Midnight Message, Christmas Eve, 2020

Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:3)

“Trinity”, by Andrei Rublev

The famous Russian artist Andrei Rublev, completed his best-known icon in about 1442.  It is titled quite simply Trinity. Take a moment to look at the image. In a striking combination of colour and light, three messengers from God are seated round a table, and our eyes are drawn to the gentle, loving circle of the figures, with their restful expressions which seem neither masculine nor feminine, and the unity of the three heads, faces and postures.

The right-hand figure, is considered to be the Holy Spirit, as there is a mountain behind his head thus reminding us of the transfiguration (Matt 17) of Jesus, when Moses and the great prophet Elijah appeared in a cloud with Jesus in front of three of Jesus’ disciples.

The middle figure is considered to be Jesus, as it is dressed in a red and gold tunic and there is a tree behind, suggesting the cross.

The slightest of the three figures, the Father, has an air of mystery with a translucent robe, and a house with many rooms above his head.  A reference to the passage in John’s Gospel when Jesus is comforting His disciples before his arrest and tells them that He will go ahead a prepare a place for them because in His Father’s house there are many rooms (John 14).

The cup of sacrifice and life is on the table, and if you look carefully, there in the open space created at the front of the table is a rectangle symbolising the world… (Remember the world was not known to be round in the fifteenth century).

With the three looking the way they do it is as if they are inviting the whole world to receive and join in with the gift of life and love that these three messengers possess. Here, the gift of God is made visible. 

So this icon is a human attempt to express something of who God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is. It is a gift to us from the Artist!

 

These beautiful opening verses to the Gospel of John set forth the entire intention of John’s Gospel: which is to proclaim and testify that Christ is the Son of God.  So who is this Christ? John tells us that Jesus is the eternal Word, (the Logos of God), because He reveals God and the hidden things of God, and in himself declares the beauty of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, in other words the triune God. The Word, who existed with God and creates and holds all things, is the Christ.

These words, like the description of the Icon I described a few minute ago, are John’s, attempt to show us that Jesus is essential to obtaining true life. Life as God created it to be, for it is Jesus who reveals both the Holy Spirit and God to us. And Jesus’ desire is to communicate this truth to all people. 

When we accept and understand that it is He, Jesus, who brings us into a new relationship with God we are brought into a living and dynamic relationship that reveals God’s reconciling, healing and glorifying life, light and, above all, love. 

But Christ who came to the Jews first can, if we wish, come to us now, tonight, as the true gift of God. In this gift, He brings blessing, grace and the truth of truths, and, as with all gifts, we are invited to accept, and then receive the gift which has been revealed to us from the heart of God the Father, the Son of God.  And then Christ, the expression of God, will be known in our hearts, just like a beautiful icon, a colourful sunset, an exquisite flower, a sparklingly adorned Christmas tree, a child’s delighted face on Christmas morning easily fills us with inexpressible delight, warmth and peace,

So the gift of God which is revealed to us and celebrated by us at Christmas is to lead us into a fuller experience and understanding of God’s presence in our lives.  And when we willingly receive into our lives the light and power of the life that God offers through Jesus Christ we receive the gift of being ‘children of God’.  And we do this by recognising the one who lived amongst us 2000 years ago to be the Son of God, foretold by the prophets of old. 

Why did He come?  He came to save us from our sin by helping us to recognise what sin is.  Through His death on the cross Jesus offers us an escape from sin, for sin leads to eternal death and separation from God.  This offer is God’s awesome gift of repentance.  As we recognise this we will then know that Jesus makes and remakes us day after day for the whole of our life in order to know God in new ways, by knowing the depth, height and width of His love for us.  You see, out of His love for us God wants us through Jesus to allow Him to live His life in our personal world.

With the increase of knowledge with each new generation, with the increase of our experience via the media of global suffering, with the pressures of materialism, competition, and visible success motivating so much of what we do, let us spend time this Christmastide reflecting on the beautiful gift which God has given us in His Son.

