21.5.17 – The Feast We Are Not Eating – Peter Cheyne

Think of someone for whom you have the greatest admiration – someone it would be a privilege to meet and who words and insights you would trust. If you actually are, that is fine. Are you thinking of someone whose words you would love to hear?

Suppose that person said that he/she would be willing to ring you each day to have a conversation that would be personally crafted for your unique situation. Each day you would get some wisdom. Would you answer the phone? Would you take that call?

An amazing thing happened to me this week. On Monday I emailed Mary Jane Sime saying what I expected the theme of the sermon to be and that it would be based on Ps 119. On Wednesday, at the ministry conference at East Taieri, Martin Macaulay, the minister preached on the same topic, making the same points, using the same structure and basing it on Ps 119. It was uncanny. Now that it has written, it has turned out a bit different but I think God knew that this was going to be a slightly pressured week and He gave me a head-start with the sermon.

Martin said that in 1997, the British and Foreign Bible Society did a survey of Bible readership in Britain which showed that 18% of regular church-goers have never read anything in the Bible for themselves in their whole lives and another 14% had not opened their Bible in the last year. That means that virtually 1/3 of church-goers had not read their Bibles in the last year.

In 2008, the NZ Bible Society did a survey that revealed that only 11% of those who call themselves Christians read their Bibles daily, with another 13% reading it weekly. So, only 24% of Christians read their Bible at least weekly. A bigger percentage (27%) said they never read their Bibles. 6% of Christians said they didn’t own a Bible and had no interest.

That is scary! 9% of Christians do not even own a Bible. A full 68% (more than 2/3 of Christians) read the Bible, at best, only occasionally.

I would be delighted if we were the exception. Do you think we are?

The prophet, Amos, predicted a day when there would be a famine in the land – not a famine of bread or water but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11). It wasn’t that the word of the Lord wasn’t available but that people would not hear it. We have any amount of access to the Bible. We possibly have several versions in our homes. It is available online; there are Bible apps on our phones etc etc etc. We have Bibles coming out of our ears but, if these figures are true for us, we are not reading them. The surveys also show that Christians cannot answer relatively easy questions about the Bible.

Does that matter? It sure does. When we neglect the Bible, we suffer. I spoke to a person at the conference who has been a Christian only 3 years but he had a wonderful knowledge of God’s word. As a young Christian, he looks at the church and sees all sorts of things that are not right. He says, “They are the symptoms; the disease is a lack of knowledge of the word of God.”

Jesus, talking to the Pharisees, said, “You are in error because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God” (Mt 22:19). When we do not know what God says, we will adopt the views of the world, and we will be in error. All of our actions are motivated by our beliefs. If our beliefs are wrong then our actions will also be displeasing to God.

Romans 12:2       Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.

Our minds are transformed as we read the word of God and our thinking is more and more aligned with God’s thinking. But without that, our lives and our church, will be worldly. History would show that, when the word of God is neglected, the church does become worldly – powerless and often corrupt. And when the church degenerates, so does society.

Can we claim to have a relationship with God if we don’t listen to Him? Can we claim to know God and to love Him if we don’t listen to Him?

On the other hand, the very first mentioned characteristics of the post-Pentecost church, in Acts 2, is that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. A vibrant church is always a church where the members are devoted to the word of God. They know how God thinks; they know what God values; they know what God requires of them and they know the power of God, because they know their Bibles. They make wise, godly decisions because they know their Bibles.

Psalm 119:16      I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

Think about that word “delight”. And we could list lots of similar words the psalmist uses to describe how much he loves the word of God. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. We read less than 1/7 of it but even in just those verses, the writer said:

  • I seek you with all my heart
  • I have hidden your word in my heart
  • With my lips I recount your law
  • I rejoice in following your statutes, as one rejoices in great riches
  • My soul is consumed with longing for your law at all times
  • I meditate on your decrees
  • Your statutes are my delight; they are my counsellors
  • How I long for your precepts.

It is passionate and ardent and filled with wonder and a hunger for more and more. Oh my goodness, how that contrasts with the lackadaisical indifference that is true of so much of the church today. Whereas he says, “I will not neglect your word”, neglect is exactly what is happening today.

Why would that be? Why do Christians not read the Bible? What are the barriers?

  1. It is a big book. It is daunting.

That is true. I am not a great reader. I seldom tackle a book that big. It is daunting. In general, people are less literate and so reading a book with, say, 1500 pages is just not something we do.

But, actually, is that more than just an excuse? The Bible is a big volume but it consists of 66 books. The average number of words per book is about 11,000. I think a normal paperback contains about 80,000 to 100,000 words so 11,000 is actually a very small book – definitely manageable. We can start small (and we will talk more about that next week). We can read just a chapter, just one verse, and God can speak through it. For those of us who are not such good readers, there are translations available, specifically designed for us. And there are audio versions and video versions available free online. The Bible is actually extraordinarily accessible to just about anyone.

  1. It is too difficult to understand

Again, it is true that parts of it are difficult. It reflects a different culture and a different age. Some of that can be confusing. Some parts are notoriously difficult to understand. The Bible even says that of itself. Peter wrote that some of Paul’s letters were difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:16) and that was for people who were contemporaries and did know the culture. Besides all that, it deals with spiritual realities that require spiritual understanding.

Many people have decided to read the Bible and have become bogged down in bits that are just too hard.

But there is another side to that coin as well. Yes, there are difficult bits but actually most of the Bible is pretty clear.

And there are all manner of resources available to help us understand it.

Besides that, God wants to speak to us. The Bible is such that the simplest person can read it and understand. Let us take our lead from the writer of Psalm 119. He takes these difficulties to God and asks for help.

Ps 119:18            Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

When there are things I don’t get, “Lord, open my eyes.” Likewise, in v.12 he says, “teach me your decrees”. V.19: “Do not hide your commands from me.” V.33: “Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees.” V.34: “Give me understanding”. Let us imitate him and pray for God to give us understanding.

Mark Twain is reported to have said, “It is not what I don’t understand about the Bible that frightens me; it is what I do understand.”

That raises two points. Firstly, some of it is very plain. Don’t worry about what you don’t understand; focus on what you do. Secondly, what God says can be challenging. One reason for not reading the Bible is the knowledge that, if we hear God speak, we will be responsible for doing something about it.

