Jesus showing up is for the benefit of Neb. Here was the second encounter he has had with the followers of Yahweh. Daniel not only interprets Nebs dream but tells him what the dream is and Neb is impressed and acknowledges Daniels God to be powerful. Here, he sees three followers of Yahweh completely protected from the fire, in a miraculous way and his response is good, but it is still not the right response. Neb says that the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abedego should be praised – but he still has not bowed the knee to God  and that was the reason for this miracle. Sharach, Meshach and Abedego could have died and gone to be with God, but God is chasing Neb’s heart.

 

It is the kind of faith which these three Hebrews showed that allows missionaries to continue to try and lead Muslims to Christ. It is this type of faith which will help us when we stand up for those being bullied, or picked on, or beaten up, and it is the kind of faith which will help us to stand up for truth.

 

Is this the faith you have? Is it the faith you want.

 

You know, the true reward of faithful witness to God is not to be found in its results but in the experience of knowing the presence of God in the midst of the struggle.

 

Life will through at you some hefty knocks – some bad situations – times when your so sad you will hurt – and times when you will be SO happy you wish it would never end.

 

Living life with the faith of Christ – the faith that Sharach, Meshach and Abedego had – will help you pass through the hardest and the best of times knowing that God knows what is happening and all things are in is hands.