Posts tagged ‘God’

May 23, 2015

A lesson from an old Willow tree.

Last week I was invited to a retreat day in Coolkelure church, near Dunmanway. Bishop Richard Henderson spoke to us about the prophet Jonah and, as always, what he had to say was inspired and truly excellent. With great skill and infectious enthusiasm, he brought the ancient text to life and it was a joy to be there, to listen and to learn.

One of the things he mentioned in an offhand way was the old Willow tree in the north-west corner of the churchyard. It had sustained quite a lot of damage in a storm, (perhaps during the gale on February 12th last year). In the photo (taken with my phone) above, you can just about see the split in the upper part of the trunk.

Yet since and even because of this catastrophe, recovery and new growth has begun.

We too might suffer something so catastrophic and life changing that we are tempted to lose all hope. Yet as the tree continues to draw water and nutrients from the soil and absorb light from the Sun, so we can continue to receive from the Lord. He will relentlessly work to reshape, rebuild and restore every broken heart and every shattered life of all who will come to Him.

February 5, 2015

Earth’s shadow

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At the moment I am reading Timothy Keller’s “Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God” and I am finding it a great read. A quote quite early on in the book from Flannery O’Connor, beautifully describes the sense of the struggle and frustration that so many of us have with putting God first above all:

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon … what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know You God because I am in the way.

The implication is that a major aspect of learning to pray (and therefore growing  in our relationship with God) is to not to let ourselves, or rather our ego get in the way. As John the Baptist said of the Lord Jesus:

“… He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Of course this is easier said than done!

December 16, 2014

When God comes near

I came across this painting in the Chapel of one of the local nursing homes. As I saw it from a distance, at first I thought the foreground was the rolling waves of a tumultuous sea at night. I felt drawn in to the scene and as I got closer I saw the snowy landscape and that what I had originally thought to be the moon, was of course a star, and not just any old star, but The Star of Christmas.  The star is small and right on the edge of the picture but nevertheless it casts significant light on the mid and far distance, even if the way immediately in front of us (as we look at the scene) is still in darkness.

There is much here to meditate upon (whoever decided to hang this painting in the chapel knew what they were up to). In this season of Advent we are reminded that God comes near, very near and yet He is hidden also. We are called to seek Him and to find Him in unexpected places and in the lives of unexpected people. This is the season where darkness gives way to Light, where sin gives way to the Saviour and where death is overcomes by New Birth. Come O come Emmanuel, God is with us!

Postscript:
We have been greatly enjoying the Advent series of videos produced by 24-7 Prayer called “When God comes near” (the inspiration for the title of this blog post). Here is the link, they really are well worth watching.

October 24, 2014

The wind blows where it wishes…

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The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

(John 3:8)

A low, beautiful, sharp and bright autumn light was shining through the leaves of this Japanese Maple.  The dark red of the leaves contrasted wonderfully with the clear azure sky.  I had a photo in mind of the leaves against the sky, showing lots of detail and texture, enhanced by the light shining through from behind.  However it was very windy and even using a fast shutter speed didn’t enable me to get the shot I was looking for, so I tried a different approach.  I dropped the shutter speed down to 1/45 sec to show the motion of the wind, as leaves and branches were buffeted to and fro.  I was quite happy with the result, a static picture, but showing lots of motion…

It reminded me of the Bible verse above, where the Lord Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit.  I like the way that in the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek) the words for wind and Spirit are the same.  The unpredictability of the wind blowing through this tree was a reminder to me that God often works in ways we cannot always predict or understand, but nevertheless we can always trust Him because He loves us beyond all measure…

September 26, 2014

Persecution, humility and a perfect example…

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(Photo: Sunset over Crozon, Brittany, August 2013)

Sermon for Sunday 28th September 2014.

Philippians 2:1-13

A few days ago during an early morning time of prayer and Bible reading, I was struck by the stark difference there is in being a Christian here and being a Christian in say Syria, Northern Iraq, Nigeria or many other places at this time. We can sit and read our Bible in peace and safety, not worrying for a moment that we are in any danger – a deranged sword-wielding Jihadist is unlikely to bang on the door.  Yet daily we are hearing reports of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffering unimaginable persecution; men are being crucified, women and children are being beheaded and worse.  Why?  Because they are Christians who live in the path of a great swathe of evil the type of which the world has never before seen.