Let me encourage you to take time to remind yourselves, and your loved ones, of this child, the greatest gift of all time, to enjoy the presence of this gift around your table, to feel uplifted by the gift in creation when you take a walk (whatever the weather), to consider the gift in your conversations, and to dwell on the gift in your prayers tonight and every night.

As you allow the truest gift, the Word of God, namely Jesus Christ, to be part of your Christmas celebrations, may you allow Him to be part of your daily life as you continue your journey through life.

If you choose to do this, know that your life will be held in His grace, truth and love. For all of life is gift.

In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Importance of Evangelism: Part 1

Then Jesus said, ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:19-20)

What is a biblical approach for evangelism?

Advent gives us a wonderful opportunity to evangelise.  What a story we can tell in the run up to the Christmas story itself!  We have Old Testament prophets foretelling that the Messiah will come to save us from sin and thus reveal the power and nature of God’s love for us, His creation.

Then there’s John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who came to prepare the way with a call of repentance for “the Kingdom of heaven is near”.  Then there’s the story of how Mary became pregnant, her visit to Elizabeth, her cousin, the mother of John the Baptist.  John’s own conception and birth was a miracle too.  In this rich and vibrant story, full of intrigue, wonder and mystery we see God at work in miraculous and wonderful ways.  Plenty to get our teeth stuck into for evangelism!  A new era was about to break.  How do you greet a new era; with joy, or with fear and trepidation?  This new era is about God sending His Son Jesus to save the lost.

Numerous theories abound on the best way to evangelise the lost.  The best way is to go to the source; Jesus Christ Himself.  Jesus laid out the best method of biblical evangelism as He evangelised those He met while on earth.

When Jesus evangelised the lost, He began by challenging people with the statement “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).  Repentance of sin is the very first step in biblical evangelism.  Those who would come to Christ must first understand that repentance from sin is required.  This means explaining three realities:

  1. the inherently sinful nature of mankind
  2. the holiness of God
  3. the existence of heaven and hell

The only means to escape the punishment of sin is faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  While many Christians begin their evangelistic efforts with God’s love, that is really the second half the story.  The message of God’s love is lost on unbelievers unless they first come to grips with sin, judgement, and punishment.

There is no doubt that God is a loving God.  But He is also a holy and righteous God who hates sin.  Therefore, our sin separates us from Him.  Because He is holy, God is “a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Psalm 7:11).  A crucial element of true biblical evangelism is the understanding of the holiness of God.  Isaiah caught a glimpse of God’s holiness in his vision of angelic beings around God’s throne praising God’s holiness (Isaiah 6:3).  When we understand just how holy God is, we can begin to understand His hatred of sin and His holy wrath against sinners.

Evangelism is helping the unsaved person to accept the fact that they stand in the direct line of fire of the wrath of a holy and just God.  Hebrews 10:31 warns, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  There is nothing anyone can do to appease God’s wrath, nothing of value they can offer to God to mitigate their sin.  No amount of good works or good deeds can bridge the gap that separates a holy God from a sinner.  Every good work that humanity thinks can be done is as “filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6).  No amount of good living will make us acceptable in God’s eyes because the standard is holiness which no one can achieve, and without holiness no one will see God (Hebrews 12:14).

This is why the acceptance of the realities of personal sin and the holiness of God is so important.  Without that the readiness for the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is lacking.  What no one can do is to save themselves, yet the Good News is this: by His death on the cross, Jesus exchanged His righteous, holy nature for our sinful one, making us completely new creations with a new nature that replaces the old sin nature (2 Corinthians 5:17–21).  The truth is this: Christ accomplished on the cross something we can never accomplish by ourselves!

And this is where God’s love comes into play.  Because of His great love and mercy – not because we deserve or earn it – God provided the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin (Ephesians 2:8–9).  Only those whose natures have been changed can escape the wrath of God and experience His love and grace.  If we believe these things, we will live eternally with Him in the joy of heaven.  If we do not, our eternal destiny is hell.

