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Straining on tiptoe Romans 8:14-28

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

The last couple of months have been among the toughest I can remember in the life of any church. Folk seriously ill and in great pain, waiting for tests and for operations. Folk facing all kinds of challenges in their own lives or in the lives of family members. Sudden bereavements, mourning and grieving. Many worn out and desperately needing a holiday. For a church of our size to have so many people suffering so much all at the same time is very unusual. It’s stretching our reserves and our faith almost to breaking point. This morning we all need refreshment and encouragement and we turn to one of the most inspiring verses in Scripture.
Romans 8:19 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
J.B.Phillips lovely translation puts it this way. “The whole of creation is straining on tiptoe just to see the wonderful sight of the children of God coming into their own.”
What is it that keeps Christians going when the battle against sin and the world and the flesh and the devil seems too hard? When this life seems so full of pain and suffering and discouragement. When it seems as if everybody is against us in the world around and sometimes even in church – and it seems as though nobody is on our side? What keeps us going? It is the hope of heaven. The trustworthy promise of God that however grim this world may get, the next world will be literally “out of this world!”
THE SPIRIT WHO MAKES US GOD’S CHILDREN
God has put His Holy Spirit inside us to make us His children. The Spirit who makes God’s love real to us and assures us that we are Sons and Daughters of the Living God.
Romans 8 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’
The Holy Spirit inside us helps us to pray, Abba, Father. The Spirit brings us peace with God, and the Spirit also brings us “the peace of God” which passes all understanding. The Spirit brings us inexpressible joy in the midst of our sufferings. But these blessings are only the start of the wonderful things God is going to do for us.
We are also HEIRS OF GOD
16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ. Inheritance usually works when some good things come to us when somebody else dies. Only the Christian inherits when we ourselves die! But there are so many blessings waiting for us to inherit beyond the grave. This is how much God loves us!
1 John 3: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
So much is waiting for us in heaven, hidden with Christ in God! Of course the blessings of being identified with Christ in heaven are only for those who have been united with Christ on earth. “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” If you do not bear the cross you cannot wear a crown. But for those who have followed Christ in this life, listen to the glorious promises.
THE GLORY TO BE REVEALED
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
There is a foretaste of this promise back in Romans 5.
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
We have this marvellous hope of sharing in God’s glory. The glory which is yet to be revealed. In the light of that amazing hope, our present sufferings are just not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. “Not worth comparing.”
The founder of the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther wrote this. “If we consider the greatness and the glory of the life we shall have when we have risen from the dead, it would not be difficult at all for us to bear the concerns of this world. If I believe the Word, I shall on the Last Day, after the sentence has been pronounced, not only gladly have suffered ordinary temptations, insults, and imprisonment, but I shall also say: “O, that I did not throw myself under the feet of all the godless for the sake of the great glory which I now see revealed and which has come to me through the merit of Christ!”
The sufferings of this life are not worth comparing with the glory which is to be revealed in us! The best is yet to come! As Thomas Moore said, “Earth has no sorrow which heaven cannot heal.” In 1 Corinthians 2:9 Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”
The apostle John was granted a marvelous vision of what heaven will be like.
Revelation 22: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

And the Bible tells us that the marvellous salvation which God has prepared for his children even has cosmic dimensions! The glorious freedom of the children of God!
Romans 8 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
The Bible tells us that when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, the whole of creation shared in the curse.
Genesis 3 17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.

God’s curse on creation was part of his plan of salvation.
Romans 822 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

We find this longing that creation be restored again even in the Old Testament.
Jeremiah 12 4How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. Moreover, the people are saying, “He will not see what happens to us.”
The whole of Creation is longing to be set free and to share in
THE FREEDOM AND THE GLORY OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD
Romans 8:21 the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
At last in Heaven, all created things will be free. Free from sin, free from death, free from decay, free from suffering, free from pain.
Revelation 21:3 And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men: and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people: and God himself with them shall be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more. Nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. 5 And he that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new.
The glorious liberty of the children of God. Freed from distractions and trivia and temptations. Freed from our own failings and weaknesses. Free to serve God and worship God and love God. Free from the bondage to decay and and the inevitability of death. Since this is what God has prepared in store for us,
WE WAIT EAGERLY
23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
We are already God’s children, God’s beloved sons and daughters. But we won’t really know what we are until our bodies are redeemed and transformed to be like Christ’s glorious body. There is that marvelous passage we often read at a funeral from 1 Corinthians 15.
49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.
50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
So, says Paul, we wait eagerly for that transformation! And we wait patiently.
24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
This is our Christian hope. Not some vague optimism but a happy certainty. Hope is a combination of expectation and desire. I would love one day to walk on the moon. But since I have no expectation of that ever happening I can’t say “I hope to walk on the moon.” On the other hand one day I am sure I will have to visit the dentist. But since I have no desire ever to visit the dentist again it would be wrong to say, “I hope to visit the dentist.”
But my greatest desire is to spend eternity with Christ. And the promises of God make it absolutely certain that I will spend eternity with Christ. So it is correct to say, I hope to spend eternity with Christ. I hope to share in His glory. This is not wishful thinking. This is the happy certainty of our Christian hope.
And as a first instalment of all the good things God has prepared for those who love Jesus, we have
THE FIRSTFRUITS OF THE SPIRIT
23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
The Holy Spirit inside us gives us a foretaste of heaven, a first instalment if you like.
2 Corinthians 5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
All the activity of God the Holy Spirit in our lives is a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance. So indeed throughout this life we are groaning with anticipation, longing to be with Jesus! And the Spirit not only maintains our Christian hope within us, but also helps us in our limitations, giving us a foretaste of what it is like to meet with God face to face by helping us in our prayers.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
The Spirit gives us a foretaste of heaven, not least in helping us when we pray. So when this life seems too hard to bear, we should lift our eyes and look to the future. Look beyond death and the grave. Look at what God is doing preparing us to share in his glory forever.
With all these wonderful promises in mind, we can put our trust God whatever this life may throw at us.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Whatever we or those we care about may be suffering in this life, we trust that God is at work behind the scenes to fulfil his promises! Those are waiting for us in His eternal presence in glory.
The story is told of an elderly couple who returned home from a lifetime of service on the mission field. Their ship was welcomed into port by bands and speeches but all that was for the President who was aboard – not for them. Nobody came to welcome them ashore. As they settled into their retirement flat nobody came to visit. The husband became resentful. In his prayers he poured out his heart to God. “I thought at least one person would come to welcome us home.” But God quietly spoke to him. “You aren’t home yet!”
Whatever hard times we are going through at the moment, whatever we may be suffering, we can find hope and strength and encouragement and comfort and peace in God’s promises. This is what we need to hear. The whole of creation is straining on tiptoe just to see the children of God come into their own. Every one of us can look forward to that day!

How can we believe in God in a world so full of suffering?

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Where was God in Paris on Friday evening? On Friday evening the 13th November 2015 teams of Islamic State terrorists launched three separate attacks in Paris with machine guns and bombs. 129 people were murdered and more than 350 others were injured. This week people will be asking important questions. “Why doesn’t God do something to stop terrorists BEFORE they kill innocent people?” “Doesn’t the presence of so much evil in the world prove that God doesn’t exist at all?” “How can we believe in God in a world so full of suffering?” Where was God in Paris on Friday evening?
When we think about human suffering, all kinds of examples come to mind. The plight of refugees fleeing the evils of Islamic State. Famines and floods. The millions without food and billions without safe drinking water or the basics of medical care. And the individuals killed or maimed in car crashes and house fires. Sometimes people we know who are in agony from terrible diseases. And we may be experiencing suffering and grief in different situations ourselves. How can we believe in God in a world so full of suffering? This is one of the six big questions which people who are not Christians want an answer to – and as Christians we need to be prepared to give an answer which is true and satisfying. It first began to be asked after Auschwitz and Belsen, and came to a focus in Britain after Locherbie and Dunblane. Where was God in those places when so many innocent people were suffering and dying?
In many events, responsibility for the suffering obviously rests with people, with deliberate acts of evil. But in other situations nobody is to blame and nobody should be blamed! “Natural disasters” and tragic accidents happen and they could have happened to any one of us! So the question is very straightforward – why does God allow such accidents to happen? The problem of what is called “innocent suffering” is a vital issue for Christians to grapple with.
It’s a question which people who are not Christians will sometimes raise as their “proof” that God doesn’t exist at all. “If there was a God then he wouldn’t allow that kind of suffering,” they say. To some people the existence of innocent suffering is a knockdown argument which demonstrates to them that there is NO God at all.
The classic formulation of the problem of innocent suffering goes something like this.
If God is all-powerful he COULD stop all suffering.
If God is all-loving He WOULD stop all suffering.
So does the presence of suffering in the world prove that God is NOT all-loving?
Or does it prove that God is NOT all-powerful?
Or does it prove that God doesn’t exist at all?
Actually, when you stop to think about it, that argument doesn’t prove anything at all. “If there was a God, he wouldn’t allow innocent people to suffer,” people say. But saying, “if there was a God” in that kind of way is actually already making some important assumptions about what God is like. It assumes at least that God exists, that God is good, that God is just, that God is loving. Unless God exists, unless God is good and just and loving, there is NO reason to expect the world to be any different. Unless God exists and is good and just and loving, there would be no reason to expect him to do anything to STOP innocent suffering. Then the question also assumes that a God exists who is powerful enough to change events in the world if he wanted to. A God who wasn’t all-powerful could not be expected to do anything about innocent suffering.
So the person who asks, “where is God when innocent people are suffering?” is already assuming that a God exists who is not only good and just and loving but who is also powerful enough to prevent innocent suffering if He so chooses. The question is not really about whether God exists at all, but rather whether he is really the kind of God we believe him to be, in the light of events in the world which suggest the opposite.
The heart of the problem of innocent suffering is really best expressed like this. “Why does a good and just and loving and all-powerful God allow innocent people to suffer?” Does this mean that God is not really good and just and loving? Or does it mean that God isn’t really all-powerful after all?
In response to this question as Christians we want to say a number of things.

