Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 5

Faith and Deed – James 2:14-26

Based on a sermon from 22nd May 2022

Here’s an age-old question:  Can faith with no works save you?  Works and faith have often been at the centre of debate in the church.  So, what exactly is necessary for salvation?

Some groups have gone the legalistic route, trusting in their good works to save them, believing that by strict adherence to rules they can earn favour with God.  Others have said the mind is most important and physical actions aren’t. Therefore, just believe and you will be okay.

It’s a fundamental issue and one that James covers in detail here.  Remember James is a practical book so it is natural he will emphasise the practical side.  Is faith without works of any use?  Can that faith save him?

James gives an illustration to prove his main point (that faith without works is dead).  The example is this.  A person in need comes to you for help.  With smooth words you bless the person and wish them well, sending them on their way.  Judging only by your words it would appear that you have great love, compassion, and mercy for this person.  However, you do nothing tangible to help this person.  They go away exactly the same as they came, – in need.  Your beautiful words did nothing to satisfy their need.

Here’s a rhetorical question: What use is that?  The obvious answer; it is no use.

The response to the situation above is hypocritical.  It would be better to just truthfully say “I won’t help you.  I don’t want to help you.”  The implication is that words are not as important as actions.  Empty words are useless.

So, James is saying that faith without works is dead (17).  This is the point of his previous illustration, and is a major theme of his epistle; Christianity has to be lived out practically in everyday life.

In chapter one, he showed that trials test true faith.  Perseverance in trials is an indicator that a person’s faith is real and that they are truly saved.  Thus, response to trials is test number one.

Test number two is works.  The point is similar to the one at the end of chapter 1 about hearing and doing.  Knowing a lot of things is pointless unless that knowledge changes how you live.

Simply put, this means that a person with real faith will live a changed life.  A person who is genuinely saved will bear fruit.  Jesus taught the same thing.  In Matthew 7:17 Jesus says; “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.”

We are to evaluate our own spiritual condition by examining our fruit.  Are you zealous for the Lord?  Are the fruit of the Spirit evidenced in your life?  Do you love sharing the gospel?  Do you delight in studying God’s Word and prayer?  Do you sacrifice things in your own life in order to pursue God?

Those things are evidence that you are a good tree.  On the other hand, going to church, being baptised, joining the choir, praying a prayer, owning a Bible, calling yourself a Christian are not very good indicators of salvation.

Warning!  Not all belief is saving faith (19).  There are some kinds of belief that don’t save.  The demons believe God.  Satan and demons have mostly orthodox doctrine.  They know personally the Father, Son, and Spirit.  That is, they believe in His existence and power.  They certainly know God created the world.  We know they believe in the judgement to come (Luke 8:31).  But they hate God with all of their hearts and fight against Him with every breath even though they know He is real and the Judge.

Demons believe God, but they do not submit to Him; neither do they rest in Him.  So, although they believe God, they do not believe in God, that He is worthy of their adoration and praise.  This verse shows us very clearly that head knowledge doesn’t save.  Even acceptance of the fact that God is true doesn’t save.  One must place their faith in Jesus and submit to Him as Lord in order to be saved.  So, agreement to a list of facts about God is not enough, (Acts 16:31).

As we look at these verses it appears that James may be contradicting Paul’s teachings of justification by faith.  How can we reconcile James’ teaching with Paul’s?  Is he contradicting Paul?  It’s not a necessary disagreement, as this passage actually complements the message of Paul very consistently.  The reason for confusion involves a mistaken view of the biblical definition of “faith.”  Saving faith is not merely agreement; it is trust.  James makes it clear that the “faith” which he says cannot save is mere intellectual belief.  True faith saves, but it also results in works.

James readily acknowledges that salvation is a gift from God (see James 1:17-18) and quotes Genesis 15:6, which says that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  So, it is clear that James does not believe in salvation by works alone and this passage as part of Scripture cannot be teaching that.

So what then is the point?

We know that James is a book stressing practical living and showing us some tests we can apply to see if we are genuinely saved.  In this passage James is emphasising the action that must come out of genuine, living faith.

So which came first, Abraham’s faith or his offering of Isaac?

His faith came first.  He first demonstrated faith many years earlier by obeying God’s call to “go to the country I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1).  Even when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac he first left his place and travelled to the location to be used for sacrifice.  From the beginning, he believed that God would raise up Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19).  His steadfast belief in God led him to obedience.  So we are saved by faith alone.  But practically speaking, this faith must show itself through action or it is dead.

Then we have another example of Rahab, who demonstrates faith in action, because her works proved that her faith was genuine.

Joshua 2:9-11 tells us:

9 and (Rahab) said to them, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.’

This is Rahab’s statement of faith.  It shows very clearly that she believed God is the real God of heaven and earth.  She followed this statement with actions that proved that she meant what she said.  She risked her life in order to save the lives of the spies.  In essence she betrayed her own country, people, and idols, because of her faith in the real God.

If Rahab had spoken these words to the spies and then reported them to Jericho’s authority, it would have proved that she still was loyal to her own idols.  It would have proved that her faith in God was not genuine, certainly not strong enough to change her lifestyle or affect her choices.

James said that Rahab was “justified by works.”  These works proved to Israel that she was loyal to Jehovah.  It was on the basis of these works (saving the spies) that she and her family were saved.

Faith and works are two sides of the same coin.  Without faith, Rahab never would have risked her life for strangers.  And without her deeds of protection, her professed faith would have been empty.  As James says in verse 26, “faith without deeds is dead.”

This is a stark warning of the need for personal examination.  Your faith should change how you live your daily life.  Would a neutral party observing your life find any evidence that what you believe is changing how you live life on a day to day basis? 

Living thoughts

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the sermon and the two passages from Scripture: James 2:14-26 and John 14:23-29, and let them speak to you afresh in light of remaining steadfast to the Gospel.  As God speaks to you why not write down (in your journal) what you sense God is saying to you.

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Digging into God’s Word

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond these questions.

As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

  • Ask God to show you two ways your faith has changed how you live on a day to day basis.
  • Now ask God to show you two more ways that your faith needs to be reflected in your daily life.  Again, give thanks to God for what He shows you and ask Him to give you strength and courage to believe and do, so you live both with faith in Christ and deeds for Christ.

Prayer Response

God, I pray for a softening of my heart, an openness to your Word, and for spiritual awakening in my soul and spirit.  I pray that your fruit, planted in me by your Word, will yield a harvest hundred-fold more than was sown, for your glory’s sake.

God, I pray for your word to bear fruit in the lives of all families, all churches and all communities, and among the nations that we will witness revival in your name. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Holiness, Me, and the Church – Part 3

An introduction to James

“MIRACULOUS!” …”Revolutionary!” … “Greatest ever!”  We are inundated by a flood of extravagant claims as we shop on-line, flip through television channels or magazine pages.  The messages leap out at us.  The products assure us that they are new, improved, fantastic, and capable of changing our lives for the better.  For only a few pounds, we can have “cleaner clothes”, “whiter teeth”, “glamorous hair”, and “tastier food”.  Cars, perfume, diet drinks, and mouthwash are guaranteed to bring happiness, friends, and the good life.

But talk is cheap, and too often we soon realise that the boasts were hollow, quite far from the truth.

‘Jesus is the answer!” … “Believe in God!” …  “Follow me to church!”  As Christians we also make great claims but are often guilty of belying them with our actions.  Professing to trust God and to be His people, we cling tightly to the world and its values.  Possessing all the right answers, we contradict the gospel with our lives.