This is the truth, from the Bible.  If we are to truly evangelise people according to the Bible, we have to tell them the whole truth, even if some react badly to it.  This is telling the truth in love, and I spoke about speaking the truth in love last week (see Discipleship 2).  And some people will react badly!  But others will be relieved and grateful.  As Paul said, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16).  Evangelism involves living out the command to be “living sacrifices” through agape love, a self-sacrificial love that works for the benefit of another over the benefit of self.

Evangelism is a challenge, but we have an amazing story to tell of Jesus, how He was born, and that God sent Him so we can be saved!  We are to share how He has changed our own lives, how confession and repentance of sin sets us free to live and love more fully for God, and how this shapes our attitudes about God, His world and our role in it.  By the power of the Holy Spirit we can share the truth, and thus show the love of God by calling others to repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.

Time to think

Read Ephesians 2:1-10 and John 1:6-8 & 19-28.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

  1. Why did John the Baptist and Jesus both call people to repent of their sin?  What does “the kingdom of heaven is near” mean?
  2. People invest time and energy into developing their career, their bodies and relationships, but often neglect the spiritual dimension of their lives.   How do you actively pursue spiritual growth?
  3. How did you establish a personal relationship with God?  Perhaps you could write this down using the following outline: Before–What characterised your life before you trusted Christ. During–How you came to trust Christ. After–How you are different now.

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. What is your concept of God? Do you view Him positively or negatively?
  2. Do you find that faith and spiritual values play a role in your work, day, marriage, perspective on life?  What is the difference between religion and relationship?

Prayer Response

Lord of the Harvest, we see that Your harvest field is ripe and ready all over this nation and the world! We long to see Your kingdom come on this earth, so may we allow you to strengthen us to obey Your commission to go into all the world. May we as individuals, as families and as Your Church allow you to show us how you want us to serve You, to respond to Your command in whatever way You call us, so we answer Your call to go.  Show us how to pray effectively for the protection, boldness, clarity, health, and fruitfulness in your mission and ministry here in our communities. May we actively seek to align ourselves with Your heart so that our hearts would be obedient to the desires of Your heart, and the whole earth come to a saving knowledge of the truth–the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose powerful name we pray.  Amen.


First look at yourself before you judge others.

Sunday 27th September 2020

I was reading Psalm 36 earlier in the week and as I read it I thought about people that this Psalm could apply to, as well as the organisations that are forcing their false ideologies on to us all in the name of freedom! 

But then something happened…. God spoke to me clearly…. Before I can apply this to others I first have to look at myself.  God also gently reminded me of Jesus’ teaching on judging others (Matthew 7:1-5). I need to take the plank out of my own eye before looking “at the speck of sawdust in my brother’s eye”

The OT prophet Jeremiah made this observation:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).

As I prayed about Psalm 36 I sensed that God is calling us to use this Psalm to look at ourselves. So let’s spend a few minutes doing just that, because this Psalm is not just addressing unbelievers. 

The opening section of Psalm 36 helps us to understand the universal condition of sin with a blunt description of the wickedness that resides in the hearts of all peoples. 

The Bible teaches us that left to ourselves, we would gravitate away from the Lord and toward an arrogant and destructive sense of ambivalence toward spiritual truth, which leads to self-deceit, evil and, ultimately, the wilful rejection of all that is good (Psalm 36:1–4).

We all have a bad part. Saint Paul called this bad part “the old man” in us, and it makes the Christian life difficult for us. (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 2:15; 4:22-24; and Colossians 3:9-11) There’s a song by the Christian singer-song writer Amy Grant called Shadows.  It’s about how there are two of us, one does the right thing the other does wrong so we have to keep a watch on our shadows.

This illustrates how we all live in a tension, because just as God can speak into our heart His words of goodness, hope and love, so the enemy, the devil, can speak into our heart the opposite.  Remember how Satan attacked Adam and Eve?  He spoke into their heart and convinced them that God would not be angry with them if they acted in disobedience to His command not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  When we allow the enemy to speak into our hearts we are in great danger of losing any sense that terror of the Lord will come upon us because of our evil deeds.  That’s what happened to Adam and Eve, they lost any sense of the terror of the Lord coming upon them.  That’s what wickedness does, we lose any sense of anticipation that God’s judgement will come upon us because we allow our own voice to delude and flatter us.