God IS good and just

The Bible teaches us in so many places that God is perfect in His justice, goodness, righteousness and fairness. The Bible talks about righteousness more than 500 times and justice almost 200. We are only human, limited in our wisdom and understanding. God rules the world with complete justice and fairness. And as well as being a good and just God, the Bible makes clear that

God IS all-powerful

The God of the Bible is God ALMIGHTY, Maker of heaven and earth and all that is in them. We see God’s mighty power at work in the events of the Exodus, in the miracles worked by the prophets and supremely by Jesus. But since God is both good and just, and also all-powerful, why doesn’t God surely bring innocent suffering to an end? The answer to that question lies in the reality of the free will of human beings to make choices.
Life is full of risks. Where we live. How we travel. What we eat. All these decisions carry risks of us being harmed in some way. Some accidents are simply that, totally unforeseen circumstances that lead to accidents that could happen to anyone. But these are rare. Frequently somewhere along the way human beings have made some choices which have made the accident a possibility. We have chosen to put ourselves into a position where we might be hurt. So the only way God could prevent those kinds of accidents would be to take away our free will – to never let anybody take any risks, ever.
In the same way, so much suffering of innocent people is actually caused directly or indirectly by the sinful actions of human beings. Not only through murder and war, where the powerful inflict terrible suffering on the powerless. So many of the world’s problems are caused by greed. There IS enough food to go round. So often, it just doesn’t get to the people who are starving at prices they can afford to pay. And there is enough land for people to be able to build homes in safety, instead of on flood plains or along fault lines or in the shadows of volcanoes.
The one sure-fire way that God could deal with the problem of innocent suffering would be to make sure that NOBODY could ever harm anybody else. But the only way to do that would be to get rid of all the people who could ever possibly, maybe, one day, not just by deliberate action but by omission or even by accident, all those people who could conceivably cause harm to others. And that would mean all of us, everybody, the whole human race. Because we are all human, all fallen, all sinful. We all have free will. Any one of us could choose to hurt others. And we are all fallible, all imperfect. Any one of us by our mistakes and failures and accidents could cause others to suffer even if that was the last thing we intended. We all make bad choices. So the only way God could get rid of innocent suffering completely would be to get rid of all the people. God could do this. He IS all-powerful. But at the same time,

God IS loving and merciful

The God of the Bible is a God of love and of mercy. The reason that God doesn’t solve the problem of innocent suffering by the simple plan of wiping out all the people is obvious proof of God’s love and mercy.
If God were to intervene in miraculous ways to prevent EVERY incident of innocent suffering, what a strange world we would live in. The car with brakes failing wouldn’t hit the pedestrian, because God would lift the pedestrian 10 feet into the air as the car crashed beneath him. The African village wouldn’t be swept away because, just as in the parting of the Red Sea, the floodwaters would separate and flow each side of the village instead of through it. The starving millions might discover that stones really do turn to bread for them each day. That would indeed be a world full of strange miracles. It would be a very confusing unpredictable world to live in. But that isn’t the world God created!
We believe in a God of miracles. We believe in a God who DOES act in power to bring healing and deliverance and salvation. But we also recognise that God only works in those kinds of ways in rare and exceptional circumstances, usually in his church and for his praise and glory and not usually in the world which does not even believe He exists. God alone has the wisdom and justice to decide fairly when it is right for Him to intervene by miracles and when to let events run their natural course, however tragic the outcome. We trust in God’s justice and fairness. And we recognise that it is actually a sign of God’s love and mercy that, although He IS all-powerful, God generally does allow the world to continue in its own way, with natural laws operating unhindered and events unfolding in predictable ways. For most of the time, God leaves human beings to take responsibility for our lives, and to take care of each other as best we are able. Because the only alternative would be to bring this world to an end and make a radically different world!
Somebody once asked the German preacher and theologian Helmut Thielicke what he thought was the most important question facing the Western World. He pointed to the question of suffering.
“Again and again I have the feeling that suffering is regarded as something which is fundamentally inadmissible, distressing, embarrassing, and not to be endured. Naturally, we are called upon to combat and diminish suffering. All medical and social action is motivated by the perfectly justified passion for this goal. But the idea that suffering is a burden which can or even should be fundamentally radically exterminated can only lead to disastrous illusions. One perhaps does not even have to be a Christian to know that suffering belongs to the very nature of this our world and will not pass away until this world passes away. And beyond this, we Christians know that in a hidden way it is connected with man’s reaching for the forbidden fruit, but that God can transform even this burden of a fallen world into a blessing and fill it with meaning.”
“Suffering is part of the very nature of this our world,” said Thielicke. It would be a very, very different world which did not have such suffering. The continued existence of evil and the possibility of innocent suffering are both consequences of God’s mercy and patience. He could just bring judgement on us all here and now and that would be and end of it! Until that judgement comes, there will always be suffering.

Suffering is a consequence of human free will.

The fact is that human beings DO have free will. And in the world as it is, the only way God could remove the evil and suffering from the world would be to take away all human freedom of choice. Somebody may ask “Why doesn’t God do something to stop terrorists BEFORE they kill innocent people?” The answer is simple. Because the only way God could stop evil people from doing evil things would be to take away freedom of choice from ALL of us, for ALL the time! God chooses not to do that. God chooses to give us free will and leave us all with free will. We are able to make choices and sometimes we make bad choices.
BUT (some people object) if God knew that human choice would lead to so much evil and suffering why did He give us free will in the first place? Some answers to that question go like this:
(a) Our experiences of suffering and evil are in some ways “good for us”. They teach us to make good choices, develop character, inspire faith and so “refine our souls”. (Rom 5:3-5) (Irenaeus)
(b) God wants us to love him freely, not because we are programmed to do so like robots. Human free will and the resulting evil and suffering are necessary so that we have a genuine free choice either to love or to reject God. The world is “a Vale of Soul-Making” (John Hick 1968)
(c) The existence of so much evil and suffering in the world are necessary so that God’s divine and mysterious purposes can be fulfilled. As limited human beings, we may never understand God’s plan in this life but in heaven we will understand why so much evil was necessary. (1 Pet 1:3ff)
God IS good and just, God IS all-powerful and God IS loving and merciful. In His wisdom he leaves the world to carry on and doesn’t prevent innocent suffering by continually intervening. But we mustn’t conclude that God is aloof or unaffected when people are suffering and dying. Because last, but by no means least, there is something else very important which Christians want to say.
God shares our sufferings

Sometimes we can feel that God doesn’t know what is going on in his world, or that he doesn’t care about us anymore. But when we reflect on the events of the last week of His earthly ministry we are reminded why Jesus Christ the Saviour has been the strength and inspiration for so many who have suffered innocently. The poor and the oppressed and the slaves, the sick and the suffering and the dying in every age have found comfort and hope not only in the resurrection of Jesus, but in His dying on the cross for them. Because more than anywhere else, it was on the cross that Jesus the Son of God took upon Himself our pains and our sufferings
After the Dunblane massacre nearly twenty years ago Steve Chalke wrote some wise words which apply to so many instances of innocent suffering. “We know that what happened was neither His doing nor His will. God’s was the first heart to break over the events that took place there. He wept with us for the children whose lives were cut short and the family they left behind. When confronted with the pain of the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus also wept.”
God is suffering right now with so many who are injured and dying and bereaved, homeless and terrified. God suffers with communities shattered by every dreadful tragedy. God suffers with the thousands dying in floods and famines and conflicts, and with the tens of thousands dying of hunger and of terrible diseases every day, whose innocent suffering we never know about but God sees in intimate detail. God is suffering with the bereaved and the injured in Paris today.
God suffers with us in EVERY incident of innocent suffering, and God knows that suffering so well because there was none so innocent as Jesus, the Son of God, the spotless Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, Jesus who experienced deeper grief and pain there on the cross than and human being before or since. God suffers with us.
How can we believe in God in a world so full of suffering? Because we know that, wherever people are suffering, God is there suffering with us. Where was God in Paris on Friday evening? God was there, weeping with the rest of us.

