The Stupidity of Politicians

Why do smart people do such dumb things? This is not a trait found just in politicians but it is ESPECIALLY prevalent IN politicians. Take the current impeachment process of President Trump. It is clear that the Democrats have wanted Trump out since November 2016. And they may have valid grounds for their complaints. BUT, the jump to impeach the President is a dumb move. Before we explore why it is a dumb move, there is another worrying issue surrounding the impeachment effort by the Democrats. They are uncertain as to whether the upcoming election will remove Trump. That is a HUGE indictment of the Democratic Party. A President supposedly THIS bad, and THIS racist and THIS unjust still has a chance to remain in office. Surely a man this unqualified to be President and who has ripped this nation apart and who tears at the very fabric of the Republic  should have no chance of reelection. But the fact that he does shows how bad the Democrats are right now in their own ideological battle and confusion.

Why is the Democrats attempt to impeach this President stupid? Because they now have opened the door to ANY Congress opening ANY impeachment enquiry simply because they do not like the President. Of course Trump has done stupid things and the Ukraine call was a mess – but nothing He has done has stayed from the realm of ‘idiot’ to high crimes and misdemeanors. And so now, if a Republican House decides they don’t like a Democratic President they have a precedent to start impeachment proceedings. That’s stupid!

Review: Homeward Bound: Sabbath Rest for the People of God by Graeme Goldsworthy

Graeme Goldsworthy is an accomplished and requested Australian theologian who has written a good book on the theological and eschatological significance of the sabbath. The problem with the book is that Goldsworthy places this issue of the Sabbath rest firmly as an eschatological event and simply dismisses the physical command for a day of rest.

With regards to what he writes about the sabbath as an eschatological event, it is very good and extremely insightful.  Using Eden as a starting point Goldsworthy says that humanity was driven from this place of rest and has been looking for the place of rest ever since. Goldsworthy argues that Cain’s building of cities was a futile attempt to find rest and recreate Eden. Indeed this is one of the many fascinating thoughts in the book. Goldsworthy writes, “The city is presented in a surprising way very early in the biblical story as humankind s first attempt to find rest without God. If Eden or paradise is the original ideal of home, the biblical account comes to link a unique city with it, so that the final vision of Johns Apocalypse is that of the heavenly Jerusalem with the life-giving features of Eden.”

For Goldsworthy, in this period before the final eschatological work of God, humans remain homeless. Only in the heavenly city – the city to come – will we find true rest. 

Another fascinating discussion that Goldsworthy has is about the homelessness of Jesus. “The amazing truth of the incarnation is that God, in Christ, joined us in our exile.  The homelessness of Jesus of Nazareth is consistent with this fact of the divine submission to exile. He begins his earthly life as one born in a stable; Jesus was constantly on the move. Not only does the exile’ of Jesus fulfil the role of Israels exile, but it also recalls Isaiahs description of the return from- the Babylonian exile. Jesus is portrayed as never having had any sense arriving home while he was here on earth. This means that we also are sojourners and exiles in the world until we arrive at the new Eden.

Goldsworthy brilliantly ties the theme of Jesus’ homelessness with the theme of the city when he writes “While Jesus is referred to as a Nazarene he is not portrayed primarily as a city dweller.  Rather, the gospels emphasize the crisis in his ministry when ‘he set his face to go to Jerusalem: this great city for him is not the place of refuge or belonging, but where he must suffer and be put to death. The city, or town, is also the place where Jesus warns that the messengers will meet opposition: Cains city of refuge from the judgment of God was a futile gesture (Gen. 4:17), but the grace of God leads us through the earthly Jerusalem to the heavenly city of God. What we are shown in the New Testament is the fulfilling in Christ of the central Old Testament images of city and temple. Israel is redeemed from slavery and exile in Egypt and given the promised land. God s chosen messianic king, David, transforms the godless Jebusite city of Jerusalem into the city of God. God’s messianic son, Solomon, is gifted to build the dwelling place for God, the temple. The three concentric circles – land, city and temple – express the presence of God dwelling with his people. All are fulfilled in Christ.”

The glaring issue with Goldsworthy’s book is the lack of any real engagement with the physical command for rest on the 7th day in the Hebrew Scriptures, other than a somewhat trite dismissal that a physical sabbath has any value.  He does not engage with scriptures such as Exodus 31: “16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”

This passage says two things very clearly – 1. The sabbath is a command from the living God who never changes – 2. The people are to keep the sabbath FOREVER.

Goldsworthy does not engage with such passages – which is a shame.

Also, Goldsworthy makes a sweeping statement regarding the lack of information in the Apostolic Scriptures about the sabbath – “The New Testament epistles give no encouragement to Sabbatarianism, neither do they say almost nothing about  physical rest and recreation.”

But the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) is a Jewish document – it was written BY Jews. Is it possible that they assumed that sabbath observance was a given? Also, Goldsworthy is not clear about what he means by sabbatarianism. He writes, “For Christians the Sabbath law is not a direction concerning what to do, and what not to do, on Sunday. Rather it is the essence of the eschatological hope of eternal rest.” 

Of course the New Testament would be silent about resting on a Sunday – because that is not the sabbath. Christians may have Sunday as a day of rest – or other days in the week – but that is NOT sabbath, There is ONLY one sabbath as established by god – Friday at Sundown to Saturday sundown.

There is much in this book which is challenging and fascinating. But it is a 30,000 feet, spiritualized look at the topic of the Sabbath.

For Goldsworthy, the reality of the sabbath, the day of rest, is experienced ONLY when our homelessness has finally come to an end at the end of the age and  we come into the presence of Christ.  All our experiences in life is a shadow, or foretaste of this final day.

In the meantime we are, as Goldsworthy says, homeless, exiled, journeying to our rest.

Goldsworthy, in his theological  and eschatological overview of the sabbath produces some excellent insights into the wider understanding of the spiritual day of rest but he sadly, in my opinion, does a disservice to the practical and physical issues of the sabbath. He also, I think, makes some typically unhelpful statements (which are especially common amongst reformed christian’s). One such statement is regarding the law of Moses, which Goldsworthy seemingly dismisses as irrelevant “To make Sunday our version of the Jewish Sabbath is to ignore it’s Christ-centeredness and to return to the Law of Moses, something the New Testament warns against.” This sentence is both a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’. We must remember – Jesus affirmed and promised that the law of Moses would never be abolished – this is because the law of Moses is good and the New Testament does not warn us against it. The Law of Moses IS the perfect word of God because it came from the mouth of God. The New Testament does not warn us against the law of Moses – the New Testament affirms that we have fulfilled and kept the law of Moses IN Christ.

Overall there is so much here to enjoy and learn from, just a shame that Goldsworthy falls into the same old traps about the Old Testament.

 

 

 

Review: Sustainable Young Adult Ministry – making it work, making it last by Mark DeVries and Scott Pontier

One of the church’s persistent cries is “we are losing the young people.” This book is a thoughtful, honest and practical response to reaching out to young adults.

DeVries and Pontier structure the book very simply – the first six chapters take you through the six common mistakes the church makes when trying to reach young adults. Two of the mistakes are especially prominent in my own church tradition – Mistake # 2 is to change the worship style; Mistake # 3 Expect the youth director to do it. With each Mistake the authors help you frame an understanding of why church’s try and do this (often with  good intentions) and why ultimately it does not work.

There are then six chapters (called paradox chapters) on how to reach out to young adults. They are called paradox chapters because they advocate doing things which you would thing are the opposite of what you should do. An example is paradox #5. It is often the mistake of a church to try and provide multiple options for young adults to make connection easy so that they do not need to make a big commitment because we believe young adults tend to have a mentality that lacks commitment. Yet paradox #5 says – respond to lack of commitment by asking for more. How? The authors write “Strangely, the young adult who has no time for thirty-minute optional Bible study actually might give ten hours a week to a compelling vision they believe in.” Are we scared to ask young people to give a bigger commitment because we assume they will say no because our perception is that they lack commitment?

Another paradox which the authors explore is that if you want to reach young adults….then take your focus off young adults! Their reasoning though is very sound – the focus should be reaching our communities, and ultimately the world. The more effectively we do THIS, the more likely young adults will be drawn in.

If your passion is for young adults to be reached by the church and more accurately, brought to faith in Christ, and you are looking for a quick fix on how to do this then this is not the book for you. DeVries and Pontier give you a LOT of food for thought, practical and achievable suggestions and a road map which, if followed, will take months, even years – not just to reach young adults – but to reach communities for Christ which in turn will draw in young adults.

Review: The Old Testament in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic by Christopher J Wright

It is extremely hard to produce an accessible  introduction to the Old Testament that will not, on the one hand, be too flimsy and weak, lacking in anything substantive in terms of understanding or on the other hand too much to read for the non academic Christian. Christopher Wright has managed to straddle these two issues with The Old Testament in Seven Sentences.

In a masterful way and in 162 pages, Wright tackles and explains seven ‘hinges’ upon which the Old Testament moves, Creation, Abraham, Exodus, David, Prophets, Gospel and Psalms and Wisdom. Writing in a clear and engaging way Wright takes you through each chapter outlining the key issues to know.

As a pre-introduction to studying the Old Testament’s themes, and without the dense forest of technical theology found in the weightier tomes of Old Testament Introductions, this is an invaluable resource.

Highly recommended for the beginner in Old Testament studies and for those wanting a re-fresher on it’s key themes.

Review Storm of Fire and Blood by Taylor Marshall

I tend not to read fiction. I usually find novels frustrating and to be frank, I do not want to do the work of having to plough through 10, 20 or 30 pages ‘getting into’ a novel. When I do read fiction it is always a historical novel – but even then, with the best of writers, I usually give up fairly quickly.

Which is why Taylor Marshall’s trilogy has been so surprising for me. His first two books, The Sword and Serpent and The Tenth Region of the Night were the first novels I read through in their entirety in many years. And the third book, Storm of Fire and Blood, is no different. These books have captivated me and I hope that Taylor Marshall will continue to write such stories in the years to come.

Set in the early church period of the fourth century, Storm of Fire and Blood does not just have a captivating story which grabs you from the opening lines; or wonderfully rich and engaging dialogue which often has a delightfully humorous undertone; or complex and deep characters with whom you will feel the full gambit of emotions, joy and laughter, frustration and anger. Most remarkably, Marshall takes you into the life of the fourth century. You feel yourself walking in the cold of Britannia or experiencing the smell of the fish in the docks of Myra. You are drawn into this incredible yet deadly world of the Roman Empire and the early Church. This is truly historical fiction – in the midst of an entertaining and gripping story you are engaging with and learning about the real people of this period.

Storm of Fire and Blood follows the exploits of Jurian / Georgius and his friends Agapius, Menas and Sabra and their adversary Casca. Marshall does a wonderful job weaving multiple stories together from Jurian in Britannia to Sabra in Cyrene to Casca their nemesis. The backdrop of the story is spiritual warfare. The Emperor Diocletian is about to unleash persecution upon the church but underlying the physical persecution is the spiritual evil of the enemy who hates those who profess Christ as Lord. How does the Church of Christ stand in the face of evil and persecution, danger and death? This is the core of the story – and in the answer you will see bravery, deep faith and trust in God even in the midst of overwhelming opposition. And oh my, the ending will leave you stunned.

Finally, I want to mention Nikolaos. He is one of my favorite characters in the book. Nikolaos is mysterious. He appears just as people need him. He is peaceful, he is joyful, he is generous and he loves and trusts the Lord Jesus even when in danger. He is a true Saint and this character radiates peace. Whenever he appears in the book I would physically become peaceful.

As a pastor of an Anglican Congregation I have frequently recommended to my congregation the previous two books in this series – and Storm of Fire and Blood will be no different. A perfect Christmas present.

Review: The Crown by Joanna Stafford

During Henry VIII’s reign there was the dissolution of the Monasteries. Henry dissolved and shut the monasteries of England because of the corruption that was inherent at the time. Monks and Nuns lived in luxury. Monks often had mistresses and children. One of the side benefits of the closing of the monasteries was that the English Crowns treasury was filled with the wealth the monasteries had amassed. The dissolution of the monasteries took place in three stages – the smaller monasteries were closed first, then the medium sized monasteries and then the larger monasteries.
This novel is set during this period and begins in 1537. A novice Dominican nun from Dartford Priory, Joanna Stafford defies the rule of enclosure and leaves the Priory to go to London. Her cousin is to be burnt at the stake. However while in London events lead to her being arrested and being confined to the tower. She is then interrogated by the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner (Bishop Gardiner became the Archbishop of Canterbury in Queen Mary’s reign and he was the man who condemned Thomas Cranmer to death). Bishop Gardiner has Joanna’s father and threatens his life unless Joanna goes back to Dartford Priory and unearth an ancient (and supposedly powerful) relic – the Crown of Æthelstan – which the Bishop believes will stop Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries.
Æthelstan was King of the Anglo-Saxons from 924 to 927 and King of the English from 927 to 939.[c] He was the son of King Edward the Elder and his first wife, Ecgwynn. Modern historians regard him as the first King of England and one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon kings. Æthelstan was one of the most pious West Saxon kings, and was known for collecting relics and founding churches. His household was the centre of English learning during his reign, and it laid the foundation for the Benedictine monastic reform later in the century. No other West Saxon king played as important a role in European politics as Æthelstan, and he arranged the marriages of several of his sisters to continental rulers.
The Novel follows Joanna’s attempts to find this relic.
It is written by a Catholic author and so you will find that her sympathies lie against Henry VIII. She is critical of Anne Boleyn who makes a b rief appearance in the novel.
But despite the catholic bias regarding the history of the time, it is a wonderful suspense / murder mystery. The writing will grab you and draw you into a fascinating period of time. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be reading the other two in the series over the summer.