James confronts this conflict head-on.  It is not enough to talk the Christian faith; he says we must live it.  “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?” (2:14).  The proof of the reality of our faith is a changed life.

Part of the good news is that a genuine faith will inevitably produce good deeds.  This is the central theme of James’ letter, around which he supplies practical advice on living the Christian life. 

The book of James is considered to be written by James the brother of Jesus, which makes what he writes even more powerful.  Why?  Because James tried to stop Jesus.  His family (brothers) thought He was crazy and didn’t believe Jesus when He said He was the Son of God!

After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to James, (1 Corinthians 15:7).  Can you imagine that conversation?  I’m sure it was filled with lots of tears, repentance, forgiveness, and Jesus’ amazing grace.  After that episode, James becomes Jesus’ biggest supporter.  As one of the leaders in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15), he bravely proclaims Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.

This letter can be seen as a how-to book on Christian living, containing tools for Christians on how to live a holy and righteous life before God.  Confrontation, challenge, and a call to commitment await us in its pages.  As we journey through James over the next three months our hope should be that we become better at being “doers” of the word (1:22-25).  We will be exploring this under the theme of Holiness, Me, and the Church.  Our verse for this term is from Psalm 51:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

May we hold this verse before us as together we dig into James this term.

Learning from James 1:1-18

These verses  give us some tools that are useful for us in order to become the “doer” of the word that God is looking us to be.  I will now share tools that I believe we can find in this passage.  Later you will have an opportunity on our own to re-read those verses from chapter 1 and ask God which of these tools you are struggling with in your personal and corporate relationship with God.

Pure Joy (v2)  Note James doesn’t say “if” you face trials, but “whenever” you face them.  We will have trials but with God’s help it is possible to profit from them.  The point is not to pretend to be happy when we face pain and difficulty, but to have a positive outlook (“consider it pure joy”) because of what trials can produce in our lives.  So, James is telling us to turn our hardships into times of learning.  Therefore, tough times can teach us further the importance of perseverance. Which is the next tool…

Perseverance (v3)  This is the same as patience, endurance and steadfastness.  Perseverance is persistence in doing something despite difficulty (pain) or delay in achieving success.  It’s about pushing on through to the end and not giving up.  The outcome of perseverance is growth in maturity….

Mature and Complete (v4)  God wants to make us mature and complete, not to keep us from all pain.  That can be difficult to accept, if God is a God of love then surely He will protect us from pain?  However, God always turns things on their head, so instead of complaining about our struggles we should see them as opportunities for growth.  I have found that thanking God for promising to be with me in rough times helps me to persevere and helps me to grow in maturity.  In thanking God, He wants us to ask him to help solve our problems and to give us the strength to endure them.  As we do this we need to be patient, and remember that God will not leave us alone with our problems for He will always stay close and help us grow.  The outcome of growing in maturity with God is wisdom….

Wisdom (v5)  By wisdom James is talking not only about knowledge, but about the ability to make wise decisions in difficult circumstances.  Whenever we need wisdom we can pray to God, and He will generously supply what we need.  We don’t have to grope around in the dark, hoping to stumble upon answers.  We can ask for God’s wisdom to guide our choices.

Therefore, wisdom means practical discernment.  It begins with respect for God, leads to right living, and results in increased ability to tell right from wrong.  God is willing to give us this, His wisdom but we will be unable to receive it if our goals are self-centred instead of God-centred.  To learn God’s will we need to read His word and ask Him to show us how to obey it.  Then we must do what He tells us.  As we do, at least two things happen: we grow in belief and trust…

Belief and Trust (not doubt)  To “believe and not doubt” means not only believing in the existence of God; but also believing in His loving care.  It includes relying on God and expecting that He will hear and answer when we pray.  We must put away our critical attitude when we come to Him.  God does not grant every thoughtless or selfish request.  We must have confidence that God will align our desires with His good and perfect purposes.  Our requests therefore, must be in line (in harmony) with the principles of God’s Kingdom.  The stronger our belief, the more likely our prayer will be in line with God’s will, and then God will be happy to grant answers to our prayers.

Allowing God to deepen our belief and trust means that our mind will be less likely to waver.  If we are not completely convinced that God’s way is best we will treat His word like any human advice, and we then retain the option to disobey.  A wavering mind, wavering between different opinions, actions, between allegiance to subjective feelings, the world’s ideas, and God’s Commands will lead us to act unwisely and immaturely.  When we are struggling, remember that you can trust God.  Then be loyal to him.  The way to stabilise your wavering or doubtful mind is to commit yourself wholeheartedly to God.

As belief and trust grow, we can grasp better the concept of God’s promise that we have received the Crown of life (v12)  The crown of life is like the victory wreath given to winning athletes (1 Corinthians 9:25).  God’s crown of life is not glory and honour on earth, but the reward of eternal life – living with God for ever.  The way to be in God’s winners’ circle is by loving Him and staying faithful even under pressure.  So we move on to the next point..

Love of God (v12)  This helps us to overcome temptation.  Temptation comes from evil desires inside us, not from God.  It begins with an evil thought and becomes sin when we dwell on the thought and allow it to become an action.  Like a snowball rolling down hill, sin grows more destructive the more we let it have its way.  The best time to stop a temptation is before it is too strong or moving too fast to control.  What helps us to stop temptation is to know the….

Word of truth (v18)  God’s Word is truth and it gives us new birth, the ability to resist temptation, to give direction and power to become the “doers” of the word God is always calling us to be.  The Word of truth sets us free from our past, rebirths us into new life by the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  As believers in Christ, we are the recipients of God’s best and sweetest gifts.

Living thoughts

I encourage you to read James 1:1-18.  As you do, ask God which of these tools you are struggling with in your personal and corporate relationship with God.  As an aide-memoire this may help

  • Are you struggling with considering it pure joy when you face trials?:
  • Do you give up easily, and wish you had better perseverance?
  • Are you lacking in maturity?
  • Do you struggle to make wise decisions?
  • Do you lack belief and so doubt God’s promises?
  • Do you feel that the crown of life is just outside your grasp, that you are not good enough for it?
  • Does temptation get in the way of your love of God?
  • Are there things getting in the way of you believing and trusting the word of truth?

As you ask God and let Him speak to you, acknowledge where you are struggling, where the enemy is using his evil schemes to tempt you.  Then confess to the Lord the harmful impact these are having on your life, receive God’s forgiveness, rebuke the schemes of the enemy and replace what you have rebuked with opposite of what you have confessed.  So for example, if God has shown you that you lack His wisdom, pray that you will be blessed by His wisdom so you are able to make wise decisions in your life that are in line with His plumb line truth.

Holiness, Me, and the Church – Part 1

An introduction to James

Based on a sermon from 1st May 2022, and James 1:1-18

“MIRACULOUS!” …”Revolutionary!” … “Greatest ever!”  We are inundated by a flood of extravagant claims as we shop on-line, flip through television channels or magazine pages.  The messages leap out at us.  The products assure us that they are new, improved, fantastic, and capable of changing our lives for the better.  For only a few pounds, we can have “cleaner clothes”, “whiter teeth”, “glamorous hair”, and “tastier food”.  Cars, perfume, diet drinks, and mouthwash are guaranteed to bring happiness, friends, and the good life.

But talk is cheap, and too often we soon realise that the boasts were hollow, quite far from the truth.

‘Jesus is the answer!” … “Believe in God!” …  “Follow me to church!”  As Christians we also make great claims but are often guilty of belying them with their actions.  Professing to trust God and to be His people, we cling tightly to the world and its values.  Possessing all the right answers, we contradict the gospel with our lives.