Tell my people I love them

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

How would you sum up the gospel of Jesus Christ in just three words? I came up with this idea a few years ago – “three word gospels.” Just three words which convey some of the good news of Jesus. Here are some of my favourites. God helped me. Lost now found. Darkness now light. Dead now alive. Only by grace. Alive in Christ. Knowing God personally. Christ in you. Love, joy, peace. Fullness of life. Ransomed, healed, restored. Caterpillar into butterfly. Pretty amazing grace! Three word gospels. But I think the best of all is also the simplest. “God loves you.” It’s that simple. Amazing and incredible as it sounds, “God loves you.”
I have a little plaque on my desk in our garden office. I’ve placed it right where I can see it all the time in every study for the last 25 years. It reminds me of the calling before me as a minister and at the same time of the message we all have to share. It’s not a Bible verse, but instead a verse of a song I learned when I first became a Christian. It reads like this.
Tell my people I love them.
Tell my people I care.
When they feel far away from me,
Tell my people I’m there.
The simple message at the heart off the gospel. God loves you. God cares about you. And however tough life may be, whatever may be dragging you down or dragging you away from God, God is always there for you! That is God’s message for every one of us today, and every day. God loves us!
Ephesians 3 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
God wants us to know how WIDE His love is. So wide it extends to every human being who has ever lived. God’s love is so wide that it embraces everybody – even miserable sinners like you and me!
God wants us to know how LONG His love is. From eternity to eternity. We don’t need to worry about God’s love running out one day. Even more than the Energiser Bunny God’s love just keeps on and on and on! Nothing in the present and nothing in the future can ever separate us from God’s love. God has promised “I will never, ever leave you or forsake you.”
God wants us to know that His love is so HIGH that it reaches up to the heavens. God has truly “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” We may live as strangers on the earth, but we are citizens of heaven.
And God wants us to know how DEEP His love is. Deep enough to reach down to the worst and most desperate of sinners. And deep enough to reach into the deepest parts of our lives. A Christian friend of ours had a terrible time when her husband abandoned her with two young children. She wrote a book about her experiences and called it, “No pit too deep”. It is true that there is no pit too deep for God’s love. Whatever the depths we may be trapped in – God’s love will rescue us!
And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. (Message)
There may be some people asking, How can I know that God loves me? How can I be sure that God really loves even me? Let me give you two ways you can be certain of God’s love,
We know God loves us because of THE BIBLE
There’s an old children’s song:
Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones, to Him they come. We are weak but He is strong.
Yes Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.
John Stott described the Bible as “God’s love letter to the church.” The Bible teaches us about God’s love. And then also God speaks to our hearts through His word the Bible. The Bible tells us in so many places that God loves us!
Romans 8 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
John 316 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
The Bible records Jesus’s words of love and it records God’s love shown in actions in Jesus’s ministry and in His death and His glorious resurrection!
Romans 5 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God loves us enough that He gave His only Son Jesus Christ for us!
MY LORD, WHAT LOVE IS THIS That pays so dearly, That I, the guilty one, May go free!
Amazing love, O what sacrifice, The Son of God given for me.
My debt He pays, and my death He dies, That I might live!

1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
The Bible teaches us about God’s love. And then there are some parts of the Bible God uses to speak directly to us, telling us He loves us.
Jeremiah 29 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
I have shared with you before how God used a particular passage in Isaiah 43 to assure me of His love for me at a very challenging and painful time in my life. It was as if those words had been written just for me.
Isaiah 43:1 But now, this is what the LORD says - he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
The Bible assures us in so many places just how much God loves us. If you want to know how much God loves you, read the Bible!
Then also we know God loves us because of GOD’S ACTIONS in our lives
Every single blessing we ever receive from God is an expression of His love for us.
Answers to prayer –
Guidance
Experiences of healing
Times we have met with God in worship
Times we have met with God in fellowship with other Christians
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Every single instance where God has blessed you is a demonstration of His infinite love for you.
All the material blessings, all things given to us so richly to enjoy. And all the spiritual blessings as we thought about on our Gift Day last month.
Ephesians 1 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
EVERY Spiritual blessing in Christ! That’s how much God loves us!
Theres’s a lovely story told by Peter Kreeft about a family who were emigrating from Europe to America. They were so poor that they had to spend almost all their money on the ticket. What they had left over for food was only enough to buy bread and cheese. So for the first couple of days all they ate was cheese sandwiches. Then the little boy said to his father, “Daddy, please, can I have money for an ice cream cone, just this once? I hate cheese sandwiches! If I don’t eat anything different before we get to America, I’m going to die!” His father said, “We’ve almost no money left. And cheese sandwiches will keep you alive till we get to New York. Once we’re there, there are golden streets and everybody’s rich.” The boy wouldn’t stop asking, so his father finally gave him his last bits of change for an ice cream cone and waited. The boy didn’t come back for two hours. His father was getting worried when the boy finally came back with a fat tummy and a smile on his face.
“Did you get your ice cream cone?” the Father asked.
“Oh, sure, Dad. And then another one, and then a steak, and then apple pie.”
“What? You bought all that with the little bit of money I gave you?”
“Oh, no, Dad,” The boy replied.” It’s free. It all comes with the ticket!”
People say that being a Christian is all pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die. But that’s not right at all. God loves us so much and His blessings begin right here and now. It’s cake on your plate while you wait as well! And every blessing God pours out on us is an expression of His immense love for us all!
There is a song which sums up for me just how wonderful God’s love is for us. I first heard it in 1970s but now I find it used as a meditation in the Celtic prayer book produced by the Northumbria Community. Hillclimbing for beginners - Water into Wine Band
Sitting in the darkness of my mind I look but I can’t find
A single thing on which I can depend, if only I could find a friend
Who shares the pain I bear, and then together we could dare
To climb a hill I cannot see, in silence of eternity.
Not waiting for you, climbing up the hill I fall and stumble, still Your hand upon my shoulders is so strong, And every boulder sings a song of love, And high above Your laughter pulls me on and on, And ever since the morning there has been no right or wrong, but love.
God loves us. The Bible tells us so. And every experience we have had of God in our lives is a demonstration of His love for us. God wants every one of us this morning to know just how much He loves us!
Tell my people I love them.
Tell my people I care.
When they feel far away from me,
Tell my people I’m there.

Victory in the Book of Revelation

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Discouragements

Deaths

Illnesses – cancers, depression

Churches failing – ministers failing

Spread of evil – IS in Middle East, conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza

Three glimpses of heaven to give us encouragement.

The Scroll and the Lamb

5 6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

The one seated on the throne of heaven is the Lamb which looks as if it has been slain, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Only He is worthy to take the scroll announcing God’s judgment and open its seals. And He is worthy not only because of who He is, the Son of God, the Word of God, the agent of Creation. But he is worthy also because he is the Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the world. With his blood he has purchased men and women for God and made them to be a kingdom and priests. He will reign for ever and ever, and we will reign with Him!

We need to remember that Christ is victorious. But his victory only came through suffering and death and it will be the same for us. If you will not bear the cross, you cannot wear the crown. There are churches around nowadays which preach a false gospel. Large, growing, successful churches. They say there is health and wealth and prosperity for every Christian. They say that because Christ has suffered we won’t need to. They say that because Christ is now victorious, he shares his victory with us here and now. I wish that was true. But it isn’t.

The truth is that we will suffer in this life. For many true Christians, the more closely we are following Christ the more suffering and discouragement and persecution we will experience.

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

We follow the Lamb who was slain. We have no right to expect our lives to be any easier than our Lord’s life was.

Some years ago I arranged a series of discussion evenings between members of the different churches in Brentwood. I learned something very interesting in our discussion about baptism. The clergy all sat at a table together and we were considering whether a person can be a Christian without being baptised. The Roman Catholic and Anglican Priests all agreed that baptism is necessary for salvation. “Except of course,” one of them said, “For the Martyrs!” If somebody had died for their faith in Christ it didn’t matter if they had been baptised in water or not. They were considered to have had an even better baptism. They had been baptised in their own blood.

Are we ready and willing to be baptised in our own blood?

The Rider on the White Horse

19:11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no-one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron sceptre.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
……..
19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshipped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur. 21 The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

Crowns have always been the sign of authority and Kingship. The great King Charlemagne who ruled over most of Western and Central Europe in the 8th and 9th centuries wore an octagonal crown. Each of the eight sides was a plaque of gold, and each plaque was studded with emeralds, sapphires, and pearls. The cost of that crown was incalculable. Richard the Lion Heart had a crown so heavy that two earls had to stand, one on either side, to hold his head. The crown that Queen Elizabeth wears is worth tens of millions of pounds. Edward II once owned nine crowns, something of a record. Put them all together, from all of Europe and from the archives of the East, all of them are but trinkets compared to Christ’s crown.

