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Monday, 31 December 2018

2019 A New Year and God’s Promises in Scripture

God Will Provide
Matthew 6:25–34 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
We stand at the end of one year and the beginning of another. 2019 is just around the corner and it promises to be a year of change, a year where who we are as Hope Church is going to be different as there will be a change in leadership. It’s easy to worry, easy to doubt our future and yet Jesus invites us not to worry, to take a look at the birds and how even in winter God provides for them, how the flowers aren’t really visible right now as they’re sleeping and waiting for spring to arrive, but we know that at the right time they will pop their heads above ground again and share their beauty with us, beauty that even Solomon couldn’t match.
God will provide for us, he will take care of us, even if things are going to change. We don’t walk alone, we don’t need to fear the future because God knows what we need and Jesus tells us that we can trust our Father in heaven to provide what we need. We’ve just come through Christmas where we remembered how Jesus came and became human in order to save us from our sin so that we are made beautiful and holy in God’s eyes. Jesus encourages us to focus on seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness in the year ahead, making God the priority in your life, keeping your eyes and heart focused on what God desires right now and leave the worries of tomorrow for tomorrow.
God Will Respond to Our Prayers
Matthew 7:7–11 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Prayer is an important part of your relationship with God, important enough to set time aside each day to stop and talk with God, even if it’s only a number of brief moments throughout your day where you take whatever you’re doing and ask God to bless it or to guide you. Prayer is a conversation you have with God where God promises you that he listens and responds. As Jesus tells you, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” You don’t come to God as a beggar, rather you come as a child wanting to be closer to your father, to know him better and to share your thoughts, dreams and plans with him, asking for his blessing with the confidence that he will bless you. As we sit at the beginning of another year, I invite you to focus to building a deeper relationship with God through prayer rather than having only a passing acquaintance with your heavenly Father. God promises you that, as your loving heavenly father, he will give you good gifts beginning with the gift of a deeper trusting relationship with him that will also shape your relationships with others in wonderful ways.
A God Who Understands
Hebrews 4:14–16 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
In the coming year, we can all be sure of one thing, we will all face temptations of different kinds, all designed by Satan to appeal to each of us personally where we are weak and most likely to fail if we try to fight them on your own. Temptations are hard because even if you have someone close to you who is walking the faith journey with you as a spiritual guide, mentor or accountability partner, temptations are hard to admit to because they reveal your weak areas emotionally or spiritually to this person. Yet we do have someone whom we can reveal all our weaknesses to, all the things we’re tempted by because Jesus understands completely because he’s been tempted just as you are tempted.
Hebrews tells us Jesus understands because he faced temptations and yet overcame them. You can read of some of his temptations in Matthew 4 where Satan approached Jesus and tried to get Jesus to take an easier path through life rather than the path Jesus’ father had created; a path that leads to the salvation of humanity. Jesus fought Satan with Scripture, knowing that God is faithful to his Word and that the Word of God is stronger than the lies and deceptions of Satan. When you face temptations, you can bring them to Jesus and his Spirit will guide you through them. The Spirit may use a mentor, a good friend, or your conscience to give you strength and wisdom, which is why it’s important you have good Christian relationships with other followers of Jesus as the church is the place God has created for us to experience his presence and power in a special way. May the Spirit guide you this year and open your eyes to those here the God can use to walk with you to overcome the temptations you will face.
Pardon from Sin
1 John 2:1–2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Pardon from our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf. This is an older way of saying what Jesus has done for us by coming to earth as a child, living life with us, and then dying on the cross. Pardon is much more than forgiveness. Jesus’ death was much more than about taking our punishment, our sin onto the cross; he carried all the sin of the world on his shoulders as he hung on the cross between heaven and earth; unwanted by heaven and rejected by humanity because of the sin. Jesus died so that the sin we all do will no longer keep us from God or condemn us to eternal life outside of the presence of God as God’s wrath against your sin has been turned away and turned towards Jesus in our place. Pardon is about wiping our son completely away, making us new people, new creations again, which is more than forgiving our sin but still remembering what we had done. I love how the Heidelberg Catechism puts it in question and answer 43, Q What further advantage do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross? A Through Christ’s death our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer rule us, but that instead we may dedicate ourselves as an offering of gratitude to him.