  1. It is more comfortable not hearing God speak.

That is true too – kind of. God does ask things of us. We can avoid that by not reading the Bible.

But we have to consider what blessings we are also missing out on. It is by hiding God’s word in our hearts that we can avoid sin. It is by understanding God’s ways that we can please Him. In this psalm God’s word is said to give freedom (v.45), to preserve our lives (v.50), to comfort (v.52), it gives knowledge and good judgement (v.66). Do you want to be wise? Then study the word of God. There are many other reasons the psalmist delights in God’s word and says it is more precious than thousands of pieces of silver and gold (v.72).

  1. Busyness

How often have we felt too busy to read the Bible? We are rushing in the morning so we think we will find some time at night. But the evening is full too and by the time we go to bed we know we will not be able to keep our eyes open.

Busyness is real but it is all about priorities. What are we putting ahead of reading God’s word? What is important to us? That is a decision each of us has to make. What will we prioritise?

Again, the psalmist knows about that temptation but his desire is to put God first. Look at vv.36-37

Psalm 119:36-37 Turn my heart towards your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.

Even if most Christians read their Bibles only occasionally or never, we can be different. We can have the same desire as the psalmist, saying “I will not neglect your word” and asking God for His help as we read it. We can have the same delight that the psalmist had. “My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.” And we can know the same blessings: Blessed are those who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their hearts” (v.2).

From next week we are going to get more practical. What can we actually do to discover more of the riches of God’s word? Where do we start?  How can we hear God speak? But it starts with wanting to. What if God offered to give you advice, wisdom and encouragement each day that would be just perfect for you. Would you take that call? Will you recommit to picking up your Bible and praying, “Open my eyes, that I might see wonderful things in your law.”

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14.5.17 – What is The Bible? – Peter Cheyne

What is the Bible? That is such an easy question I am not going to answer it. Instead, I have 18 questions for you. Is that OK?

The word “Bible” comes from the Latin “biblia” (Greek “biblos”) meaning book but it is not a book. It is a collection of books.

  1. How many books are there in the Bible?
  2. How many authors wrote it?
  3. What period was it written over?
  4. How many languages were used to write it?
  5. On what continent, or continents, was it written?

It is a collection of books that contain many different types of literature e.g. history, law, letters.

6. What other types of literature can you think of?

Despite that diversity and the length of time it took to write, it has a coherent message. You might expect it to be a hodgepodge of different and conflicting teachings and ideas but it is actually consistent from the beginning to the end. Hmmm, really? Because people talk about the Bible containing contradictions. There are tricky bits but, actually, most of those who say there are contradictions cannot tell you what they are.

7.  What is that message? Is the Bible primarily

a. A guide to living?
b. A comfort for hurting people?
c. A revelation of God?
d. A description of God’s plan of salvation?
e. A collection of snippets of wisdom?
f. Great literature?

It is all of those things but it is primarily a description of God’s plan of salvation

  • The need for salvation – beginning with Adam and Eve’s sin
  • The character of God
  • The character of human beings
  • The inability of human beings to be perfect
  • The provision of a Saviour
  • The future promised to those who are saved (and the future prospects for those who are not)

The whole of the Bible has one central character.

8. Who is that central character?

The whole of the Bible is about Jesus. Even the 2/3 of the Bible written before Jesus was born are about Jesus.

Luke 24:27          And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning Himself.

All of the scriptures, from the very beginning – Moses and the prophets – are about Jesus.

John 5:39-40       39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

9. What would be the first reference to Jesus in the Bible?

The rest of the Old Testament (the first 2/3 of the Bible, written before Jesus was born) contains many prophecies of Jesus and many types of Jesus. Types are people or events that reveal something about Jesus because of similarities between the two. For example, the whole sacrifice system in the Temple points forward to Jesus being the sacrificial lamb. Jonah is a type. Jesus likened His three days in the grave to Jonah’s three days in the belly of the fish. God organised Old Testament things to reveal what would happen. Jesus’ Aramaic name was Yehu’a, or Joshua, and the Old Testament Joshua is a type of Jesus in that he delivered the people into the Promised Land – into their God-promised inheritance – just as Jesus leads His people into heaven. And there are dozens more examples.

10. Can you think of other “types”?

That should raise a question in our minds – or a series of questions. How can the Bible be written by so many different people over such a long period and still tell a consistent story? How could people hundreds of years before Jesus, prophesy details that could not be verified until centuries later? How could such a diverse collection of people who would never meet each other, organise all of these parallels between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

They all point to the fact that the Bible is inspired by God. There was one mind behind it all coordinating the whole project. There might have been dozens of people involved but they were all inspired by God. They wrote what God inspired them to write. Their different personalities shine through but what they wrote and even how they wrote it was inspired by God.

2 Peter 2:21        For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Timothy 3:16-17      16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The significance of that is that the Bible is not a human book filled with human wisdom – fallible human wisdom. It is a God-inspired truth. The Bible is absolutely trustworthy. It is not just opinion; it is truth.

Of course, some people will disagree with that. The Bible comes in for quite a lot of criticism. It is common these days for people to describe it as an iron-age book, the implication being that it is merely human and written by ignorant, unsophisticated humans. I guess all I can say is that we need to test it for ourselves. We need to read it and discern if it is simply an ancient, and now outdated, human book or if it is The word of God.

Last week we talked about examples of God speaking powerfully through the Bible; about it being alive and active. That is one indication that it is more than just a human book. Again, the fulfilled prophecies and the consistency of the Bible indicate that it is not a human product. It has been shown to be true time after time after time. No one has disproved the Bible. Archaeological finds continue to authenticate the history recorded in the Bible. Often when people have declared something to be wrong, subsequent archaeological research has confirmed the biblical account.

There are many books written about ‘can we trust the Bible’? It is a huge subject – too big to deal with now. There are always doubters but it is also important to realise that there are also very intelligent and informed people who are not embarrassed to state that the Bible is indeed God-inspired truth.

If it is the word of God, then we would expect it to reflect the character of God. God is not a liar; therefore, His word does not lie. God is not inconsistent; therefore, His word is not inconsistent. God loves us; therefore, His word conveys His love. God is holy and His word is holy.