Revelation 19 says Christ has many crowns. He wears a crown of righteousness. He wears a crown of glory. He wears a crown of life. He wears a crown of peace and power. Among those crowns, one outshines the rest. It was not formed by the skilled fingers of a silversmith, nor created by the genius of a craftsman. It was put together hurriedly by the rough hands of Roman soldiers. It was not placed upon its wearer’s head in pomp and ceremony, but in the hollow mockery of ridicule and blasphemy. It is a crown of thorns. And his name is “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!”

You will all know that between 1014 and 1035 England was ruled by a Danish King named King ……. Canute. King Canute got bored with hearing his retainers flatter him with extravagant praises of his greatness, power and invincibility. He ordered his chair to be set down on the seashore. There he commanded the waves not to come in and wet him. No matter how forcefully he ordered the tide not to come in, however, his order was not obeyed. Soon the waves lapped around his chair.

You know the story of King Canute trying to stop the tide coming in. You may not know the ending. One historian records that after that day, Canute never wore his crown again. He hung it instead on a statue of the crucified Christ.

When Queen Victoria had just ascended her throne she went, as was the custom of Royalty, to hear a performance of Handel’s Messiah. She had been instructed that as Queen she must not rise when everybody else always do at the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus. When that magnificent chorus was being sung and the singers were shouting “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,” she remained seated only with great difficulty. It seemed as if she would rise in spite of the custom of kings and queens. Finally they came to that part of the chorus where with a shout everybody proclaims “King of kings, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, and Lord of Lords, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!” Suddenly the young queen rose and stood with bowed head, as if she would take her own crown from off her head and cast it at His feet.

We follow and we worship and we serve the one who was laid as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. Who taught the people as a poet and a peasant. Who died as a criminal on a cross. But we also follow and worship and serve the one who rose victorious from the dead and now is ascended and sits at the right hand of God on high. We worship the one whose name now is King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Hallelujah!!

The Great Multitude in White Robes

7: 9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”,,,,,
7:13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.

Think about how they make paper. You start with a heap of filthy rags and end up with pure spotless white paper. The rags are torn to pieces and ground to a pulp, bleached with chlorine, and washed until they are white. Then they are compressed into a fabric, and sealed between hot rollers to make the paper smooth and even.
Almost as fierce and painful as the great tribulation where the robes and the saints themselves are washed and purified.

Our lives may be filled with suffering and persecution and tribulation! But hear what awaits those who have suffered for Jesus, as this passage goes on

15 Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The end is in sight!

There’ll be crowns for the conquerors and white robes to wear,
There will be no more sorrow or pain.
And the battles of earth shall be lost in the sight
Of the glorious Lamb that was slain.
Come on heaven’s children,
The city is in sight.
There will be no sadness
On the other side.

Lots of people find the book of Revelation hard to understand. One old man proved he understood the book very well when he said very simply, “It means that Jesus is gonna win.”

The story is told of an elderly couple who returned home from a lifetime of service on the mission field. Their ship was welcomed into port by bands and speeches but that was for the President who was aboard – not for them. Nobody came to welcome them. As they settled into their retirement flat nobody came to visit. The husband became resentful. In his prayers he poured out his heart to God. “I thought at least one person would come to welcome us home.” But God quietly spoke to him. “You aren’t home yet!”

Life is full of discouragements! But don’t give up. Jesus is gonna win. The Lamb that was slain is on the throne! The Rider on the White Horse wearing many crowns is King of Kings and Lord of Lords! And the multitude in white robes are going to be there to celebrate His victory forever and ever AMEN!

Healing and not healed - Mark 16:9-20

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

For two thousand years Christians have been praying that sick people will be healed. Sometimes God works a miracle and people receive physical healing. Blind people receive their sight. Deaf people can hear. Paralysed people can walk again. There are even reports of dead people being brought back to life. Sometimes people are miraculously healed. Sometimes they aren’t. Why is this? Does God promise complete physical healing to every Christian – as some preachers would tell you? Or does He not?

Healing the sick was a central part of the Ministry of Jesus Christ. Healing miracles make up a QUARTER of the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. In commissioning both the Twelve Apostles and the 72, Jesus commanded and empowered them to continue His healing ministry (Matthew 9:35, 10:1, 7-8 and John 20:21). The Risen Christ declared that healing and miracles were to be signs of the growing church (Mark 16: 15-20). And so it was throughout Acts (so many places e.g. Acts 3:1-10; Acts 5:12-16; Acts 19:11-12).

In order to understand the New Testament teaching on miracles, healings and deliverance, we must understand the part these phenomena played in the ministry of Jesus Himself, and then in the Early Church.

One common misunderstanding is that Jesus performed miracles to prove who He was (the Messiah and the Son of God) or else to prove that His gospel was true. But Jesus did NOT work miracles to prove anything to anyone. He explicitly refused to give any “sign” to prove His identity, except “the sign of Jonah”, the resurrection (Matt 12:38-41, Mk 8:11-12). In His day, every village had its own “miracle worker”. Most of Jesus’s miracles wouldn’t (and obviously didn’t!) convince very many people about His Messiah-ship or His teaching.

The real reason Jesus healed is this. He came to proclaim the Kingdom of God (Mk 1:15). His manifesto in Luke 4:16-21 declared that the time had come when God would begin His Kingly Reign in the world (which is the meaning of the Jewish word we translate as “Kingdom”). This would include putting right all the wrongs in the world caused by sin. Whenever God speaks, things happen! Jesus’s miracles are the outworkings of that Kingly Reign of God, concrete expressions of the truths which Jesus was proclaiming, demonstrating God’s power, love and grace towards fallen mankind (Matt 12:28, 10:6-8) - the gospel in action!

Similarly the Early Church continued Jesus work, proclaiming the Kingdom of God in both word and deed. The miracles in Acts don’t merely authenticate the Apostles’ message or persons. Miracles continued in the name of Jesus by the Spirit’s power as part of God’s ongoing Kingly rule, and there is no Biblical reason to suppose that such activities of the Spirit would not continue in the life of the Kingdom, even today!
And God DOES still heal today! History tells us that miraculous healings did not cease when the Apostles died. They continued widespread in the church until at least the fifth century.
Early Church history eg: Irenaeus (140-203) Origen (c. 185-c .254) Augustine (354-430)

“Those who are in truth his disciples, receiving grace from him, do in his name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them and they are made whole. Yea, more¬over, as I have said, the dead have been raised up, and remain among us for many years.” Irenaeus (c. 130—c. 200) Bishop of Lyons.

“They expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events … The name of Jesus …. can take away diseases.” Origen (c. 185—c. 254) another theologian.
(QUOTES from Questions of Life Nicky Gumbel p 207-208)

Nor were such miracles restricted to the hierarchy of the church, the bishops. Throughout the history of the church there have been many well-attested incidents of healings. Around the world today there are many parts of the church where frequent healing in a normal part of their Christian experience.

However the expectation of such miracles occurring was greatly reduced when the Reformation rejected Roman errors such as the association of the miraculous with “relics” (the bones of the saints) or with “shrines”. Evangelical faith in the growing towns condemned the magical or superstitious elements of the “folk religion” of rural churches. Liberal Theology too has worked hard to deny the supernatural, and distorted the true Christian faith. Many Christians have restricted the channels of God’s healing and deliverance to modern medicine and psychiatry.

It is generally true that the extent of incidence of the miraculous has been, and still is, related to the level of expectation of Christians. “Ask and you will receive!”

We have the promises of Jesus to encourage us.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
“If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
“I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. …. Ask and you will receive.” (John 14:12-14; 15:7; 16:23-24)

I have seen miracles of healing and deliverance. Geoff Pike sent home from hospital with liver cancer and given 48 hours to live, miraculously returning to complete health. I myself received miraculous healing from a sports injury in answer to prayer.

It is now more widely recognised that physical healings are aspects of the salvation and wholeness which God’s Kingly Reign brings. Healings are not merely signs attesting the ministries of Christ or of the Apostles. Ordinary Christians in all kinds of churches have prayed with boldness, faith and perseverance, and God has worked very many remarkable healing miracles. The increased expectation of miraculous healing has produced many great blessings, but also some difficulties.

(i) In some circles the miraculous is seen as the spiritual alternative to medical treatment, and medicine is rejected. This “super-spirituality” is most unhelpful. We must always recognise the hand of God in healing, whether through surgery, drugs or miracle. It is no less spiritual to pray for healing for someone in hospital than in church. And God’s healing is always a process - sometimes quick, sometimes slower. But we must beware of falling into the opposite trap and saying that God only heals through medicine nowadays. The God of the Bible is a God of miracles, and “His touch has still its ancient power!”

(ii) The context of healing in the New Testament is normally the local fellowship (James 5:13-16) rather than in separate “healing meetings”. It is expected that healings will be a part of the on-going life of all true churches. And we must remember that when we read of “healings” in lists of spiritual gifts then the gift is the specific healing miracle which is the work of the Holy Spirit in the body or mind of the individual who is healed The gift of healing is NOT some spiritual gift possessed by the Christian who might have been praying when the God gave the healing. So a Christian can never say “I have the gift of ministering healing”, only that “God gave a gift of healing to a certain sick person on a particular occasion”, and I was blessed to be present at the time.