To experience this pardon from sin, you simply need to receive it by faith as John tells us in his gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” We have been saved by grace through faith, as Paul says in different ways over and over again in his letter to the Roman church. This allows you to move forward into the New Year with confidence, free from shame and guilt if you believe in Jesus, knowing that your sin is pardoned and you are being made new through Jesus. In response then, Jesus does call you to “Go and sin no more,” and to show him your love through obeying everything that he has taught you in his Word and through the Holy Spirit. Let this be your New Year’s resolution for 2019.
Jesus is Working for Our Good
Romans 8:28; 35-39 “28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose… 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This last section begins with the promise that in all things God works for the good of those who love, who have been called according to his purpose. God doesn’t promise that there won’t be difficult times; that you won’t get hurt or hurt others, that suffering or illness or even death won’t enter your life in 2019, but God does promise that nothing can separate you from his love and that he is working all things, everything for your good. The hard thing is that we often don’t know what’s good for us, we don’t see how suffering or hurt can be good for us, at least not right away. It’s often only after time has passed when we can see how we’ve matured in our faith through those hard times.
This is what God’s love for us is all about; it’s about us growing up, not in years older, but in depth of faith. This is why God has brought us together as a church and as people and families, to intertwine our lives so that we can encourage each other to live more into the image of God. I pray this gives you the focus, confidence, and hope to dedicate your life to walking in God’s way and growing deeper in your faith with God and relationships with each other. 
It all starts with God because we are imperfect, but with God there’s always the knowledge that God’s love is always at work to make things shape out for our good. God normally does this work of growing us through the church; the body of his Son, the building where his Son is the cornerstone. It’s with each other that we learn how to express love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, encouragement, and experience accountability and challenge to walk deeply in God’s way. As we begin the adventure of 2019 with no clue of what really lies ahead, let us walk together with God and learn the contentment we are promised when we truly trust that God is our God and we are his people.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Isaiah 9:6; John 14:27 Prince of Peace

It’s Christmas Day! Today we stop and celebrate the birth of Jesus, the day God joined us and became human, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the peace offered by the angels to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem who sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” The child in the manger is the Prince of Peace offered to the world, come to bring peace to all humanity. Jesus not only comes to bring peace into the world, he is peace itself come into the world to heal and bring an end to the conflict that infects all creation. Jesus offers peace to each of you here this morning.
Here in this passage from John, Jesus is offering peace to his disciples. This scene is just before Jesus begins his journey to the cross for our sin, the journey that ends with Jesus defeating sin and death on the cross, bringing peace into our relationship with our heavenly Father, restoring the relationship with our Father which had been broken in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve refused to obey God and chose their wisdom over God’s. This is why Jesus came into the world as a baby; to become human to bring peace on earth. Here Jesus is preparing his disciples for what’s coming, reassuring them that even though he needs to leave them, that he will send them the Holy Spirit to guide them and remind them of everything Jesus has taught them. But the disciples are confused and troubled, so Jesus offers them peace, soul peace for their spirit for what lies ahead. Even though Jesus is facing death, he knows this is the only way we will find true peace, peace with God. Jesus is peace in the flesh and dies to make peace ours. Jesus plants his peace in our hearts and he maintains it, nurtures it by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ peace that he offers is more than just the absence of conflict and fighting. It’s rather sad that too often we settle for such a tiny idea of what peace is. Peace for a place like Syria or the Gaza Strip is more than stopping the bombs from falling, peace in a family where there is abuse is more than the stopping of hitting and violence, peace with yourself is more than simply stopping the self-harm; Jesus’ peace is deeper and more wonderful than simply stopping conflict. Jesus’ peace is about how we live with each other and ourselves, it’s about who we are becoming because of how Jesus’ peace enters and fills our lives and hearts.
Peace is a powerful word in the Bible. In Hebrew the word is shalom, a word that means health and wholeness in mind, body, and soul. Shalom is about living in right healthy relationships with God, yourself, each other and with creation. Shalom is about everything fitting together in life as God intends; it’s life how it’s supposed to be. Peace is a big picture word that points us back to creation and God’s very good, and points us ahead to Jesus’ return when heaven and earth are joined together and creation is renewed and there will be no more death, no more mourning or tears because God will be with us forever and sin will be no more.