Of course we do have persecution of sorts here, (though it is so different from what I have just described that the same word hardly seems appropriate). In Ireland the Christian who does not readily agree and go along with societies views on divisive issues such as the life of the unborn child, fair economic policy, marriage or the importance of the family in bringing up children, is scorned and ridiculed.  When we gently quote scripture and talk not only of grace and love but right and wrong, eyebrows are raised and eyes roll as if we are some quaint and old-fashioned sideshow.

I don’t know if we will ever suffer persecution here in the same way that our brothers and sisters in Africa and the Middle East are going through right now, but we can be sure that if we stand up for Christ even here then we are going to be increasingly in for rough treatment in the years that lie ahead.

It is with all this in our minds that we turn to the Epistle reading for today. The Apostle Paul is writing to the small group of believers in the Roman city of Philippi.  Paul himself is writing the letter from prison and he writes as one who has endured much for the cause of Christ.  He writes to a church that has undergone and continues to undergo much in the way of persecution.  He knows that they have suffered much and so he seeks to encourage them.  In so doing, we are left with these wonderful and Spirit-filled words of truth and beauty, which are a wonderful encouragement to us today, whether we are a Christian in Ireland mocked and gossiped about by her work colleagues for being a follower of Jesus or whether we are a Christian living in Africa or Asia who daily wonders whether this will be their last day on earth.

Paul starts off his encouragement by saying that they must as a Church be united. A church is united when Christ is the focus and the centre of everything that happens and when it is His love that is the driving force behind all that is said and done.   When things are done because of selfish ambition or conceit then the church is in trouble.  Sadly we see it far too often that people in the church do things for the wrong reasons; to promote their own views, or to get everyone noticing how important or humble or holy they are.  When as the church we take our eyes off the Lord Jesus, we start to disintegrate as a body.  He must always be the focus of everything that we do, and everything that we do must be done with the aim of giving glory to Him. Paul says that humility is the key ingredient. He says that we must consider others better than ourselves.  Let’s just think about this for a moment, how can we genuinely consider others better than ourselves?  Well if we are a Christian it is easy – we only need to consider the extent and the stench of our sin and of the enormity of God’s grace to us through the cross of Christ.  If we remember that we are forgiven sinners it will soon stop us from strutting around like a Christian Peacock going ‘look at me aren’t I holy’!!  As well as being aware of our sin, if we remember that other people, especially those who we dislike and extra-especially those who dislike us, are wonderful creations of God, made by Him in His own image, then we will have a much better perspective on reality and it will help us to be genuinely humble.  It is the soil of genuine humility, with everybody looking to Christ, that provides the only environment in which the Church will grow and thrive.

A woman was sitting in the waiting room for her first appointment with a new dentist. She noticed his diploma on the wall, which bore his full name. Suddenly, she remembered that a tall, handsome, dark-haired boy with the same name had been in her high school class so many years ago. Could this be the same guy she wondered? She quickly discarded any such thought when she met the balding, grey-haired man with the deeply-lined face. He’s way too old to have been my classmate, she thought to herself. Still, after he had finished examining her teeth, she asked, “Did you happen to attend Morgan Park High School?” “Yes I did”, he said, smiling with the recollection. “When did you graduate?” she asked. “1980,” he replied. “Why do you ask?” “You were in my class!” she exclaimed. “Really?” he said, looking at her closely. “What did you teach?”[i]

Sometimes we all need a bit of help to be humble, but it is important that we are. Have you ever heard Nicky Gumbel (Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton and author of the Alpha Course) speak?  Compared to most Christians, he could be excused for patting himself on the back a little, but even though God has used Nicky to reach thousands, if not millions of people with the Gospel, he always credits other people and most of all Christ when he speaks – perhaps that is why God is able to use him so effectively – because he is genuinely humble.