Review: Finding The Holy Spirit in The Stained Glass Window: The Charismata in The Anglican Tradition by Dr James Guthrie

Dr Guthrie’s book, which was his Doctor of Ministry Thesis, is desperately needed in the Anglican Church in North America and for Anglican’s in general in the West. As he states at the beginning of the book, “The Anglican Church in North America needs a renewed sense of the charisms (or gifts) of the Holy Spirit, especially those listed in 1 Corinthians 12, to be at work in ministry contexts and congregations.” Notice the words ‘renewed sense.’ This book is not about trying to introduce the gifts of the Holy Spirit into an Anglican context but about re-discovering the work of the Holy Spirit within Anglicanism. Many would not associate the charismatic gifts with a liturgical church. And this why Dr Guthrie’s book is so important. It is a theological, historical survey of why Anglicans SHOULD expect the gifts of the Spirit to be not simply operating in a liturgical context – but that it should be normative because the gifts of the Spirit have been evident throughout it’s history. The tragedy is that many Anglican’s have ceased to expect the gifts to be present in the Church.

If you an Anglican I highly recommend you read this book – it is thorough, easy to read and fascinating. If you are not an anglican this is a valuable source of historical theology to help you understand the Anglican Church – it’s roots and it’s spiritual heritage.

Review: A Pastoral Rule for Today by by John P. Burgess, Jerry Andrews , Joseph D. Small

Forming a ‘Rule of Life’ is often seen as Catholic and / or Monastic and is not something many Christian’s consider. Even with the rise of Celtic Christianity, the idea of living under a rule of life is not often seen as beneficial of useful. Anglicans have toyed with the idea but again, for many, it seems too catholic to take seriously.

This book argues that a rule of life can and indeed does enhance our Christian walk – it can help provide discipline and it can allow us to grow in a steady pace knowing our goals and providing safe boundaries which we set in place to keep us focused on the Lord.

What is meant by a rule of life? A rule of life would be to determine that you would not speak to anyone else before you spoke to the Lord every morning. Or that you would not eat breakfast before praying. Or that you would, every evening at 7pm, switch off all your devices and spend 40 mins in quite study of the Bible. Each of these is a ‘rule’ of life. You set a boundary and determine to make this boundary a habit for your life.

Forming habits of not just regular prayer but set times that you schedule into your daily life is important. The same is true for reading the Bible. But a rule of life can help in other areas.

A Pastoral Rule for Today’ by Burgess, Andrews and Small uses figures from Church History such as Augustine, Benedict, Gregory the Great, John Calvin, John Wesley, John Henry Newman and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to show how a rule of life is areas such as friendships, holiness of life and how we speak and use words are all valuable. How can these became part of a rule of life? Maybe by setting aside one day a week to make friends with neighbors either through inviting them over for a meal or going somewhere with them. Or you may decide you want your words to bring life and not death and so you form a habit to pause before you respond or speak to people.

Not only are you treated to some history and insight into who these men were but the authors point you to how these men can show us the benefits and usefulness of a Pastoral Rule.

The final chapter of the book is a suggestion, guide or template (you decide) of the nuts and bolts of establishing your own contemporary rule of life.

Setting firm, spiritual, and godly boundaries into our lives and making them life habits is so valuable and I commend this book to you.

America’s slow slide to another civil war!

The battle which now rages between the Right and Left here in the States is heading towards a civil war – and I am not just talking ideology.

The reason WHY Trump won the election was because of the New York Times and the Washington Post. Their vitriol and anger against Trump raised up opposition that saw Trump win the White House. Not only did the country ignore these ‘great’ newspaper institutions, showing that their opinion no longer shapes the country – but the democrats lost the House as well. Literally the Democrats could not beat a man who had no political experience and questionable ethics!!

This has led to over a year of ‘incensed’ anger against Trump. Every attempt has been made to undermine the President of the United States – all because they could not believe they lost.

With Democrats and progressive supporters ditching intelligent debate and instead are now employing these tactics in opposing those on the Right, it can only cause more damage to this country. It is incredible that the left cannot see that their behavior is mobilizing opposition. A militant, aggressive left will create a militant aggressive right which will then turn very nasty. If the Left continue to demand that their agenda and their agenda alone must go forward that all other beliefs must be squashed – they will push the Right to respond – and maybe push this country into a civil war.

Reconciliation without Jesus = South Africa

There was a LOT of press about the truth and reconciliation commission which South Africa set up after apartheid and run by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His famous book No Future Without Forgiveness was a core book in the Reconciliation and Conflict resolution course that I took in the early 2000’s.

But it would appear that any reconciliation without Christ at the center is ultimately doomed for failure. The Daily Wire piece on South Africa and the violent attacks on farm owners shows us that the only reconciliation that is worth anything is the reconciliation between man and God through Jesus Christ.

Al other reconciliations will fail or break down eventually – as in South Africa.

 

 

The Comic Strip that is The Washington Post

A kind and concerned friend has gifted me a years subscription to the Washington Post. It is useful for knowing what is happening in your city and local area. But I have to say, one of the things the Washington Post gives me is a good hearty giggle, and sometimes a loud raucous laugh early in the morning – and I hear from Doctors that a good laugh is great for your health!!

What I find so amusing is how Donald Trump has driven these Democrat reporters into absolute fits of rage, which has switch off all rationale ability to write co-hesively and with coherent arguments. Instead of laying out clear, policy based responses to Trump they simply display a temper tamntrum equal to any 2 year old denied a toy at Toys-r-us. These educated, experienced, skilled writers lose all sense of their craft and allow hatred and sarcasm to drip from their pens. Just this morning on the op-ed page there is a piece telling us that Trump is a Con-man and we need to wise up to Trump’s con’s. Really? Or on the Forum page a headline which reads “If he’s crazy and you know it, clap your hands.”

The Democrats and their supporters seem to forget that the way you beat Trump is in an Election. People need to know WHAT the Democrats believe not what they despise.

I firmly believe that one reason why Trump won in 2016 was because of the hatred of the media – their attacks and dismissal of Trump led people to vote for Trump because Trump said what nearly 50% of Americans believed in their heart and had wanted to say – whether you like or not.

You win elections by changing the Narrative.

The Democrats are desperately looking forward to November ‘18 because they believe they will trounce the Republicans in both houses. They may well. But if they continue to be disrespectful to the Office of the President, present NO counter policies, continue being unreasonable in Congress and refuse to acknowledge or applaud Trump for the things which he has done that ARE RIGHT and good for the country (re State of the Union and refusal to clap) – they are in danger of having another 2016 shock on their hands. I seem to remember that they were certain they wold win that election too!!

 

Evangelism is the Gospel and the Gospel is Evangelism

The word evangelism is a loaded word for Christians. It can conjure up a myriad of feelings – guilt, fear, inadequacy, pressure etc as well as certain images – knocking on doors, standing on street corners, getting into arguments with people who are hostile to the faith.
One of the common I responses I have heard the concept of evangelism is raised is “I do not have the gift of evangelism.” When I hear that response I know that the person has been taught a wrong view of evangelism. The same person would never think of saying “I do not have the gift of the gospel”
And yet I would suggest to you that evangelism and the gospel are inextricably linked – they go together and you cannot separate them – the gospel cannot be given without evangelism and evangelism is about the gospel.
Yes, the scripture speaks of those who may have the gift of evangelism. But that is referring the person who has been called to a lifetime of doing evangelism AS THEIR VOCATION. Christians who are called to the be doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, physicists, analysts, soldiers, bankers etc etc, are called to their vocation – but IN their vocation they are called to witness.
Today I want us to understand that we have put evangelism into a far too narrow band of door knocking, car washes, street corner preaching, intense debates with atheists.
I want to reframe what evangelism is using our passages this morning and to restate what is really important.
The first thing I want to say today is that evangelism should never be done for our advantage. The thought of performing the work of evangelism for money or for prestige or for advancing his reputation or the size of the church was repugnant to Paul. Now he is not saying that workers for the gospel should never be paid – thank goodness!!! He later says a worker for the gospel is worth his wages. His point is that this should not be our motivation or driving force. Nor should the driving force of evangelism be to increase our church numbers. The motive for evangelism IS THE GOSPEL ITSELF. Paul worked for the sake of the gospel and to see it’s increasing influence in the world.
In order for evangelism to be effective, truly effective, we need to understand that the gospel is the GREATEST GIFT GOD HAS EVER GIVEN AND WILL EVER GIVE – and therefore as a Christian it is the greatest gift we have ever received.
Do you know that there is nothing on this earth that you could possibly be given that could match or be greater that the gift of the Gospel.
And it is from THIS base, from this motive, from this feeling that we are to evangelize.
Paul says that Christians can evangelize in two ways – you can do it because of duty – because you are told to – or because of guilt (which is why people say “I do not have there gift of evangelism) OR you do evangelism from the deep, inward passion to share the greatest gift you and I will ever receive in our lifetime – offer of the cleansing of sin, the adoption into God’s family, the eternity of heaven, the privilege to call God Father and be called sons of the Father.
Paul’s passion and love for God is that he will do what ever he can, and be whatever he can, to share the greatest gift ever given to humanity so that some might receive this precious gift.
So, the first thing we must establish is that we evangelize not for us, not because it’s our job, or because it might increase numbers in the church but because it is the greatest gift God has ever given and we should want to share that gift.
Secondly, evangelism should be about involvement not just proclamation. Paul would come and get involved in the life of the people. He lived amongst them – he got to know them, he was involved with them day to day. I love 1 Thessalonians 2:8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. An evangelism which just proclaims a message to people is not true evangelism. An evangelism immersed in the daily lives of those whom you seek to reach IS more authentic. Hence evangelism and the proclamation of the gospel should be done in the daily life of each church member – at work, at the gym, at the grocery store, at Costco our walmart or Starbucks, or over bbq on a Sunday afternoon.
Thirdly, the goal of the gospel, the gift of the gospel is not health, or wealth, or material things but eternal life and the promise that death will not be victorious over us. Yes, God delights in giving us good gifts to us. Yes, God delights in doing wonderful things for us – He delights to heal us and to bless us and to guide us. God does these wonderful things for us to show us his love for us as a Father. BUT these things are secondary to the gift of the gospel. What do I mean?
Our story from 2 Kings illustrates this for us. Elisha strikes up a relationship with a Shunammite woman. He passed her house regularly to the point that she first feeds him and then provides a room for him. We are told something very important about this woman – she is wealthy. In other words she has NO needs materially. She is happy and she appears to know God – or at least she knows that Elisha is a man of God.
In his desire to reward the woman’s kindness Elisha wants to know what he could do for this woman. It turn out the woman has no son and her husband is old. This is significant because a husband and a son where no just providers (although she appears independently wealthy) but they were protectors and when the husband died she would have no protector. Elisha states she will have a child.
We are then told that later this child dies suddenly. There is a very important point to remember in this story – This wealthy woman had no needs when she meets Elisha. But the gift God gave her made her needy when he took it away. When we read an account like this for many the question is why would God give her the wonderful gift of the child only for the child to die? What is the point of allowing this woman to go though the emotional rollercoaster from needing nothing, to rejoicing in the miracle of a child she thought she would never have, to falling into the depths of anguish at seeing her beloved child die, and then to have the child restored to her. Why is this in the Bible? Remember 2 Timothy 3:16  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness – this story is profitable for teaching and for training in righteous – but in what way?
This story is her to show us that gifts and our loved ones can be taken away from us – BUT the gospel never can. A miracle child given to a woman who was unable to have a child is wonderful – but it’s not the gospel. The woman, the husband and the child will eventually die. Their house will eventually fall apart. The dream job will come to an end. Wealth may be lost in a stock market crash. Popularity, fame, good looks will all fade. We have all to a greater or lesser extent experienced something of what this woman went through in 2 Kings – we have all asked – Why would God give this to only take it away again? This story is here to teach us that our dependence and security must NEVER be on what we are, on who we are, or on material things of this world – but on the security of the promise of the gospel.
The gospel can not be destroyed, fade, be stolen or diminish is any way. It is the greatest gift – it is an eternal gift. It is a forever gift. It is not dependent on what events or tragedy’s happen in life.
Jesus’ healings are wonderful. The church should expect God’s power to move through it and so we should expect to see God heal, do miracles, cast our demons.
BUT – even healings are secondary to the gospel. Notice in our reading this morning that Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law – and in the evening Jesus heals all who come to him.
But note what he says when the disciples find him the next morning having spent time in prayer – They disciples excitedly say “Everyone is looking for you.” In other words – Jesus you are so popular, you have started something wonderful, come on let’s take advantage of this. But Jesus says this 38 “Let us go on to the next towns, ….and so what? Does he say to Heal the sick, raise those with fevers? No, Jesus says that they need to go to other towns so that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”
Yes Jesus will do healings and cure fevers, and cast our demons and raise the dead – but the main issue is that he came to preach The gospel. Healing is a pat of the gospel – but let me tell you that I have personally seen people be miraculously healed by God – a clear miracle – only to refuse the offer of the gospel – the offer to give their life to Christ – and that is a tragic and terrible fate.
So, to recap – evangelism should never be done for our advantage; evangelism is about involvement not just proclamation and the goal of evangelism is the gospel which is eternal life.
I firmly believe that the corporate church does not do evangelism – no where in the Bible does the church of Corinth, or the church of Ephesus or the church in Galatia do community out reach. Evangelism is done on a one to one basis, getting involved with the joys and tragedies of peoples lives, not with any agenda to get them on the membership roles of a church, but to lead them into an understanding of the true gospel – eternal life, forgiveness of sin, and being back in a relationship with God.
That means here in this church we have 50-55 evangelists – 55 places where you can talk with friends, work colleagues, neighbors and those whom you bump into at the grocery store. 55 people who every day can gossip the gospel – offer to pray with people – offer to tell them the reason for the hope you have.
This is evangelism.

Political Envy DisgracesRepublic

President Trump took part in the yearly theatre of what is known as the State of the Union last night. It is a purely theatrical event. Bold statements; visual illustrations; heart tugging stories. All Presidents do it – and unless you are a political commentator, professor or constitutional expert no-one remembers what you say at a State of the Union.

But what is remembered – whether it is a Democratic President or a Republican President – is the pouting, angry, and defiant looks of the opposition party when the senators and congressman of the ruling party are giving their obligatory standing ovations. Even when the news is neutral and beneficial to the nation, they will stay seated, driven by a political envy that draws the very worst of the spoilt child out of people. It happened yesterday, it happened in Barack Obama’s SOTU address – and it is disgraceful. And it is why this nation is in a mess. The Democrats body language communicated loud and clear that they would prefer the president to fail and thus the nation to fail before they would stand and applaud even a good initiative. That is appalling and that is why the Democrats who do this and the Republicans who do this are beyond contempt.