When we allow the enemy space to speak into our heart, our words reflect our old flawed character, we thus show wickedness and deceit and we cease to be wise.

But our hope is this: the way of wisdom is constantly encouraged throughout Scripture. So by knowing Scripture we can be shaped by the story of God, the story of His great rescue plan.  We can be shaped by His ways, His character, and His mind. Therefore, wisdom comes from being transformed by the presence of God, through His Son Jesus Christ, and then living life in all of its complexity.

This Psalm, therefore, clearly teaches that sin deceives, and confuses our minds to the extent that we speak in a way that flatters ourselves beyond reality and makes us believe that we will never be caught. So when you read this Psalm do you hear echoes of our own words and thoughts, and hardness of heart?

But God is Good as we read in v5-9.

The Psalmist tells us to look at our world. We can see clouds in the sky. We can see mountains and seas. God has put these there to help us remember what He is like. When we see the sky, we must remember His kind love. When we see the clouds in the sky we must remember His truth. So the clouds and the sky tells us that God will do what He promised. In other words, God will always be faithful.

When we see a mountain we must remember that God is good. But He is more than good, He is righteous because He can only do what is right, never what is wrong. And when we look at the sea we must remember the justice of God because in the end what is right and fair will happen, not what is wrong and not fair.

The New Testament teaches us that the way of righteousness is to take the Father at His word and believe that His Son is the only way of salvation. As we trust this promise of God as revealed through His Son Jesus Christ, we become righteous and are welcomed into God’s covenant of righteousness.

So when the Bible refers to the righteousness of God, it’s not saying that God is morally good. That has to be taken for granted, because He’s the standard of all goodness and morality. Rather, the righteousness of God refers to His faithfulness in keeping His word.

I love the second part of verse 9: “In your light we will see light”.

You see, Jesus is the Light of the World, so in God’s light, His Son, we see what is right and just in His world.  Then we are able to live lives of love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice.  Without God’s light we will live lives described in v1-4.

That’s why the Psalmist prayed that God would give His kind love and goodness to the people that know Him, as well as to help us remember how to see God in the world around us.  God is a God of protection; we do find refuge in the shadow of His wing.  Remember how God protected His people in the wilderness with the pillar of cloud and fire.  The Psalmist also prayed that bad people would not stop God doing this, protecting His people (v10-12). 

We too must pray as the Psalmist prayed – that sinful humanity will not stop God working in His world.  We are to see “the evildoers lie fallen, thrown down, not able to rise “. As we offer such prayers we are to know that God will decide when this will happen.

The good news is this: it’s as if the Psalmist can see God’s triumph over our enemies.  Because of events 2000 years ago God has started to answer this prayer: Jesus, who is the very image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15), definitively answered the psalmist’s request on behalf of all people by giving His life as a “ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28) to save us from our sins so that all who confess their sins and believe “might live through Him” (1 John 4:9) and receive His gift of eternal life, (John 4:14). 

Praise be to the Lord’s name as we experience in greater depths the glorious power of His loyal priceless covenant of love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice, knowing in our “knower” that we find a holy and supernatural refuge in and over our lives.


Digging into God’s Word
  1. When you read Psalm 36 do you hear echoes of our own words and thoughts, and hardness of heart? How does that make you feel?
  2. Psalm 36 describes a way that evil takes a grip on people. Can you give examples of this from your experience?
  3. What does this Psalm teach you about the person of God?
  4. Do you see Jesus within this Psalm? Where?
  5. How are the wicked described in this psalm?
  6. What happens to the wicked according to this psalm?
Digging Deeper into God’s Word
  1. What are the two contrasts laid out in the psalm? As you hear the contrast between the wicked and the righteous, where do you stand?
  2. How are we confronted by wickedness in the 21st century?
  3. How are the godly described in verses 7 to 9?
  4. Which of the many pictures of God in this Psalm are the most important to you? Can you explain any reasons why this is so?