The Apostle Paul shows us that the best example of humility is that of Christ Himself.  Verses 6 – 11 are thought to be words of an early hymn and if so what a hymn it is!  Jesus willingly and out of love for His Father and out of love for us gave up the glory of heaven.  As a member of the Trinity He gave up all the power and knowledge that went with His deity.  He emptied Himself and was born as a tiny, helpless human baby.  As we know, He lived a perfect life, never committing sin (1 Peter 2:22) and He was totally obedient to His Father in heaven.  He obediently went to the Cross and to the unimaginable pain and suffering that He bore for us there.  Look how the words change going into verse 9; from utter humility, dead on a Roman cross, He is resurrected from the dead, God highly exalts Him from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high.  The day will come when every knee will bow to Him, “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” and “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (v.10,11).  This is referring to the Day when Christ shall return, known as the “Second Coming” or the “Day of Judgement”.  Talking about such things today will get people rolling their eyes at us, even sadly sometimes amongst people who go to Church.  But we make no apologies for Scripture; we are plainly told by Christ in the Gospels (for example in Matthew 24) and in many other places as well (see Acts 1:11, 1 Corinthians 11:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, James 5:7-9, Revelation 3:11 etc.), that Christ will return and on that day, people in heaven will bow their knees before Christ and those who are left on earth at the time of His coming will bow their knees to Christ, and those who are ‘under the earth’, (referring to those in hell) will also bow their knees to Christ.  Not only will all knees bow (willingly or unwillingly) at the mention of His Name, but every tongue will also (willingly or unwillingly) confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord”.

What about us? Do we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord?  Do we bow before Him in humility, worship and wonder?  One day everyone who has ever lived will together bow their knees before Him.  The question we must ask of ourselves today is – Will I do so willingly or unwillingly?[ii]  Let us pray … Amen.

[i] http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2007/july/8073007.html (Altered)

[ii] Question adapted from: Bentley, Michael. “Shining in the Darkness”, Philippians simply explained. Welwyn Commentary Series, Durham. Evangelical Press 1997, p.80

January 15, 2014

Storms

 

On the 27th December we took a trip down to Red Strand and on to Long Strand and Ownahincha to take a look at the stormy conditions.  It was very windy and quite a job to hold the camera still enough to take pictures …

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It was a wonderful experience, to feel the strength of the wind and to hear the roar of the sea so loud that we had to shout to speak to each other.  It was also good to get back to the car and feel safe!  Looking back at these now I am reminded of all the verses in the Bible about God sheltering us from the storm, such as in Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

February 3, 2013

Worship is a way of life

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Photo: A Rainbow from our garden, November 2010

Sermon for Sunday 3/2/13

Text – Revelation 4

I remember as a ten-year-old the mixture of fear and curiosity as I waited outside the headmaster’s study, I had been summoned to see him but I did not know what it was about.  He was Scottish, he had no sense of humour (at least as far as I could discern) and he had the temper of a hungry polar bear that had just been hit with a stick…

What’s the most important meeting to which you have ever been summoned?  Can you remember what it was like; the mixture of emotions that were going through your mind and how time seemed to pass by either so quickly or so slowly, depending upon how you felt?

In our second reading today, John, the disciple of Jesus has an important meeting, but it is not one that he had been expecting or could have planned for.  John was a prisoner on the Island of Patmos, about 35 miles off the coast of south-western Turkey.  The authorities put him there, in exile, as a punishment for being a follower of and such effective witness for Christ.  Of course, rather than stopping John from being effective for Christ, the exact opposite happens; he has the chance to pray and to reflect and he receives the most explosive vision of God’s power and love, written down in this incredible last book of the Bible called ‘Revelation’.[1]

John has a vision in which he sees a door, but it is no ordinary door, this one opens up into heaven!  No doubt John is aware of his surroundings, the sky is still blue (remember, this vision is not happening in Ireland), he can still hear the waves crashing on the shore nearby and he can still feel the wind on his face, but nevertheless there is a door that is clearly from a different realm and it is open.  And a voice, like a trumpet speaks to him saying,

‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ (1)

The voice belongs to Jesus, John recognised the voice, it was loud, clear, penetrating, (like a trumpet), this was the voice of the risen Jesus.  Different but perhaps similar to Jesus’ voice with which John would have been so familiar from the three years they spent together during Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Once Jesus has spoken the vision becomes deeper, John now tells us that

‘at once I was in the spirit.’ (2)

What John sees next could not be seen with ordinary eyes, what he sees is the throne of God in heaven, yet he sees a highly symbolic view, perhaps an ‘actual’ or ‘real’ view of God’s throne would be too overwhelming to even approach, let alone describe.  He writes:

‘… and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne!  And the one seated there looks like jasper and cornelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. (3)

Then in verse 5 we see that:

‘Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God;’

Last Wednesday night do you remember the thunder and lightning we had?  Together with the howling wind and driving rain it was quite a night of weather!  On Thursday morning I opened the back door and I could see that we had a visitor – it was next door’s dog, he’s quite an old fella and he was cowering in the corner of the porch looking frightened.  The cat was there too, looking quite pleased with himself, thinking that he was the cause of the dog’s terror, but no, the dog had escaped from his own enclosure during the night because of the thunder and lightning.

Why is it that as John looks at the place where God is, it is terrifying? Why is there lightning and thunder and flashes of fire?  Perhaps this is to remind us all that God is holy, He is powerful and mighty and awesome and scary – He is not some cuddly granddad figure floating on a cloud!  In the Old Testament for an Israelite to even touch the mountain where God had come down to meet Moses would mean certain death (Exodus 19:12,13,21).  God in all His glory is utterly unapproachable, He is so incomparably perfect in every way and we are so sinful and imperfect that the gulf between us is too big.  Yet His love for us is far greater than our sin.  He is determined that we should be able to approach Him and to know Him and love Him as our heavenly Father.  The good news is that He has made a way for us to approach Him and that is through Jesus.  As well as the thunder and lightning, John also tells us that there is a rainbow that looks like an emerald.  Perhaps the most famous rainbow in the Bible is the one God showed to Noah and his family when they came out of the Ark.  That rainbow was a promise from God that never again would there be a flood like the one Noah and all in the Ark had to be rescued from.  Every time a rainbow has appeared in the sky ever since it is a reminder to humankind that God always keeps His promises.  Yes we imperfect people will break promises and go back on our word, but God never has and He never will.  So the rainbow here in the vision that John is seeing in heaven is a reminder to us all of God’s faithfulness; He will never betray us and His love for us is perfect and holy and total and that love has been fully expressed to us in Jesus.  It is a love so great that it allowed His own Son to be nailed to a cross in our place, to die the death that we deserved (Isaiah 53:5).

There’s a lot more going on in this vision; we see that around God’s throne in the centre are twenty-four thrones and seated on those twenty-four thrones are twenty-four elders.  There were twelve tribes that made up the nation of Israel and there were twelve Apostles at the birth of the church, so put the two twelve’s together and you have ‘ta daa’ … twenty-four!  So this represents all God’s people through the ages; through the time of the Old Testament and through the age of the Church (which is where we are to this day).

Then we come to what are called four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind’. (6) Often when you talk to someone who has a group of rowdy children to look after they will say something like ‘you need eyes in the back of your head with this lot’!  Of course, what they mean is that it is really difficult to see everything that is going on and they are afraid that they might miss something, such as a child injuring themselves or another child during the course of play.  So these four living creatures being covered in eyes is symbolic of the fact that they see everything, there is no pulling the wool over their eyes, they don’t miss a trick!  As well as all the eyes, each creature has a different appearance; the first one has the appearance of a lion, the king of the untamed animals and who represents power.  The second creature has the appearance of an ox, the greatest of the tamed animals, representing strength.  The third creature has the face of a human, representing intelligence and showing the importance of the human race in God’s creation.  The fourth creature is like a flying eagle, the undisputed king of the birds, representing swiftness.  These creatures appear elsewhere in the Bible (Ezekiel 1, Isaiah 6) and they are called Seraphim, high ranking Angelic beings, they are the ones who surround the throne of God and who lead worship – and what worship it is!