The Bible refers to itself using a number of images that tell us more about its character. We have already used one: The word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword. That passage says that it penetrates right into our hearts judging our thoughts and attitudes. It is sharper than a sword; it cuts right into our inner self.

11. Can you think of other images the Bible uses of itself?

It is said to be a light.

Psalm 119:105    Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.

In other words, the Bible gives guidance and shows the way. It helps us to see what would otherwise be hidden. It reveals.

Jesus likened it to seeds. When explaining the parable of the sower, He said, “the sower sows the word” (Mk 4:14). There the image is of something that is spread widely but will it take root and bear fruit?

James likens the Bible to a mirror.

James 1:22-25     22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

Looking into the Bible and not doing what it says is like looking into a mirror and then doing nothing about your appearance.

Listen again to v.25. whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

There is a comment there about the quality of the Bible, two comments about the impact of the Bible and three conditions.

12. How does James describe the Bible in terms of it quality?
13. What two things does he say the Bible does?
14. What are the three conditions?

Last question:
15. How would you answer the question “What is the Bible”?

We are going to read Ps 19:7-11. I think you will hear echoes of the things we have been saying. As we read it, ask yourself:

16. What images are used of the Bible?
17. What does the Bible do?
18. What is required of us if the Bible is to do its work?

 

Answers

  1. 66
  2. About 40
  3. 1500-1600 years
  4. Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek
  5. Europe, Asia, Africa
  6. History, law, letters/epistles, stories/narrative, poetry, wisdom literature (proverbs etc), apocalyptic, prophecy, gospels, parables…
  7. A description of God’s plan of salvation
  8. Jesus
    1. Gen 1:1 – God created the heavens and the earth. Jesus is God.
    2. Gen 1:26 – “let us make mankind in our image”. God is plural.
    3. Gen 3:15 – “I will put enmity between you [the snake] and the woman, between your offspring and her; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal.”
  9. Many. Some are mentioned in the text above.
  10. Light, seed, mirror, honey, gold, rock, food, hammer, fire…
  11. The perfect law
  12. Gives freedom; brings blessing
  13. Look intently; do not forget; do it
  14. More precious than gold; sweeter than honey
  15. Various
    1. Refresh the soul
    2. Make the simple wise
    3. Give joy to the heart
    4. Give light to the eyes
    5. Warn
    6. Bring great reward
  16. Keep them
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7.5.17 – God Speaks – Peter Cheyne

About 640 years before Jesus, Josiah became king of Judah. His grandfather had been King Manasseh and his father had been King Amon, both of whom were evil men. Josiah became king when he was 8 years old. Somewhat surprisingly, given his heritage, the Bible describes his reign like this:

2 Kings 22:2        He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.

In the eighteenth year of his reign –about 622 B.C. – he sent Shaphan, the secretary, up to the temple to get, from the priest Hilkiah, the money donated by the people. Let’s read what happened. Read 2 King 22:8-13

A prophetess, Huldah, confirmed that God would still destroy Judah because of the people’s sin. But she added…

Read 2 Kings 22:18-23:3

A great many reforms followed. Items dedicated to pagan gods were removed from the temple and destroyed. Josiah did away with idolatrous priests and temple prostitutes. He destroyed the altars and shrines built on the tops of the hills and slaughtered the priests who served there. He stopped the sacrifice of children to the pagan god, Molek. He stopped worship of the sun. He tore down altars built by previous kings.

It was a time of national revival and repentance and turning back to the Lord. Nevertheless, God’s judgement did come. Judah was conquered and the people carried into exile in Babylon.

About 180 years later, many were allowed to return. They rebuilt the temple and the walls of Jerusalem, under Nehemiah. Then, Ezra, the teacher of the Law, was told to read from the Book of the Law of Moses to the crowd of people assembled in Jerusalem. Standing on a wooden platform, Ezra read from the scriptures from daybreak to noon and the people listened attentively.

Read Nehemiah 8:5-9

As the people heard God’s word, they reinstituted the religious festivals. They listened to the reading of the Book of the Law for quarter of the day and then spent another quarter in confession of their sins and the sins of their ancestors, and in worship of God. And it led to a renewal of the covenant with God.

Fast forward to about 30 A.D., two discouraged men walked the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus joined them (although they didn’t recognise Him.)

Luke 24:27          And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning Himself.

A little later, their eyes were opened and they did recognise Him, and Jesus disappeared.

Luke 24:32          They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?”

Fast forward about 350 years. A brilliant young man, Augustine, was searching for truth. His mother, Monica, was a Christian but Christianity did not satisfy this young man. He lived a life of sexual immorality and dabbled in a variety of religions. Because of his mother’s influence, Augustine, retained some attraction to Jesus and he learned of intelligent people who were converting to Christianity and giving up their worldly lives to serve Jesus. But he was powerless to tear himself away from his way of life. In the late summer of 386 A.D., tormented by his confusion, he sat in a garden, where he heard a child’s voice singing, “Pick it up and read it; pick it up and read it.” He thought perhaps it was part of a child’s game but he could not remember any such game. He then realised that it might be an instruction from God. He found a Bible, opened it and read the first passage he saw.

Romans 13:13-14       Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not ins sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissention and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Augustine sensed that God was speaking personally to him. Instantly he felt “a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” He turned from his sin and to Jesus.

Augustine went on to become a bishop and one of the greatest minds in the history of the world. His writings still influence Christian understanding.

Fast forward about 1,130 years to about 1514. Martin Luther was a German Catholic monk who lectured on the Bible in the Wittenberg University. But he had no assurance that his sins were forgiven despite all his efforts at self-denial and attempts to live righteously. He hated this righteous God who judged unrighteous people. And so he searched the scriptures, one day coming across…

Romans 1:17       For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed –a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “the righteous will live by faith.”

Luther later wrote, “Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate of heaven.”

Martin Luther rediscovered the gospel which was not preached by the church at the time. The righteous God mercifully gives grace to those who put their faith in Jesus. It is not about our efforts to be good or about performing certain acts demanded by the church or paying money to the church. It is through faith in Jesus Christ.