James confronts this conflict head-on.  It is not enough to talk the Christian faith; he says we must live it.  “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?” (2:14).  The proof of the reality of our faith is a changed life.

Part of the good news is that a genuine faith will inevitably produce good deeds.  This is the central theme of James’ letter, around which he supplies practical advice on living the Christian life. 

The book of James is considered to be written by James the brother of Jesus, which makes what he writes even more powerful.  Why? Because James tried to stop Jesus.  His family (brothers) thought He was crazy and didn’t believe Jesus when He said He was the Son of God!

After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to James, (1 Corinthians 15:7).  Can you imagine that conversation?  I’m sure it was filled with lots of tears, repentance, forgiveness, and Jesus’ amazing grace.  After that episode, James becomes Jesus’ biggest supporter.  As one of the leaders in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15), he bravely proclaims Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.

This letter can be seen as a how-to book on Christian living, containing tools for Christians on how to live a holy and righteous life before God.  Confrontation, challenge, and a call to commitment await us in its pages.  As we journey through James over the next three months our hope should be that we become better at being “doers” of the word (1:22-25).  We will be exploring this under the theme of Holiness, Me, and the Church.  Our verse for this term is from Psalm 51:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

May we hold this verse before us as together we dig into James this term.

Tools from James 1:1-18

These verses  give us some tools that are useful for us in order to become the “doer” of the word that God is looking us to be.  I will now share tools that I believe we can find in this passage.  Later you will have an opportunity on our own to re-read those verses from chapter 1 and ask God which of these tools you are struggling with in your personal and corporate relationship with God.

Pure Joy (v2)  Note James doesn’t say “if” you face trials, but “whenever” you face them.  We will have trials but with God’s help it is possible to profit from them.  The point is not to pretend to be happy when we face pain and difficulty, but to have a positive outlook (“consider it pure joy”) because of what trials can produce in our lives.  So, James is telling us to turn our hardships into times of learning.  Therefore, tough times can teach us further the importance of perseverance. Which is the next tool…

Perseverance (v3)  This is the same as patience, endurance and steadfastness.  Perseverance is persistence in doing something despite difficulty (pain) or delay in achieving success.  It’s about pushing on through to the end and not giving up.  The outcome of perseverance is growth in maturity….

Mature and Complete (v4)  God wants to make us mature and complete, not to keep us from all pain.  That can be difficult to accept, if God is a God of love then surely He will protect us from pain?  However, God always turns things on their head, so instead of complaining about our struggles we should see them as opportunities for growth.  I have found that thanking God for promising to be with me in rough times helps me to persevere and helps me to grow in maturity.  In thanking God, He wants us to ask him to help solve our problems and to give us the strength to endure them.  As we do this we need to be patient, and remember that God will not leave us alone with our problems for He will always stay close and help us grow.  The outcome of growing in maturity with God is wisdom….

Wisdom (v5)  By wisdom James is talking not only about knowledge, but about the ability to make wise decisions in difficult circumstances.  Whenever we need wisdom we can pray to God, and He will generously supply what we need.  We don’t have to grope around in the dark, hoping to stumble upon answers.  We can ask for God’s wisdom to guide our choices.

Therefore, wisdom means practical discernment.  It begins with respect for God, leads to right living, and results in increased ability to tell right from wrong.  God is willing to give us this, His wisdom but we will be unable to receive it if our goals are self-centred instead of God-centred.  To learn God’s will we need to read His word and ask Him to show us how to obey it.  Then we must do what He tells us.  As we do at least two things happen: we grow in belief and trust…

Belief and Trust (not doubt)  To “believe and not doubt” means not only believing in the existence of God; but also believing in His loving care.  It includes relying on God and expecting that He will hear and answer when we pray.  We must put away our critical attitude when we come to Him.  God does not grant every thoughtless or selfish request.  We must have confidence that God will align our desires with His good and perfect purposes.  Our requests therefore, must be in line (in harmony) with the principles of God’s Kingdom.  The stronger our belief, the more likely our prayer will be in line with God’s will, and then God will be happy to grant answers to our prayers.

Allowing God to deepen our belief and trust means that our mind will be less likely to waver.  If we are not completely convinced that God’s way is best we will treat His word like any human advice, and we then retain the option to disobey.  A wavering mind, wavering between different opinions, actions, between allegiance to subjective feelings, the world’s ideas, and God’s Commands will lead us to act unwisely and immaturely.  When we are struggling, remember that you can trust God.  Then be loyal to him.  The way to stabilise your wavering or doubtful mind is to commit yourself wholeheartedly to God.

As belief and trust grow, we can grasp better the concept of God’s promise that we have received the Crown of life (v12)  The crown of life is like the victory wreath given to winning athletes (1 Corinthians 9:25).  God’s crown of life is not glory and honour on earth, but the reward of eternal life – living with God for ever.  The way to be in God’s winners’ circle is by loving Him and staying faithful even under pressure.  So we move on to the next point..

Love of God (v12)  This helps us to overcome temptation.  Temptation comes from evil desires inside us, not from God.  It begins with an evil thought and becomes sin when we dwell on the thought and allow it to become an action.  Like a snowball rolling down hill, sin grows more destructive the more we let it have its way.  The best time to stop a temptation is before it is too strong or moving too fast to control.  What helps us to stop temptation is to know the….

Word of truth (v18)  God’s Word is truth and it gives us new birth, the ability to resist temptation, to give direction and power to become the “doers” of the word God is always calling us to be.  The Word of truth sets us free from our past, rebirths us into new life by the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  As believers in Christ, we are the recipients of God’s best and sweetest gifts.

Living thoughts

I encourage you to read James 1:1-18.  As you do, ask God which of these tools you are struggling with in your personal and corporate relationship with God.  As an aide-memoire this may help

  • Are you struggling with considering it pure joy when you face trials?:
  • Do you give up easily, and wish you had better perseverance?
  • Are you lacking in maturity?
  • Do you struggle to make wise decisions?
  • Do you lack belief and so doubt God’s promises?
  • Do you feel that the crown of life is just outside your grasp, that you are not good enough for it?
  • Does temptation get in the way of your love of God?
  • Are there things getting in the way of you believing and trusting the word of truth?

As you ask God and let Him speak to you, acknowledge where you are struggling, where the enemy is using his evil schemes to tempt you.  Then confess to the Lord the harmful impact these are having on your life, receive God’s forgiveness, rebuke the schemes of the enemy and replace what you have rebuked with opposite of what you have confessed.  So for example, if God has shown you that you lack His wisdom, pray that you will be blessed by His wisdom so you are able to make wise decisions in your life that are in line with His plumb line truth.

Journey to Hope – Rising on Eagle’s Wings

Based on a sermon from Sunday 3rd April 2022

God stayed with the people leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and with a pillar of fire by night. (Exodus 13:21)

In this series we have been looking at the journey that the Israelites took through the desert to the Promised Land.  We have used their journey to help us look to revival.  If we want to see revival happen here, we need to learn from their journey.  In Numbers 16, Deuteronomy 1 and 2, we learn that the journey the Israelites took should have only taken 3 to 4 months, but it didn’t; it took them 40 years. Why?  Let’s take a look at Deuteronomy chapter 2.