Church discipline

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will bebound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will beloosed in heaven. 19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:15-20)

Who understands verse 19 of our Gospel passage to mean that if you and someone else agree about something here on earth it will be done for you by God?  For a long time, I thought that if I asked for something of God and someone else agreed with me then it would be done for me by my Father in heaven.

As I have journeyed with Christ over many years I have grown to understand that God doesn’t quite work like this!  I can’t give Him a shopping list of wants or desires, even if I have found someone who agrees they are good for me, or good for others. 

Actually such an understanding of verse 19 is completely wrong.  This verse can so easily be taken out of context, because it is tied up with the verses that come immediately before it.  Which are all to do with church discipline. 

Here, Jesus is teaching His disciples, who became the Apostles of Christ, the first leaders of the church, how brothers and sisters in Christ are to deal with those who sin against each other.  Therefore, verse 19 is all about discipline.

So how is church discipline to work? If a professed Christian is wronged by another, they are not to complain of it to others.  In other words, they are not to gossip, as too often is done.  Instead they are to go to the offender privately, and state kindly the matter.  This should resolve things.  But Jesus knows that because of our human frailty it won’t always work like that.

So if the first approach does not work you are to take one or two others along with you.  These are not necessarily eyewitnesses of the sin, but those who can testify as to how the attempt at reconciliation goes. If the reconciliation fails, we are to treat them as an unrepentant sinner.

Paul commanded the Thessalonian Christians to observe this principle, saying, In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

The church is to relate to the rebellious person as an outsider, a person of no faith, – spiritually dead.

Therefore, we have to understand three things about this teaching of Jesus…

  1. That it is for Christians, not unbelievers
  2. That it is for sins committed against you, and not against others
  3. That this is how we are to resolve conflict in the church, not the community at large.

It would be difficult to resolve issues between people using Christian principles, if they don’t subscribe to such concepts.

The first recipients of this Gospel were Jews, and this would have reminded them of passages in Deuteronomy, concerning the law.  Deuteronomy 17 and 19 speak of 2 or 3 witnesses gathered to testify in court.  The witnesses were necessary to establish a case in court.

So we need to know our Scripture, because when you read these 6 verses from Matthew chapter 18 we find that this whole chapter is about Jesus teaching His disciples how they should handle situations of interpersonal sin and conflict.  These instructions from Jesus immediately follow His parable about the lost sheep (which emphasises restoring someone who has gone astray) and precedes the parable of the unmerciful servant (which is about being willing to cancel and forgive an outstanding debt). The themes that are present in these 6 verses are forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation with a brother or sister in Christ who has sinned against you or who has gone astray.

Therefore, when two of you agree, or have the same mind, feelings, and opinion, about the sin that has been committed, and if forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation has been achieved between the parties involved, whatever you ask of God in this situation will be done for you.  This teaches us that as Christians we have a responsibility to maintain the welfare of God’s church in a wholesome and life-giving way.  For such a way brings unity.

Our first reading from Act 1 shows the church putting these words of Jesus into practice.  The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15: 1-29 is another illustration of how the early church dealt with conflict.  And the common factor in these examples is prayer.

So to resolve conflict, prayer has to be at the centre, but those who pray must be gathered together in the name of Christ, for this means that they are doing three things:

  1. Trusting that Jesus is interceding for them
  2. Praying in a way that their words are not utterances of the natural but of the spiritual person
  3. Asking in entire, total submission to the will of their Father in heaven

If these three things are not there then such prayers are like the prayer of the sons of Zebedee, when their mother asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hand in Heaven.  Because this was not the will of God it would not be granted.  As followers of Jesus they would get to heaven but what they set their hearts on would not be granted (Matthew 20:20).

Praying in accordance with God’s will is so important, for when we do, our requests will be granted by our Father in Heaven. whether we pray as individuals or as a church.