I’ve sometimes heard grumpy people complain that in some other churches they sing too much (indeed I know I have sometimes moaned about it too); whether it be charismatic praise lasting twenty minutes or more, or choral evensong in a Cathedral taking far longer than we think it should.  If we think that is bad we might be in for a bit of a shock in heaven, where in this vision of John, the four angels around the throne of God never stop singing, day and night!  Of course this would be no ordinary singing; this would be the most beautiful noise and well beyond the scope of our earthly ears to fully appreciate… and what do they sing?

‘Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’ (8)

The thing that happens next is so beautiful that I had tears in my eyes as I was typing the words at the computer – the twenty-four elders join in the worship too.  We as the church of God are included; the day will come when we are around the throne of God, there are absolutely no words to describe what that will be like; it will be beyond spine-tingling, it will be the most beautiful and awesome thing beyond what we could ever imagine and with countless numbers of others we will join in the worship and we will sing, with beautiful new voices:

‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.’ (11)

All Creation exists because of God the Creator and all creation exists to worship Him.  God made us as the pinnacle of His Creation and the whole point and meaning of our lives now and that new life which is to come finds its purpose and meaning only in worshipping Him who made us.  Let us worship him now and never let us stop worshiping Him in the way that we live our lives for Him who gave His life for us.  Worship is indeed a way of life and we will never be fully content or find peace and joy until we realise that God is worthy, more than worthy of our worship, not just singing worship but to worship Him with all of our lives, every moment, with all that we are and everything that we have… Amen.

Bibliography:

Tom Wright, ‘Revelation for Everyone’, SPCK 2011 (Kindle edition)
William Hendriksen “More than Conquerors”, Tyndale Press, 1962
John Richardson, “Revelation Unwrapped”, MPA Books, 1996


[1] Tom Wright, ‘Revelation for Everyone’, SPCK 2011 (Kindle) Location 315

January 27, 2013

The day they wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff

Inchydoney Sea Thrift

Photo: Sea Thrift flowers at Inchydoney, on the side of the small cliffs there.

Sermon for Sunday 27/1/13.  Text Luke 4:14-30

Many of you have I’m sure lived away from home for a time and if you have, can you remember what it was like coming home?  Perhaps you were nervous, perhaps you were excited about seeing your family and friends again and revisiting those places that were so much a part of your upbringing.  Think too of what it was like going back to the church in whose pews you sat as a child…

The Lord Jesus had been away from His home town for a while; He had been down in the south of the country and there he had been baptised by John in the river Jordan and then he had been in the desert wilderness and Samaria.  Now he was back in the North, back in Galilee and was returning to His home town of Nazareth, to his Mother and family and to the houses and streets and Synagogue with which He would have been so familiar from his growing up years.

Luke tells us that Jesus was ‘filled with the power of the Spirit’ (14)  There was something different about Jesus now, of course, he had always been different, he had after all never sinned (2 Cor.5:21), and as fully man and fully God, he had always been full of the Holy Spirit.  Now though there is a new power about him, his ministry has fully begun – He has been baptised and filled anew with the Spirit and he has overcome the devil in the desert.  He has a new focus, a new passion and commitment.  He has been going around the synagogues in the area and everyone has been really impressed with him and sung his praises.

So, the Lord is back in Nazareth and on Saturday morning, the Sabbath, he goes to church (I mean synagogue, but it really was quite like church).  The Synagogue in Nazareth would have been small, it would have been traditional, they wouldn’t have had the latest worship songs.  I think it’s safe to say that Mary and perhaps Jesus’ younger brothers and sisters would have been there and it’s not hard for us to imagine the anticipation in the air as the Lord stood up to read from Isaiah.  He unrolls the scroll and reads the words:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (from Isaiah 61:1,2).

As he rolls up the scroll and hands it back to the attendant you would have been able to hear a pin drop, all the eyes are fixed upon Him.  This is Jesus, the local boy made good.