Twelve spies went out, but only 2 came back filled with hope that they could and would be able to step into the Promised Land.  Ten spies had no hope and didn’t trust God.  They were fearful and did not enter it.  These ten spies represented a generation who said they wanted to go into the Promised Land, but when “push came to shove”, and were faced with the realities of freedom, they didn’t want to enter.  They were fearful. They rebelled against Moses.  They grieved over Egypt and wanted to go back.  They moaned and groaned.  They tried to do life without God and take control.  They didn’t listen to the rules and commandments that God gave them, to help them live good holy lives.  They disobeyed God and chose to worship other gods.  They created a golden calf for themselves to worship.  Having a golden calf (a physical, man-made religious altar) was more important to them than a good, living, faithful, loving God.  Even though God had saved them from Egypt, destroyed their enemies in the Red Sea and promised them hope, they still didn’t trust God.

In Deuteronomy, we read that because of their disobedience and lack of trust, a whole generation was not able to enter the Promised Land.

14 Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them.  15The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp. (Deuteronomy 2:14-15)

If we hold on to our fear, our grief, our religion, and ways that we have to do church, then we will never enter the promises that God has for us, just like the Israelites.  The Israelites were in the desert for 40 years.  God doesn’t want us to stay in our own desert.  If we don’t give our stuff to God, we, like the Israelites may miss out.  God didn’t allow the Israelites to enter the Promised Land until the Israelites were ready and the old generation had passed.  If we refuse to change and give ourselves to God, we may be like this old generation and we many never enter God’s Promised Land and see the revival that is promised.

When this doubting fearful generation passed, God gave them the land.  God fulfilled His promise and God gave them even more.  God fought for them.  God is utterly faithful and true.  God loves us so much and He will fulfil His promises to us.  we can have faith and confidence that God will fight for us too.

In Exodus 33 v7-23 we read of Moses’ hunger for God.  Moses met with God face to face, and he was still hungry for more, more of His presence, more of His love and favour, more of His glory.  He asked God to “Show me your glory” and God did.

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19 v4-6)

God is so good and God is so good to us.  We are a Holy people.  We are a kingdom of priests.  We are favoured and God’s treasured possession and therefore we will soar on wings like eagles.

Psalm 91 is awesome and it speaks of the promises of God over Moses, the Israelites and over us too.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.’

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.

We can rest under God’s wings.  Whatever we are carrying, we can bring it to God.  Under His wings of love, trust, peace, comfort and safety, God is our refuge and strength.  We can be vulnerable and exposed with God, because He is good and He will shield us.  God will cover us with His feathers and we will not need to feel shame and guilt.  God is our shield and He will stop the arrows that may come our way.  He loves us and as we drop our baggage, we can grasp and hold on to His wings.  As we grasp on to God, we will soar on wings like eagles.  We can have hope and we will rise.  We will rise above the storm.  We will rise into the hope and promises of God.

Isaiah 40 v28-31

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

We can have hope for Revival here in this community.  We can have hope that salvation will come to our loved ones.  We can have hope that the Holy Spirit will come and renew, refresh and awaken his people.  We can have hope that the sheep who are lost, will be found again.  We can have hope that the prodigal son, will come back into the loving arms of God the Father.  We can have hope that cancer will go.  We can have hope that sick children will be made well and sickness will flee.  We can have hope that the barren women, will conceive and have children.  We can have hope that those who are slaves to addiction, will be set free by the blood of the lamb.  We can have hope that depression will be turned into deep wells of peace and joy.  We can have hope that the lonely will never be forgotten and isolated again.  We can have hope that families and friends who have been at war with one another and separated through disagreements and betrayal, will be united in love, forgiveness, and joy once again.  We can have hope that anger and unforgiveness in this community, will melt into repentance and compassion.  We can have hope that poverty in this community will be eradicated.  We can have hope that the schools will be filled with the sound of children and youth worshipping the Lord our God.  We can have hope that there will be such a hunger for God, that people will be weeping in the street.  We can have hope that this community will be completely transformed by the power of God’s love.

If God has done it in the past and God is everlasting, God will do it again.  We can have hope, because God is faithful and does not break his promises. We can have hope and we will all soar on wings like eagles.

Mel Ramos

Living thoughts

Consider the following questions as you Dig into God’s Word.…  As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. Take another look at Deuteronomy chapter 2.  What kind of “spy” are you?  Are you 1 of the 10 who doubts the hope of the Lord and His promises, or are you one of the 2 spies who said “Yes”?
  2. Remember Moses in Exodus 33 v7-23. How hungry are you for revival and for more of God’s power, glory and love in your life?
  3. Do some research on eagles and watch clips/look at photos of eagles soaring.  Look at Isaiah 40 v28-31 and Psalm 91 again.  Ask God to reveal more of what it looks like to soar in hope on eagle’s wings in your own life.  Repent where needed and then pray for more hope and faith to rise within you, and let it influence the way you pray and seek God.

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Prayer Response

Jesus, the hope of all who trust you; the power of all who serve you; the wisdom of all who follow you; the one who unites all who worship you.  Grant us your light as we enter into Easter.

Fill us with strength and boldness according to your promises, that we might reach our needy nation, with your love, as we prepare for Easter.  We humbly acknowledge our weakness and failure, but our eyes are fixed on you.  Fulfil your purposes and plans that your name may be honoured in our land.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Father, thank you that in a world of despair, you are our Hope.  In a world of darkness, you are our Light.  In a world of sorrow, you are our joy.

Help us to share the Hope of our hearts with one another.  Enable us to give Hope to others through Your work amongst us.  Use us to transform our nation and to spread Your Hope to everyone in this nation.

May our land flourish by the preaching of Your word and the praising of Your name. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Holy God, our only hope is in You.  We thank you for the past, trust you for today and believe in you for the future; that all Your promises will come to pass so we can rest forever in Your love.  Amen

Adapted from Jane Holloway, World Prayer Centre

Journey to Hope – Fear

Based on a sermon from Sunday 13th March 2022

Exodus 16:33-35

This is the second of our 5 part series in which we look at the journey that the Israelites took in the desert to the Promised Land.  We feel that this journey is similar to the journey we are on as a church, except our “Promised Land” is revival.  Some of the Israelites didn’t make it to the Promised Land because they were carrying baggage that they wanted to keep.  Last week we talked about Grief.  Many of the Israelites complained and wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt.  They grieved the “so called riches” they had in Egypt, such as meat to eat.  They wanted to go back to slavery, and they didn’t want or know how to enter freedom.  They complained to Moses and blamed God for their misfortunes, even though they were free.  They had just seen the 12 plagues, God had parted a huge sea and killed all their enemies in front of their eyes, but they still complained.

Yet, God was so good and he remained faithful to the Israelites.  We hear in the scriptures that out of God’s goodness, God gave the Israelites what they wanted, (see Exodus 16:13-18).  Moses asked them to take what they needed, not too much or too little, (see also 16:1-20).  Moses gave them an instruction not to keep any of the bread for the morning, but they ignored Him, and the Israelites kept the bread anyway.

Why did they keep the bread when Moses told them not to?  Because they didn’t trust Moses.  Moses had led them out of Egypt and through the parted sea, surely with his track record and the relationship that Moses would have built up with the Israelites, you would have thought that they would and should have listened and trusted Moses?… but no, they didn’t.  They didn’t trust Moses and so they therefore didn’t trust God.

Why this lack of trust?  Because they didn’t trust that Moses and God would look after and provide for them.  The Israelites took the bread and kept it so they could provide for themselves for the next day.  They were scared, worried and fearful that the bread wouldn’t come and that God wouldn’t provide.  They took control of the situation and they tried to provide for themselves.  By keeping the bread for themselves it revealed two strongholds and sin patterns; fear and control.  “I’ll do this myself, because I don’t think God will give me what I need” – that was control.  Blaming Moses and trying to sort things out for themselves – is was result of their own fear.