(iii) Illness and suffering entered into the world as a consequence of sin and the Fall. Because of this, some people quite wrongly try to associate a particular illness with specific sins in the patient’s life. The interplay between body, mind and spirit within the one individual is very complex, and medical science certainly recognises psychosomatic illness. Specific sin can have effects on health, but Biblically this is very rare. Most often we fall sick simply because we share the common lot of fallen mankind in a fallen world. Some make the mistake of saying that a person needs only to discover the particular sin or sins which are the root cause of their illness (which may be physical or mental) and when they repent of their sins they will be cured. This teaching is false and terribly cruel.

(iv) Some folk often look at the gospels and find that healing miracles are usually require a measure of faith from the patient (N.B. so the miracle can’t be seen as a “proof” trying to generate faith). Therefore their explanation when someone is not healed is that, although God wants to heal, the patient or others praying for healing simply do not have sufficient faith. This sounds more convincing than explanation (iii) and it may occasionally be valid, but it is still generally false and equally cruel. And if unconfessed or unrepented sin or lack of faith on the part of the sick person are barriers to healing, then we should not forget that the same problems can equally be present in the lives of the other people who are praying for healing.
We need to be clear that God does not answer prayers as a reward for our faith - we can never earn or deserve God’s grace. Faith is NOT some kind of good work we have to do to earn enough heavenly brownie points so that God will answer our prayer. Rather our faith is merely the channel through which God pours out His blessing as He alone chooses in accordance with His eternal purposes.
The most common mistake made by those who are enthusiastic about God’s healing power is to go to the extreme of saying that it is God’s will for all Christians to be healed all the time. Some people argue that Jesus healed all who came to Him, completely and immediately, and so they believe that everyone who have entered into the life of the Kingdom should enjoy its benefits of complete wholeness too. But to my understanding the Bible does NOT teach this anywhere and the reality is that NO churches or Christians in history have ever experienced physical healing for everyone. Other preachers say that physical healing is an integral part of the atoning work of Christ. “By his stripes we are healed.” I do not believe that is a correct interpretation of the Bible.

So why is it that Christians we are not always healed?

The Biblical picture is more complicated than some like to believe. Yes, God’s Kingly Reign has begun. But it has not yet completely arrived. We are not in heaven yet! We are living “life in the overlap”, between Christ’s First Coming and His Second. We are ALREADY in God’s Kingdom, but we have NOT YET left this world. All the blessings of salvation have been bought for us by Christ’s death and resurrection, and we have begun to experience these blessings, but we will never experience them completely in this life. We still fight the battle against sin and sometimes we lose and give in to temptation. Christians still die, of old age if not from illnesses. Christians are not all miraculously protected from accidents or natural disasters, so there is no reason to believe that God will guarantee us healing from every physical illness. As long as we live in the tension between the ALREADY and the NOT YET we will still share the sufferings of this fallen world. Christians share in Christ’s resurrection life, but they also share in His dying (2 Corinthians 4:10-12).

So complete healing from every illness is not a “right” for every Christian to claim. For reasons of God’s purposes which we will never fully understand in this life, it is not always God’s will to grant healing. Remember the apostle Paul’s experience.
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
It was more important for Paul to learn to trust and depend on the grace of God in his weakness than for him to experience healing from whatever this “thorn in the flesh” actually was.

So Christians will not always be healed. But healing IS sometimes the gift of our loving God for His children, given according to His purposes and for His glory, in His way and in His time. It is within God’s master-plan that we may not always be healed, not least because otherwise some might become Christians for completely wrong and selfish motives. But as for all of God’s gifts which we cannot earn or deserve, we may confidently pray and ask for healing, and leave the answers to the wisdom and love and purpose of God. And if we don’t expect and we never ask …. !

If we want to move on to experience more of God’s healing in our own lives and minister healing more effectively to others, then I am convinced that we need to learn more about prayer and more about other spiritual gifts.
Richard Foster gives four steps in praying for healing: 1. Listen; 2. Ask; 3. Believe; 4. Give thanks.
In particular we fall short at Step 1. We do not listen well enough to the person, to discover whether their greatest need is physical healing, or psychological healing, or emotional healing or assurance of forgiveness. Then we do not know how to listen to God well enough to discover what His will is for that person’s life, so that we can truly pray in Jesus’s name, in accordance what God has revealed to us that He is wanting to do. As we move on in spiritual gifts like prophecy and words of knowledge, so we will know more answers to our prayers for healing. As our relationship with God deepens we will become bolder and more persistent in our requests for healing.

F.B. Meyer wrote, “The greatest tragedy is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” God really does heal the sick! But we have a lot more to learn about praying for healing!

Even the hairs on your head are numbered - Matthew 10:30

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

It is strange which Bible verses people who don’t go to church actually know. But one of the sayings which is part of very many people’s general knowledge is this memorable saying of Jesus in Matthew 10:30:
“Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
How many hairs on head 100000 to 150000
How many people = 7 billion so in world = 1,000,000000,000000
Present here this morning =5 million to 7 million hairs.
The writers of the helpful little book “101 things to do during a dull sermon” would encourage you to try and count the number of hairs on the head of the person in front of you in any moments when your concentration wanders. They also suggest your count is more accurate if you try pull those hairs out one by one without the person noticing, but personally I think that would be going a bit too far!
“Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered”
In other words, whatever is going on in the world, in every place, at all times, everywhere, God knows all about it. Everything that happens – God knows and God cares.
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
God knows about what happens to every bird. Every animal. Even every plant. Every hair of our heads. God knows, and God cares and God is in control. Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. So don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.
God knows about every one of the boys and girls who will receive a Christmas Shoebox with Operation Christmas Child. Every single individual.
God knows every instance of Human suffering – God is there beside that person. Every child dying of preventable disease. Every soldier’s bullet and bomb and gun. Every abortion. Everybody starving or drowning or buried alive. Every illness. Every accident. Every sadness and fear. Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. God is there. God knows. God cares. So don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.
Psalm 139
1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
God knows everything that happens to us. God sees our lives from every side. He even knows our every thought. God knows, and he never forgets! He never loses count!
4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
5 You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
There is NOWHERE we can go where God is not with us.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
16 …. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
God knew every detail of what our lives will hold even before we were conceived. God is there. God knows. God cares. So don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.
Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. He knows all there is to know about every human being who has ever lived or ever will live. And that means he knows everything there is to know about each and every one of us here this morning!
We may be sick and in pain. Suffering from a disease or illness or simply from advancing years. We may be concerned about our health – will we ever recover? Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. God is there. God knows. God cares. So don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.
Some may be worried about their jobs. Threat of redundancy. Increased pressure to deliver the goods. Or there may be conflicts in the workplace. Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. God is there. God knows. God cares. So don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.
We may be worried about our finances. Credit crunch. Depression. Our savings may be threatened. Our pension may have dropped in value. We may not be able to pay our way. Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. God is there. God knows. God cares. So don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.
There may be tensions at home in the family. Divisions or battles. Problems with neighbours. Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. God is there. God knows. God cares. So don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.
We may have difficult decisions to make. We may be finding it hard to see the way ahead and we need God’s guidance. Or we may have spiritual problems. Battles with temptation. Prayers not answered yet. You may have deep questions and even some doubts. Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. God is there. God knows. God cares. So don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.
Whatever our situation. Whatever our problems – God is with us. God understands and God can help. Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
But hang on a minute! By now some of you will be asking questions about what I am saying. “Hang on Peter,” you will be saying. “All this may well be true, but aren’t you taking this verse out of context??”
If that is what you are thinking, you are absolutely right! Because when Jesus said every hair on your heads is numbered he wasn’t particularly talking about times of illness. or problems at work, or money problems. Jesus was not talking about problems in the family, or in seeking God’s guidance, or even spiritual problems.
In Matthew10 Jesus is sending his 12 apostles out to preach. And Jesus is warning them that they can expect opposition and even persecution when they preach the gospel. Christians can always expect opposition and persecution if we speak out for Christ. We have the Holy Spirit inside us giving us the words to say and the courage to say them. But, Jesus says, some people will hate us and persecute us just because we follow Him.
And that is when we need to know that every hair on our heads is numbered!
Listen again.
27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
In this passage Jesus is reassuring his disciples not to fear in one specific context. It is when we are proclaiming His message from the rooftops. This passage is really about not being afraid to preach the gospel – however hard that may be! Even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. The time when that really matters, more than any other time, is when you are witnessing for Christ and proclaiming the gospel!
But God knows our situations. God understands. So don’t be afraid. Don’t worry. It is always going to be hard to speak out for Christ. But it cost Jesus his life and more to give us a gospel to proclaim. It costs many Christians in other countries so much to proclaim the gospel. We have no excuse for keeping quiet.
So if you are nervous about telling your friends and neighbours about Jesus, be courageous, be bold, be strong. If you are hesitant about inviting folk along to church, or to the Evening with Janey Lee Grace next Saturday, be courageous, be bold, be strong.