It all starts off very well.  Jesus says in response to the reading from Isaiah:

‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (21)

Now this is a very bold statement, these words from Isaiah are part of a prophecy about the Messiah, that He will be the one sent to Israel to set them free from oppression and captivity and to usher in a new era of God’s blessing and favour.  Jesus’ audience like what He has to say; Luke tells us that, ‘All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.’ (22)

But the honeymoon doesn’t last long.  The awe of the people in the ‘pews’ doesn’t linger, they say, ‘hang on a minute, isn’t this Joseph’s son, we’ve known him since he was knee-high to a grasshopper?’  It is always easier for the outsider to be listened to; we take them at face value and give them the benefit of the doubt.  But when it is one of our own, one whom we have known since they were a child then it is much more difficult for us to accept them and what they have to say.  So for these people of Nazareth it is a difficult thing to accept that this child of Joseph as they thought, (see 3:23) is the Messiah.

The people are confused and that confusion will very soon turn to anger.  They had heard about the miracles that Jesus had been performing and His reputation was growing all the time, but could He really be the Messiah?

Perhaps any ordinary preacher would have snuck out the back door by now, but Jesus is no ordinary preacher, and He will certainly not let anyone get in the way of God’s Word.  There is more to say and He is going to say it:

‘…there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine all over the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.’ (25, 26)

The citizens of Nazareth were just like their fellow countrymen and women throughout Israel, they were a proud people.  As far as they were concerned, they had the monopoly on God.  Their history showed that they were God’s chosen, special and blessed people.  They would have treasured the promise of Deuteronomy 7:6, which says:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

The Lord Jesus is saying that God also loves the other nations; Jesus will die not just for the sins of Israel but for the world: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)  Jesus reminds them of how God sent the prophet Elijah to a foreign widow for food and shelter when he was on the run from king Ahab (1 Kings 17,18).  In case the point has not hit home, Jesus gives them another example, of the Syrian army commander Naaman, who was healed of leprosy through the ministry of Elisha.  In other words yes God loves Israel, but He also loves the rest of the world and He wants to reach out and save them too.

For the people of Nazareth this was a great insult, it wounded their national pride and conceit.  It would be like God saying to the flag-waving Unionists that He also loved and deeply cared about their Roman Catholic neighbours and wanted them to do the same.  How outrageous, how insulting, how blasphemous!  We don’t mind hearing that God is great and just and holy and pure, but when we are told that he will have mercy on people who we don’t like and with whom we strongly disagree, we cannot stand it.[1]  To find out that God loves those whom we hate will make us furious and so it was with the people in church that morning.

‘They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.’ (29)

What drove the people to fury was that God was rescuing the wrong people.  It would be someone in Britain or France during world war two speaking about God’s healing and restoration for Nazi Germany[2].

One of the beautiful things about the unity service we shared in the Roman Catholic Church last week was the joy of just being able to be together, free of the past, the past where we were suspicious of each other, the past where each saw themselves as the ‘real’ church and the other somehow not part of God’s true church on earth.  The joy was not ours alone but a joy that, I believe, was and is a gift given to us by God.  Generations of mutual suspicion and mistrust are, all over the country coming to an end.  None of us know what God has in store for His united Church on this Island, but the Spirit is leading us and it is wonderfully exciting.  Yes, there will always be those who will cling on to the past, who are able to give lots of reasons and examples as to why this cannot be God’s will, but so long as we keep focusing on the Lord Jesus, we will not fall into that trap.  We don’t want to find ourselves unwittingly in that angry mob as they bundled Jesus out of the church and marched Him to the cliff edge.  Jesus had returned to the town and to his home church full of the Holy Spirit and they did not like it.  God was in their midst, it should have been the start of a wonderful revival, there should have been many conversions and healings, it should have been a time of wonderful blessing and joy.  But what did they want to do when God showed up in power?  They wanted to kill Him, to kill God!  No longer was God in the box they wanted to keep Him in, so they wanted to hurl Him off a cliff.