Roy Moore Deserved to Lose

It was inconceivable that Roy Moore was going to win in Alabama. And it showed the arrogance of Trump and some GOP people that they could put someone like Moore on the ballot and expect Alabama to simply vote for him because he was GOP. While Doug Jones holds some ridiculous and terrible beliefs with regards to abortion, by all  accounts he is a reasonable and respectable man.

Also, the conservative Christians who voted for Moore have done damage to the gospel. The only option for a conservative Christians was to not vote or write in a candidate – many did just that – but too many actually voted for Moore.

Trump & the GOP are on the road to anniliation in the mid terms of 2018.

Each child is unique by Bob Gass

Monday November 27

“Before you were born I set you apart.” Jer 1:5 NIV

Does a baby come into the world with a complex personality, or is that child a blank slate on which experience will write? In the past, behavioral scientists believed newborns had no temperamental or emotional characteristics upon arrival from the womb. Their little personalities were supposedly formed entirely by the experiences that came their way in ensuing years. But most parents knew better. Every mother of two or more children was convinced that each of her infants had a different personality—a different feel—from the very first time they were held. Now, after years of research, numerous authorities in child development acknowledge that those mothers were right. One important study identified nine characteristics that varied in babies—such as moodiness, level of activity, and responsiveness. They also found that the differences from child to child tended to persist into later life. Indeed, babies do differ in infinite ways that define our humanness and our individuality. If every snowflake that falls has its own design, and if every grain of sand at the seashore is unique, it makes no sense to suppose that children are assembly-line products stamped out by the same giant cookie cutter. There’s no denying the importance of environment and human experience in shaping who we are and how we think. But there can be no doubt that each person on earth is a one-of-a-kind creation from the earliest moments of life. As God told Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” You need to know that about your children.

By Bob Gass

The Oddity that is Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

The Church of England, like the Episcopal Church has entered heresy. The acceptance of homosexuality as a normal lifestyle choice is just of many issues which has seen the Church of Thomas Cranmer abandon the scriptures and the Lord.

And this is seen by Justin Welby’s recent comment that he is baffled why so many Christians voted for Donald Trump http://www.virtueonline.org/london-archbishop-canterbury-baffled-christians-who-back-trump

This is not just a problem Welby has but many in the UK show their ignorance of the US politics by asking this question. To nderstand what happened in November 2016 you have to understand two things about the American mindset to elections. 1. Voting is important to Americans. To NOT vote is not really an option. 2. For all their bluster Americans trust in their system – they trust in their constitution. And so the question should not be “How could Christians vote for Trump – the question is “There is no way they could have voted for a criminal like Hilary Clinton.” The fact that bOTH parties put forward terrible nominees was the problem. But, with that in mind, the electorate in the US believed that Trump was a better hope than Clinton.

Diocese of South Carolina Prepares to Appeal to the SCOUS

Rt Rev Mark Lawrence and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina have made known their intention to appeal to the US Supreme Court. They have lost all but 9 churches after the SC Supreme Court ruling and their appeal that Justice Hearn was biased has been rejected.

I think it’s time for South Carolina to let go of this court case. Buildings are not necessary for the proclamation of the gospel and the $ amount being spent on this case is not worth it. The churches in Virginia lost their properties and they have rebuilt, redefined and revisioned themselves.

It is time the Diocese of South Carolina embraces this and walks away. God’s faithfulness will not change whether one keeps their building or not and the Episcopal Church will have to give an account to God for their actions and use of resources….as will the Diocese of South Carolina.

Trust in God.

Proper 7 YEAR A

The presence of death, pain, disease and evil is not a sign of God’s absence in the world, but the results of why God told Adam not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. The prohibition to NOT eat of the tree was because God knew that humanity could never handle the knowledge of good and evil – and this has been shown throughout human history. God’s test to Adam was very simple – God basically asked Adam if he would trust God with the knowledge of God and Evil, knowing that God would always do what was right for Adam. But Adam said no – he wanted the knowledge. Suffering, pain and disease are the manifestations of a fallen world.

That is Paul’s point in Romans 5. One man’s disobedience caused all humanity to be condemned and the creation to be separated from God. The suffering, death, disease and pain which we encounter on the earth is the consequence of SIN. This is why God tells us to avoid it – to flee from it – to repent of it – and to believe in the work of Christ.

So, because of Adam’s decision to disobey God, all humanity died.

However, the great news is that because of Christ’s willingness to obey God, the grace of God abounds to many bringing life.

So when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we are justified, that is, we have been reconciled with God and are now back in relationship with Him. And this can only happen as the result of a living union with Christ which leads us to a new life as Christ followers.

But entering into this new life with Christ means we are given a responsibility – a responsibility which each and every one of us here has – to declare the Gospel. What that means is that instead of Christians retreating away from the world and it’s pain and suffering, instead of trying to provide a safe place for us to live out the remainder of our lives, instead of insulating ourselves against the pain of the world, Jesus sends his followers back into the world with the TRUTH of who God is, what God has said and the promises God has given.

In other words, having been rescued from the burning building – God sends us back into the burning building to bring others out.
There is a misconception which is I think unconsciously assumed in the Church – that being a Christian keeps us safe physically. Jesus dispels this in the gospel reading. Christianity is not necessarily about keeping us physically safe.

Jesus says that he sends the Church out like sheep into the midst of wolves. Just linger on that image for a moment. Think about it. What do wolves tend to do to sheep? It’s dangerous – it’s perilous to be a witness for the gospel – we may get torn to shreds

Facing a world which has been separated from the goodness of the Father in heaven is not easy. It’s going to be tough.

In fact Jesus tells us here that we should expect three areas of attack for the Christian church: – v17 – organized religion; v18 government; v21 family.

Religion has always persecuted true belief – just look at the Apostle Paul – as Saul he killed Christians’. And of course, the the Gospels and the book of Acts gives us plenty of examples of how the religious establishment attempted to stop the gospel. We know that governments persecute Christians. But then there is family. Family members will turn on each other.
Jesus said that his words would bring division in the midst of families as some accept the gospel while others may be very opposed to it.

Now, the words Jesus is speaking here are both for the people listening and prophetic for future generations. Jesus tells us here that there will be a time when persecution will become so intense that disciples of Jesus will have no secure refuge until His’ return. And while that time may not be here yet, all persecutions of Christians and the Church throughout history are a dress rehearsal for what will come in the last days . Whether we are at the beginning of the end times or at the end of the end times is irrelevant to some extent – the end time persecution is the magnified event of what has always happened on a smaller scale to the church and followers of Jesus.

Jesus gives advice on how the church should act in the face of opposition, regardless of when and where it comes. Jesus says the church should be is shrewd as snakes, that is avoiding conflicts and not unnecessarily provoking their opponents while at the same time remaining innocent as doves – that is walking with integrity and truth.

Just how tough things might get for us is illustrated by the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem at a time when the people had become secularized, following their own pleasure, being idolatrous and rejecting the ways and truth of God. And Jeremiah pronounced the truth of God and the consequences of rejecting God to this people.

Jeremiah’s prophetic visions made him a hated man. He almost stood alone against the tide of his countrymen and the religious leaders who all condemned his words and rejected his messages. The tide of opposition and persecution against him and his life wore down Jeremiah. Jeremiah was fearful. In fact, his ministry was, in today’s assessment, a failure. He converted no-one except his own servant. Jeremiah would have failed his annual review in every church in this country. He was rejected, his message was rejected and he faced reproach, derision and even the threat of death DAILY. To the point that this prophet decreed that he would NOT speak the message of God anymore. The pressure and the kickback was just to great.

But notice what happened when he decided not to speak of God. His heart burned. He could not physically keep it in.

Even this great prophet, in the face of the opposition, wanted to retreat and shut up – BUT HE COULDN’T! Why? Because he knew what was the truth – and the truth cannot remain silent. This is the tragedy of todays church – in the scriptures we have the truth – and yet much of the church is willing to keep silent because of the tide of opposition the truth will bring.

One of the biggest problems Jeremiah faced was that what he was prophesying was not coming true instantly – and because of this people were deriding him as a false prophet or a scare monger. Jeremiah pronounced that God would judge the people. That God would not stand by and see evil, injustice, idolatry and false priests thrive. Jeremiah preached this for 40 years – and for 40 years nothing happened – the judgment did not materialize. And the people came to believe that God would not do what Jeremiah said and so they accused him of being a false prophet.

We face the same issue today. We say “ The Lord is returning – get ready – turn to him” but people think just because he has not come back yet, he is not going to. The New Testament knew this would happen – 2 Peter 3:3 tells us that in the last days we will have scoffers saying Where is the promise of His coming?

What Jeremiah’s ministry was doing for the nation was important, but even more important was what Jeremiah’s ministry was doing for Jeremiah. He was learning to trust in God’s provision even in the face of opposition, suffering and pain. As we serve the Lord, our capacity for ministry should increase and enable us to do much more than we ever thought we could do because our trust in God increases.
Jeremiah didn’t preach because he had to say something but because he had something to say, and not saying it would have destroyed him. Paul had the same attitude: “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16)
Remembering the promises God gave him at his call, Jeremiah was confident that the Lord was with him and would deal effectively with his enemies.

To step into God is to step out for God and to go into the firing line. At the men’s book club at the beginning of the month I was told of a story of heroism regarding the event when a US helicopter crashed in Somalia. Two soldiers asked permission to be dropped into the area in order to protect the pilot. The General said “Do you know where you are going? Do you know I cannot get reinforcements to you for hours.” The soldiers said yes and the General gave them permission and they died protecting the soldier on the ground.

When we evangelize people and lead them to the Lord we need to say “Now, do you understand what you are doing?” “Do you know the ramifications of being a believer in Christ?” We have the promises and the power of the Spirit – but we also have the words of Jesus that we are sent like Sheep in the midst of Wolves. Are we willing to give that sacrifice for the Lord.

Understanding that Jesus deliberately sends us INTO a dangerous world should lead us to see persecution not as something to be feared but as an opportunity for gospel to be declared. Believers will be brought in front of kings and governments and courts and as that happens we are able to tell the Kings and leaders and judges the wonderful news of Jesus Christ.

So as we approach the end times we as a church will face opposition but also opportunity. In spite of attacks, rejection by our families, persecution from city to city and trials before leaders, we MUST remain true to our Lord.

And here is crux of the issue – when faced with intense opposition – when everyone is against us – when knowing that confessing Christ could or even will lead to our disadvantage, or our losing our jobs or our security or even our lives will we stand with Christ publicly? To stand publicly and boldly for Christ in the face of intense opposition shows that we fear God and God alone – and Jesus’ promise is that He will stand with us before the Father’s throne.

This is why our security as Christians must never come from the external things of the world like comfort, buildings, our health or even our traditions – these can all be taken away – destroyed or banned. Our security MUST always be in God himself. And we must learn this now while we enjoy relative comfort, freedom and security.

So, let me end with three exhortations to us this morning:

I exhort us all as Jesus’ followers that we should witness boldly, fearing no shame from our peers in this world – there is no reason for holding back. When Jesus says preach from the rooftops – it means preach from the place that people will hear you the most. Flat housetops above the streets provided easier hearing than the streets themselves.
Because God is the judge in the end, we should not fear even persecutors who threaten death. The choice is not between courage and fear but between whom one will fear more – Remember, Jeremiah was afraid – but he feared God more than the people who opposed him
Jesus makes a promise – disciples of Jesus can trust God’s sovereignty in their protection or their death. As Paul says, to live is Christ, to die is gain.

So, as God sends us as sheep amongst wolves be very BOLD in our witness – FEAR ONLY God, and no-one else and TRUST God’s promise to protect us, even in death.

Trinity Sunday YEAR A

Today, in the church calendar, we celebrate Trinity Sunday. The trinity is perhaps the most distinctive doctrine of the Christian faith. One theologian has said that the Trinity is unquestionably one of the most perplexing aspects of Christian theology.

 

While it is true that the WORD trinity never appears in the Bible and was first used in the 3rd century by the theologian Tertullian; the claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is only CREATED in the 3rd century, as some such as Dan Brown have claimed, is utterly ridiculous.

 

I am going to quote something and I want you to think when this was written: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall lack nothing’ (Ps. xxii (xxiii). 1).  This psalm should be rehearsed by every lover of God, and in an especial sense by the universe.  For like a flock, earth and water and air and fire and all plants and animals in them…are led according to right and law by God the Shepherd and King, who has set over them His true Logos and first-begotten Son, who takes over the care of this sacred flock like the vicegerent of a great king.

 

Now this quote is from Philo and he wrote this  possibly just before Jesus was born, or when Jesus was a just a child.

 

But we don’t have to rely on Philo to show us the Trinity was thought of and known before the 3rd Century. If our God is Trinitarian then it should be evident throughout the scriptures – and it is.

 

Now, there is a distinction we must make before we go on – and I think it is an important distinction. It is this: The scriptures do not so much contain a doctrine of the trinity but rather the scriptures bear witness to a God who demands to be understood and can only be fully known in a Trinitarian manner.

 

 And while we do not have the time to go through all the passages of scripture such Isaiah 48:16 and Zechariah 13:10 which clearly reveal the trinitarian God, we can see it in Genesis 1. And that’s where we will focus for a moment.

 

It is not surprising that the beginning of the Bible should be Trinitarian in nature because Genesis 1 introduces us to the Trinitarian God of the universe. In the Beginning God created. The word God is the hebrew is Elohim. Elohim is a plural word that has a singular verb. In other words, Elohim is one God who is multiple. So right there we have a hint to the nature of God – the trinitarian God.

 

But that’s not all! The phrase In the Beginning is very significant.

 

Now we have often got into trouble with Genesis 1 because we naturally assume that the beginning is in fact the beginning of time or history. But what if Moses had another beginning in mind as he was inspired to write this.