With this new understanding, in 1517, Luther protested against the practices of the church, leading to the Reformation – a revolution in the church that changed the history of Europe and the world. The alert among you will realise that 1517 is 500 years ago this year.

Fast forward another 225 years to 1738. John Wesley was the son of an Anglican clergyman and a very godly mother. We went to Oxford University and was then himself ordained as a vicar. Later, returning to Oxford, he became part of “the Holy Club” and group including his brother, Charles, who covenanted with each other to live disciplined Christian lives given to serious study of the Bible, prayer, fasting, and charitable works.

In 1735 John and Charles travelled to the United States to be missionaries to the Indians but they were ineffective and returned to England dispirited. Neither was sure that he actually was a child of God. Wesley wrote, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?”

On May 24 1738, seeking God’s grace, he went to a Christian meeting. He later wrote, “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.”

In this instance, it was not the reading of scriptures that had this effect. It was reading an explanation of the scriptures – Luther’s commentary on the book of Romans. Nevertheless, God did in that moment what years of good works had not been able to do. This minister and missionary became a child of God.

Fast forward to May 7 2017. I have no idea how many people will be utterly changed today through hearing, or reading, the Bible but I guarantee that it will happen. The stories we have heard are all high-profile but there are thousands and thousands of others:

  • the man watching porn in his hotel room and then picking up the Gideon’s Bible and being convicted of his need for Jesus
  • the person about to commit suicide who finds a page of a Bible blown against his leg; who reads it and who discovers that Jesus died for him
  • the mother suffering post-natal depression who is visited by a friend who reads little portions of the Bible to her and who learns that God loves her
  • the Communist Russian border guard who confiscated Bibles from Christians entering Russia and who picked one up wondering what it is all about – and came to faith in Jesus.

It happens all of the time.

The Bible is like no other book. Other books can be influential in their own way, but no book has the power of the Bible.

Hebrews 4:12      For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

No other book penetrates like the Bible and reveals the state of our hearts. And no other book speaks of the saving grace of God like the Bible does. The Bible convicts of sin but it also speaks God’s mercy to the sinner. How can angry, or desperate, people open the Bible at random and their eyes light on a verse that speaks directly to their situation? It is absolutely miraculous. There can be no natural explanation – no explanation except that God speaks through His word. The word of God is alive and active.

It is absolutely incredible that God has given the world a book through which He speaks directly. What a privilege – a personal communication from God!

This term I want to explore how we can hear what God is saying through His word – through this precious, precious gift.

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23.4.17 – Living With Our Living Lord – Rachel Judge

 

Searching God,

You keep on looking for us when we feel lost. You find us in the most unexpected places, and you draw us to find you, easily, openly. Take the scales from our eyes now, Lord Jesus, we pray, so we may see you and meet you in the midst of our realities and recognise you as Saviour and Lord.

Inhabit my words and our hearts now we pray for we are eager to embrace your truth for our times,

In Christ we pray,

Amen

 

Going for a walk makes a lot of sense.

We get from one place to another.

Our spirits are calmed.

We work through a problem in our minds as we move.

We chat with a friend on the way.

We arrive home in a buoyant mood, having thought and prayed, been transfixed by the views on the way and pondering on what we’ve come across as we’ve walked.

When we reach the stage we can’t walk so often or so far ………… now that’s a loss for which we grieve.

Sometimes also we are sad for what we can’t remember, or can’t quite discern or grasp a truth that is hovering within or around us.

It’s only later, when we’re home, and quiet, or wake up from a sleep, that we join the dots, that the truth of a situation dawns on us.

These guys, walking west to Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, were lost in their thoughts, and disappointment. Yes, the setting sun might have dazzled their eyes, to prevent them from recognising Jesus, but also their regret shadowed the truth.

We were hoping, they said to Jesus, about Jesus, it turns out, ‘that he was the one who would set Israel free.’

Christ is risen was our cry on Easter Sunday. This is the truth every day, not just when everyone else seems happy, when we sing victorious hymns and the grave is newly empty. Because Jesus rose from the dead every conversation has hope, and even grim situations can be redeemed.

The two downcast disciples on their way to Emmaus were so immersed in their grief that they failed to recognise Jesus beside them.

For various reasons we and others close to us may be downcast also. We and they may struggle to see past the shadows to the sunlight. The disciples’ hopes had been shattered. When Jesus came and talked naturally with them, ‘the meaning of life became clear and the darkness became light’ as William Barclay describes the two disciples’ experience. (The Gospel of Luke, by William Barclay, p. 295).

The casualties of war – lives, health, orphans, ruined cities, military personnel numbed and unable to live fully in healthy relationships, hellish memories, could be healed only by the light of Christ shining in the darkness.

The walk to Emmaus reminds us that all is never lost. The transformation of those two innocent followers as they journeyed with Jesus, unaware who he was during their walk together, remind us of the hope of the Living Lord Jesus eternally available to you and me and of our joyful duty to pass it on to everyone we meet.

The power of the resurrection of Jesus is much too good to keep to ourselves. Let’s gossip the gospel. We have the power of God’s Holy Spirit available to us to enable us to burst out of our narrow lives into the fullness of God’s glory as we greet Jesus, risen from the dead.

Listen to the impact on Thomas, the disciple who struggled to believe, who just couldn’t get his head around what had happened, then bit by bit pieces together the glorious truth, the miracle of God’s glory.

‘Thomas’ by Robert Siegel

The man was dead. He’d seen. And that was that.

He’d helped them bury him. The heart had stopped.

Later the women started in. Soon all were mad,

Jabbering about seeing him, his wounds. They dropped suddenyl

 

Everything else and huddled to see a ghost

Like the gentiles’ squeaking wraiths and spooks.

At last he agreed to look but locked the door – no

Tricks! Suddenly among them… he blinked and looked

 

Twice – He was. “Thomas, put your finger here.”

Thomas pressed the wounds – the hands, the side –

The flesh all torn pitifully. “My Lord, My God!”

Later he ate the fish and drank the wine.

 

Thomas handed him. Thomas never took his eyes

Off him, the living flesh, for which the starved heart cries.

 

If you want to live a full life, with our Risen Lord Jesus, ask him now to transform your life with his resurrection power.