Of course, this is to be understood with some restriction.  The request must be reasonable, good in itself, expedient for the petitioner; the prayer must be earnest, faithful, persevering and in line with God’s plumb line truth.  If such conditions are satisfied, the desire will be granted in some form, though, perhaps, not in the way or at the time expected.

So in all our proceedings, including church discipline, it is essential that we seek direction in prayer; we cannot prize too highly the promises that this brings us, because Jesus ends this teaching with a blessing, saying that He will always be with us.

Based on a sermon first delivered on Sunday 6th September 2020

Weeding out sin

Photo by Jamie Cleaver

I was doing some gardening last week, and as I did this I thought how weeds are like sin in our lives.  There are some weeds in my garden that I don’t really deal with.  I ignore them and they have free reign to grow.  There are others that I tolerate and get rid of a few of them.  Then there are the ones I go after all the time.  As soon as they pop their head up, they’re pulled out and on to the compost heap. 

That’s the same with my attitude toward sin.  There are things I don’t deal with, partially deal with and some that I really try and deal with.  But I believe that God wants us to deal with all the sin in our lives, not just the ones we feel we can deal with, or can readily confess.  However, I think that sometimes sorting out the sin in our life needs us to exercise patience with ourselves if we find it hard to sort things out. 

Thankfully God has infinite patience with me.  Yet still I need to confront the sin I have not dealt with.  What I have found is that He waits patiently until I can recognise it, and it’s at this point that I am in a much better place to deal with it through confession.  But I need to do more.  Having confessed I then need to be prepared to receive God’s forgiveness, followed by rebuking the schemes of the enemy that are driving that sin in me and then replacing that sin with God’s beautiful alternative.  As I do this I experience God’s amazing grace for me.

This morning’s Gospel is the parable of the “wheat and weeds”, or “tares”, depending on the version of the Bible you have, (Matthew, 13: 24-30). Of course, Jesus isn’t giving a talk on farming here, and in fact He is most probably speaking to urban dwellers who, while they might have grown a bit of food for themselves, might rely mostly on the wages they earned as day labourers in vineyards or olive groves or on building sites.

Jesus’ audience may have laughed to hear about the plight of the landowner who wakes up one morning to find that weeds have been sown among his crops.  On the other hand, however, if the crop was spoiled, the price of wheat and bread would likely rise, so the poorest workers and their families would struggle and might well go hungry.

In His explanation, Jesus goes on to talk not of spoiled crops but of patience in the face of finding that weeds have been sown among the wheat.  He foresees a time when order will be restored and justice will be done.  Sorting out the wheat from the weeds can’t be rushed, says Jesus, because that would result in too much damage to the wheat and would incur a huge loss.

From my experience of recognition of the sin in my own life, if God expected me to confess all my sin at once it would be too much for me.  Do you remember how Peter the fisherman reacted to Jesus after Jesus had helped them catch a large amount of fish, having fished all night and caught nothing?  He fell on his knees and begged Jesus to go away (Luke 5) because he recognised he was in the presence of such a godly person and he felt that he simply wasn’t good enough to be in His presence.  Peter said this, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

You see, if all my sin is exposed at once it would just be too much for me to cope with, emotionally, spiritually and physically, such is the wretchedness I carry.  However, the truth is this: God doesn’t rush in and pull up the weeds, but tenderly gardens with patience, encouraging me to know and cherish my part in the journey I am making with Him.  In response to Peter asking Jesus to go away, Jesus moves things on – he doesn’t agree with Peter, condemn him by listing his sins he simply said to him, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”  With that Peter left everything and followed Jesus.

Rushing in to pull up the weeds won’t work.  Rather, it takes careful and thoughtful, prayerful and active, participation of journeying with God and Jesus to remove my sin when the time is right in Jesus’ sight.  The truth is this: Jesus came to save and thus give life, and a full life at that.  He did not to condemn.  (John 12:44-50; Luke 19:10; John 3:16-17; John 10:10)

I can know for myself God’s promise to be there with me all the time, as together we do the slow and careful work of restoration that my life needs.  The promise that God will hold my hand as I work at dealing with my sin is enough to give me the courage I need to continue to let Him point out the weeds in my life that need removing.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen.