 

In Hebrew beginning is b’resheet. It could mean beginning but that is not it’s normal use. It is usually used to mean supreme, first, king, ruler,head or chief. So Psalm 118:2 says The stone the builders rejected  has become the  b’resheet [chief or head ]cornerstone.

 

What is very interesting is that 300 years before Christ the Old Testament was written into Greek – called the Septuagint. The legend has it that 70 jewish scholars all translated the Old Testament and when they came together they found that they all had the same translation – hence septuagint which means 70. Regardless of whether you believe this legend what is interesting is that Jesus often quoted from the Septuagint when he quotes the Old Testament. Mark 7:6-7 is one example whereby Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 and it is almost word for word from the Septuagint.

 

So, the septuagint was a Jewish Translation of the Hebrew scriptures into greek – and it is the Bible many Jews in the first Century would have used.

 

Now the word in Genesis 1:1 for beginning in the septuagint is arche. This is a word we still use today – ARCHbishop = first bishop. ARCHangel – chief angel. MONarch – King. In fact the word ARCH, which means something that rules over a space. is arche.

 

So the more literal translation of Genesis 1:1 is In the ruler / chief or King the God who is multiple created the heavens and the earth.

 

So the question Moses was wanting readers to ask would not be WHEN was the beginning but WHO is the beginning. Who is the ruler or king?

 

The gospel of John helps to answer this because John was clearly pointing to Genesis 1:1 when he wrote the opening verses of his gospel. He writes: In the beginning was the WORD. John tells us who Moses is referring to in Genesis 1:1 – the word, the logos who was with God and was God and who became flesh and whom John knew – Jesus.

 

What is remarkable is that Paul confirms all this in his words from Colossians 1:15-18. Listen to how he describes Jesus – The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

 

Where does Paul get the idea that Jesus is the beginning – from Jesus himself.

 

Jesus himself says he is the beginning and the end – Revelation 22 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

 

1 John 2:13 says I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is the beginning.

 

Of course, we should not be at all surprised that the Scriptures which point towards the Trinitarian God should begin in the very first words with the Trinitarian God himself. The whole point of the Bible is to reveal to us the trinitarian God who created all things, who created us in his image and who has acted in history in order to rescue us from our rebellion against Him and to tell us what kind of nature He has, what he has promised to do.

 

In our epistle reading this morning from 2 Corinthians 13:14 we have a wonderful summary of what the Trinitarian God is like. Paul writes these words which should be so familiar:  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of[a] the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

We learn here that God the Son is grace. It is through grace that we saved. The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ is what has broken down the barrier of sin which had  separated us from God. But this grace could not have happened without love. God the Father is love. The Father’s love for us sends the Son as our rescuer. And the result of the rescue is what? Fellowship with the Trinitarian God! God the Holy Spirit brings fellowship to us by residing in us.

 

How wonderful is this! The very character and mission of God is summed up by Paul in these words.

 

And we learn from this very simple verse a very important truth. Only a Trinitarian God can save us. Unless you have a Trinitarian God, there can be no salvation; without a Trinitarian God there is no atonement for sins. How could God take our sins upon him and remain pure, even when he has not sinned. How could the judgment of the Father be upon the Son and our sins if our God was not three persons but one God? How could we be filled with the Holy Spirit and be adopted as his sons and daughters unless God was trinity? How could God have been born as a human being, emptying himself of his divinity, and still remain sovereign over the universe? How could God know what love is and how to love if he has spent eternity alone before creating the world? Only a God who has been in a perfect eternal relationship in the trinity can know and then create in his image beings who can love.

 

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

 

And here is the bottom line of all of this. As the Bible begins with, points to and concludes with the trinitarian God of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, our response to it is to go and make disciples of all nations – baptizing them INTO the trinitarian God. This is why our proclamation, our witness of God is in aTrinitarian pattern: The Father Sends the Son to the earth; then the father and the Son send the Holy Spirit; and now, in Matthew 28, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit send the CHURCH into the world to make disciples in the Trinitarian formula, in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit. We declare not just GOD – but the Trinitarian God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit who is able to save all who call upon his name.

 

To Him who is able to keep us from falling and is able to present us before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy. To the only God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be ascribed all the glory, majesty, power and authority from now and through all the ages, AMEN!

Christ-Shaped Character: Choosing Love, Faith and Hope by Helen Cepero

 

51QVLItlcmL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_                                                                                                                                                                                               A truly Christlike walk is the deep desire of every Christian, and yet so difficult to those of us tempted by firstworld abundance, or beset by the unexpected trials and tragedies of life. Helen Cepero’s book, Christ-Shaped Character, is like an open-hearted, affirming conversation with your own personal spiritual director. Cepero, an adjunct instructor at the North Park Theological Seminary and Multnomah School of the Bible, trains spiritual directors and is a frequent retreat leader. She has an immediate, engaging writing style that draws you in. Her personal stories not only engage you because she makes herself vulnerable to you, but help you to put your own stories into a Christlike perspective. By showing us that the everyday experiences of our lives provide deep insight into God’s purposes, she invites us to work daily to put our experiences into that perspective.  Attending a middle school band concert and listening to the children’s fumbling attempts, she realizes that God is not at all like the band director who may roll his eyes at every mistake, but is much more to be found in the rapt, loving eyes of the parents who watch their children try their best. If only we could really rest in the truth, that God loves us not for how well we do, but simply because we are his children.

 

Using 1 Corinthians 13:13 as her guide, Cepero structures her book on the guiding truths of love, faith, hope. The Love section encourages us to rest in the fact that God loves us not for how well we do, but for who we are; to be completely open to the fact that God also loves every person we meet, so they are truly our brothers; and to recognize that everyone is as flawed as we are, and yet as beloved by God as we are. The Faith section asks the intriguing question: What if the ‘thing’ that God wants us to ‘do’ is to satisfy our deepest desire; the longing for More that all of us have?  Cepero encourages us to accept our brokenness, our deepest failures, our skeletons-in-the-closet; surrendering them to God, and surrendering the self-involvement that they create; realizing that we will fail, but we must persevere. It is not about how much we do, but if we do it in God’s will, it is enough.

 

The Hope section seems to begin a bit off topic: adjuring us to be present in the moment and really appreciate the events and people in our lives. We all feel the need to be busy, but being busy can suck the joy and even the significance of events and people out of our awareness. We can also beat ourselves up so much for our failures that we don’t see the blessings of life. Cepero assures us that God isn’t pretending that we have worth in his eyes. When we live in Christ’s light, it reveals that there are possibilities of Christlikeness in each of us. Relaxed in the love of Christ, we can live a life of readiness to accept and act on his will whenever it appears in our lives. Love, faith and hope must be practiced to become habits that uphold us in times of chaos and upheaval.

 

With the exercises in each chapter for prayer, group activities, meditation questions, and journaling, this book would work well for small group studies. The exercise on forgiving is especially powerful and can be used any time we have to confront injustice in our lives. The acceptance that true forgiveness does not come easy is helpful and affirming. Cepero provides a real sense of hope, hope that we can persevere to achieve the kind of love that God has planned for us; but consistently reminds us that it is a process, a daily exercise, a life work, to forgive, to love, to build our faith.

 

Pentecost YEAR A

Today we celebrate the feast of weeks, or Shavuot, or better known as Pentecost.

 

Pentecost is actually an Old Testament festival. Pentecost took place, as Leviticus 23 instructs, on the 50th day after the feast of unleavened bread.

 

Pentecost simply means ‘fiftieth’. The Hebrew name Shavuot means weeks – the counting of the weeks – 7 weeks from the feat of unleavened bread.

 

The feast of weeks was a festival which required the presence of all males in Jerusalem – therefore it was an important festival. People would come with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest and of other crops. They would then bake two loaves of leavened bread and bring them to the temple as a wave offering to the Lord. It says in Lev 23 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. 17 You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord.

 

But the Feast of Weeks also has another significance. During the exile, when the Israelites could not bring the first fruits as an offering, Shavuot became the celebration of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. According to the Bible account this happens around the 50th day of the Israelites leaving Egypt. So the first Penecost, from the Jewish perspective, takes place in Exodus 19 – On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain.

 

So by Jesus’ day, Shavout was a celebration of both the giving of the Law and of the reliance the Israelites had upon God for the provision of the harvest and the food they ate.

 

One of the things we have to understand about the festival’s in the Old Testament is that they are dress rehearsals. The Israelites were meant to keep the festivals as a reminder of what was to come. They were memorials of what had happened in the past as well as reminders of what will happen in the future. So Passover was celebrated for 1500 years as a memorial to the killing of the lamb by whose blood the Israelites were saved from judgment. But Passover was a dress rehearsal of what Jesus would do on the cross – the lamb that takes away the sin of the world.

 

Pentecost was a memorial of the provision of God in giving the Israelites all they needed, both in terms of physical food – the harvest and spiritual food, the Torah. The Israelites would come to the temple on Pentecost – or Shavuot, in the hope that today would be the day Ezekiel prophesied a new spirit would be given – the day of Spiritual Renewal – the day when God would provide the new covenant – the day the Spirit is written on the hearts of the people.

 

For 1500 years the Israelites had left the festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost disappointed because the New Spirit had not been given.

 

But now, on this Pentecost the promise was fulfilled.

 

You know, the Jewish midrash has a fascinating piece about what happened on the day God gave Moses the law. Exodus 19 tells us that when God comes to the mountain there was smoke, fire and a cloud as well as the mountain trembling. But the Midrash teaches that when the law was given flames of fire came down on each individual and God spoke in every language known to man.

 

Now, whether or not the Midrash records a real event or is just apocryphal is irrelevant. The Jews in the temple in Acts 2, and the disciples, would have known this account very well. It would have been apart of their whole framework for Shavuot..

 

Therefore what happens at this particular Pentecost in Acts 2 carried deep significance and prophetic fulfillment.

 

Now, many commentators will argue that the house the disciples are in is in fact the temple. Peter tells the crowd that the disciples were not drunk because it was only 9:00am – the third hour. Well the third hour was when you went to the temple for the morning sacrifice. And we know that the early believers gathered everyday at the temple for the times of prayer. So, possibly, the people in the temple offering their morning praises to God have heard the sound of the Spirit – the wind and might roar and may even have felt the shaking of the temple and now they hear the commotion and the testimony of the disciples speaking in all the tongues of the world. The room shaking, the tongues of fire, the wind and most importantly the speaking in different tongues would have immediately brought to mind both Exodus 19 AND the Midrash account of the giving of the law at Sinai.

 

Let’s spend a few moments thinking about the symbolism and significance of the loaves which would have been offered that day in the temple. The bringing of the first fruits and the presentation of the two loaves of bread is a sign of dedication to God. How? Despite working hard to plow a field and plant the seeds, the farmer, the people, are never the one responsible for the harvest – that it is God’s blessing. The first fruits and the bread acknowledge everything comes from him and that all we have is from him. And instead to taking the first fruits and eating it as if they were the ones who had done the hard work and so deserved the benefits of the first part of the harvest, the people offer it to God.

 

But in light of what Jesus had done and who he said he was, the loaves real symbolism becomes very clear.

 

The loaves were a first fruit offering. This is very powerful symbol for us as christians. Who was the first fruits? Jesus. He rises from the dead on the feast of first fruits as the first fruit from the dead. Paul says in 1 Cor 15 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Also, Bread is the major source of sustenance. How does Jesus refer to himself in John 6? As the bread of life! Jesus invites us to eat of his body and drink of his blood – Jesus is the ultimate and eternal sustenance.  Finally, the bread was leavened. This is the only time leaven was accepted as an offering within a festival of the Lord. Also, Just 49 days previously the Jews had diligently removed ALL leaven from their homes and had celebrated the festival of unleavened bread. Many times in the Bible leaven is a picture of sin and indeed the festival of unleavened bread was a symbol of God removing their sin.  Don’t forget that it is during the feast of unleavened bread that Jesus is in the tomb dealing with our sin. But leaven is not ALWAYS a picture of sin. We should realize this because nothing impure can be offered in the temple as a sacrifice. What other symbol can leaven represent? Well, Jesus uses the picture of leaven in relation to the Holy Spirit. Matthew 13:33 The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.

 

For 1500 years the Israelites had been enacting, doing a dress rehearsal for what would happen to those who accepted God and received the Spirit upon them at this Pentecost.

 

On this pentecost – the offering of the bread pictures those who have recognized the revelation of God and the provision of God in Jesus Christ. It pictures those who have leavened themselves with the Word of God through the Holy Spirit.

 

No wonder 3000 jews instantly believed!! They got it. They saw the connection and they understood.

 

As we remember Pentecost today we must remember and celebrate God’s provision for us – his provision in our lives, his provision in giving us the word of God and his provision of the Holy Spirit which makes his word live in our hearts. One of the powerful effects of offering first fruits is freedom from ones own self aggrandizement. It’s an acknowledgment that we are not responsible for what we have – God is. We are not responsible for our blessings – our income – our skill and abilities. We have simply been blessed by God. By giving the first portion of what we receive to God we acknowledge it’s not about us. A Jewish Rabbinic saying says Who is a freeman? One who is enslaved to God’s word! Pentecost is about putting God at the center of our lives and not ourselves. And that is the whole point of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us!!

 

When we believe in Christ we are instantly filled with his Spirit but as Christians it is not until we offer ourselves to the Lord  – when we give the first fruits of ourselves completely over to the Lord, when we remove self from the center of our lives that we will start to be molded and effected by the Spirit. There are Christians who while saved, are not allowing the Spirit to move and fill them because they still live for themselves. They think they are in charge. They believe they are the ones responsible for their life and destiny. Christians who think like this will receive no benefit from having the Spirit in them. Just like many of the jews and religious leaders in Jesus’ day Christians are missing what God is doing around them because they have not submitted themselves to the Spirit. How do we submit to the Spirit? Primarily in following and doing what the Bible says we should do. Not the bits of the Bible we like – but all of it. Going back to that first pentecost in Exodus 19 just listen to what God says to the people and listen to their response: Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

 

And it is only when we say All that the Lord has spoken we will do will the Spirit minister to us, in us and through us. Only then will we will be able to do what Jesus asks us to do: As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.

 

He sent the disciples in the power of the Spirit and he sends us in the power of the Spirit.