Let’s pray in silence for his risen power to flow within us.

If you’re not sure how to pray, simply whisper to Him ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come.’

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30.4.17 – The Key To Everything – Peter Cheyne

One of my values is productivity. For me, satisfaction comes from knowing that I have achieved something – that my day has moved things forward. I have done quite a bit of reading about time management, project management, and efficiency and effectiveness. I’m all into goal-setting, having strategies and accountability and you-name-it.

Often that is a complete frustration to other people. When I ask for annual reports that include goals and so on, some people are just not wired that way. I’m a bit weird. But, from my point of view, my sort of weird is actually important for achieving results and not just drifting aimlessly.

I think that, whether you are wired with my sort of weird or not, all of us want to know that we have made a difference. None of us wants to think that our life was wasted. Our sense of significance comes from knowing that we have achieved something. Whether that something changes the world or changes the life of one other person, we want to know that we have made a difference. If the world doesn’t even notice that you existed, because you made no difference, then you were utterly insignificant. None of us wants to feel that our existence made no difference.

The Bible does have things to say about planning. It has an awful lot to say about leadership. I can justify my sort of weird – from the Bible! I am biblically weird. You have only to move one letter to turn wired into weird. But here is the thing – there is something much more important than goal-setting and time management. There is a key to everything.

Rubbish! That is just hype. There is no silver bullet. How can you claim there is a key to everything?

Well, let’s read Psalm 1.

This psalm contrasts two different pathways that affect everything, both now and for eternity. Two different pathways that determine whether or not our lives make any difference – whether or not we have any significance – and two different ultimate destinations. And it all depends on one thing.

Let’s start in the middle of the psalm, with verses 3 and 4. “They are like…” We will need to clarify who “they” are. For the moment, let’s just say “some people”. Some people are like what? Look at the image here. Some people are like trees planted by streams of water. It is a picture of lushness and health and fruitfulness. The next line says that this tree (or these people) yield their fruit in season. Their leaves don’t wither. Fruitfulness has its seasons. Sometimes we are more fruitful than others but the tree is always healthy. It is always lush and green. The leaves don’t dry up. It is drawing on the nutrients from that water and the soil and enjoying the life-giving powers of the sun. It is a picture of health.

A tree does not bear fruit for itself. It bears fruit for the benefit of others – the people who might eat that fruit or even the next generation of trees that grow because of the seeds in that fruit. These healthy trees are a blessing to others.

Whatever they do prospers. Their lives are always producing good things. Everything they do prospers. Does this sound like your life? Could it be?

There are no limits on these verses. They are not promising success in business only or academic success only. They are very general; whatever they do prospers. They simply talk about bearing fruit, whatever that fruit is. One person’s calling might be to be a mother and to shape the lives of her children. Another person might be called to work in business or in health or education. Another person might be called to work voluntarily, serving others. Someone else might lead a Bible study group. God is not limiting it. Whatever your field, there is one thing that will ensure your fruitfulness. So, I don’t think it is just marketing hype to say that this is the key to everything. Whatever they do prospers. Maybe it is our relationships that prosper. Maybe we do make a lot of money (although be careful about that one.) Maybe our fruitfulness is in seeing people come to know Jesus.

Now here is the contrast: that is true of some people but not so with others. This other group is called “the wicked” so that is a clue as to how we might understand these two very different groups. But look at the contrast. The image used for these other people is chaff – the dry, flaky husks that are winnowed off the grain and thrown into the air to blow away. On the one hand, the tree lush and green, deeply rooted, drawing up the water and producing healthy fruit that is a blessing to others. On the other hand, dry chaff that is utterly useless. The wind blows it away and, actually, people are pleased to get rid of it. Could there be a more startling contrast?

Remember, this is not talking about plants. It is talking about people. Some people are like the tree. Some people are like the chaff. Don’t we need to know what is the difference between these groups? Who does God see as the tree and who does He see as being as useless as chaff?

The contrast gets even sharper. It is not only a matter of what difference our lives make now; our eternity is also dependent on this one key. It effects forever. Look at verse 5 and 6. This psalm really is about everything – life and eternity.

The wicked will not stand in the judgement. We will all stand before God to be judged but one group of people will not come through that well. Neither will they be in the assembly of the righteous. There will be a great gathering of the righteous but these people will not be part of it. This is sobering. Eternal judgement is sobering. This should cause us serious thought.

Again, there is a sharp contrast, although it is not spelled out. Verse 6 simply says that God watches over the way of the righteous. God cares and protects and guides. God is the shepherd. It doesn’t talk about the ultimate destiny of the righteous. It doesn’t describe what the assembly of the righteous is going to be like. All this psalm does is contrast it with the destiny of the wicked. The way of the wicked is destruction so what are we meant to conclude is the opposite of that? Maybe we could say the options are death and life. Those over whom the Lord watches receive life. That is certainly a biblical way of expressing it. Or it is the contrast between heaven and hell.

OK, so there are these two groups but what is the difference between them? The psalmist has used the terms “the wicked/sinners” and “the righteous”. That seems straight-forward: good people/bad people. No, there is more to it than that. What does God actually say here? We need to go back to the beginning of the psalm to discover what this key to everything is.

Verses 3 and 4 describe the contrast in terms of the significance of our lives – fruitful or useless. Verses 5 and 6 describe the contrasting eternal destinies – life and death. Verses 1 and 2 describe the contrast that leads to these very different outcomes. This is the key. This is what makes all the difference. Verses 1 and 2 describe two starkly contrasting lifestyles. Actually, they describe only one group of people (the righteous) but they describe them in terms of what they don’t do and what they do do.

This group doesn’t do three things. These people, firstly, don’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, or, do not live by the advice of ungodly people. Secondly, they don’t stand on the pathway of sinners. Thirdly, they do not sit in the seat of scoffers.

The contrast is with v.2. They delight in the law of the Lord and they meditate on it day and night. “The law of the Lord” could refer specifically to the first five books of the Bible – the books of Moses – but probably refers to the scriptures more generally. So, these people do not listen to the advice of the wicked; they listen to the word of God.