The peace of Jesus is life changing if you allow it to live deep in your heart, allowing Jesus’ peace to shape who you are and your approach life. Jesus’ peace gives you strength to live with confidence and grace because you know that he has established his control over creation, defeating sin and death; that he has sent the Holy Spirit to live in us, reminding us of who Jesus is and how, because of his resurrection, the renewal and restoration of creation is now a certainty, no matter how dark life and the world may seem, Jesus’ light now shines into the darkness to bring hope and life chasing away the fear that so many people live with today, fear of how life and circumstances are so often out of our control and we feel helpless and afraid.
Jesus’ peace helps us to forgive more easily and let go of the hurts and pain that life brings because we live together as broken people with all our own stuff coming into our relationships. Jesus’ peace is peace with God because we are now a forgiven people, people whose sins are washed away, people who are new creations who are learning what the forgiven life looks like, what complete forgiveness feels like. This peace gives us the strength to work towards peace in our relationships with others where there is brokenness and hurt. We’re able to live with a calmness and peace deep in our hearts because we know that we’re loved and chosen children of God and he desires peace with us.
This peace allows us to live with grace and kindness and to walk with others with deeper compassion. As Jesus enters deeper into our souls, we begin to take on his peace which leads to compassion for those who haven’t found peace yet, for those struggling and hurting. Jesus’ peace leads us to walk with others rather than passing them by, it opens our eyes, ears and hearts to the people are us, reminding us that the peace of Jesus is meant to be shared and passed on. Our hearts begin to break for the people whom Jesus’ heart breaks for. On a day where we are focused on Jesus’ birth, and angels coming to shepherds in the field, and hope flooding into the world, it’s a good day to remember that Jesus came for the entire world and we’re called to share the good news wherever Jesus places us.
But in the end, as Leon Morris and others write, the greatest peace Jesus brings is peace with God our heavenly Father. We now have a way to reach out to God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We don’t need ritual or sacrifices or laws in order to please God so we can talk to him, we come to God our Father with confidence knowing that he forgives us and he loves us without limit and the proof is the baby in the manger. Have a blessed Christmas.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Colossians 1:15-20 Jesus, Our God

Christmas is so close now. Our grandson Real opens a new door on his advent calendar every day and there are now more open doors and missing chocolates than closed doors remaining. The radio plays Christmas music, and the stores with shoppers as they also play Christmas songs to get everyone to buy more. When you slow down and listen to the songs being played, you hear mixed with Santa and Rudolph and Baby It's Cold Outside songs, songs like Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels Sing and other songs pointing to the arrival of a special baby to a place called Bethlehem. But who is this baby? Why is this baby so special?
Most of you know the story. Mary and Joseph, a poor engaged couple find out Mary, a virgin, is expecting a baby that an angel says is from God and it happened through the power of the Holy Spirit coming over Mary. Mary is told that her son will be great and will be called the Son of the Most-High; this is the child we heard about in the candle lighting, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel, which means, God with us.” Both Mary and Joseph are told to call their baby, Jesus, and this is what they do; generally, it’s a good idea not to argue too much with an angel I would think. Jesus is born in Bethlehem because Caesar told everyone to head back to the place their families came from, and because it’s so busy in town, Jesus is put in a manger instead of a cradle because of a lack of room in the good part of the house. Later that night, the family gets a visit from shepherds who tell them that angels told them about the baby in a manger.
The problem with this story is that for far too many people, this is where the story ends. We go to church on Christmas, we open our presents and we carry on with life and all the stuff that goes on in real life and we leave Jesus in the manger. We miss out on what Jesus desires for us, we miss out on what Jesus is able to do and accomplish in our lives, we miss out on the blessings of Jesus’ divine presence. Jesus may have been laid in a manger as a baby, but he is born through the power of the Holy Spirit coming over Mary, meaning Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us as a physical real person.