 

Ultimately, the purpose of our salvation, the purpose of giving us the Holy Spirit is service to God. Are we living our lives in service to God? We have been saved, we have been given the Holy Spirit not to serve ourselves, but so that we might walk in obedience to God’s commandments and serve him and him only.

 

That is the purpose of Pentecost and that is what we should commit ourselves to this morning.

 

Easter 7 YEAR A

One theologian has said that this prayer of Jesus is the holy of holies of the gospel – an amazing moment whereby we get a glimpse of the intimacy between the Son and father as the Son converses with his Father on the eve of his death for the sinners of the world.

 

We have not read the entire prayer this morning – just a portion. But even in these first 11 verses we see something very important. Jesus is facing incredible suffering and death. But here he is, not a victim about to be taken to the cross but a victor about to fulfill his father’s will.  Jesus has complete trust in the Father in spite of what awaits him. In fact, in the previous chapter of John, 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples that he has ALREADY overcome the world.

 

Jesus is an overcomer even though he knew that suffering lay ahead. And the prayer his prays is deliberately meant for his disciples ears. He knows not just the storm he will encounter in the next few hours but he knows the storms and trials his disciples will face in the coming days, weeks and years ahead.

 

This prayer Jesus spoke aloud to His Father is meant to give the 12 disciples, and us, immense security and comfort.

 

And I think it is because of this prayer that the apostle Peter was able to write 1 Peter 4:12-19.

 

Peter tells us four things which, while they are tough to hear, we need to hear as Christians. All of which come back to what Jesus says in these verse from John 17.

 

  1. Firstly, Peter says that as Christians, we must expect suffering. That is not something we want to hear –  but if you remember, neither did the disciples when they heard that Jesus was going to suffer.  Jesus knows what is ahead of him – and while the disciples saw it at that moment in the upper room as a disaster.  But Jesus does not. Invariably we receive bad news badly. But what Peter says and what Jesus models is that even bad news can be used for the glory of God. Which leads to the second point Peter wants us to understand

 

  1. We should Rejoice in Suffering. Now this is getting a little too hard. Really? You want me to rejoice in my trials and suffering? Why? How? Interestingly Jesus uses the word glory 5 times in first 5 verses of John 17. And while we don’t have time to look at the significance of this fully this morning, don’t miss that for Jesus, the cross was not a disaster but the means of glorifying the Father. Not because pain and suffering glorifies God – but because Jesus was following the path the Father had for him. In order to reach the goal for Jesus – that is, his returning to his pre incarnate glory – returning back to the place of honor in heaven he had before he was born as a human being – he had to go through the cross. Therefore for Jesus the cross glorified the Father. For Jesus, just as his life glorified the Father, so will his death glorify the Father, because he knew where he was going and what awaited him. As Christians we want our life to glorify God – but have you thought about how your sufferings and trials can glorify God? Our suffering can be a great witness – it can be a far greater witness to unbelievers than our words. And what about our death? Have you ever prayed that we may die  glorifying God? Or even that our death may be a witness! The issue is not I hope that if I suffer or have a great trial I might glorify God, but will I glorify God WHEN I suffer. Peter says that we must not be surprised about the trials and sufferings we receive because Christians are not immune or protected from suffering. Which leads to the third point.

 

  1. Peter encourages us to not waste our suffering. What do i mean? In the furnace of suffering we often end up contemplating how we got there or we try and figure out how it happened. A time of suffering and trial is often the time when we examine our life. As  a Christian, we should be building our life on truth, humility, holiness and the desire to glorify God. Therefore we should use every trial, as a refining process – a process by which we allow God to remove the dross in our life and purify us. You know, God wants us to grow spiritual  in our trials and sufferings. Romans 5:3 says we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

 

  1. Which leads to the fourth thing Peter wants us to understand – that ultimately, in our trials we must commit ourselves to God. The enemy has done a great PR exercise in persuading people to move away from God in suffering – to blame him and accuse him. But actually, trials and suffering SHOULD draw us to God.  The Psalms describe God as a strong tower. 45 times in the Psalms God is referred to as a refuge. God is who we should run TO when we face hard times for refuge and safety. So, Peter tells us that we should – Expect suffering, rejoice in suffering, don’t waste our suffering and commit ourself to God in our suffering.

 

Now, we can are only able to hear these four things from Peter if we hear what Jesus prays in John 17. Because what Jesus wanted his disciples to hear and us to hear is this – Jesus is praying for us in our sufferings and trials. In fact Jesus is always interceding for us. We are told  in Hebrews 7 that Consequently, he [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.. Jesus prays for us. Our security and protection is found in God’s character and nature and not in ourselves, or our circumstances.

 

Notice the last verse of our Gospel reading. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. Do you see that? KEEP THEM IN YOUR NAME. That is what he prays for the disciples and us – that God would keep us in His name.

 

v12 of John 17 says While I was with them, I kept them in your name. If Jesus, in his limited human body was able to keep the disciples safe and protected should he not be able to keep them and us now he is glorified in heaven?

 

God guards and protects his people – even when they suffer and face trials BECAUSE of the nature of God, the nature of salvation, the glory of God and the intercessory ministry of Christ. THAT IS WHY we can face suffering and trials and not be surprised by them; why we can rejoice in suffering; to grow in our suffering and to commit ourselves to God in our suffering.

 

1 John 5:4 says For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

 

To overcome suffering, John says, is to have faith.

 

In Christ we are over-comers, despite the mountains we face. Jesus knew as he prepared to leave the disciples that they would be scared and frightened in what they would face and so Jesus gives them the two thing which we also have to help us – the power of the Spirit and his prayers! These two alone make us overcomers.

 

And we must not let satan obscure this truth. Satan knows that if God’s people hear this and act on it then there will be a spiritual victory over him in our lives. Rev 12:11 says And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

 

We must never let satan rob us of our overcoming power through Christ’s finished work.

Easter 6 YEAR A

Are you happy being a Christian? I mean, are you enjoy being a believer in the living God? More importantly, is being a Christian the very source of your existence on earth?

 

We know that for a flower, it source, it’s existence, it’s ability to thrive and live comes from it’s stem, it’s vine, it’s root. And we know that if we cut a flower off from it’s source it will eventually die, even if we arrange it in a nice vase.

 

The same is true with us. We have been cut off from the source of life – Adam did that in the garden of Eden and humanity, like a flower in a glass, is wilting and dying. The wages of sin is death.

 

And so the image of a vine in this morning’s Gospel reading raises the question for each of us of whether we have life or are we dying. And the key issue to that question is are we in the Vine.

 

What does it mean to be in the Vine?

 

Well, the gospel reading is clear. Christ is the Vine. So the first question we must ask is “are we in Christ this morning”. In other words do you believe in all that Christ has done for you and do you accept him as your Lord and Savior. To say yes then puts us under a little examination. To say YES I am in the Vine – I am in Christ, requires a further question of whether we are bearing fruit.

 

That may be an uncomfortable question for us. What does it mean to bear fruit? Is he talking about conversions – how many conversions have I this week, month or year? Is he talking about what my Character is like – is it Christ like? Do I exhibit the characteristics of being  a follower of Jesus? Am I being obedient to God’s commands in my life – is that what he means?

 

There is an element of these things in the  passages we have read this morning but it is not the main point. Good works or good character cannot get us attached to the Vine. We cannot be In Christ because of our good works. That only happens by faith IN Christ. But being in Christ will change who we are and what we do.

 

The core issue about fruit in a Christian’s life is that it begins with us and God. Bearing fruit begins with a daily, personal relationship with God that involves prayer. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ASK WHATEVER YOU WISH and it will be done for you. It all begins with a living and active relationship with God. And a living and active relationship with God involves speaking with God regularly.

 

Out of THIS foundation comes the rest; our witness, our character and our obedience.  But the key thing is are we in a  daily, personal relationship with God – because that is our life, our source, the very essence of our existence.

 

So what does having Jesus as the source of life look like? Well, we have been given examples in both the Acts and 1 Peter readings this morning. Acts reveals the ‘evangelism’ aspect of being in Christ. The Atheians, with all their alters, recognize that they may be ignorant of all possible deities and so they have an alter for an unknown God! Paul seeks to relieve them of their ignorance – even using their own poets – We are the offspring of god. Now the original poet was referring to Zeus but Paul takes this idea and points out that it is true – we are the offspring of God, not Zeus but  of the living god – the God of the universe – and if God has created US – as complex as we are – then surely God himself is far more complex than statues of gold and silver and marble. And this God Paul declares to be the one who rose form the dead. Notice what Paul says about God – he says that In Him we live and move and have our being. There is very little for anything else. For Paul the whole of life encompasses God and this drives his witness to others.

 

Witness is an important aspect to being a branch of the true vine. Peter picks up this theme.  We are to witness with gentleness and reverence – we are to be ready to give a response to anyone who asks “Why are you a Christian – Why do you believe in God”.

 

We are also to be Branches who are have love of the brethren – a tender heart and a humble mind. We are to be people who do not return evil for evil, or reviling for reviling. Our characters are important.

 

But above all there is an approach to life that is beyond anything that the world teaches. Peter draws from Ps 34 when he says He that would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile; let him turn away from evil and do right; let him seek peace and pursue it.

 

Most of us want to love life and many of us probably do love life – but do we love life IN CHRIST. That is the question. Which brings me back to my opening question – do we LOVE being a follower of Christ? Do we love knowing the living God. Do we love the fact that Jesus has rescued us?

 

We can too easily end up loving life and tolerating Christ  – and that is a very dangerous place to be according to St John.

 

To be in the Vine is to love life IN CHRIST. Not that such a life is a breeze or free from troubles and trials. Peter tell us that suffering comes as a Christian. Being in the Vine does not protect us from tragic and difficult times. Theologian Wayne Grudem put it well when he says To love life does not mean one has a trouble free life – it suggests rather an enjoyment of life and contentment in the life God has given, no matter what the outward circumstances.

 

How can we do that? How can we enjoy life and be content in life regardless of the circumstances? By standing on this incredible truth that if we are in the Vine if we are in Christ we have true life – and if Christ suffered, died, and was raised, so we too can be assured that, if we endure suffering for Christ or even death we will be like Christ and therefore we will be raised to eternal life too. That’s the promise.

 

This is why Paul writes in his epistle to the Philippians not to be anxious about anything – and that he has learnt to be content in every situation; whether with little or plenty. Paul knew the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection – and he loved Christ and he longed to be with him and had certainty that he would be with Him. Therefore everything else paled into insigificance compared to that truth – even suffering.

 

But this can only be true – this can only be a reality for us if we remain in the Vine.

 

If we are not, then we are a branch that is in danger of withering.

 

There are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity – the alternative is a withered branch that will eventually die.

 

Continuous dependence on the vine, constant reliance upon him, persistent spiritual imbibing of his life – this is the absolute necessity of spiritual fruitfulness.

 

So, from where are you drawing your life from? What is th source of your enjoyment and happiness? If it is not foundationally from Jesus Christ then you may not be connected to the Vine.

 

It really is all about Jesus and your relationship with Him. You may feel great right now; you may feel like a million dollars. You may feel that life is full and filled with enjoyment and good things. And that is great. But, if you are not attached to the true Vine; unless you have a continuous daily personal relationship with God; unless you are growing in that, both spiritually and physically, then you are simply like a flower that has been cut from the stem and placed in the vase you will eventually die.

 

Only Jesus gives real and true life. You know in your heart this morning if you abide in him – if you are attached to the true vine, if your love and enjoyment of life comes from the life of Christ. If you know you are then rejoice in the promises given this morning. Continue to grow and thrive, allowing the spirit to bless and use you. But if you know that you are not in Christ – if you know that your life does not come from Christ then you must get grafted into the Vine and that requires you to begin a conversation with God. You don’t need an introduction – he knows you better than you know yourself because he created you. As we heard read this morning from Acts, Paul says God is not far from each one of us. You start the conversation by saying Lord, I am sorry – You are not my life. Please, come this morning, and forgive me for my sins. I want to trust in you – to let you have my life. Graft me in to the Vine.” And then tomorrow continue your conversation, and the next day and the next.

 

Then read the gospels – read Jesus’ words. Start to understand how Jesus wants us to live life.

 

And then see what happens. See what happens when you give yourself to him; see what happens when you place yourself into his care; see what happens as you begin to draw your life from Jesus.

 

When we are able to acknowledge that In Christ we live and move and have our being, we will then be able to say with Peter; Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear , nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. 

 

Easter 5 YEAR A

Has your heart ever been troubled? Have you received news which made your heart sink and stomach churn with worry and concern? The week began like that for Kitty and I  and then I sat down to start to think about the sermon and the first words I read were Let not your hearts be troubled.

 

Jesus speaks these words to the disciples after they had eaten the last supper. In chp 13 the disciples had heard shattering news which had caused them to experience a surge of emotions. They were sad because Jesus had told them he would leave them; they were ashamed because they had been arguing about who was the greatest and Jesus then washed their feet telling them that they should humble themselves in service; they were perplexed because Jesus had told them that one of them would betray him. What began as a wonderful celebration of the passover meal that evening had turned into a roller coaster of emotions as the disciples tried to digest what they heard.

 

And Jesus knowing that they were shocked, now gives them teaching on how to stop them worrying. The best sense of Jesus’ words in v1 is Let not your hearts be troubled any longer!. This is not a “It will be OK in the end” statement – nor is he saying “Don’t be sad” – he tells them to stop being troubled right there and right then. Now  we know that it is far easier to tell yourself to stop being troubled in your heart than to actually to do it. Our emotions can overwhelm us despite our best intentions and efforts to not feel worried, or stressed.

 

 

Jesus gives his disciples three assurances which are to help them to stop their hearts being troubled. They are about to face the storm of Jesus’ arrest and execution and so gives them the keys to stop their hearts being troubled. These assurances rest on the vital foundation that the disciples MUST believe in God and in Jesus.

 

This is so important and it is the place we must always begin in whenever we face hard times. And the reason is that Jesus knows that his disciples cannot trust in their own ability of effort to do the right thing. We have an example of this is In Chp 13. Peter says, will all the best intentions and with true self belief “I will remain with you even if everyone else runs away” and Jesus says “ No you won’t Peter – you will deny me three times this very night.”