I can imagine that these two sin patterns of fear and control were so normal and natural to the Israelites.  Remember that these Israelites would have been born slaves.  They would have been beaten, abused and at the mercy of the Egyptians.  They were living in fear of what would happen next.   Because of this, I can imagine that they did everything they could to survive.  In Exodus 1 we read that the new Pharaoh betrayed the Israelites and made them all slaves.  He put slave masters over them with forced labour.  He oppressed them and worked them ruthlessly.  He tried to kill all the boy babies so they wouldn’t multiply.  The Egyptians were not kind.  For years the Israelites were oppressed and under a heavy blanket of fear without any hope of freedom.

When the Israelites left Egypt, they had to re-learn how to follow a leader who was kind, loving, tolerant, forgiving and good.  When Moses came, he spoke of God and God’s faithfulness to the Israelites.  Moses had compassion on the people.  During the 12 plagues of Egypt, God used this time to teach the Israelites about His faithfulness, love and goodness.  God had not forgotten His people and God delivered them.  God parted the Red Sea and now God was giving them the food and water that they needed in the desert daily.  God was constantly miraculously providing for them.

Still they were unable to let go of the past and the pain of their deep betrayal and mistreatment by the Egyptians, and because they hadn’t dealt with their pain, they complained to Moses.  They didn’t trust him.  They grumbled.  They talked about him behind his back.  They were angry towards him.  All the unresolved pain, unforgiveness and anger they had for the Egyptians, resulted in the Israelites putting this baggage on Moses.  They couldn’t move forward away from the pain of their past and into the freedom of their future.  We can be just like these Israelites.

God only wants good things for us.  God is good.  God can’t help himself.  God cannot do anything but be good. Gods’ divine goodness is at the centre of God’s character.  If God is not good, then God is not God.

In A.W. Tozer’s book The Knowledge of the Holy, he says “If God is not good, then there can be no distinction between kindness and cruelty.  Therefore, heaven can be hell and hell, heaven.  The goodness of God is the drive behind all blessing He daily bestows upon us.”

Goodness is the reason why God does everything He does.  When God made the earth, His creation and Mankind, God said it was good. Genesis 1v31 “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, then God still thinks Mankind is good today and He only has good things for us.  God is unchanging and so therefore his goodness is unchanging also.  If God is good, then everything He has for us is also good.  Therefore, if everything He has for us is good, why do we doubt God?  Why are we fearful?  We cannot make anything more good than God, because God is the creator of good.  He only has good things for us. That is God’s nature. He can’t help it.

God’s goodness is the ground of our expectation. If we do not know the goodness of God and His love for us, then we will have low expectations of God and therefore low expectations of God’s goodness.  We will then have low expectations for our lives and the future that God has for us.  We will have low levels of hope.  God’s goodness and love is the foundation for our lives.

Again Tozer writes, “Sin has made us timid and self-conscious.  Years of rebellion against God have bred in us a fear that cannot be overcome in a day”.  This fear was the reason why the Israelites were unable to enter the Promised Land.  They had lived in fear their whole lives.  They didn’t know how to not be fearful.  Their fear was not going to be overcome in a day, but even after all they went through, they continued to doubt Moses and therefore they doubted God.

If we want to know more of God and His goodness, we only need to look at Jesus. Jesus came to walk with men, so we would see for ourselves what God the Father was like.  Jesus was consistently loving, kind, gentle, gracious and good.  Jesus teaches us, how good God has been and forever will be.

“The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but God’s goodness encourages us not to be afraid of him.” (Tozer).

If like me, you struggle with God’s goodness, all we need to do is look at Jesus.  We just need to look at how good Jesus was and how he died on the cross for you and me.  If like me, you struggle with the goodness of God, just look at your past and how faithful God has been.  Just look at the reason why you are here. It is because of God’s goodness that you are here in this room, saved and redeemed.  It is because of God’s goodness that He blesses you daily.

Today, we are looking at fear.  Just like the Israelites we have fear which can cause us to take control and not trust God.  We can have; fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of the past, fear of the journey, fear of the Holy Spirit, fear of leaving your baggage behind, fear of leaving betrayal behind, fear of forgiveness.  None of us fully understands the goodness of God, because God’s goodness is so big, full of mercy, grace and blessing.  We will never deserve the goodness and blessing God wants to shower us with, but God is good.  God’s goodness is faithful.  His goodness is everlasting.  His goodness is new every morning.  His goodness gives us hope.  God’s goodness and faithfulness gives us a future.  God’s goodness gives us a hope for revival.

Mel Ramos

Living thoughts

Digging into God’s Word

Please consider the following questions.  As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Get your Bible down and read these verses…

  • James 1v17
  • Psalm 34v8
  • Romans 8v28
  • Psalm 107v1
  • Psalm 145v9

Try and summarise the message from each verse in your notebook.  Can you respond with thanksgiving to God for what they say to you?

Re-read these verses from our first reading above, Exodus 16:33-35.

Manna was placed (the daily miracle bread God showered them with), in a jar to remind them of God’s goodness and faithfulness, and to tell future generations of all that God has done.  I am sure many of us have testimonies of God’s faithfulness and goodness.  Ask God to remind you of them, write them down and put them in your own Omer Jar.

The Bible reveals God’s character, faithfulness and goodness. Below are some Bible passages that reflect these.  As you read them list the good qualities of God.

  • Colossians 1:17
  • Malachi 3:6
  • Romans 8:35-39
  • John 5:26
  • Psalm 33:6
  • 2 Timothy 2:13
  • Psalm 34:8
  • Psalm 145:8

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

Dwell in these words from scripture, and ask God to show you His plans for you, and then ask Him to show you His peace and thus experience His peace of heart.

“For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans for a future and a hope” Jeremiah 29v11

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14v27

Read The Knowledge of the Holy, by A.W. Tozer, which is all about the character of God.

If this subject has brought things up for you, please do get in touch if you would appreciate a listening ear, or someone to pray with.

Prayer Response

Jesus, the hope of all who trust you; the power of all who serve you; the wisdom of all who follow you; the one who unites all who worship you, grant us your light as we enter into Lent.

Fill us with strength and boldness according to your promises, that we might reach our needy nation, with your love, as we prepare for Easter.  We humbly acknowledge our weakness and failure, but our eyes are fixed on you.  Fulfil your purposes and plans that your name may be honoured in our land.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Father, thank you that in a world of despair, you are our Hope.  In a world of darkness, you are our Light.  In a world of sorrow, you are our joy.

Help us to share the Hope of our hearts with one another.  Enable us to give Hope to others through Your work amongst us.  Use us to transform our nation and to spread Your Hope to everyone in this nation.

May our land flourish by the preaching of Your word and the praising of Your name. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Holy God, our only hope is in You.  We thank you for the past, trust you for today and believe in you for the future; that all Your promises will come to pass so we can rest forever in Your love. Amen

Adapted from Jane Holloway, World Prayer Centre

Getting to know Him

Mark 4:35-41

What’s our biggest problem as Christians? I suggest it is this: that we don’t know God enough, we don’t trust him enough, we don’t love him enough and that we don’t pray to him enough.  But this is not a new problem and in a strange way, we should find that encouraging.  For another group of Christians had the same problem – Jesus’s disciples.  Remember they were with the Lord himself for three years and their general slowness should encourage us that God is patient and loving and always seeking to draw us nearer to Himself. 

Jesus knew exactly what was coming.

Why do I say He knew what was coming, what was going to happen?  Well, first of all He only ever did what He saw His Heavenly Father do in Heaven.  Secondly He just knew what was going to happen next, he knew what people were thinking and going to say next.  Thirdly – A few weeks ago I spoke about “The Just in Time God” – He turned up at the appointed time for His birth, and at the appointed time He meet the widow of Nain.