This is powerful news for the people Paul is writing to in Colossae. This is powerful news for us still today. Paul is writing to the Colossians about the child of the manger, the Son of God. Like us, the Colossians were desperate to hear more about who Jesus is as the Son of God, who Jesus is as God. Their question is still ours today, what difference does Jesus make in our lives as God? Paul uses an early church poem here to share with the people who Jesus is. Paul knows that poetry and music and worship are powerful ways the message of Jesus slips into our hearts, powerful ways to connect with Jesus while remembering who he is, and giving us strength and encouragement whenever we worship Jesus.
The people in Colossae believed in many gods and had a strong belief in dangerous spirits and powers. Paul has been praying that they will rescued from these spirits and powers, as he tells them in verses 9–14, “since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,  so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” The people knew the power of the forces of darkness and that even though they now believed in Jesus, they still needed to deal with these other spiritual forces. Even good gods could lose their temper and strike out, so how was following Jesus going to make a difference for them. Our gods are different today, as Timothy Keller says, we take the good things God gives us and make them gods in our lives, giving them a higher place in our hearts than Jesus and our gods today are often money, pleasure, relationships and people. They have great power in our lives, but the problem is, they never completely satisfy us and always end up disappointing and even hurting us. 
Paul reminds us that Jesus is more than simply a man, he’s the image of the invisible God, the first-born over all creation. Jesus has become human just like us, someone you can see, hear, and touch, but still God, the physical appearance of God. The catechism puts it this way, “the eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took to himself, through the working of the Holy Spirit, from the flesh of the virgin Mary, a truly human nature so that he might become David’s true descendant, like his brothers in every way except for sin.” As human, Jesus understands our lives, why we fear the powers and forces of darkness that surround us, but Paul reminds us that Jesus is also God and he is powerful enough to protect us and defeat these powers. Advent is a time when we look back to Jesus’ birth, his first coming to earth to experience and learn life as we life it, but it’s also a time when we look forward to when Jesus returns to completely renew creation and heal creation from the sin that infects and twists it, including us. This is why Jesus has come and is coming back again.
As God, all of creation belongs to Jesus because he’s the creator of everything, both the things we can see and the things we can’t see, including Satan and all the spiritual powers that are out there. Not only has everything been created through Jesus, everything holds together in him. What does this all mean? J.B Lighthouse puts it this way, “Jesus is the one who makes creation a cosmos instead of chaos,” meaning that Jesus keeps the world from falling apart due to earthquakes, floods, plagues, and other disasters, as well as making sure that Satan and other evil forces are kept in check. Jesus brings order out of chaos, brings sense out of senselessness.
This is why God has given us the church. Jesus is the head of the church, the source of the life energy for its growth, and guiding us into the world to be his presence, leading us to bring the gospel news to the world that God has come into the world through Jesus to reconcile us with God. Jesus fills the church with his Spirit, giving the church the power to change the world! We’re here to walk alongside people during hard times when the world doesn’t make sense, helping them to see where God is in the hurt, to be Jesus’ love and hope when hope seems far away. My wife and I are part of a support group for parents who are in crisis and so many times they cry out that they can’t understand why these things are happening to them and to their children, things like addiction, violence, choosing homelessness over home, choosing abuse over love, choosing brokenness over health.
So often I don’t have answers for them other then that this is the result of sin in our world, but even by simply being there, crying with them, caring about them, listening to their stories and offering understanding and hope, they begin to find peace and hope again. As one mother said, “Just finding people who care and understand has helped, but then being reminded after the meeting that Jesus also cares and understands me was life changing.” This is because Jesus came into the world and he understands the brokenness we find ourselves in and his heart is filled with compassion for us. When things become too much for us, Jesus has given us the church, his body to find strength, to be surrounded by other followers of Jesus who will hold us, lift us up when we slump to the ground in hopelessness and remind us that we are never alone, that Jesus has sent his Spirit to be with us always. 