 

The key to not having a troubled heart is not to draw on your own ability or resources or try harder to not be troubled, but to believe in God and Jesus. Jesus says the key to riding out the storms is to believe God and Believe Jesus.

 

True security comes from focusing on God and Jesus alone. Jesus asks that the disciples rest in God and in himself with their entire being so that their heart, soul, mind and strength will continually go out to the source of their salvation and not to their own resources and abilities.

 

In our passage this morning Jesus gives the disciples three wonderful assurances to help them focus upon God and Himself.

 

1. The first is that they were going to heaven. That is the disciples and our destination. You and I are going to heaven. That is our home. It is a real place. It is not a product of religious imagination. Heaven is where God dwells and where Jesus is right now. Heaven is home for God’s children.

 

Have you noticed something wonderful here – the REASON why Jesus returned to heaven was for the purpose of preparing a place for us. Jesus has prepared a place for us where he dwells. But there is something even more wonderful here. Jesus does not tell his disciples that he will come again and take us to heaven – he says he will come again and takes us to HIMSELF! Heaven is not some giant eternal dorm room filled with Christians – it is a place of intimate relationship with Jesus – we go to be with HIM in heaven. To be in a perfect relationship with Him – to worship Him and experience him perfectly.  The phrase I will take you to myself” means To be face to face with me.”

 

So wonderful is Christ’s love for his own that he is not satisfied with the idea of merely brining us to heaven. He must take us into his own embrace.

 

And Jesus says that the way to heaven is himself – trusting in him. Thomas’ question We do not know the way”  is not totally negative. It reveals Thomas’ desire and devotion to be with Jesus. Such is his love for Christ he cannot bear the thought of being without him and so he needs to know the way.

 

Jesus tells Thomas that he does know the way, he just has not yet recognized it as the way – those famous words, I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except by me. In other words:

 

Jesus is the way – He is the direction of life.

Jesus  is the truth – He is the content of life.

Jesus is the life – He is the application of life.

 

These words that Jesus was going away to prepare a place for them, was to give them strength to face the turmoil ahead – to face the imminent collapse of their entire world – they must trust in God and in Jesus and know that heaven is their destination.

 

As one song says Who could mind the journey when the road leads home.

 

2. The second assurance Jesus gives them is that they know the Father right now and the Father knows them. You and I are not unknown minions of a great king. The great King knows us by name. He knows us intimately. Jesus says if you had known me you would have known my Father also – henceforth you know Him and have seen Him. The word ‘know’ is used  roughly 141 times in this gospel (depending on which translation you use). The greek language has four different levels of knowing:

 

  1. to simply know a fact
  2. to understand the truth behind the fact
  3. to believe in a person
  4. to have a deeper relationship and a deeper communion with someone.

 

Jesus uses the fourth meaning here in the word know. The promise Jesus gives them here is that even though Jesus will leave them they will grow in the relationship with the Father.

 

When Philip asks Jesus Lord show us the Father Jesus’ response is Have I been with you so long and yet you do not know me Philip? Jesus phrases this question is such a way that Philip is required to answer yes…. Because it is so obvious. To be with Jesus is to be with the Father. We are not insignificant servants but loved children of the Father in heaven. We know him in and through Jesus Christ. We do not have a relationship with a second in  command – we have the Father on our side. He knows us – He knows everything about us and He still loves us and longs for us to know and trust Him fully.

 

And it is by knowing the Father in and through Christ that we shall do even greater works. What does he mean that we will do greater works? Well Jesus has mentioned this twice before in John.

 

John 1:50  Jesus tells Nathaneal that while he believed in Jesus because Jesus told him he had seen him under the fig tree “You will see greater things than these.”

 

John 5:20-21 – “The Father loves the son and shows him all that he himself is doing: and he will show him greater works than these so you will be astonished Indeed just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the son gives life to whomever he wishes.”

 

Greater works are conversions. What we will do is not greater in terms of quality – but quantity. From 12 disciples came billions of believers – that people will commit to, give their lives to and even die for Jesus Christ with far less physical evidence than the disciples experienced.

 

The assurance that Father God, the sovereign Lord of the Universe knows us and loves us should calm our troubled hearts.

 

3. The final assurance that Jesus gives is that we have prayer. Prayer is the untapped power for many Christians. Someone has written these words:

 

O What peace we often forfeit

O what needless pain we bear

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in Prayer

 

What is your prayer life like? Do you see prayer as a duty, a chore, a requirement, a necessity? Or do you see prayer as a privilege? Prayer is our life line to God. The biggest danger we have is that we tend to stop praying when a storm hits. We tend to stop praying and starting worrying and start having troubled hearts. The exact opposite needs to happen – the storm comes and we quit worrying and we quit having troubled hearts BECAUSE we know where our home is, we know the father and we know the privilege and power of prayer.

 

Notice – God will do everything we ask in Jesus name. Does this means what it says – God will answer all prayers that are in the name of Jesus? The answer is yes. Not that God will answer all our prayers as long as end with the magic formula “In the name of Jesus”. But God WILL answer every prayer that we pray which is in complete accordance and unity with the will of Jesus Christ and that glorifies and further the kingdom of heaven.

 

If we are in a storm and we ask God that his name would be glorified in this difficult time and that we would be his servants during the storm we face I can guarantee you that that prayer will be answered.

 

How would we categorize our prayers – would we be able to say that at the heart of our prayers is a desire to glorify Jesus’ name – to advance the kingdom of God in harmony with the will and wishes of our savior?

 

To know that God hears our prayers and will answer every prayer which is in his will should give us great assurance – it should mean our hearts should no longer be troubled because God will answer the prayers which are for our good and will not answer the prayers which will lead us into trouble.

 

So, Let  not your hearts be troubled any longer. How? By believing God and believing Jesus. By knowing that our home is heaven. That the Father knows us and we know the Father. And our prayers are heard in heaven.

 

4 Easter YEAR A

I have talked many times about Hebrews 11:1. It is one of key passages in Scripture. it says, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

In other words, Faith is the reality of things fully expected, the certainty of things not seen. Faith requires us to know and trust with absolute certainty that God’s love for us is unwavering and never ending, and that God’s purpose for us, regardless of what is happening to us, is ultimately to bring us to the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23.

But in order for our faith to be truly a Hebrews 11:1 faith, we need to be able to recognize the presence and voice of God.

This is really a vital thing for us as Christians. Because we if do not know or recognize the presence and voice of God we will find ourselves being led off the path God has for us and even walking into problems and disasters in our Christian walk.

There is a battle going on for you right now in the heavenly realms. When we give our lives to Jesus and trust in him our destiny is secured. But the battle continues because the enemy would love nothing more than to push us away from God’s promises and purposes for our life and even to make us miserable and ineffective for the kingdom of God. And if he can sow discord in the midst of the body of Christ while doing that then he is very happy.

In the words of our Gospel reading this morning there are thieves and robbers who seek to STEAL us. This is why it is so important for us to cultivate and grow in relationship with God so that we may be able to recognize and respond to God’s voice and presence.

Chapter 10 of John’s gospel begins the great teaching of Jesus on the good shepherd. But the context to this passage is in fact chp 9. In Chp 10v1, Jesus is still talking about what had happened to the blind man he had healed.

The blind man, if you remember, had been excommunicated – thrown out of fellowship in the synagogue because Jesus had healed Him. The pharisees were ANGRY at the healing because it caused people to begin asking the right questions about who Jesus might be – and the pharisees hatred of Jesus ironically blinded them to who Jesus was – and they were angry with the man because he had given the credit for his healing to Jesus and called him a great prophet.

The context of John 10:1 is found when the blind man had responded to Jesus voice. Jesus had put mud on his eyes and told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. And he did it. We tend not to think about the implication of the blind man obeying Jesus’ command to go and wash. It was not a simple task. The pool of Siloam was over 1000 yards away – that is half  a mile. He would have had to have found someone willing to take him, to guide him there. Despite the difficulty in going, he obeyed Jesus’ voice and was healed!

It is the blind man that is in Jesus’ mind as he starts to plant the imagery of a shepherd into the hearts of his listeners. You must remember that while chapters and verse are helpful for us in finding passages easily in our Bible’s, they were not in the original manuscripts. Chapters and verses are man made and are sometimes even arbitrarily put in. And this can cause a problem. In our mindset, we tend to subconsciously think that the end of a chapter finishes one thing and the beginning of a chapter starts a new thing. That is not necessarily true in the Bible!

Whenever an Israelite heard the word Shepherd he would think of a leader – spiritual or political.

A Shepherd had responsibilities towards the sheep – responsibilities to love, protect, guide and lead the sheep. Even being willing to give up his life for the sheep.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were known as the shepherds of Israel. The religious guides of the people. Their role was to nurture, love, protect and feed the flock. But what had they done to this blind man? Here was a man who has received an incredible miracle, an amazing blessing, a messianic healing, and yet these shepherds vilify, question and verbally abuse him and then tell him that he was no longer able to worship the Lord in fellowship with other Jews. What had this man done? Nothing.

The shepherds eject this sheep callously.

Their actions showed the type of shepherds they were. The had no love for this man. They had no desire to protect him, nurture him, guide him, feed him and bless him. Instead they had an agenda – and they attacked, abused and rejected any who did not tow their line and their agenda. They were bad shepherds – they were evil shepherds – they were false shepherds BECAUSE of their attitude to the sheep. And Jesus is telling the sheep that they should not listen to them because they are merely thieves and robbers.

Awful isn’t it. And yet this is so prevalent in the church today. That is Shepherds whose actions are not that of a good shepherd but instead they protect their own agenda, even at the cost of the people.

This is why Jesus starts to outline what a true shepherd of Israel looks like. He is making a direct contrast between the pharisees and himself.

The relationship between sheep and shepherd in first century Israel was quite remarkable. Sheep learnt to trust and recognize their shepherds.

A common occurrence for shepherds in Jesus day would be that as night fell, there might be two or three flocks in close proximity. Shepherds would come together and build a waist high pen – often against a rock or cliff face. Then they would put all three flocks into the pen for safety over night and one of the shepherds would lie at the entrance or opening to keep watch while the other shepherds slept nearby.

In the morning the shepherds would come and call their sheep and the sheep would come out and go to the shepherd. The sheep KNEW and recognized the voice of the shepherd and they would ONLY respond to that shepherd. In fact if another shepherd tried to call them they would run away. Which is why Jesus says that the only way for a false shepherd to take sheep would be to climb the wall and TAKE the sheep physically.

The blind man recognized the voice of the shepherd and he ran from the attempts of the false shepherds to make him follow them.

Another thing which was amazing about the shepherds and different from today is that Shepherds led the flock – the sheep followed behind the shepherd, unlike today where shepherds tend to drive the sheep.

To trust the shepherd is to follow him and to trust him where he will lead you. Sheep followed the shepherd BECAUSE they knew that the shepherds would protect, love and guide them, even if the path was hard and dangerous.

Sheep have to know who to follow. And that means knowing the voice of the true shepherd when he calls.

Do you know that God’s heart and purpose for you is to guide you, love you and tend for your needs, even when the path is hard and difficult. But for that to happen WE MUST  know his voice and then we must follow him. We MUST ignore the voices of the false shepherds who seek to steal us away from doing the things of God – from obeying the words of Christ. We don’t have time this morning to examine all the ways false shepherds can attempt to steal us away from the Lord, but the other readings this morning show us one particular way.

A false shepherd will always try and convince us to walk the easy path and to avoid difficulties or hardships. A false shepherd will tell us not to stand up for what is right when it will cost us something. A false shepherd will convince us that we should keep hold of our money rather than give it to the Lord to use as he pleases. A false shepherd will persuade us that it is not prudent to lay everything on the line for God, but that we should hold something back for ourselves just in case.

We see this clearly in Acts and 1 Peter. Let me re-read our Epistle reading this morning: For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it , you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Peter expects believers to do things which will get them into trouble or to lead to suffering. Why? Because to follow in Christ’s footsteps in this world, to do what he asks of us, will lead to suffering. Notice what he says for when you DO RIGHT and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval.

Just look at our Acts reading. How easy it would have been for Stephen to have simply apologize and walk away. We would have! Stephen had been defending the claims of Christ when his opponents had him arrested by falsely accusing him of speaking blasphemy against God. When asked to speak he spoke the truth – not angrily, not disrespectfully – but simply the truth and and the truth angered the Jews so much they stone him to death. Stephen laid everything on the line for Jesus. Would we? Stephen does not follow the false shepherd even when his life depended on it. Instead he followed the true Shepherd – because he knew the shepherds voice.

Finally Psalm 23 emphasizes this very clearly. He revives my soul and guides me along the right pathways for his names sake, THOUGH I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil. To be guided by the true shepherd means at times we go through the valley – but we do so with no fear. Stephen saw the shepherd as he was about to die and he followed his into eternity.

We MUST be a people, a church, a community who not only know the voice of the true Shepherd but follow it even when it pushes us outside our comfort zone; even when we are asked to put all our resources into God’s hands; even when God asks us to risk everything for his purposes. Anything less is to listen to the false shepherd and so be stolen away from the purposes of God for us.

 

3 Easter Sermon YEAR A

Last week we saw how God intervened into Thomas’ life in order to deal with a dangerous dose of cynicism which was threatening Thomas’ faith.

 

This morning we encounter two other followers of Jesus who also are dejected about the events of Good Friday and have also doubted the resurrection. Maybe they have left Jerusalem and were now traveling these seven miles to Emmaus because they had given up.

 

While we know one of the names of one of the disciples, Cleopas, we also know that they seem to have been fairly close to the 12. The passage this morning suggests that they were in the upper room when Mary Magdalene came with the news that Jesus’ body was not at the tomb. Listen to what they say: Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning  and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.