Whatever situations you are facing, God will not let you down. He is with you. He understands! Hear again what Jesus says,
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

No disappointments! Psalm 31

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Life is full of disappointments!

We have hope / expectation / longing and what we want to happen does not, or something we don’t want does!

Areas of disappointment

Disappointment with LIFE

Work or school or exams; sport; music; hobbies

Sometimes disappointments are because expectations were unrealistic
Silly to be disappointed about not winning the lottery! Especially if you never bought a ticket because you realised gambling was not only a sin but a waste of time!

Sometimes disappointments were unexpected, undeserved
Overlooked for promotion.

Disappointment with PEOPLE

Work, friendships, relationships

Sometimes it’s not their fault

Sometimes it was their fault

Disappointment with GOD

Life not working out as we hoped
We looked for God’s blessing and blessing did not come
Prayers not answered in the way we would like

God does not disappoint people! So if we are disappointed it is because we misunderstood / did the wrong thing / asked for the wrong thing. Often God is trying to teach us patience and faith but we want him to give us patience immediately – right now!.
Effects of disappointment

We can be disturbed, distressed, discouraged, dismayed, disheartened, depressed, distraught, disaffected, disillusioned, downright dismal, even (as Edmund Blackadder would say) discombobulated (real word = disconcerted and confused).

Disappointment leads to pessimism and a negative view on life.

We can become cynical – Murphy’s Law – general laws of life:
“Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time,”
If you think there’s nothing wrong, you havent understood the problem.
“Make something idiot-proof, and they will build a better idiot”.
Specific laws - The odds that the falling toast will land jam side down are directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.
If you’re running late the bus will be early.
The odds are six to five that the light at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of an oncoming train.

It’s sad when people get disappointed by life.

Disappointment makes us not want to try again - not want to hope.
Alexander Pope “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he will never be disappointed!”

Disappointment traps us in our comfort zones – we aren’t prepared to take any more risks. We don’t like to hope because we fear our hopes will be dashed.

It’s very sad when people get disappointed by other people.

Disappointment makes us close in on ourselves.
It stops us from taking the risk of trusting other people and makes us rely on ourselves.
It stops us from putting ourselves in a place where we might get hurt again.

It’s very sad when people feel that God has disappointed them

Disappointment stops us from praying bold prayers – we only pray “safe” prayers.
It stops us from stepping out on a limb in faith for God – we won’t risk being disappointed again.
It stops us expecting miracles from God!
It stops us from getting excited about God!

Are you feeling disappointed about anything tonight? Disappointed with life? Disappointed with other people? Disappointed with God?

ANTIDOTE TO DISAPPOINTMENT
1. Take your disappointments to God

If life has disappointed us – if people have let us down – take it to God!
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy-laden, Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge, Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, Thou wilt find a solace there.

God longs to help us and heal us and give us his peace.

Paul Montacute of Baptist World Aid was reminding us this morning that many people around the world have lives which are far harder, far shorter, far more pain-filled than our lives generally are. Through poverty. Or through persecution. So in the hard times WE need to learn to trust God as much as those believers do.

ROM 5:3-5 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

If following God leads to disappointment, and discouragement, even suffering or persecution – don’t give up! True hope in God WILL NOT disappoint us.

MESSAGE v 5 In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
2. Put your trust in God

We may feel that in the past God has let us down. That we have trusted God and we have been disappointed

Isaiah28:16 So this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who trusts will never be dismayed. Will never be disappointed.

That verse is so important that it is quoted at least three times in N.T. Rom 9 and 11 and
1 Peter 2:6 “Look! I’m setting a stone in Zion, a cornerstone in the place of honor.
Whoever trusts in this stone as a foundation will never have cause to regret it.” MESSAGE
Christ is the cornerstone! If we build our lives on Him He will never let us down. He is the sure unshakeable foundation. He will NEVER disappoint us! No disappointments!
3. Put your hope in God

There are no hopeless situations – only people who have lost hope!
“Hope is not a passion for the possible, but a passion for the promise!”
With God ALL things are possible. If we will only trust in God’s promises.

Psalm 25 1To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; 2 in you I trust, O my God.
Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
3 No-one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, (will EVER be disgraced!)

ISAIAH 49: 22 This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
“See, I will beckon to the Gentiles, I will lift up my banner to the peoples;
they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their shoulders.
23 Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground; they will lick the dust at your feet.
Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”

Those who hope in me WILL NOT be disappointed!
No-one whose hope is in you will EVER be put to shame!

These are the promises of the ALMIGHTY all powerful Sovereign God who is MORE THAN ABLE to keep his promises.
These are the promises of the HOLY and JUST God who is totally righteous and would never break His promises.
These are the promises of the ALL-LOVING God who IS love – who loves us so much that he gave His Son Jesus Christ to redeem us – who loves us so much that He would NEVER let us down!

Those who hope in me WILL NOT be disappointed!
No-one whose hope is in you will EVER be put to shame!

You may be disappointed about something tonight. Something small. Something big. Something overwhelmingly crushing huge! Disappointed with life. Disappointed with people. Disappointed with God. Take the antidote to disappointment tonight.
1.Bring your disappointments to God – open up - tell him how you are feeling.
2. Put your trust in God again. Take a leap of faith. He is completely worthy of our trust.
3. Put your hope in God again. Pray prayers of faith daring to expect God to do great things. You may have asked for blessings before and the answer has been “no”. Pray again tonight – dare to hope that this time the answer will be “yes”. No disappointments!
Those who hope in me WILL NOT be disappointed!
No-one whose hope is in you will EVER be put to shame!

But then, what else can we do when somebody has upset us? When they let us down? When they break their promises? When they say things which are spiteful or untrue? When they do things which damage us physically or mentally or emotionally or spiritually? What do we do when somebody hurts us? If anyone says, ―I love God,‖ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20) Part of this loving each other is an obligation to forgive one another when we get things wrong. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13) C.S.Lewis has said, ―Everybody agrees forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have something to forgive.‖ George Herbert wrote, ―He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven, for everyone has need to be forgiven.‖ The essence of Christian forgiveness is that God makes a way for us to be forgiven BEFORE we repent. ―It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.‖ (Romans 5:6-8) As Jackie Pullinger puts it, ―Jesus didn‘t wait for me to make good before he died for me.‖ The Father is out looking waiting for the prodigal to return BEFORE the prodigal comes to his senses and returns to his Father and confesses and repents. (Luke 15) The paralysed man in Mark 2:5 and the woman caught in adultery in John 8:11 are forgiven BEFORE they repent. We should seek the grace to forgive others before they repent, before they apologise, even if they never do admit their wrongdoing or say sorry. The story goes that when Leonardo da Vinci was painting the Last Supper, he had an intense, bitter argument with a fellow painter. Leonardo was so enraged that he decided to paint the face of his enemy into the face of Judas. That way the hated painter’s face would be preserved for ages in the face of the betraying disciple. When Leonardo finished Judas, everyone easily recognized the face of the painter with whom Leonardo quarrelled. Leonardo continued to work on the painting. But as much as he tried, he could not paint the face of Christ. Something was holding him back. Leonardo decided his hatred toward his fellow painter was the problem. So he worked through his hatred by repainting Judas’ face, replacing the image of his fellow painter with another face. Only then was he able to paint Jesus’ face and complete the masterpiece. Jesus said, ―Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.‖ (Matthew 5:23-24)

10 ways I can share my faith this Christmas

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Christmas is almost here again!!Cards, Presents, Decorations, Parties, even Carol Singing. And so many people missing the point completely! They’ve thrown out the baby!!

This year let’s make a real effort to reclaim Christmas for Christ!!

There is no better time to share the gospel. No other time of year gives us more or better opportunities! The name of Jesus Christ is on everybody’s lips. The world is celebrating HIS Birthday. Jesus is the reason for the season! People are giving cards and presents without realising they are in honour of the first and greatest Christmas present of all, God’s gift of His Son Jesus Christ. It’s our job as Christians to tell people the real meaning of Christmas. Nobody else is going to tell them. And if we waste this opportunity then our friends and neighbours may never hear the Good News at all!!
So let me give you “10 ways I can share my faith this Christmas”. Simple obvious ideas of ways we can use the evangelistic opportunities Christmas offers us all. You probably already do some of these. All of us could try something new this year, something we haven’t done before to share the gospel at Christmas time.

1. Cards

Send Christian cards!
Make your own cards to send
Include a Christian greeting or verse or even a Christmas message or your own testimony.
To give you an idea of the kinds of cards which are available I have put a supply on the table at the back. Feel free to buy those which are there. If the ones you like have all gone write your name and how many you want and I will try to get some more for next week.

2. Presents

Christian books
Videos / DVDs
CDs of Christian music – Cliff Richard!
The “More to Christmas” DVD cards as presents
More to Christmas DVD is a brilliant gift produced by Viz-a-Viz. It contains a Christmas video message and then a number of video testimonies of the difference Jesus has made in people’s lives. I will have come copies available for sale for just £1.25 each next week.