We also know that because God, Jesus’ father was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. On the cross, Jesus accomplishes more than paying the price for our sin, he also defeats Satan and death, he begins the journey of renewal of creation. On the cross and in Jesus’ resurrection, he reveals himself as God, bringing healing and hope and peace with our heavenly father and throughout the creation. This healing, hope and peace are already found in small ways in the church, but will be completely poured out into creation when Jesus returns.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Isaiah 9:6; John 20:26-28 Mighty God

At the beginning of his book, John describes who Jesus is; Jesus is the Word who was with God, he was God, true light, and he lived with us, became flesh. John reveals to us who the child is that will be called Mighty God, who is Mighty God, and it’s Jesus. John doesn’t hide who Jesus is, he gets right to the point: Jesus is God. But it took John a while to understand this, to see this in Jesus. It can be hard to see the special and the unique in the people closest to you. You see them all the time, they’re just who they are. They may have some special gifts, may be extra good, and yet still not be extra special to you because you see them when others don’t.
Isaiah is speaking to a people who have gotten used to being God’s people, so used to it that they didn’t really pay a whole lot of attention to him anymore, at least not until God allows Babylon to conquer them. Now they’re looking for a Messiah so Isaiah points them to a child who will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Yet how many people can actually see this kind of potential in any child, especially a child growing up who you see all the time? Isaiah is pointing ahead to the child Jesus, born to poor parents and laid in a manger. We’re so used to the story, we don’t really understand anymore how hard this can be to believe; a child is Mighty God?
Who would have thought that Mighty God would come to earth like this? Who would have thought that God would stay poor, no rags to riches story here, that he would reject the power of the throne, allow himself to be arrested, beaten, tried for treason and crucified like a common rebel? We know, looking back, that because of our sin and because we’re unable to make ourselves acceptable to God because of our sin, no matter how hard we work at it, that Jesus came to earth as fully God and fully human to take the punishment for our sin as our substitute on the cross. Jesus dies on the cross, is buried and he rises from the grave on the third day and then appears to his disciples. Because Jesus did all this for us, sin and death have been overcome and we’re made right with God! How is this possible? Only God can do that! Jesus does it because he loves you, he loves you so much he went to the cross for you.
But put yourself in someone’s shoes who hasn’t heard about Jesus, try to hear the story of Jesus through ears that haven’t heard about the cross and the grave before. When Jesus appears to his disciples after his resurrection, Thomas isn’t there. Thomas has just spent the past three years with Jesus, watching him do some pretty amazing things, teaching beautiful truths about God, but he also watched Jesus weep, get tired, hungry, afraid, frustrated and angry, and so Thomas has a hard time believing Jesus has really risen from the dead. He’s special, but also very human. Thomas watched as Jesus allowed himself to be arrested without defending himself, watched Jesus beaten, unjustly judged, and then nailed to a cross.
For those just getting to know Jesus, for those exploring the Christian faith, God becoming human, Jesus rising from the dead is hard to swallow, wouldn’t you have questions too? Death is kind of final, though doctors will occasionally bring someone back from death, but we’re unable to bring ourselves back from the dead as Jesus did. So, is it any wonder that Thomas doubts?
The disciples are all together in a locked house and suddenly Jesus is standing right there in the middle of them. The disciples are definitely surprised, and likely a little afraid at Jesus suddenly appearing like that. This is way beyond normal. There’s certainly more to who Jesus is than they had thought before his death and resurrection. Is this true of many of us as well? Who is Jesus to you? Is he mostly a teacher, moral leader, wise man to you? When we see Jesus only this way, it’s much easier to not listen and follow everything he teaches and says, especially the hard stuff meant to change us.
We call Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, but is this what we really believe? Can we ever really understand just how mighty a God he really is? Is it really important and necessary that you understand, after-all in your closest relationships, can you ever say that you truly understand the other person, no matter how long you’ve been together as friends or spouses or family? Isn’t that what makes a relationship ever more special, knowing that there are depths and mysteries in the other person that can still surprise us? It’s better to focus on how accepting Jesus as your Messiah, our saviour, as the Son of God shapes your life, your habits, your thoughts and what you believe. When we’re in a relationship, the other person changes us because of who they are, because we want to please them, make them happy. My relationship with Joyce has caused me to become more organized, my relationship with our children has made me more compassionate and vocal about my love, good friends have helped me learn to see the needs around me better and how to respond wisely to the needs. It’s good to reflect on how believing in Jesus changes you.