What shapes our understanding? How much are we influenced more by television, the internet, Facebook, magazines, podcasts? How do we decide what is right and what is wrong? How do we decide what our values will be? How do we decide on our priorities?

Consider one example: sexual ethics including all of the issues of sex outside of marriage, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, etc. etc. etc.. The reality is that many Christians have absorbed the values that bombard us all of the time through the media. Last Sunday, over morning tea, someone told me of Christians gathered for a prayer meeting, saying they have no problem with a pastor being gay. I can imagine many people saying “Well, yeah. So what?” because that is now generally accepted in our society. But that is the point here. Blessed are those who do not walk by the wisdom of this world but who go to the word of God.

Of the two categories of people described in this psalm, which one lives by the standards of the world? The wicked; those who are like chaff; those who will not be in the assembly of the righteous.

Secondly, blessed are those who do not adopt the lifestyle of sinners, who are not on the same pathway. If everybody else is doing it, maybe it is OK. Maybe it is OK to cheat on our taxes. That’s just the way you play the game. And, if everyone else is doing it, it can be hard to stand out as being different. We fear being different. We fear being labelled as goody-goods or prudish. There is a temptation to show that we are modern and broad-minded. But it is wrong and there are consequences.

Thirdly, blessed are those who do not sit in the seat of mockers. I want to play you something I hope will offend you. It is Richard Dawkins reading from Chapter 2 of his book, The God Delusion. (Play audio)

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

But you can find any number of examples on the internet of people being utterly scornful of God, of the Bible and of Christians. But the righteous person never scoffs at God or pooh-poohs what the Bible says.

On the contrary, he/she delights in the law of the Lord. He/she says, “I love the word of God. I love reading the word of God. I love it when God opens my eyes to new truths. I love doing the word of God.” There is nothing here that says the delight is limited to pondering the Bible. The law is not just something to be looked at. It is to be lived. This person says, “God’s ways are good. I delight in them.”

The righteous person also meditates on them day and night. At first glance that could sound like just sitting quietly and pondering the Bible, but if you do that day and night you will never get any work done. Mediating on it day and night means meditating on it in the context of everything we do. What does God say about my work? What does God say about my family and my marriage? What does God say about how I use my money and about sex?

Meditating implies that we have read God’s word, and that we are thinking about how to follow it. That is a good framework for our Bible reading: read, think, do.

What is the key to everything – the key to living a life that makes a difference, and the key to eternal life? It is not just about good people versus bad people because there are no good people. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. That is quoting from Romans and yet it is exactly the same message as in this psalm. God’s word is consistent throughout

There are no good people, only sinners who have put their faith in God and been forgiven. Those people know that God’s ways are best. They have chosen God’s ways. They delight in knowing what God says and doing it. They bring God’s word to bear on everything they do. It is obedience stemming from faith

This term we are going to look a lot more at the Bible because it is central to both abundant life and eternal life. But often there are obstacles. We perhaps don’t read the Bible as often as we would like or we struggle to get much of value out of it. I want to see if we can address those so that we all delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night.

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16.4.17 – 7 Resurrection Transformations – Peter Cheyne

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, they were utterly transformed. The fact that Jesus was alive made a massive difference. I think there are seven transformations in this passage that reveal what happens when people meet the risen Jesus. Seven things that would not have happened, and cannot happen today, if Jesus had remained dead.

If we were to ask many Christians what difference the resurrection makes, my guess is that the answer would be about the comfort of knowing that Jesus is alive: we can talk to Him; He has promised to never leave us. But, I am not sure that is how John described the impact for himself and the other disciples.

  1. From fear to peace

Three times Jesus blessed them with peace – twice on the first night – the night of Easter Sunday. His very first words were “Peace be with you!” A little later He repeated it. Then on the following Sunday, His first words were again, “Peace be with you!”

On that first night, the doors were locked for fear of the Jewish leaders. The disciples were terrified. The authorities had arrested and killed their leader. The body was missing. Would soldiers be out searching for it and for them? Mary Magdalene claimed to have seen Jesus. What did all this mean? What would happen next? They were in hiding.

And Jesus said, “Peace be with you!”

Admittedly, the next Sunday the doors were again locked. T doesn’t say why. Presumably they were still scared. OK so they didn’t get it straight away. We are sometimes a bit slow too. But Jesus wanted them to have the peace that only the resurrection provides.

When you know that God is sovereign; God is working His purposes out, then you can have peace. If Jesus had been killed and had remained dead, it would not have been obvious that God was in control. Satan would have won. The circumstances looked terrible but the resurrection showed that God was in control. And there was peace. The resurrection showed the terrified disciples that death was defeated. And there was peace.

  1. From doubt to faith (or, from confusion to confidence)

They had seen the empty tomb – and not understood what was going on. They had heard Mary’s testimony – and doubted her. But now they saw Jesus and they believed.

It is only implied on that first Sunday. It is much more explicit in the story of doubting Thomas. The disciples had told him of their encounter with Jesus but he was stubborn. He refused to believe without proof. But, on that second Sunday, when Jesus appeared, and gave him the opportunity to put his finger in the nail holes in His hands and his hand into the spear wound in His side, Thomas believed.

Despite what he had said, maybe he didn’t even need to touch Jesus’ wounds. Just encountering Jesus was enough for him to declare: “My Lord and my God.” Refusal to believe turned into faith.

  1. From despair to joy

The passage says that they were overjoyed. Is that like a United Airlines plane being overbooked, or a city being over-populated? Did they have too much joy? Can you have too much joy?

Can we imagine what this encounter was like for them – the relief, the excitement, the celebrations, the jumping up and down? The resurrection made all the difference.

At this point, there is a temptation we need to be alert to. Peace, faith, and joy are all gifts that God gives us and the temptation is to think only in terms of what the risen Jesus does for us but Jesus immediately went on to talk about what the disciples were to do for Him. “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

  1. From purposelessness to a mission

The disciples were locked in a room with no sense of purpose or knowing what their live was about now. There was no hope. But the risen Jesus gave them a mission. “I am sending you.” Suddenly they had a calling, significance, a task. They were still part of God’s plan.