3. “Praying for you” cards

As Christians we know that prayer works! God answers prayer. And so it is good for us to offer to pray for our friends and neighbours. “Praying for you” cards are an easy way to do this. We simply give the card to our friend or neighbour as a way of saying, “We would like to pray for you. What would you like us to pray about?” Over the course of 2011 we will be delivering these cards across North Springfield. But we can start offering to pray for people NOW by slipping these cards inside any Christmas cards we are giving to our work colleagues or friends or neighbours. Of course you can send these cards inside any Christmas cards you are posting to your friends and relations as well. But the idea is to open up opportunities to pray for people and to talk about Jesus. So do take as many cards as you like and use them as you believe is best.

4. Decorations

– make yours Christian!!!
Christian poster in window – posters available at the back
Lights?? (Not plastic wise men!) / Badges / Christian symbols / car stickers
If you do not do so already, start wearing a badge or piece of jewellery or use a car sticker or an ornament to “advertise” that you are a Christian.

5. Party time

Hospitality
Anything from a cup of tea and a mince pie to a dinner party
One step at a time – don’t have to invite neighbours you’ve never spoken to before to a six course dinner – but there’s no better time than Christmas to break the ice by inviting them over for a coffee some time. Tis the season to be jolly. It’s allowed!!
Invite your minister or your Christian friends along to meet some of your neighbours and not yet Christian friends.
Share your Christmas dinner with a friend who would be alone
THINGS YOU COULD DO AS A HOME GROUP
• A Christmas party where everyone invites a non-Christian friend or two – with an epilogue.
• A video evening for guests to watch a good Christian video. Personally I recommend the Muppet’s Christmas Carol
• Door to door leaflet delivery or carol singing or visiting in pairs of everybody’s neighbours.

6. Carol singing

I read something very revealing the other day.
“For many people, carols conjure up the almost forgotten magical, white Christmases of our childhood, exciting presents and a simple belief in the mystery of Christmas.”
That’s true. What’s more, many people know more words from Carols than they do from any other Christian hymns or songs. Carols contain the message of the gospel – and they are already being played in shops and shopping centres. What better way of starting a conversation about Jesus than the words of well-known carols:

Hark! The herald angels sing: ‘Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!’

He came down to earth from heaven, Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable, And His cradle was a stall:
With the poor and meek and lowly Lived on earth our Saviour holy

Words most of our friends and neighbours already know – but don’t understand.
We should take every opportunity to use carols to help people find out about Jesus Christ this Christmas.

O come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant,
O come, let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!
What does it mean to call Jesus “Christ the Lord”? Let me explain it to you!
Why did those three Kings bring such strange gifts? Let me tell you what really happened!
‘All glory be to God on high And on the earth be peace;
Goodwill henceforth from heaven to men Begin and never cease.’
How can I know peace in my life? Let me share the secret with you.

We will be singing carols outside the Havengore shops on Saturday 18th December between 12.30 and 2.30.
We will have our usual Christingle service at 4 pm on the Sunday before Christmas and Family Celebration Services on Christmas Day and Boxing Day mornings at 10.30 as usual. And then this year we will have a new event on Thursday 16th December at 7.30 pm:-
Carols and Cake – an hour of singing your favourite carols and enjoying delicious cake, with stalls of Christian cards, books, gifts and FairTrade items to remind us of the real meaning of Christmas. Carols and cake will be the perfect event to invite your friends and neighbours to – not a service, just singing carols and eating cake

Of course we want to invite everybody to join in these events with us and this year we have produced these Christmas cards for every house in North Springfield. They give this Christmas picture, and details of all our Christmas events. But they also have a Christmas message inside and an invitation to our services in the New Year, as well as website addresses and telephone numbers. It will be a huge effort to deliver all these leaflets before our Carols and Cake evening, but I am sure it will be worth it! Unfortunately they are stuck on a ship somewhere in the North Sea at the moment and not ready for us to take to deliver this morning. But they will be available this week – speak to Jenny or myself if you want to offer to deliver to particular roads.

7. It’s CHRISTmas

Not X-mas – not X the unknown in some equation we have to solve, not X something mysterious and scary from the X-files, not X a mistake we’ve crossed out.
It’s not X-mas, it’s CHRISTmas!!!– there wouldn’t be a Christmas without Christ -
Santa Claus never died for anybody’s sins!!
The example of the way you celebrate
Keep Christ at the Centre of Christmas yourself
Grace at Christmas dinner!
Make church your priority at Christmas
The kinds of presents you give and expect
How we behave at the office party.

8. Think of others

Think about other people this Christmas – neighbours, friends
Offer your friends practical help in house, garden, babysitting. So you’ve never done anything nice for them before – that’s OK, it’s Christmas! Neighbours are allowed to be nice to each other at Christmas!
Start this morning! Make new friends in the church – talk to somebody you don’t know today!

9. Talk about Jesus

Gossip the gospel
Take every opportunity to tell people the real meaning of Christmas.
Tell your friends how much you are enjoying our Christmas services and events! Tell them that good story the preacher told. Give them a tape of a sermon that has helped you.
Seasons Greetings – see if you can find something better to say to everybody than “Happy Christmas”. Be brave! You could try “Peace be with you” or “God Bless you this Christmas time!” You’re allowed to be religious! It’s Christmas!

Be ready to share your faith! We need to be ready to answer people’s questions. “How did you become a Christian?” “What difference does being a Christian make to your life?
At Christmas we need to be ready to answer questions like “What does Christmas mean to you?” or “Do you really believe in the Virgin Birth?”

10. Pray

for your friends
Always talk to God about your friends before you talk to your friends about God.
Offer to pray for your non-Christian friends for anything they may need.
Pray for opportunities to talk about Jesus this Christmas

If you don’t do anything else this year, pray day after day for opportunities to share your faith over the Christmas period. When God answers those prayers the results could be amazing!!

The world has forgotten the real meaning of Christmas. Shops and restaurants and television have hijacked Christmas. Let’s do our best to reclaim this Christmas for Christ.

Did you ever see the film “Dead Poets Society”. Robin Williams plays a talented but eccentric teacher in an exclusive private school. On the first day of the year, he takes his class of boys out into the hallway to look at the pictures of past, now dead, graduates of the school. He wants to motivate his pupils to learn and excel:

“We are food for worms, Lads! Believe it or not each and every one of us in this room one day will stop breathing, turn cold, and die. Step forward and see these faces from the past. They were just like you are now. They believe they’re destined for great things. Their eyes are full of hope. But, you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. If you listen real close, you will hear them whisper their legacy to you. Lean in. What do you hear?” Then Robin Williams, in an erie grave-like voice, quotes the poet Horace, “Carpe Diem! Seize the day boys, seize the day!”

Carpe diem! Not as some would translate it, fish of the day or seize the fish. But seize the day! NOW is the time for every one of us to play our part in sharing the gospel. NOW is the time to find the courage to invite that friend or neighbour to come along to a Christmas event. NOW is the time to take a share of delivering special invitation cards around the town. NOW is the time to pray and to witness. Don’t waste the special opportunities this month is giving us! NOW is the time to seize the day!

Seize the Day - Christmas Day. God calls us to reclaim Christmas Day for Christ. And here are 10 obvious simple ways we can do it!

1. Cards
2. Presents
3. “Praying for you” cards
4. Decorations
5. Party Time
6. Carol Singing
7. It’s CHRISTmas
8. Think of others
9. Talk about Jesus
10. Pray

How many of these things are YOU going to do this Christmas?

Jesus calms the storms - Mark 4:35-41

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Have you ever been sailing? Last summer a number of the men from church clubbed together and chartered a boat for the weekend. It was fun! There were a dozen of us on the 72 foot yacht “Quadstone”, one of the boats that sailed around the world in the BT Global Challenge Yacht race. Half of us had never, ever sailed before. The skipper told us the names of all kinds of bits of boat, he literally “showed us the ropes”, he explained and demonstrated what we were going to do. Then it was oilskins and lifejackets on and we were out on the Solent.

You may know there are two ways to sail out from Southampton past the Isle of Wight. The easy way is a mile wide. The difficult way past the Needles is only a few hundred yards wide for a boat with a ten-foot keel. Of course this was the way our bold Skipper decided we would go. And that’s when it turned very wet and very windy. We were doing something I still don’t understand called “tacking” against a strong tide, with driving rain and the wind blowing force 6 gusting force 7. If you have seen the film, “The Perfect Storm” with George Clooney, you’ll get the picture. And I found myself reminded of a certain gospel story!

Have you ever been caught out in a storm? Storms at sea are the worst!!! But then life is full of storms isn’t it! I’m not just talking about Hurricanes or dreadful downpours. There area other kinds of storms as well. All the problems of life, all the challenges, all the battles. All the times when we feel that life is overwhelming us and battering is so hard that we’re not waving but drowning, going under for the third time. They might be storms in our relationships - arguments, splits, bereavements. Storms in our jobs, stress, redundancy, unemployment. Then there are storms of accident and illness, of disappointment and discouragement which can lead down into depression and even despair.