Jesus reassures the disciples by saying, “Peace be with you!” This is a blessing, a word to calm their rapidly beating hearts. Jesus turns to Thomas, and using Thomas’ own standards to prove his resurrection from the grave, tells Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Can you see this in your mind, Thomas standing there before Jesus, Jesus with his hands out to him with the holes from the nails see raw, and Thomas seeing them up close, shrinking back. Jesus comes close to Thomas in his doubts, coming to reassure him, not to blame or shame him.
As Mighty God, Jesus doesn’t come in power and force us to believe, after-all he came as a child born in a manger. Jesus meets us where we’re at, even in our doubts when we don’t know if we can believe, if we can be certain that Jesus is who he claims to be, but as we see with Thomas, Jesus doesn’t leave us in that place. “Stop doubting and believe,” Jesus tells Thomas. There comes a point where Jesus calls us to make a decision for him, to put our doubts aside and embrace him through faith. Jesus keeps coming, he never abandons you, or leaves you, he wants a relationship with you. He’s comes to you with deep unending love and calls you respond back in love in faith and trust.
Thomas finds he doesn’t need to touch Jesus’ hands or side, he simply responds, “My Lord and my God!”  Thomas believes who Jesus is, he believes Jesus truly is Lord and God, his Lord and his God. Jesus coming close changes Thomas from a doubter to a believer! This is a personal thing, a personal relationship that we have with Jesus, each of our responses to Jesus is different, comes from different places and experiences, but Jesus is the same, he’s Mighty God who has defeated death, and he’s our Lord and our God. This is our confession, there can no place in your life for any other Lord or God.
Jesus calls each of you to believe, to trust him as your Lord and your God, no matter what may be going on in your life right now, no matter what may have gone on in your life in the past, no matter how confusing or difficult the future may look, Jesus calls you to stop doubting and believe in him, to trust that he is with you always and that he can and will work out all things for your good, even if you’re unable to see how that may ever be possible because he is your Lord and God. Life can be messy and broken, hurt can ripple into all kinds of places and in all kinds of unexpected ways, but mighty God is with you always.
In a world filled with sin and darkness, in a world where many don’t believe in Jesus as Mighty God, it’s not always going to be easy to believe. The power and wonder of Jesus being Mighty God is for those times when life isn’t easy and doubt creeps in, because it’s at those times when Jesus’ power shines and his presence becomes real. Jesus always comes to us when it’s hard to believe in order to help us believe and trust in him as Mighty God to find the strength and wisdom to continue on and move forward with strength and confidence.  

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Isaiah 9:6; John 15:26-27 Wonderful Counsellor

Today we enter into Advent, a time in the church year where we look back to the coming of Jesus, our saviour, and ahead to his return. But it’s not a passive time of year, it’s about actively waiting, working to prepare the world for Jesus’ return as we work to establish God’s kingdom deeper into our world, our culture and society through the presence of the church. Christmas is a wonderful time to concentrate again on who Jesus is and his love for his people, unfortunately we too often get sidetracked by the sentimental images of a baby in a manger surrounded by cute animals, instead of recognizing how much Jesus gives up in coming to earth as a baby and born in such a humble and basic setting.
This Advent we are going to take time to focus on who Jesus is by reflecting on the names and titles that Isaiah gives us about who the Messiah, our saviour is. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” This child is the Immanuel Isaiah spoke of earlier on, Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Judah is now just a minor nation, living in humiliation and fear as Assyria, then Egypt and finally Babylon rule over Judah.
Then comes the humiliating destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 BC when the great temple of Solomon, the house of God is demolished and many Israelites are taken into captivity and slavery into Babylon. God allows this all to happen as a consequence to ignoring his commands and not protecting the poor, widows and orphans among them, but God doesn’t give up on his people, instead we hear God promising a Messiah who will come to save his people. The son is described as coming during a time of humiliation; Isaiah offers hope, pointing to the coming of the Messiah in Isaiah 9:2 “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” The light is not coming out of the world, but coming into the world, we cannot find salvation and hope in ourselves, it always comes from outside ourselves, from Jesus.