What on earth must be going through Mary’s mind at this point?  Luke doesn’t tell us; instead we are left to ask ourselves the question, ‘What would I have done had I been there?  Would I have gone along with the crowd, would I have tried to stop them?  Am I angry at Jesus for loving the people that I don’t like, the people I disagree with and the person I can’t forgive?’  It’s OK to be angry, but in that place of rage let’s not push Jesus away, rather let us fall on our knees and surrender.  Remember that He loved us even though before we gave our life to Him, we were God’s enemies (Colossians 1:21).  Let us surrender ourselves now and always to the one who loves even us, loves us so much that He gave His life in our place.  Not only does He love us, He loves our enemies too and He wants us to do the same (Matt.5:44)… Amen.

 


[1] J.C. Ryle, Expository thoughts on the Gospel, Luke, Vol.1, James Clarke & Co. 1956, p.122

[2] Tom Wright, ‘Luke for Everyone’, SPCK 2004, p.47

December 16, 2012

Rejoice

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(Photo: St. Brendan the Navigator, Bantry, perhaps rejoicing at the discovery of distant new shores.)

Sermon for Sunday 16th December, text: Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice is not a word we use much, it seems quite old-fashioned sounding; we are not used to seeing it in a text message, or hearing it said on the nine o’clock news. Yet it is a beautiful word. It means ‘to delight in God’s grace’, to express our joy at the experience of His undeserved favour and to be conscious of His unconditional love for us[1]. See, I told you it was a beautiful word. As followers of the Lord Jesus, we have good reason to do a lot of rejoicing and our reading today from Paul’s letter to his friends in Philippi should help us rediscover the urge to rejoice that we may have lost somewhere along the way of our everyday lives.

Paul writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

It seems that the Philippians needed a reminder about rejoicing too, as Paul thinks it is worth repeating; “again I will say, Rejoice.”

In this season of Advent, let us rejoice in God’s love for us in sending Jesus, God born a baby to show us how much He loves us. God doesn’t keep his distance; He does not want or need us to work our way up to Him (we couldn’t anyway, even if we tried). God has come down to us in Jesus, and that is something to greatly rejoice about. Let us be like the wise men, who rejoiced when they saw the star leading them to Jesus (Matt. 2:10).

I saw something recently, which reminded me of Christmas and what it’s all about; it was at the swimming pool, where one of our boys was having a swimming lesson. The teacher was standing on the edge of the pool while her class were splashing away in the water beneath her. Everything was going fine except that there was a little girl who was getting increasingly frustrated; she just couldn’t keep us with the others in the class and she had started crying. So the teacher, wearing a tracksuit, got into the pool and held the little girl and spoke encouraging words to her and walked with her up and down the pool along with all the other children. Soon the little girl was smiling again. It reminded me of how God came down to us, to help us, to show us the way but of course Jesus did so much more than that; He was not only born for us, but as we know, he died on the cross for us too and rose again for us as well. What a God we have. Rejoice we must.

Next Paul wrote:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone.

The word ‘gentleness’ (ἐπιεικής), means to be gentle in terms of being fair and reasonable, not to judge by the ‘letter of the law’ but by the ‘spirit of the law’[2]. So when Paul says “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” He is talking about the way that the Philippians (and us) should live our lives everyday. What kind of reputation do we have outside of the walls of this church? Are we known as a hard-nosed businessman, as a ‘chancer’ or ‘cute hoor’? When people think of us do they think of someone who is gentle, someone who is fair and kind-hearted? We are to live lives where we reflect Jesus. Are people drawn towards Jesus or away from Jesus when they encounter us?

We have another link with Advent when Paul writes the four-word sentence:

The Lord is near.

There is a clever double meaning here. Yes the Lord is near to us, closer than we would think and there is nowhere we can go in this life where the Lord would not be near to us (Psalm 139:7-10). There is also the sense that the Lord is near as in the second coming. So the point is that we should be encouraged to let our gentleness be known to everyone because Jesus is with us and He will help us, but also that we should let our gentleness be known to everyone because time is short, we need to seize the opportunities that God gives us because we never know when time will come to an end. We could die tomorrow, the person we are trying to show God’s love to could die today. The Lord could return at any moment, so for God’s sake and for the sake of those around us, let our gentleness be known to everyone.