We all have times when we feel that today is just going to be one of those years! Times when we feel that the light at the end of the tunnel is just bound to be the headlight of the oncoming train. Being a Christian doesnt give us immunity from the storms of life. As they go through different kinds of problems, people often ask “Where is God in all of this?” And sometimes they come up with wrong answers. “There is no God”, “God is dead”, some people say. “God doesn’t realise what’s happening in his world”, some say. “God doesnt understand. God doesn’t know.”

It must have seemed like that to the disciples. A sudden violent wind, waves spilling over into their little fishing boat so it began to fill with water. This was one serious storm! Those brothers had been fishing that great lake all their lives. They were the experts. They knew that now was the time to panic! And there was Jesus with his head on the pillow, sleeping, blissfully unaware of the storm threatening to sink them. It is interesting that this story is the only place in the whole Bible where we read of Jesus sleeping. How could Jesus know what they were facing? The disciples had to wake him up to help them!

Sometimes it seems like we need to wake God up to help us. Sometimes it does seem as though God is asleep, or permanently out to lunch, while we are drowning in the storms of life. But the first lesson from this story is that, whatever our situation, whatever storms we are facing,

Jesus knows
Jesus has shared in all the storms of life. Jesus was 100% human. The fact that he stayed asleep even during the storm shows us that after a long day of preaching Jesus was utterly exhausted, shattered! He really was “in the same boat” as his disciples. Jesus has been “in the same boat” as suffering and scared and lonely people everywhere. He has faced danger and been worn out just like us.

Heb 4:15-16 Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a high priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin, Let us be brave then, and approach God’s throne of grace, where we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.
Jesus was put to the test in all the ways that we are - but did not sin.
He walked where I walk; He stood where I stand,
He felt what I feel; he understands
He knows my frailty, shared my humanity, tempted in every way, yet without sin.
God with us so close to us, God with us, Immanuel.

That’s the message we celebrate at Christmas isn’t it! That God became a human being, the word became flesh, Immanuel, “God with us”.

That’s the message of Easter as well - that on the cross Jesus shared all our human experiences of suffering and physical pain and loneliness and rejection and separation from God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
There is NO problem which you and I can face which Jesus does not know about, not just from distant observation but from bitter personal experience! He’s been there before, AND He’s here with us right now too!

I don’t know what kinds of storms life is throwing at YOU this morning. Perhaps there aren’t any - if so then praise God! But for some other people perhaps it feels as though you are in the eye of the typhoon, as though a Hurricane is tearing your life to pieces. I don’t know what your problems are. But Jesus does! This story reminds us that in all the storms of life we face, Jesus understands our innermost thoughts and feelings - JESUS KNOWS.

But if God KNOWS our problems, some people might say, why doesn’t He just step in and solve them? Why doesnt God seem to be DOING anything? Perhaps God knows but he just doesn’t care! That’s what the disciples in the boat felt! “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” Well the second thing this story shows us is that we can be absolutely certain that,

Jesus cares
God really does care about the storms we face. Jesus didnt just turn over and go back to sleep! God never does that! Jesus cared enough to wake up and take action. That’s another part of the message of Christmas! That God loved the world so much that he did something - He sent his only Son! That God cared enough to become a human being Himself, to reveal God to us and to show us how to live. God cared enough to be born as a baby and laid in a manger in a stable, to share in all our sufferings.

And that’s the message of Easter - that God loves us all enough that the precious Son of God died on a cross for the sins of the world. You probably end letters or emails or text messages to family and friends with a cross, or lots of crosses, to send them your love. Crosses are expressions of love, and the cross of Calvary where Jesus was crucified is God’s “I love you” to this rebellious runaway world. If ever you are tempted to think that God doesn’t care about you or about your problems, remember the cross! That’s how much God loves us!

The story of the boat in the storm reminds us of God’s love for us. When the disciples finally realized they were in such a big mess that they couldn’t get themselves out of it, Jesus was ready to step in! It wasn’t the storm that woke Jesus up, but the disciples’ cries for help. Even when we feel totally unworthy of God’s love, He hears our cries for help! JESUS CARES.

There’s a plaque on my study wall with a verse from a song which is very precious to me.
Tell my people I love them, tell my people I care
When they feel far away from me, Tell my people I’m there.

Don’t you care? disciples sometimes ask God. Jesus cares more than we can possibly imagine! God DID know the problems the disciples in the storm were facing as their boat was sinking. God DID care about those disciples! And we see how much God knows and cares by the way

Jesus saves
Jesus stood up and commanded the wind “Be quiet!” and he said to the waves “Be still” The wind died down and there was a great calm!
What a miracle!!! Men and women may be able to ignore the commands of Jesus Christ, but the wind and the waves couldnt refuse to obey the voice of their Creator. No wonder the disciples were amazed and terribly afraid! But they shouldnt have been surprised. Because those disciples should have realised that Jesus doesnt just stand back and watch people suffer! They’d already seen him healing that paralysed man whose enterprising friends got him to Jesus by lowering him down through the roof. Jesus even forgave the man’s sins. Healing the sick, the deaf and dumb and blind and lepers. Driving out demons. Even bringing the dead son of a widow back to life! Jesus never left people in need without helping them! That’s the whole reason Jesus came!
to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed (Luke 4:18)

“Who is this man? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” the disciples asked. This man was no less than Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of the Living God! The one person who can help ANYONE caught in the storms of life! Jesus saves!

That’s what the name Jesus means - saviour. As the Christmas angel told Joseph, “You shall name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

That’s what Easter is all about - Jesus dying on the cross to make a way for us to be forgiven, taking upon himself the penalty for our sin which we all should pay. But then He didnt stay dead! Jesus was raised to life again and so He is alive today to help US and to share that resurrection life with us, life in all its fulness.

There in the boat Jesus just did what He always does - he saved his disciples from the storm. And Jesus wants to save US from the storms of life as well. If only we let him.

There in the boat Jesus worked a miracle! Sometimes God saves us by taking the storms of life away miraculously. You’ll have heard reports of dramatic answers to prayer in the world today, of God healing people and setting them free from the grip of evil. Perhaps God has worked like that in your own life before. He has in mine – praise God! Sometimes God will work miracles and bring us healing or release or escape from our situation. Miracles - sometimes, but not always - because God always helps us in HIS time, according to His eternal purposes, for His glory and not just for our personal comfort.

God certainly didn’t always rescue the apostle Paul from the storms of life. 2 Corinthians 6 tells us that Paul went through “troubles, hardships and distresses; … beatings, imprisonments and riots … hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; … glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed.

Sometimes God rescues us from the storms, but He doesn’t save us by removing the storm, Instead He gives us shelter within the storm. When the storm is raging, sometimes God calms the storm. At other times He lets the storm rage but He calms us! He protects us and gives us the strength and the grace to get through. We may feel that our boat is about to sink. But the boat will never sink! Jesus is on board!

You may have heard the story of the competition to paint a picture given the simple title of “peace”. The second prize went to a beautiful landscape with a cloudless sky and motionless trees. But the first prize went to a painting of a storm at sea, lightning splitting the dark clouds as huge waves crashed up on the rocks beside a cliff. Why was this a picture of “peace”? Because high up on the cliff, sheltering in a crevice in the rock, was a tiny bird. With the storm raging all around, the bird was perfectly at peace protected by the rock.

In the storms of life, God often doesnt miraculously make the storm go away. But He does give us a rock to hide in, Jesus, the Rock of Ages. He helps us to be strong, to stand firm. And we are much, much safer in the middle of the fiercest storms WITH God than we would be anywhere else WITHOUT God! Jesus gives us real peace. Jesus saves.

And the key to finding God’s peace is faith. “Why are you frightened? Have you no faith?” Jesus asked his disciples. It is only as we exercise faith, as we commit our lives to God, and trust in him to act, that we can experience the peace which Jesus brings.

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is fixed on you, because he trusts in you. Isa 26:3

We can always put our trust and confidence in the God who loves us and looks after us, who does know our situation, who does care about our problems and who does save all who cry out to him for help!

Of course there are some ways we should NOT approach God! There was once a fisherman whose boat was about to sink in a storm at sea. He didnt really know how to pray, so he prayed like writing a letter.
“Dear God. You probably don’t know who I am. I’ve never bothered you before and if you get me out of this mess I promise I’ll never bother you again!”

That’s not faith! Faith isn’t just a way of escape – faith is a way of life! We have to approach God with openness and sincerity and genuine trust.

In the midst of one of the greatest storms of his life, the Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Philippians. And they are God’s invitation to us whatever storms we may be facing.
Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.
So whatever your situations, whatever storms of life you may be facing, even if you feel you are about to sink without trace, think about that time that Jesus calmed the storm! It encourages us to have faith. It reminds us that Jesus knows! And Jesus cares! And Jesus saves! And He will rescue us too, even today, even here and now!