So Jesus knew exactly what was coming – He knew there was going to be a storm. He deliberately placed His followers in harm’s way.  Being close to the Lord is no guarantee of a trouble-free life – rather the reverse!

Perhaps we should look at this time of Covid-19 in terms of trusting that God knows what He is doing, despite the suffering and disruption we are seeing and experiencing personally.  My life experience has clearly shown me that God does lead us into suffering so that He may show us more of Himself.  Twice I was made redundant when I had a young family, our son died at 11 months old, our older daughter put us through the ringer due to her mental health issues, I had a prolonged illness that meant I was off work for a year.  And I could go on!  Such things are often seen as situations sent to cause harm, but I believe God has meant them for good.  The uncertainty, the difficulties for my family, the pain, the frustrations, and fear, were all there, but it was a joy to know that God was utterly with me.  It was wonderful to know the joy of being involved in the Lord’s work, of seeing Him at work in and through those situations. In fact, these circumstances have given me many opportunities to share my faith.

Where is the ultimate place we see evil turned to good?  When we stand at the foot of the cross. The devil and all the forces of hell meant it for evil, but God used it for our good.

I am sure the disciples did all the things that experienced sailors would do when the “furious squall came up” – turn the boat into the wind, trim the sails, head for shore, bail out the water. But they didn’t do the one blindingly obvious thing that we as readers with hindsight should have done – ask the incarnate God who was right at hand for help.  Even when they did ask,  they did it in desperation and used rough words: they said, “Don’t you care?” (v38).

How hard it was for them to pray!  How small was their faith!  How hard it is for us to pray and how small is our faith!

Corrie Ten Boom said, “When a Christian shuns fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles. When he stops studying the Bible, the devil laughs. When he stops praying, the devil shouts for joy.”

And Charles Stanley said, “If satan can get you off your knees, nothing else matters. He doesn’t care what happens then.”

Instead of thinking “It’s too hard to pray” let us be encouraged to pray.  Do you see how kind the Lord is towards the disciples, how patient; yes, He reproves them, but He is always doing so out of a love so deep that it has no end.  God is so kind and patient towards us despite all our serious shortcomings.  Psalm 103 v13 says “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those that fear him.”  God sees all the things that are wrong with us – our laziness, our weak faith, our lack of love, our secret sins, our cold hearts and our prayerlessness, and what does he do?  He is full of what the Bible calls in Hebrew Ches-ed (Chesed) which the Reformers of the sixteenth century translated as a “loving-kindness full of the attributes of grace, benevolence, and compassion”.

Out of this loving-kindness comes amazing divine power!  Billions and billions of molecules are rearranged and suddenly there is a dead calm.  Winds may drop but a storm-tossed body of water takes a long time to drop.  In a second all is quiet, all is still.  Such is the power of the divine word.  It utterly transforms their circumstances.

What is the disciples’ reaction?  They are even more afraid!  What’s the answer to fear? More fear!  Psalm 111:10 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom“.  In Mark’s gospel this is early on in Jesus’ ministry.  The disciples have seen Jesus teach with an authority they have not experienced and heard before.  They have seen Jesus heal people, again things they have not seen before.  You would have thought that they would have fully realised that they were in the presence of an awesome person.  But through this incident in their life it begins to dawn on them who this ordinary-looking man asleep in the boat is.  When they left the boat they knew him more than when they got in.  Isn’t that what we need?  To know the Lord more, to love him more, and to pray to him more.  For as the Puritan preacher Thomas Goodwin says, “The person who knows Christ best is the person who will pray best.”

So how are you going to get to know God better?

Prayer:

Lord God, you know that we are in the midst of such dangers and that we cannot always stand upright because of the frailty of our nature: grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations so we get to know you better, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Based on a sermon first delivered on 9th August 2020

Sharing suffering

Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash

The book of Job shows how not to help others who are suffering.  Job’s comforters get so many things wrong.  They try and take control.  But if the storm is raging, only God can calm the storm.  Our role is not to take hold of the tiller and try and steer the boat, but to be in the boat with our friends.  Everyone feels pain and suffering in a different fashion, meaning it’s dangerous to use generalities.  God is a personal God who deals with His children equally but differently.  God has no “one size fits all”. Sometimes all that can be done is to be quiet and listen.  We tend to shy away from people in suffering because we feel awkward and embarrassed.  We need to overcome and accept this feeling and reach out to them.  It’s also fine if – as is more often the case – we don’t know the answers.  Sometimes just our presence is good enough.

Weeping and crying is good: Jesus weeps at the tomb of Lazarus.  I have wept on many occasions with people as I have ministered to them and when I have been ministered to.  Sometimes it is because of their story, sometimes it is because of my story!  We may feel its “unbiblical” to cry. But grief is godly and natural.  Sadly, our culture doesn’t like mourning.  But Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).  In the process of walking through pain and suffering it is not up to us to tell the sufferer when they are done.  Sometimes people will never stop grieving.  But ‘God gave His people a counsellor who wept with them, put the pain of their loss into words, ministered to their guilt and grief, and brought hope and healing from the ashes of their loss.’  (Colin Smith, senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church).

As I’ve said before, the Bible doesn’t shy away from suffering.  On its pages we find suffering from natural disasters, suffering from other people, suffering from disease, suffering from relationships, suffering we bring on ourselves, and many more scenarios.  So, when we experience suffering what are we to do?  Well, there is no better place to start than with God’s word.  It could be helpful to read to a suffering friend suitable Bible passages.  For me the best place to start in the Bible is the Psalms which cover the whole gamut of human emotions.  These words were prepared by God thousands of years ago and have been used ever since to provide comfort in times of need and suffering.  Sometimes in Psalms there isn’t even an answer.  Last year I spent time reading the Psalms, starting at the beginning and going through to the end.  At times I was shocked as some seem to end bleakly.   Psalm 88 is one such example, it ends bleakly, without even the hint of an answer let alone a ‘happy ending’ and that’s true sadly sometimes in life.  The Bible doesn’t flinch from reality and it doesn’t always wrap things up neatly.

One thing Job does is he shows us that If we feel angry or upset with God, we can tell him.  God is big enough to cope with our emotions.  It is very striking that Job is angry with God, going well beyond anything that the majority of us would otherwise consider reverent or proper, yet God rebukes his comforters at the end by saying “You haven’t spoken well of me, as my servant Job has“.  We need to get over the feeling that, “I’m helping you by being strong”.  Actually, suffering will impact us all, we are all sufferers; we all need Christ’s presence.  In my previous Chris writes… I shared about the suffering we experienced through the life, birth and death of our son John.  One thing that struck me about John was that Christ shone out of him.  In his suffering he still trusted us and at the same time truly helped others through their suffering.  On one occasion he flung himself at a friend who was have a hard time of getting a job.  He’d literally just told us that he hadn’t been successful, again, and John leapt out of our arms (he was only 9 months old) and hugged our friend.  No words were spoken the hug was all that was needed for us all!  

To me this illustrates that often there is little or nothing that we can do except be present and pray. Prayer is a wonderful privilege.  A 19th century hymn sums this up so well.  The composer, Joseph Scriven, experienced suffering when his fiancée died just before they were to get married.

Oh what needless pains we bear
All because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

There is a story of a badly deformed person with leprosy who was very bitter and who very nervously went to a local church where a man just patted the space next to him on the pew, indicating that he should come and sit next to him. This simple act deeply touched the suffering man.