When we look at what’s going on today, there’s violence, injustice, abuse of power, homelessness, refugees seeking safety as they run from oppression, families torn apart, drug abuse and addictions, and more. We walk in darkness, in ignorance surrounded by evil, looking for solutions to cure the evil and the suffering in our world. We turn to the wisdom of science or political saviours to save us, to free us from the evil that is so prevalent. We look to what is in the earth or in ourselves for hope, but things never seem to really change. The wisdom needed to restore the world and bring healing, hope and peace can only come from outside the earth, from the child who is born in a manger, a child who has come from heaven to bring light and hope. We need someone divine to come and save us because we’re unable to save ourselves or solve the sin that infects our world, this is why Jesus comes to deal with sin and save us from it through the wisdom of the cross.
Wonderful Counsellor is the first title Isaiah gives the coming Messiah in 9:6. In this title, wonderful is tied to the divine, miraculous. Counselor points to astounding insight, understanding and wisdom. The people hear the Messiah will be like King Solomom; given great wisdom by God, wisdom so astounding that the Queen of Sheba decided to check out this king. Even today, we benefit from King Solomon’s wisdom in the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs; books about what a wise life is. This coming counsellor will have God given-wisdom about life and God.
This counsellor is divine, coming from God. This is no ordinary person. John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The Word is Jesus and echoes back to creation and to Jesus’ role in creation, revealing Jesus as God. To the Greeks the Word was about wisdom; and then there’s the echo back to the light coming and shining into the darkness from Isaiah.
As you get to know Jesus through the Gospels, the first 4 books in the New Testament, you see how often eyewitnesses react to Jesus with wonder. Mark 6:1–2, “Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?” In Luke 13, when Jesus healed woman, Jesus challenges the wisdom of the religious leaders, “The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.” People are amazed at Jesus’ wisdom and miracles. This began already when Jesus was 12 and his parents found him in the temple listening to the teachers of the Law and asking insightful questions. Everyone there was amazed at Jesus.
When we look at Jesus as the wonderful counsellor, at the wisdom he teaches and lives out, we discover that Jesus’ wisdom and counsel is not abstract or theological, but deals with the basics of life, summed up in loving God with everything you are and have and loving your neighbor as yourself. Wisdom is about how to live well and wisely with each other, how to make it through life well. It’s about being focused outside ourselves, creating compassionate communities where everyone counts since they all count to Jesus and God. Paul gets this, Colossians 2 he writes, “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
We look to Jesus for wisdom. If you’re going to a counsellor, you want someone who understands what you are going through, someone who cares deeply for you. When you go to a support group like BILY or AA, NA or divorce, grief support group, the power in the group comes from everyone there knowing exactly what you are living through because they’re in the same place. This is why we can go to Jesus, because as God, he became human to experience life as we do, with all its joy and sorrow. To many people, Jesus seems foolish instead of wise, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
This is why Jesus sends us his Spirit, the Advocate or Counsellor, to testify to us about who Jesus is, reminding us of Jesus’ teachings and life so that we can live life well and wisely; filled with hope and love, in confidence that no matter how dark things may be, the light has come from heaven to earth to bring salvation and give us wisdom for life. As Tim Keller puts it, “Jesus is the divine Light of the world, because he brings a new life to replace our spiritual deadness, because he shows us the truth that heals our spiritual blindness, and because he is the beauty that breaks our addictions to money, sex and power. As Wonderful Counsellor he walks with us even into and through the shadow of death, where no other companion can go. He is light for us when all other lights go out.”

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Luke 19:11-27 A Tough Master

This is the last parable of Jesus in Luke that we will be reflecting on. As all the parables in Luke, this parable gives us a picture of the kingdom of God and who we are to be as citizens of God’s kingdom. In this parable, Jesus gives us a number of images that create problems for many people today because they are harsher and stronger than many of us want to hear or accept of Jesus.
Jesus and his disciples and followers are coming close to Jerusalem when Jesus tells them this parable. Jesus is approaching his death and he’s preparing the people for this, though they have no clue about what’s coming. They’re expecting, or at least hoping that Jesus is finally going to claim the throne, the kingship of Israel from Herod, restoring Israel’s freedom and independence from Rome. They’re looking for a King David type of king, ignoring most of what Jesus has been teaching them over the past three years. Jesus now gives them a picture of the kingdom of God that is familiar and yet still disturbs them.