Based on a sermon first delivered on 19th July 2020

Wisdom

Wisdom

Apparently there are six leadership capabilities, which collectively form the acronym W.I.S.D.O.M.

W – Work and acting with authenticity and appropriateness

I – Insightful and flexible fortitude

S – Shift your perspective towards a noble purpose

D – Decision logic with discernment and intuition

O – Openness to lead from any position

M – Motivated by enlightened self-interest

I think we would all agree that wise leaders are a very rare breed.

We’ve been following the story of Joshua leading the Israelites into the promised land.  When Joshua died, there was a vacuum of power.  The people, losing their spiritual commitment and motivation, abandoned God and worshipped idols.  This period of rapid decline was due to sin, individual and corporate, with everyone doing “as he saw fit”, resulting in the Israelites becoming captives.  Out of their desperation they begged God to rescue them.  In faithfulness to His promises and out of His loving-kindness, God raised up a judge to deliver His people and, for a time there was peace. Then complacency and disobedience would set in, and the cycle began again.  Over a period of 325 years there were six successive periods of oppression and deliverance, and there were 12 men and women who delivered Israel from her oppressors.

These judges were not perfect; in fact, they included

  • an assassin,
  • a sexually promiscuous man,
  • and a person who broke all the laws of hospitality.

However, they were submissive to God, and God used them as wise leaders.

Deborah fitted the description of wise leader perfectly. She had the right skill set, and she had a remarkable relationship with God.  The insight and confidence God gave this woman placed her in a unique position in the Old Testament. Her story shows that God can accomplish great things through people who are willing to be led by Him.

The Israelites once again faced a powerful army, but this army had chariots.  Chariots were the tanks of the ancient world.  Made of iron or wood, they were pulled by one or two horses and were the most feared and powerful weapons of the day.  To be faced with 900 chariots would have put great fear into Israel.  There was no way they could match this. Therefore, King Jabin, and Sisera, the Commander of his army, had no trouble oppressing the people, which they did for 20 years – until a faithful woman named Deborah called upon God.

Was Barak, Israel’s army commander, cowardly or just in need of support when he told Deborah she had to go with him into battle?  This was despite Deborah telling Barak that God would be with him all the way.  That appeared not to be enough for Barak.

His request shows that at heart he trusted human strength more than God’s promises. He lacked the faith to step out in God’s command.  He was a reflection of Israel’s lack of faith in God.

On the other hand, Deborah’s life challenges us in several ways.

  • She reminds us of the need to be available both to God and to others.
  • She encourages us to spend our efforts on what we can do rather than on worrying about what we can’t do.
  • She challenges us to be wise leaders.
  • She demonstrates what a person can accomplish when they allow God to be in control.
  • She was dependent on God and obedient to his commands.

As Israel was in a repeated downward spiral into sin, they refused to learn from history, living only for the moment, which took them further into sin.

Judges is also a book about sin and its consequences. Like a minor cut or abrasion that becomes infected when left untreated, sin grows and soon poisons the whole body.  Our sins harm both ourselves and others, but all sin is ultimately against God because it disregards his commands and his authority over us.

Recognising the seriousness of sin is the first step towards removing it from our lives, for sin leads us into living in a mess; struggles and dilemmas easily get out of control.  When we’ve messed up God should be the first person we turn to.  Instead we try to control our own lives without God’s help.  All this does is to lead us into further struggle and confusion.  In contrast, when we stay connected to the Lord by consecrating ourselves daily, we are less likely to create painful circumstances.

This is a lesson the Israelites never fully learned.  When struggles come our way, God wants us to come to him first, seeking his strength and guidance, thus seeking His Kingdom.  Jesus encourages us to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”.  Too often we push God to the back of the queue.  In other words, we are to turn to God first for help.  Then we are to fill our thoughts with His desires, to take His character as our pattern in life, thus serving and obeying Him in absolutely everything we do.

That’s when we grow in God’s love and blessings!

Judges 4:4-10 & 13-15; Matthew 6:25-34