As you read through the Book of Job you see that he is continually looking for a friend, an advocate, someone to represent him, someone to support him.  We now know that he was looking for Christ.  God’s ultimate answer to suffering is not a philosophy or even theology but a person.  When nothing else makes sense, and nothing else is left, Jesus is there, and He will hold us fast.  This also means that if we are not sure what to do, we won’t go far wrong if we follow Christ’s example in dealing with suffering, above all in showing compassion. James in his letter says:

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:11).

Suffering helps us to develop perseverance and steadfastness.  Romans 5:1-5 says tribulation leads to perseverance, and perseverance in turn develops character, which gives us hope.  When we choose not to give up during difficult circumstances, and look to the person of Christ, we allow God to build up good qualities in our life that will keep us going in the long term.

As we suffer did you know that we participate in the sufferings of Christ?  So nothing should be more valuable for us than to know Christ (Phil. 3:8-11), and to truly know someone we have to relate to their life and experiences.

God at times allows us to suffer so we can humbly recognise how much we need Him.  When we trust His will, He uses those trials in amazing ways.

Prayer:

Lord God, You are the strength of all who put their trust in you.  Mercifully accept our prayers and, because through the weakness of our human nature we cannot do anything good without you, by the Holy Spirit grant us the help of your grace so that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Based on a sermon first delivered on 28th June 2020

Understanding suffering

Suffering, – what is that all about? Many ask “Why does God allow it?  After all, isn’t He a God of love?”

Well, in my life, which is no different to many others, I have experienced suffering on numerous occasions.  Often self-inflicted through my own wilful nature, many other times simply because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time or I was caught up in circumstances beyond my control.

I remember when we told some friends that our unborn child was going to be born with a major heart defect, they quickly said “How could God let this happen to you, especially as you are training for ordained ministry?”  My response was, “Why not us?  Why should I expect God to treat me any differently from the next person?”

It is not to say that I haven’t asked those questions, but there is no easy answer.  Even though the situation ended in the death of our son John I can truthfully say I’ve never felt angry with God, but I’ve often wondered “why me?”. I think we all feel this in suffering and fear.

The Bible does not shy away from suffering and I think that the story of Joseph in the Old Testament can be of real help here.  It shows us very clearly that God’s ways in suffering are mysterious and far, far, beyond our understanding.  I have found personally that the more I see of God’s plans the more mysterious they are.  And I shouldn’t be surprised about that because in the Bible God says “my thoughts are not your thoughts and nor are my ways your ways” (Isaiah 55:8).  God doesn’t tell us to try and understand what’s going to happen to us:  He just asks us to trust Him.  We are the clay and He is the Potter.

One important truth that the story of Joseph reveals is that Christians should expect life to bring them thorns as well as roses.  While Joseph wasn’t perfect (he boasted to his brothers) in general he tried to live the virtuous life.  It would have been easy to succumb to temptation when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him.  He rightly resists – and is promptly “rewarded” by being slung into jail.  The irony of it!  Jesus invites us to take up our cross daily and follow him.  Don’t forget the cross was a symbol of torture.  The Prosperity Gospel message that Christians should always expect good health, wealth and happiness is no gospel: it’s a lie from the enemy.

Another truth is that God’s timing is perfect.  God is always teaching me things about His character.  Something I’m not always that good at is patience.  This tends to be around the things I selfishly want to do for myself.  I want to get out there and go for a ride on my motorbike… but things can get in the way.  Joseph had to wait 24 years between being sold into slavery before he could reveal himself to his brothers.  Oh, there must have been many times when he yearned to be free.  Whilst in jail he helped Pharaoh’s cupbearer interpret his dream – only to be promptly forgotten by the man who had promised to put a good word in for him to the King.  The cupbearer promised to help so Joseph was most probably eagerly expecting to hear the key in the door of his cell for his release.  For two long years nothing happened because the cupbearer had forgotten him. But, GOD hadn’t forgotten him, and nor will God ever forget us, even when we are in a dungeon of suffering.

A third truth is that we can see how God turns evil for good.  When, after their father’s death, Joseph’s brothers plead with him for mercy he reassures them: “you meant selling me into slavery for evil against me, but God used it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

Where else do we ultimately see God using evil for good?  At the cross.  Joseph can be seen as a “type” of Christ, like a signpost to Jesus.  Like Christ, Joseph is betrayed by his brothers, sold for 20 pieces of silver, unjustly sentenced for something he didn’t do and he is “resurrected” from prison to be the saviour of multitudes.  I find this so helpful.

Yet Satan wanted the death of our son to stir up angry emotions in me that would be vented towards God in a destructive way.  He wanted me to lose faith and turn from the vocation God had placed on me.  But I believe that God has used our son John’s death for good.  By sharing our story, comfort, encouragement and hope have been received by the listeners.  For throughout John’s short life he was an amazing witness for God.  Barbara and I have a certainty that John gave His all for God which we saw in countless different ways; in a variety of ways he touched the heart of all who met him with joy. 

One thing suffering does is it makes us vulnerable, and vulnerability can open people up to hear about the man we have found so helpful – Jesus Christ.  I am sure that this is true for many of you.  However, if you feel this isn’t true for you, look for Jesus in your suffering.  You will find Him, and you can put your hand into His hand.  We simply don’t understand all that has happened to us, but of this Christians can be sure: that ultimately we are all part of God’s plan, and I believe that you and I will only know the true extent of the part we’ve played in that plan when we meet Him face to face in heaven.  So we have to seek God’s face on a regular basis to ensure that we are on the right path, continuing to walk in the plans God has for us.  Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?  I think that we will only get a full answer to that question when we are in heaven, for when we are there everything will suddenly drop into place and we will fall to our knees in love, amazement and praise to the one Triune God.  As we are on our knees, we won’t need to ask any questions – we will just know!

One day we will bless completely, through praise and adoration, the hand that has blessed us throughout our lives.  In the meantime, we must like a small child place our hand by faith in the hand of Almighty God, trusting that He has everything under control even when all seems lost and desperate.

Let us pray:

Lord God, the unfailing helper and guide of those whom you bring up in your unmovable fear and love, keep us, we pray, under the protection of your good providence and give us a continual reverence and love for your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Based on a sermon delivered on Sunday 21st June 2020

Living Faith

Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

Many people blame God for the bad things they read, see and hear about in the world and in their life.  And today is no exception.  I’m sure that you could find many naysayers blaming God for our present lockdown.  But should we do this, blame God, especially for things we don’t fully understand? 

It seems we are quick to blame God when things don’t turn out the way we think they should.  But if we haven’t included God in our plans, if we’ve left no room for Him in our lives, and gone our own sweet way, why should we expect God to help us?  Should we not be surprised when unexpected and painful things happen?

This got me thinking about the role of faith in God. Hebrews 11:6 says this about faith…

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Taken by itself, this verse tells us that God’s first and foremost concern for us is with our personal faith.  God can be described with one word – relationship.  He knows us and He wants us to get to know Him.  In the same way, we only get to know others by entering into a relationship with them.

So this verse from Hebrews 11 is about our attitude towards God and our trust in Him.  No relationship works or lasts long without these two ingredients; a healthy attitude based on God’s generous character, and our trust in God’s generous character.

But know this: faith is so much more than our actions.  Yes, our behaviour is important, because what we do reflects what we truly believe (James 2:14–17), but God is not looking for people who merely “go through the motions”.  God is not looking for simple agreement, and definitely He is not looking for reluctant cooperation.

Let’s take a quick look at what James 2:14–17 says.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Some might say that this is at odds with Paul’s teaching on faith and works, because at first glance, James’s statements concerning faith and works seem to contradict Paul’s message.