People who have met Jesus are sent to tell other. Every time. Mary Magdalene had met Jesus at the tomb and He sent her to tell the disciples. These disciples told Thomas they had seen the Lord. And they weren’t out into all the world after Pentecost

Many Christians focus on the comfort and ignore the commission even though it is the commission that gives us purpose and meaning. Ignoring it is disobedience because the risen Lord sends us. We have a job to do.

What is that mission? It is slightly puzzling that the disciples were told that they could forgive sins. Surely only God can forgive sins. But they were to bring forgiveness by sharing the gospel: Jesus Christ dies for our sins and rose again. And they could assure all who believed that they were forgiven.

We don’t have just a mission as if we all have different missions. We have the mission of proclaiming forgiveness of sins through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  1. From weakness to power

How could the disciples possibly fulfil this mission? They were a tiny group of fishermen and similar with no authority, no resources, no means… until Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Whatever He calls us to do He also empowers us to do.

The Holy Spirit is God Himself. Feeble, fearful, frail people, be filled with God. Become supernatural people. This ragtag group of nobodies performed many signs and wonders; people were healed and delivered of demons; the gospel was preached; people were converted. The world was turned upside-down. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses.”

When Thomas suddenly believed, his natural response was to declare his relationship with Jesus. Jesus was his Lord and his God. He, like the other disciples, had had a relationship with Jesus but when Jesus died that relationship ended. Only with the resurrection was that relationship restored and taken to a whole new level. Those two words, “Lord” and “God” described the new relationship.

  1. From isolation to relationship

A lord is someone from whom you take orders. By calling Jesus “Lord” Thomas submitted Himself to Jesus’ lordship. The other disciples had come to the same conclusion. V.25 says that they had said to Thomas “We have seen the Lord.” Jesus had been their leader and teacher – clearly the One who called the shots – prior to His death. How much more this risen, vindicated, victorious, death-defeating, eternal Son of God. This was a relationship of submission and obedience.

And secondly, “You are my God” means (before anything else) “I will worship You”.

  1. From death to life

The seventh transformation is seen in John’s conclusion to this section. John had recorded a number of miracles. The greatest of them all was the resurrection. Why had he told of these things? So that we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and so, have life in Jesus’ name. I suspect the disciples would all have said that that was true for them; that it was in that meeting with Jesus that they received the abundant life and the eternal life that Jesus had promised.

Look at those seven transformations. Every one of them is life-changing. All of the results of the resurrection are good: peace, faith, joy, mission, power, relationship, life.

But, are there any there that you would like more of? Maybe some are strong in your life but are there others where the transformation has not yet taken place? In some areas maybe the door is still locked. The growth is slower. What can you do about that? How did the disciples position themselves for this transformation? What did they do that they might experience more of the living Jesus?

The most obvious thing is that they did very little. They were huddled in a locked room with no expectation that Jesus would turn up. It was Jesus who took the initiative. It was the grace of God that brought them to this point – the generosity of God. It always is. But clearly Jesus wanted them to know that He was alive. He took the initiative so that they could. Jesus still wants to reveal Himself. He will make Himself known.

It is apparent too that other people’s testimony had little effect. Mary Magdalene had said that the tomb was empty, Peter and John saw that the tomb was empty – and didn’t understand it. Mary later said that she had seen the Lord. But it was when the disciples met Jesus themselves that they were transformed. They told Thomas that they had seen the Lord but he still didn’t believe until he saw Jesus Himself. Other people’s experience is not enough. We need to have met Jesus ourselves.

But those testimonies did point them in the right direction. The testimonies prepared the way. Jesus had told Mary to tell the disciples. The disciples were commissioned to go and tell. We need to listen to people who have experienced Jesus but we also need to seek our own experience.

Thomas was resistant but at least he was open to believing, if he could be convinced. And, at least, he continued hanging out with the disciples. In some small way, he positioned himself to also meet Jesus.

Lastly, we do have the scriptures – the record of God’s actions – which, John says, can lead us to believe in Jesus and to receiving life in His name.

So, do you want more of this sort of transformation? Onn the basis of just this passage we can say:

  • We are dependent on the grace of God but God wants to reveal Himself
  • Do not dismiss the testimony of others. What they have experienced, you also can.
  • Do what you can
    • Be around people for whom these things are real
    • Read the Bible. Explore, Investigate.
    • This passage doesn’t say it but I think it is obvious: pray. God promises to reveal Himself to those who seek Him with all their heart.
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12.3.17 – Hope Triumphant – Rachel Judge

Scripture: Romans 8:18-30

When we read the paper or catch the news on line, we often wonder how people can have hope at all in some of the situations they’re thrust into.

Living in Aleppo last year is one such situation many would deem ‘hopeless’.

Drying out a smelly, damp house and all your belongings in parts of Northland, Auckland or the Coromandel after at least two decent deluges during the week will feel like a hopeless task, so entrenched and pungent is the mud.

People in prison for long sentences must find it incredibly difficult to maintain hope.

Those who’ve recently received a serious health diagnosis can find it hard to hang on to hope.

Those living or struggling to stay alive in the parts of South Sudan where famine has been declared, and in Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria which are on the verge of famine must find it hard to live with hope.

Parents of the girls who were captured in Chibok by members of Boko-Haram in Nigeria must have found it almost impossible to maintain hope as their girls were missing and in many cases still will while many of the young women are still in captivity.

Losing a job is incredibly dispiriting because of the loss of self-esteem it arouses and the not knowing how long if ever it will take to find other employment, on top of the obvious financial hit and fear for the future.

Into all these and many other experiences in life Jesus pours hope.

Let’s pray as we affirm our identity as people of hope, people who worship our God of hope.

Living Lord Jesus, You are the hope and the light of the world. Into our insecurities and our darkness you shine as you gather us up in your arms.

Listen to our cries now as we still our hearts to hear your strong voice speaking into our particular situations.

May the power of your word challenge us anew and pervade our hearts today we pray in the precious name of Jesus, our hope and salvation,

Amen

Our commitment to Jesus Christ stands on two legs – the legs of faith and hope. The Book of Romans is full of hope, a true and lasting hope- nothing imaginary or fleeting. The joys of unwavering belief in Jesus are extolled throughout Romans and the directions to find hope and faith in Jesus are given in its pages.