 

There is, I think, great symbolism in the fact they are walking away from Jerusalem. They had not waited to found out what was going on. They almost certainly did not believe the women’s report. It’s interesting that Luke alone records the disciples initial reaction to Mary’s announcement that the body was missing – Luke 24:11 says but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

 

The basic problem with these two disciples was the same as Thomas – they had heard about empty tomb but because they had not seen Him nor had they heard from any ‘credible’ witness that Jesus was alive, they gave up and left. Notice their dashed hope – But we were hoping that it was He that was going to redeem Israel. The implication is that the Cross had destroyed their hope that Jesus could redeem Israel.

 

What is wonderful about this story is that it is in their hopelessness that Jesus draws along side them. We have no idea what happened to them afterwards – but these two struggling disciples are visited physically by the Lord Jesus on the day of his resurrection in order to help and encourage them. Jesus knew they needed help and so he went to them!

 

Jesus ALWAYS draws along side us when we are struggling. ALWAYS! We may not recognize him or feel him  or hear him at first but Jesus will always come alongside us.

 

And Jesus will always allows us to speak. I love the way Jesus suddenly appears and starts to walk alongside them and then asks – “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?”  Of course Jesus knew exactly what they were talking about but he allows these disciples to vent if you like. The two disciples are astonished at the question – we are given a sense of the enormity of what happened in Jerusalem during that passover – how can you not know!i Is their response. Of course they were talking to the one who knew everything!

 

But Jesus lets them explain it from their perspective.

 

Jesus’ tenderness and love allows us the space and the privilege to speak out – but then Jesus will always correct us, in order that we may see the situation from the right perspective, just as he does with these two disciples – O foolish ones! He says. Or, perhaps better, How dull you are. One translation has How unwise and slow you are.

 

What is he rebuking these two disciples for?

 

He is rebuking the assumption that just because they have not seen or heard evidence of the resurrection, that it had not happened!

 

It is something we as Christians often struggle with. We are told we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places, that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing; that the Lord is with us; that he will protect us and guide us, that we should live life without fear and yet we don’t always experience these truths.

 

And this is the point that I want us to consider this morning – The basis of whether these disciples believed in the resurrection should not be based on physical evidence but on what the scriptures teach!

 

This is a very important spiritual principles for us as followers of Jesus. The basis of belief in a  promise of God can never be on what we see and experience but on the what the Bible tells us.

 

The absolute truth of Jesus’ words that he will NEVER leave us NOR forsake us, that he has blessed us and will protect us cannot be based on what we are experiencing right now, but on the fact the promise is in the scriptures and that the scriptures are true.

 

Hence Jesus shows these two disciples the truth of the resurrection NOT by showing them himself but by explaining how it was revealed from the Old Testament. Everything about Jesus and the resurrection can be found in Moses and the Old Testament.

 

Jesus probably began at Genesis 3:15 – the first promise of a redeemer; maybe he explained the significance of the passover in Exodus and how the tabernacle and all its ceremonies in Leviticus all pointed to Jesus, as did the Day of Atonement and the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, and the prophetic psalms of 22 & 69.

 

Jesus shows these disciples that their unbelief was not just in the reports they heard, but  also in the scriptures they read since they were children. If they had understood the scriptures they would have believed Jesus had been raised from the dead.

 

As Jesus taught them the meaning of the scriptures, their hearts burned within them. This is exactly what should happen when we encounter Christ – our hearts should come alive and burn in us.

 

But notice when they DID recognize him. When he broke the bread! Now, Jesus was not presiding over a passover meal here – this was not a ‘communion’ meal. He was simply sitting down to eat with them and doing what all Jews did – blessing the bread as they broke it. BUT, in light of what has just taken place in Jeruslaem and the fact Luke makes it very clear that their eyes are opened to Jesus’ identity at THIS point, I think we are meant to see a link to the Lord’s Supper.

 

At the clergy retreat this past week, at the final Eucharist, Archbishop Bob Duncan gave a meditation on the Eucharist which was extremely powerful. And some of what about about to share with you comes from a small part of that meditation.

 

We have seen so far this morning that our life and our hope in God cannot be based necessarily on what we are EXPERIENCING but on what the SCRIPTURES teach. We cannot say for example “I do not believe God speaks in visions today” just because we have never experienced a vision. Our acceptance of it should be based on what scripture teaches.

 

Often our struggles and doubts in life and even about our faith lead us to ‘walk away from Jerusalem’, that is, take us on a path AWAY from where God would have us be. And during these times it is hard to hear from God or to know his will for us.

 

Yet what we have seen this morning is that God meets these disciples on the road and speaks with them and then reveals himself to them.

 

And I want to suggest to you today that in those times when we are struggling – when the reality of our life situation is not matched by the promise in Scripture – when chaos seems to be overwhelming us, the way we turn it around and walk back towards Jerusalem, is to come to the Lord’s table in Communion.

 

Because it is at the breaking of the bread – at the Communion table – that Jesus has promised to be with us and indeed is REALLY present. Anglican theology believes in the REAL presence of Christ at Communion – not just in the bread and the wine but in the fact that Christ himself is here with us!! And it is here that he speaks with us. Of course God speaks to us at other times through the Bible and his Spirit – but when we come each week to be with one another as the body of Christ. We gather, as the old prayer book,reminds us,  to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary both for the body and the soul. Do you see that – TO ASK, for those things necessary for the BODY and the SOUL.

 

The Lord is powerfully present when we come to worship and to take communion – and so we must be EXPECTANT that God will speak to us – expectant that God will minister to us – expectant that he will change our focus from what we are experiencing to what the scriptures have promised. We must come to communion in an expectation that God will speak to us – speak to us and reveal himself to us in the breaking of the bread. And even if we hear or feel NOTHING this morning – we must leave this place knowing the promise of scripture that God has meet with us.

 

Just like these two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we will encounter discouragement. But also, just like these disciples, the Lord has promised to walk alongside us and to encourage us with his word and to meet with us when we need Him so that we may return to the path he has for us.

 

The thing is we must be expectant that he will speak to us.

 

As we prepare ourselves to come before the Lord at Communion just hear some of the promises in our reading from Isaiah this morning:

 

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine

 

When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

 

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

 

Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you

 

Fear not, for I am with you.

 

May Congregational Letter

When we became a believer – when we trusted in Christ, we became part of the body of Christ. We joined the church of God, regardless of whether we belong to a specific congregation or not.

When we enter into the body of Christ as a believer we enter into a destiny that God has for us.

I would suggest that we have multiple destinies and while they are connected, each one helps us with the other. The three destinies we have are:

  1. Our general destiny in the body of Christ
  2. Our specific destiny as a believer in the body of Christ
  3. Our specific destiny in our personal context as members of the body of Christ

Let me explain.

OUR GENERAL DESTINY IN THE BODY OF CHRIST

In Christ, our first destiny is secured and finished with. As a believer I am part of the body of Christ which means that should I die today I will go to heaven. This destiny is assured and secured.

This where we should begin because it gives us confidence and security. Regardless of what happens here on earth my future is assured.

OUR SPECIFIC DESTINY AS A BELIEVER IN THE BODY OF CHRIST

While our future is secured, our role here on earth as believers is to point to and declare the greatness of God. We have a role in the church. We have a destiny in serving the body on earth.

Once we understand these too destinies, only then can we begin to look at our third destiny…

OUR SPECIFIC DESTINY IN OUR PERSONAL CONTEXT AS MEMBERS OF THE BODY OF CHRIST

Romans 12:5 says We are all part of his one body and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other and each of us needs all the others.

Each of us, as a member of the body of Christ, assured of heaven, and as believer’s whose role it is to declare the greatness of God and point people to Christ, need to work out our role how we serve God in a specific church.

It’s not that the church needs your gifts – it’s that the church cannot be the church without your gifts.

Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 12:27 that you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Hudson Taylor, the great 19th century missionary to China, speaking about the time after his conversion, says:

For what service I was accepted I knew not: but a deep consciousness that I was no longer my own took possession of me….I was not my own to give myself away; for I know not when or how He whose alone I was, and for whose disposal I felt I must ever keep myself free, might call for service.

The question we should ask is not if I am called to serve – but to WHAT is God calling to me to serve in the body of Christ.

The apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Service is not something which should be forced – but it is part of the transformative nature of being a believer, and so it should be a part of our process, being in fellowship with each other, to help another discover the area, the destiny of service that God has prepared for us.

Matthew 25 has the parable of the talents.

The master gives 5 bags of talents / gold to one servant, 2 to another and 1 to the third – he then goes on a long journey.

The master gave according to the servants ability – the master knew what each servant was capable of and he gave according to their abilities – but he gave responsibility to EACH of them.

God knows our abilities – he knows our gifts – he knows that we may hate speaking in public, but he given each of us some responsibility – he has entrusted to us something for us to do for him.

2 Easter Sermon

The Apostle Thomas was a cynical person. If there was one person you wanted to be present when Jesus revealed himself after the resurrection to the disciples it would be Thomas. Where was he? Maybe he was disillusioned by the events of the past few days and had gone away to think it through. We are not told where Thomas was, but my guess is that he should have been with the disciples. They were probably wondering where he was.

By not being with the disciples, Thomas misses an incredible blessing. It’s a principle – when we are disconnected from the body of Christ we miss blessings.

Of course Jesus was not surprised that Thomas was absent when he revealed himself to the disciples. I would even suggest to you that Jesus appeared to the disciples DELIBERATELY without Thomas present. I think Jesus wanted to teach Thomas something. I think he wanted to show Thomas how dangerous his cynicism had become.

The dangerous side of Thomas’ cynicism is shown when he does reconnect with the other disciples. He hears the story of Jesus’ appearance, not by one, two, five but 10 of his closest and most trusted friends. And even from these close friends Thomas is not impressed by their account of Jesus’ appearance. The words on the page probably do not convey the excitement with which Thomas was probably bombarded with when he arrived back with the Disciples. Jesus does not reappear for 8 days and it is not a stretch to think that for 8 days Thomas is subjected to the story of Jesus’ appearance again and again. Effectively he calls his closest friends liars – or men who are delusional.

Thomas then sets his own criteria for what it would take for him to believe. It is always dangerous to say to God “This is my criteria before I will believe in you.” Notice what Thomas says – he is not satisfied just to SEE the print of the nails; in other words what was good enough for his friends would not be acceptable proof for him – no, for Thomas to believe, he would have to put – the greek is more aggressive – thrust; unless he thrusts his finger in the mark of the nails, unless he does THAT, he is emphatic – “I WILL NOT BELIEVE.”

This from a trusted disciple of Jesus! Thomas had seen Jesus’ miracles. He had watched the blind see, the crippled walk, the ill healed. He had been there when Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. He was sent out by Jesus, two by two, and performed great healings and miracles. He had seen with his own eyes the power of the Holy Spirit. He had spent three years with Jesus, learning and being taught. He had been there when Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ.

But now Thomas was struggling to believe, EVEN in the face his closest friends testimonies.

The disillusionment of the cross, the shattering of the dreams, hope and expectation of the future with the Messiah was all but gone and it was leading Thomas towards cynicism and a loss of faith. We know his faith was at risk by Jesus’ own words when he confronts Thomas – he literally says Stop BECOMING faithless but become a believer. Notice that – Thomas was becoming faithless.

Have you ever experienced disillusionment with the Church? Have you experienced disillusionment with your faith? Have you ever struggled to believe? Are there aspects of the Christian faith that you do not really accept or believe to be true? Maybe you have never expressed your doubts to anyone else. Do your doubts and disillusionments threaten to overwhelm you?

Cynicism is a problem in the body of Christ.

One theologian has said that a Christian Cynic is one who criticizes everything while maintaining a degree of allegiance to Jesus but whose favorite verses are those where Jesus attacks and denounces the Pharisees and religious leaders for their failings.

The reason why cynicism is so problematic in the church is that christian cynics have allowed their disillusionment, whether with the world, the church, the church leadership, to take hold of them and it has become the driving force of their natures. Nothing is ever good enough. Everything is always a failure. The leadership can never get it right. The Church does not do enough, etc, etc.

Cynicism almost always begins with disillusionment.

Now disillusionment is not always a bad thing. Disillusionment can bring us to the place of reality – seeing the situation as it really is; that things are not going well; that we are struggling; that the future is uncertain. Disillusionment can be the wake up call. In fact the aim of evangelism is to lead someone who does not believe in God to a point of disillusionment with a world that has no hope of God. The Apostle Paul, during the three days he was blind in the house on Straight Street was probably disillusioned; disillusioned that all that he thought he was doing was in fact wrong.

The danger comes when disillusionment is left unchecked, because unchecked it will develop into cynicism. Ideally, disillusionment should lead us to take stock, re-evaluate and make new decisions. That is why with the atheist we do not stop having lead him to his disillusionment of the world, but we show him the hope – the reality of what God has done.

So what is it that stops disillusionment from becoming cynicism for a Christian? Why does Paul does not end up a cynic? What should we turn to when we are feeling disillusioned with our faith?

The Resurrection!

Someone has written that we need to foster and teach a Biblical spirituality that embraces the grim reality of our ex-eden life along with the joyful reality that God is making all things new.

In other words, we do not avoid cynicism by ignoring reality, or ignoring that life can be tough, that we fail, that we can have difficult, sad and even tragic times, that things go wrong.

We need to accept reality. We are not to ignore our sin, but we are to be honest and confess our sins. But we do so in the reality and light of the truth of the resurrection. The darkness and pain of this world and of our sins can only be dealt with if Christ rose from the dead!

Remove the resurrection of Christ from the Christian faith and ALL that is left for a Christian is deep and hopeless cynicism.

Paul himself tells us in 1 Corinthians 15; if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

If we are struggling with disillusionment and cynicism as believers then we have lost sight of the truth of the resurrection and what it accomplished for us and the world. We need to get the truth of the resurrection back into the center of our hearts and our lives and our faith. If we do not have the real joy of the resurrection then we will not have peace or joy in our lives.

This is why we must believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the bodily resurrection of Christ we have disillusionment without hope and therefore we will become cynical and eventually lose our faith.

The resurrection is more than just ‘Jesus rose from the dead’. It is the undeniable FACT that Jesus’ defeat of death means we have begun, right now, to live in the sure hope of eternal life – that this world will be renewed – wars will end, famine will end, disease will be conquered – that disillusionment will be wiped away for ever when Christ returns. It allows us to live today in the reality of this world knowing the joy of the world to come.