Next comes the bit we’ve all been waiting for; they are some of the most famous and popular verses in the whole Bible. Paul writes:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Q. What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches?
A.  A nervous wreck.

The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety. (George Muller.)[3]

I heard a good definition of worry recently, that it is ‘meditation but without the prayer!’ I really hope that we all make time to meditate on Scripture, that is why we have our ‘memory verses’ in the Service Guide each week to help us get started. The idea is that you read the verse or verses over and over, again and again and you let the words sink into you and soak into your soul. You absorb them so that they become a part of you. Have you ever seen a professional wine taster at work? The way they breathe in deeply as they sip the wine and let flavours wash back and forth over their tongue and they savour the different nuances and characteristics of the grape is amazing to watch. Meditating on Scripture is a bit like that, though of course we do not spit it out at the end! When we worry about something, we let it roll over and over in our mind and it can be so bad that it can stop us eating or sleeping properly (or worse). Worry is self-destructive, but meditation is something that builds us up and gives us strength, it is nourishing and life-giving. Paul tells us not to worry about anything at all but instead to turn what is on our minds into a prayer. It is very easy to turn a worry into a prayer is it not? We just have to direct what is on our minds towards God; give Him a list of all the things that are worrying or concerning us. As we do this, we are to be thankful, thankful that we have a God who hears and answers our prayers. When we post a letter into the letter box, we don’t think that it is going to disappear into a hole in the ground and never be seen again, we have faith that it will arrive at its intended destination and that the person will read it. In a much greater way, when we pray we know that without delay our Heavenly Father hears us and that our prayer is answered even before we have finished praying.

When we realise this, it should fill us with a peace that can only come from God, a peace which is beyond all human understanding. The word used for peace (εἰρήνη) includes the idea of being whole or complete; when you have your shoe-laces undone the laces are all over the place and you may well trip over them, but when they are tied, they are whole and complete and as they should be. Similarly our minds are not at peace when we have thoughts all over the place, but in the place of prayer, where we lay all before God, He takes our thoughts, concerns and worries from us and onto Himself. Remember the Lord Jesus said:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  (Matthew 11:29)

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

It’s funny isn’t it how often we seem to want to hold on to our worries, fears and anxieties, it is almost as if we find that they give us purpose and something to live for.  But God wants us to be free (John 8:36), Has has a wonderful plan and purpose for our lives, He longs for us to trust Him; trust Him with our hearts, our lives, our family, trust Him with our past, trust Him now and trust him for the future. He wants us to trust Him with our parents, our children our spouse and all our relationships. He wants us to take a hold of His outstretched nail-pierced hands and let Him lead us through the fullness of a life lived not for ourselves, but for Him, who made us for that very purpose, to have a relationship with Him.

If you are still awake at this point you might very well ask me:  How can I have this life that you are talking about? I go to church, I pray, I pay all my taxes but I just don’t know God the way you are describing. What do I need to do?

It’s all about passion. How much do you want to know God? Do you hunger after Him, thirst with longing, or are you just content with an on-off relationship without real commitment? What if you were to say to your wife or husband: “Well I can see you this Sunday morning for an hour and maybe one evening a week for another hour or two, but that’s all.” They probably wouldn’t be too impressed would they! In fact you couldn’t have a marriage like that, so what makes us think we can have a relationship with our Creator like that?[4]  We need to be in relationship with God ALL THE TIME, and if we only limit God to a couple of slots a week, then that is why our relationship with him is lukewarm at best. In Jeremiah 29:13, God says to His people:

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.

If we seek God with all of our heart, we really will find Him.

May we pray: … Amen

December 11, 2012

mind at peace

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You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.

(Isaiah 26:3)

I found it very helpful recently when I heard this Bible verse quoted in a sermon I was listening to.  Staying or fixing or focussing our minds upon God, whether in the quiet place of prayer or in the midst of a hectic day results in peace.  God is the fixed point of focus when everything else is all over the place, it is great to remember that He is the God of peace…