Paul’s letter to the Romans was written about A.D. 57 or 58. It is, perhaps, one of Paul’s most well-known letters.  In our Bibles it’s the first book after Acts, looking like it would be Paul’s first epistle. But, in fact, Paul had already written five of his epistles: Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians by the time he wrote this letter to the Romans. It seems that Paul was most likely in Corinth when he wrote this letter, on his third missionary journey, and was keen to visit Christians in Rome. Paul has great faith in the faith of those he corresponds with because he is aware of their prayers for him while he is suffering and of the strength of their faith in Jesus. This is how he can say also to those in Corinth “our hope for you is firm, (the NRSV has ‘our hope for you is unshaken) because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1: 7.) What a great description of hope. “It cannot be shaken. It does not waver.”

Paul reminded the church in Rome and he reminds us today that at one time we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10) and needed to be judged accordingly but because of Christ’s death and rising again for us we now have peace with God and we can “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” because it is by “grace in which we stand.” What a reason to “rejoice in hope!”

Paul has seen God deliver him over and over again and that is why Paul sees hope as unshakable because it is in our unchanging God.

Sometimes we use the word ‘hope’ in a glib way. We say to someone in hospital ‘I hope you get well soon’ or ‘I hope I’ll see you again ‘ to a new acquaintance (one we’ve really clicked with). We all have hope of some kind or another to a certain extent, but if we don’t put our faith in Jesus our hope is nothing more than wishful thinking. However if we are committed to Jesus Christ  then our hope is as sure as God’s existence for God gives hope to the hopeless.

We need to remember in our hope that God’s ways are God’s ways not our ways, and not abandon hope when it looks like things are not going exactly the way we planned.

Some of us have to be careful to remember that God’s words in Jeremiah 29: 11 have God as the subject of the sentence and ourselves as the object. I sometimes think we jumble up that promise in the way we live our lives, as if we can tell God what to do.no us “for I know the plans I have for you, Lord – if you can just order this event for me, bring these people together, keep these people apart, and generally do as I ask you, then all will be fine…..

Instead God works in ways that, fortunately, we would never think of, and in ways that seem impossible to us. Remember Abraham had to leave Ur of the Chaldeans and move to a far-away country which seemed a risky and frightening move to make. Abraham, a man of faith, responded to God in faith and with the sure hope that it was God not Abraham who was in control. Wonderfully, truly, God can accomplish what we can never do in our own strength.

Billy Graham, in his book Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well reminds us that God indeed knows best, and when we offer our lives unequivocally and wholeheartedly  to the Creator of the Universe then God’s perfect plans for us can be gloriously fulfilled.

Billy Graham recalls in his later years, “I have remained a baseball fan, not necessarily of one team over another but of the game itself–the teamwork, the strategy, and the challenge of defeating the opponent. But baseball was not God’s plan for me. Nevertheless, He taught me how to integrate these important components into service for Him. The Lord has blessed me with a loyal team of men and women whose hearts are united with mine–set on leading others to an eternal home with Christ. Our team strategy has been to fulfill the Lord’s command to go into the whole world and preach Christ for the purpose of defeating the opponent–Satan.

When I started preaching, it was never my intention to preach inside a baseball stadium or any other stadium for that matter. I was accustomed to preaching in churches when I was pastoring and in auditoriums when I was traveling with Youth for Christ (YFC). At the close of the war in 1945, several of us on the YFC team had the privilege of preaching at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The details are sketchy now, but I recall the first time I stood in an outdoor arena to preach the Gospel. I had been invited to hold an evangelistic citywide meeting in Shreveport, Louisiana. When the local auditorium could not hold the crowds, the organizers had no choice but to move the event outside. Uncertain as to how people would feel about attending an evangelistic rally in a large arena, I was rather nervous. Then I thought about my boyhood dreams. Instead of bat in hand at home plate, I had what I now know is a much greater privilege: to stand behind a pulpit, with Bible in hand, immersed in the power of the Holy Spirit. I was not performing before fan-filled bleachers but pronouncing the Word of God to sin-filled hearts searching for truth.
“Life, indeed’, Billy Graham concludes ‘is full of surprises.” We are wise to leave our lives in God’s hands, instead of acting as if we know best

Hopelessness is transformed by the hope we have in the living Christ. Hope sometimes emerges slowly in our lives and at other times is a sudden, unexpected gift from God. The point I reckon is perspective. What is our focus? On whom is our focus? Are we more aware of our hurts than of God’s love?

Slide on screen Romans 8: 18

“The pain you have been feeling cannot compare with the joy that is to come.” Tom Wright’s version of this verse reminds us of the power of perspective and of the riches of God’s glory that awaits us – “This is how I work it out’, Wright puts it. ‘The sufferings we go through in the present time are not worth putting in the scale alongside the glory that is going to be unveiled for us.” Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part 1, SPCK, 2004, p. 148.

Slide on screen  Romans 8: 24, 25

Patient and living hope because the Lord of all is our loving God means hope, like faith, is not necessarily seen, but it is certain whatever the circumstances. Groaning and waiting, eager but patient’ this is what Tom Wright describes as the characteristic Christian stance. ibid, p. 152.)

Calvin, one of the reformers of the church, commenting on Genesis 25:21, which describes the answering of Isaac and Rebekah’s prayers for a baby, with twin boys, wrote: ‘God shows that He never turns a deaf ear to the wishes of His faithful people, although he may long defer the answer.”

What say now you think of a past situation in your life and map a flow chart, write a poem or a paragraph or draw picture if you’re artistically inclined, of a time when God poured hope into your life when things were looking hopeless, while we listen to Chris Tomlin’s song ‘Unfailing Love.’ The reverse side of the page inside your notice sheets today with our reading from Romans is free for you to record your reflections and pens and crayons are available. Of course you may prefer to work on this later, at home. While we either reflect silently now on those times when God’s Holy Spirit has filled us with hope, or jot down or draw a few thoughts, we’ll enjoy Chris Tomlin and Steven Curtis Chapman singing ‘Unfailing Love.’

Play CD Chris Tomlin ‘Arriving’, track 5 ‘Unfailing Love’

Let’s pray now as we reach out to our God of Hope who always hears us and answers our prayers

 

 

 

 

 

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