Later in 2:24, James declares that “a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”  But in Romans 8, Paul wrote that “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” This raises a critical question: Are Christians saved by faith in Jesus alone or by faith combined with their own efforts?  It is important to note that these men were not as far apart as the above quotes seem.  James and Paul knew each other.  They were both major contributors at the first church council in Jerusalem, which assembled specifically to address the relationship between faith and works.  Acts 15, tells us that they arrived at a consensus.

It’s all about understanding how Paul and James use the word “justification”; they use it in different ways. The word can mean “declared to be in right standing” or “displayed to be right standing.” Paul used the first sense.  God declares an individual to be in right standing with Him upon the basis of faith alone, as occurred with Abraham in Genesis 15:6.  James used the second sense.  The implication of this is that a person’s faith is shown to be legitimate when their outward works display the inward change that has taken place as a result of their conversion.  The upshot is this: faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone, it should lead one on into good works and so lead you to display a godly lifestyle that brings glory to God.

Therefore, for our faith to be real God is looking for us to simply place our faith in who He is, believing that He exists, believing that He sent his Son to die to save us from our sin, believing that He has plans and purposes for us as individuals, as His church and as a nation.  When we begin the journey to live our faith in God in this way it will reveal to others the glory of God.

So how are we to act and live in faith?  We are to act in faith on the basis of the knowledge of God that we profess.  The implications of this is that for all those who have heard the Gospel are responsible for the way they respond to it.  You see, relationships only work when you put your own personal effort in to it.  So, as you work at seeking God, through His Son Jesus, and follow Jesus’ example, your faith will grow, and as it does it will please God.  It will be like a sweet and pleasant smelling fragrance to Him. 

At this time, be bold, deepen your relationship with God.  Even dare I say, enter into a new relationship with God, because when you come to Him in belief that He exists you will find that He is always there for you, and He will reward you with many blessings of life, with wholesome attitudes, and a peace to your heart and soul that passes all understanding.  Then you will start to live a prosperous life for God as you both know His will for you and fulfil His will for the beautiful life He has given you.

So “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (including faith shown through your loving actions towards others) will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33).

Based on a sermon from 10th May 2020

Crossing the river

Crossing the river

It’s 1978 and your life is before you.  You’re full of hope, full of plans… and 40 years later you find you’re still doing the same old thing.  You feel trapped, as if you have just been wandering aimlessly through life.

Because of their unbelief, the children of Israel were sentenced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. That’s a long time!  Now they are poised to enter into the promised land. They are ready to claim their inheritance.  However, before they can enter, they must first get past one final, major obstacle; the Jordan River.  Normally, this would not have presented much of a problem, since where they were the Jordan was only 100 feet wide.

However, God often does things in such a way that no one can boast of having done them on their own.  You see, He brought them to the Jordan River at the time of harvest, (3:15), when it swells to an impassable width of over 1 mile.  That’s some distance!  There was no way they could cross this river on their own.  They needed supernatural help.

We each have Jordans that we face from time to time.  When we look at the obstacles, that stand between us and spiritual victory, we may feel that we will never be able to enter our promised land and enjoy the abundant life that Jesus promised to us, His followers.  However, we have a God who specialises in overcoming what appears to be impossible challenges.

Crossing the Jordan involved three challenges to the Israelites.  They were challenged to:

  • Watch God
  • Follow God, and
  • Honour God
The challenge to watch God

When the time came for the people to cross the Jordan, God gave instructions as to what they are to do.  The Israelites were to watch for the Ark; it was to go in front.  Remember, the Ark symbolised the presence and power of God.  It was the dwelling place of God; with it the Israelites knew that God was in their midst.  So when God moved, they were to move.  When God stopped, they were to do the same.

This is encouraging us to be sensitive to the movement of the Lord in and around us.  You see, God wants us to see Him moving around us, simply because He loves us and wants us to see that He is a God that is alive!

Jesus said this in John 5:19-20,

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”

Like Jesus we are to watch God at work.  When we do, He will teach us how to live day by day.

In watching, the Israelites were to follow God.

So these instructions were designed to help them follow the Lord better; He was going to lead the way.  Therefore, when the Ark of the Covenant moved, they were to “move out from their positions and follow it”.  When God moved they were to pursue Him!

The challenge to follow God

As believers there comes a time when we must “move out from our positions” and pursue God.  This often requires us to leave our comfort zone.  Israel was about to do that as they followed the Ark through a fast-flowing river that was over 1 mile wide!  That couldn’t have been comfortable, but it was necessary and right.

Following God is not always the easiest thing you will ever do, but it will be the best thing you ever do, if we are to know His leading in our lives.  In order for us to enter the promised land God has shown us, personally and corporately, we have to learn to follow Him obediently.  We do this through believing that Jesus is, “the way and the truth and the life.” and that, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The challenge to honour God

Notice that the Israelites are told to stay at least 1000 yards behind the Ark.  We must never be guilty of treating God like one of our buddies. There must always be a holy reverence and a fear of the Lord in our hearts.  God help us if we allow a spirit of familiarity to cheapen our walk with God for, we must remember who we are worshipping!

Joshua told the people “consecrate yourselves.” (v 5).  This was a command.  They were to be as clean and holy as possible.  This involved examining themselves and getting ready for the Lord to do something great for them.

If you and I are ever going to get past the Jordans in our lives, we are going to have to learn that one of the first things we must do is examine our lives to make sure they are as clean as possible.  For the Lord is ready to help us realise that there are many things in our lives that prevent us from walking in an increased sense of Christ’s victory.

As we examine ourselves may we remember that there is forgiveness in confessing our sins to the Lord.  Remember 1 John 1:9-10…

“If we confess our sins, God (he) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make God (him) out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

Trust and commitment

If we’re going to respond to any command, we need to demonstrate a level of commitment (v 9-13).  You see getting across the Jordan did not rest on their shoulders, but on the Lord’s.  It was His plan to get them over and so whatever problems were in front of them were His.  God made a promise; He will bring them through in a powerful fashion. All that was required of Israel was that they trust God.

For us things are no different.  Today God is still calling us to trust Him.  Scripture is full of God’s kept promises; we can certainly trust Him.  But sometimes we seem unable to get past the obstacles in our lives.  Often this is due to a lack of faith.

Through this story of Joshua God is saying that He is the Lord and that He is greater than any problem we have ever, or will ever face in life. His desire is that we simply learn to take Him at His Word and trust Him.  We need to remember that what the Lord has promised to do, He will do, (Rom, 4:21).

As we take this message to heart we will see more miracles in our lives.  So, Joshua could have seen the size of the river and decided to wait until the flooding had abated.  But God was calling him to act now.  Don’t be like the 10 spies who came back with Joshua 40 or so years earlier and said the problem was too big to face.

So when we face a difficult situation don’t forget about God.  Where we see only problems, God sees solutions, and says, “Follow me, I have a plan!”  As we follow we begin to exercise our faith in the truth that Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life.”  That “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The truth is God expects us to take steps to follow Him.  He won’t give things to us on a plate.  If we try to solve our own problems, we are not walking in faith.  It’s not until we let God take the reins that we will see it taken care of for His glory. So it never is about what we can do, it is always about what the Lord is able to do, (Eph. 3:20).

In one way or another I’m sure many of us are facing troubled waters in our lives.  No matter how minor a trouble may seem, it is a major trouble if it stops us from experiencing His peace and presence.  The source of the trouble may be sin, it may be some person, it may be some trial.  Whatever it is, and however big it is, God is greater.  Come and let Him, through Jesus Christ, take care of it for you.