It is the Resurrection that allows us to experience the peace Jesus gives his disciples and enables us to fulfill the calling he has given us – Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me even so I send you. And remember what Peace – Shalom means – destroying the authority that causes chaos! Satan, the prince of chaos, has been defeated. Therefore we go into the world in peace.

When Jesus comes to the one disillusioned in mercy that is when everything changes.

That is exactly what happened to Thomas – Jesus appears to the one disillusioned and everything changes. Jesus invites Thomas to put his hands in the nail marks. He challenges Thomas to fulfill his declaration that ONLY by doing THAT he would believe. But Thomas doesn’t. His emphatic, self declared criteria of what it would take for him to believe disappears. And, I would hasten to suggest, at this moment, Thomas was no longer a cynic.

His immediate response is amazing – he exclaims the truth “My Lord and God.” Why such a response? The scriptures, and the languages that God chose that the scriptures should be written in are so amazing. I would like to suggest a reason why Thomas falls to his knees and declares Jesus to be his Lord and God. In Hebrew, God’s name was Yahweh. Those of you who have done the Jewish roots class with me know that Yahweh in Hebrew is spelt – yod, hey, vav, hey. In the hebrew every letter means something and in Hebrew picture language Yod means hand, hey means window, vav means nail and hey means window. So literally Yahweh means the hand revealed, the nail revealed. And I think Thomas got that when Jesus offered his hand where the nails had been – hence his response! Amazing!

The resurrection changes everything for those who follow Jesus. Despite what we see or what we experience, despite the sadness, the cruelty and the violence of the world, the resurrection gives us hope.

We must not allow our disillusionments and hurts with the world and the church to turn into cynicism. That is what the enemy would love to happen. The world and the church will hurt us – it will cause us to be disillusioned at times – of course it will. Sinful human beings hurt each other in words and actions. But let us ALWAYS remember the truth and the reality of resurrection because when we do cynicism will never have a hold on us because we will be a people of Hope – of true, eternal and sure hope.

Our disillusionments and hurts, do not compare to the fact that Jesus died and rose again for our sins so that we might have eternal life and that he will return to make all things right and new.

Christ has risen – And for all who trust in him, everything will be OK.

Easter Day Sermon

Alleluia Christ is risen…. he is risen indeed alleluia!

Praise God! While every Sunday in the Christian year is a celebration and remembrance of the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ today is a special remembrance.

Those of you have been in the church for years know how Christians can poke a little fun at those who we affectionally call C Of E’s or C & E’s – those who only ever go to Church at Christmas and Easter but this morning I want us to think about us who have gone to church for years and ask whether we are actually living and moving in the power of the resurrection?

Even sadder than those who come to church only at Christmas and Easter are Christians who attend every week but never live out or live in the power of the resurrected Christ and live their faith as resurrected Christians. You can be alive and still in the grave and for many Christians that is the case.

In the pagan world of the 1st Century personal morality in connection with your religion was virtually  non existent. As long as a pagan gave his offering to his god he could return to his life unchanged and without any guilt.

What a person believed and how he behaved was unconnected.

It is very different for us as Christians. What we believe MUST have a definite connection to how we behave, not because our philosophy is stronger but because of the real power which came with the resurrection.

We saw on Good friday that the greatest cosmic battle which took place on the cross saw Jesus break to cycle of sin and death which had held humanity in bondage. Jesus set us free by dying on the cross, and his resurrection means we have power to live in that freedom.

You know, what shocked Peter and John was not that Jesus was resurrected – but WHEN he had resurrected! We saw a few weeks back in the readings about Lazarus that Martha believed in the physical resurrection of her brother. The issue is when would that happen. Jewish understanding was that the resurrection would happen at the end of time because at the resurrection all who believe would be empowered to live in the resurrected life.

The fact Jesus is resurrected in the middle of history is what shocks Peter and John as they stare into the tomb – because it began to dawn on them the consequence of what had happened – the resurrected life had begun. We as Christ followers live everyday in the light and power of the resurrection and in the resurrected Christ. For you and I the resurrected life is not something we WILL experience. It is something we ARE experiencing. At least, we SHOULD be experiencing it now.

Pentecostals use a phrase which many cringe at but I like it – they would ask you, are you living the victorious christian life?

Another way of saying this is Are you this morning living in the light and power of the resurrection. Are you experiencing NOW the resurrected life? Do you know what that means?

Paul knew exactly what it was to live in the power of the resurrection and in our epistle reading this morning he gives four effects of the resurrection on us:

  1. We are alive in Christ. In other words, Christ is our life. You know the Bible tells us that eternal life is not something we have or a concept – it is Jesus Himself. If someone says to you What is eternal life the right answer is Jesus Christ. 1 John 5:12 says And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. And 1 John 5:20 says We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Do you live every day knowing you are alive in Christ? What drives you each day? Is it Christ? Christ was Paul’s life and he was alive to anything that related to Christ.  Can we say that of ourselves this resurrected morning? You know something, our happiness has to be rooted in our life in Christ. If you rely on anything else to make you happy, you are relying on the wrong thing. For example, for those married here today, if your happiness is found in your spouse, or in what your spouse does or provides you are going to have problems. A married persons happiness must never be found in their spouse – my being happy should happy should have nothing to do with Kitty – it must be found and rooted in God. Because when your spouse hurts you, or lets you down, or makes a mistake, if your happiness is rooted in them you will lose your happiness. As Christians we cannot place our happiness in external things like our jobs, our income, or level of living, or even in church, or other people, because these things will fail and therefore so will your happiness. This is why Paul can remain joyful despite experiencing the hardships he experienced and say they are nothing compared to what he will receive when he goes to be with Jesus. His happiness was never based on the things of this world or in other people – it was rooted in Jesus. Are we alive in Christ this morning?
  1. We are raised with Christ. Do you know you have been resurrected and risen with Christ. Paul says in Ephesians that God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. Do you feel raised this morning? It is tragic and sad when Christians live as though they are still in the grave. Yet our destiny has begun already. We are no longer destined to remain in the grave – death has no hold on us. And yet the church can be so lacking in joy. Are truly laughing, joyful, happy people because we know the reality of what happened today?  Non-Christians tend not to see the church as a place of vibrant, joyful, happy people but where boring, and out of touch people who seem to be angry with the world meet. That is terrible in light of the resurrection. We are able to live life without fear. We serve a God who can do accomplish everything he purposes to do – a God who broke the seemingly impossible cycle of sin and death which the devil trapped humanity in.  And yet the Church, and Christians walk in fear and concern about the things of this world.
  1. We are Hidden in Christ. We no longer belong to this world but to Christ. This should give us an incredible peace and sense of security. One theologians has written So here we are in Christ, who is in God and no burglar, not even Satan himself can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Our sphere of life is not this earth but heaven and the things that should attract us and excite us should belong to heaven. Paul says elsewhere that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
  1. We are Glorified In Christ. The resurrection shows us that our destiny is to be with Christ. While here now we have the down payment of the Holy Spirit within us, we are to look with eager expectation to the fullness of that promise. Either when Christ comes again or when we die, we shall be united with him in his glory which he willing shares with his people. And to share in God’s glory is to attain to his likeness – and that means full sanctification, that is, we will be free of our sinful natures, of the things we have struggled with – we will become fully sanctified and become what God intended we should  be. 1 John 3 promises that we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And although we are waiting for this day the resurrection tells us that its arrival is as sure as if it was already here!

The fact that today, as followers of Christ we are alive in Christ, raised with Christ, hidden with Christ and glorified in Christ means we should be transformed and changed in how we live our lives? If we are not changing and being transformed – if we are not discerning spiritual growth amongst us we are not living in the light of the resurrection.

It should mean that the practical, everyday affairs of our life get their direction from Christ. It means that everything we do or experience or encounter must be looked at from the heavenly point of view and not an earthy point of view. Paul tells us to habitually set your mind – your attention – on things above not on things on the earth. Are we fixated on the things of the earth rather than heaven? Do we need to reset how we think this morning?

This is so important for us who live in the light of the resurrection and it is so important for this church. There is a spiritual principle here: What we set our minds on determines our seeking and thus the direction of our Christian lives. Unless we set our minds on the resurrection and what is means for us, we will not seek or walk in the light of the resurrection. And this is why even Christians who have come to church all year are not walking or living in the power of the resurrection each day. They have not set their minds on it, but on other things.

The resurrection means we should be transformed, living out our new life – each day, each week, each year. If we are not being transformed, if we are not slowly becoming more christ like each day, each week, each year, we are not living in the power of the resurrection, we are Christians who are still in the grave and that is tragic – it is a waste of the gift of life which God has bestowed on us and we are in no better state than those who come to church at just Christmas and Easter.

So, let us this morning say with Paul I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection.

 

Good Friday Sermon

Today we meditate on one of the most incredible cosmic battles that has ever taken place.

From the moment that the devil managed to get Adam and Eve to disobey God he believed he had an airtight victory over humanity.

The devil is cunning. He understood exactly what he was doing in the temptation. This was not just a “I am going to ruin everything” moment but a “I know that what I am planning will doom the human race, this creature created in God’s image, for all eternity to sin and death.”

The result of the disobedience of Adam and Eve was that every single offspring throughout all of history had the inherited DNA, the inherited nature of sin. The devil had locked humanity into a cycle which could not be broken. Yes, people could believe in God and go to heaven – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Israelites, Rahab etc. But ultimately, the end result would be that God’s creation and the creatures he created in his image would be trapped in this cycle of sin and death and many, many, many would die and belong to the devil.

Satan believed he had irreversibly ruined God’s creation.

The only way out of this cycle would be for a human being to live perfectly. But that could never happen because every human being was the product of man and woman, descendant of Adam and Eve and so at the very moment of conception the sin nature was passed onto the baby and therefore right from the get go, imperfect.

This is why God is so amazing. He formulated the plan that broke the cycle.

Jesus was Born of a virgin and so while fully human, He was not contaminated with the sin nature which Adam passed down through the ages. God himself became a human being and lived on the earth for some 30 plus years perfectly.

No wonder the satanic forces rose up so powerfully during Jesus’ life time and did everything they could to destroy Jesus and his ministry on earth.

And it all culminates in what happened on Good Friday

The final attempt at his destruction was the cross. If the devil knew what the cross would actually achieve he would have tried to have prevent Christ going there. But he didn’t understand. 1 Peter 1 has a remarkable passage which says this Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things angels long to catch a glimpse of.

Notice that – the things revealed to the prophets about salvation were things the angels long to catch a glimpse of. The angels in heaven are learning as things unfold on earth. How amazing!

There is a remarkable tension in the events of the cross. From the human point of view it was the greatest crime and tragedy in history. From the divine point of view it was the fulfillment of prophecy and the accomplishment of God’s will.

Both are true.

Pilate and Caiaphas are responsible for their actions and will be judged for the decisions they made but in God’s sovereignty what they planned for evil only ended up fulfilling the purposes of God.

God was right in the midst of the brutality, blood and pain of the cross. He did not avoid it nor did  he insulate himself from it – he went through it.

The cross shows us that we must never, as Christians, believe that evil has the power to win. Pilate believed he was in charge – he tells Jesus I have the authority to release you or crucify you” . Having stayed silent to Pilates questions, at this point Jesus corrects him – “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above”. The delusion of Pilate and Caiaphas and all people who do evil and oppose God or who abuse authority and power is that they think they have authority. They don’t. It’s a lie. God is the one with true authority.

That is why we are commanded to be unafraid of the world and all it can throw at us. Jesus stood calmly in the midst of his trial and in the face of Pilate BECAUSE he knew God’s authority is what really matters and that God alone is able to deliver his servants even from death.

Remember what Jesus taught in Matthew 10:28 do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

All a government, a despot, a dictator, an evil person can do is take our life. Jesus says we must not fear anyone who can kill us, because that is all they are able to do to us.

Notice that Jesus’ calmness makes Pilate afraid. He had never seen such a prisoner before – facing crucifixion Jesus is not begging for mercy and arguing his innocence. He remains silent. He remains calm.

What Jesus showed us on Good Friday is that we can face the most darkest of times in the faith, trust and truth of the victory that God has won. In a few hours, from all who looked on, Jesus’ ministry was about to die and fail. He would be killed a criminal. His promises and his words would come to nothing.

Yet Jesus knew that God would fulfill his promises. That God would do what he said he would do.

We can face the darkest of times in our lives BECAUSE Jesus faced the cross. Death was about to claim something which did not belong to it. Because Jesus was born without sin and lived without sin he did not deserve death. But he entered death in order to shatter it for us. Sin and Death no longer has a hold on us because a perfect human being lived and died.

And because Jesus broke the cycle of sin and death there is no situation – no brutality – no tragedy in which God is not right there with us. On the Cross Jesus defeated Satan’s supposedly airtight trap for humanity.

Finally, I believe that God gave all who looked at the cross a final sign of exactly what was happening. You know that the Pharisees got so angry with the sign over Jesus’ head. John tells us that the sign read “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” John’s account is probably the full wording of the sign. The reason why the Pharisees were incensed at the sign was not what it claimed – they were OK for Jesus to claim he was king of the Jews, they even suggest to Pilate he change the sign to say he claimed to be the King of the Jews – they were angry for another reason.

The sign in hebrew would have been in four Hebrew words – Yeshua / Narazath of / King the and / Jews the of. The first letters of each word are: yod hey vav hey – which spells Yahweh, the Jewish name for God which they believed was so holy it could not be pronounced – but right above Jesus as he dies was the letters of yahweh. That is why the Pharisees were so angry.

The proclamation to the world of who Jesus was and what he was doing was right there above Jesus’ head as he died.

You know, today reminds us that the cross means that you are I are no longer held by the chains of the world’s darkness and pain nor of the cycle of sin and death.God asks us to walk with him even through the pain and the darkness of the situation we face. We are able to because Jesus pronounced just before he died that it was finished. It has been accomplished. The debt has been paid in full.

People can attack us – they can seek to do us harm – they may even appear to be winning or even to have won but God’s promises will prevail and he will protect and uphold each of his children. But we must be like Jesus is the face of the storm – calm and trusting in the Father’s purposes.