Jesus begins with a noble man who goes off to a distant country to have himself be made king. The people’s minds go straight to how King Herod had to go to Rome to be made king of Israel by Caesar. Jesus goes on to tell them that this man’s subjects can’t stand him so they send a delegation to the distant ruler to ask him not to make the noble man king, but they get ignored and the noble man is made king anyway. This echoes what happened when Herod was crowned king, Caesar ignored a delegation from the Jews asking Caesar to not make Herod king, again, this story is echoing real life for the people hearing this story, but it’s not a happy story for them, this is no happily ever after fairy tale.
It seems as if Jesus is going to push some buttons here. Is Jesus referring to Herod in this parable, or is he referring to himself and are the people listening to Jesus the complainers who hate the noble man then? How do we fit into this story then, where do we stand? Hard and difficult questions for us. The noble man calls 10 of his servants before he leaves and he gives each of them a mina, about 4 months wages, to put to work for him while he’s away. It’s not clear how long he will be away, since there are a lot of things that could go wrong and force him to be away for a long time before he’s able to get back. The servants will have to work hard and be prepared for him to return at almost any time.
It’s not hard to see ourselves in this parable at this point. God, through the Holy Spirit has given each one of us gifts and Jesus expects us to use what we have been given for our king’s benefit, not for our own, to increase God’s kingdom, not our own. This life matters because our lives belong to Jesus because he paid for them on the cross where he died for our sins. He died in our place so that we don’t have to be afraid of sin and death, so that we can live lift completely and fully for Jesus and experience God’s pleasure in us. We are assured of our faith through the good works which we do that produce good fruit for God. This becomes really clear as Jesus goes on with his parable.
The noble man, now king, comes home. When he gets home he calls for his servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had earned with it. Accountability is an important part of our faith, of following Jesus. The first servant comes and says, “Sir, your mina has earned 10 more.” The king is impressed and tells the servant, “Well done, my good servant! Because you have been trustworthy in a small matter, take charge of 10 cities.” The second servant comes and tells the king, “Sir, your mina has earned 5 more.” The king is pleased and tells him, “You take charge of 5 cities.” The king has good loyal servants so far, people who use the king’s wealth to increase the king’s wealth even more. Because they’re faithful in small things, 1 mina each, they’re given greater responsibility which will mean even more work for them, but they’re focused on pleasing the king. Why do you work hard? Many people today work hard for more money, for more toys, for more power and prestige, few people work hard today to please their boss. Yet when I think of Jesus as the king, I want to make him happy, I want him to be pleased with what I do and who I'm becoming; it's a heart thing, a relationship thing. It's like pleasing my wife and seeing her smile, I want that in my relationship with Jesus.
Then the story takes a sharp turn. Another servant comes and tells the king, “Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.” Wow, didn’t really see that coming. Why was he so afraid when the others weren’t? He was so afraid that he didn’t even try to put his king’s mina to work; he wraps it in a cloth and hides it until the king returns. Then he tries to blame the king, saying he’s a hard man who takes out what he doesn’t put in and reaps where he doesn’t sow and the king takes the servant’s words and asks him “Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could collected it with interest?”
A couple of things jump out at me; the servant’s fear goes real deep. The song Fear is a Liar was playing as I was reflecting on this part of the sermon, and it’s true, Satan uses fear to give us a false picture of who God and Jesus is. Satan wants us to see Jesus as an angry greedy king who wants to take everything we have and force us to grovel before him. That’s what many kings did back in Jesus’ time; it’s what most dictators still expect today. Then there’s the king’s words, calling the servant wicked. How does fear become wickedness? Does the fear come out because this servant is one of those who hate the king and had tried to prevent him becoming king? Was not using the mina to increase the king’s wealth his way of rebelling against the king, or is it more about not really caring about the king, just putting his time in until he's older and then relying on the king to take care of him? There are lots of questions here that we can only wonder at and yet they seem to be connected to the king’s harsh response.
Because the servant has failed to follow the king’s order to put the mina to work for him, the mina is taken away and given to the servant who has 10 already, prompting the people to say that’s not fair. Who is it unfair to? The unfaithful servant failed to follow the king’s commands while the servant who gained 10 minas enthusiastically followed the king’s commands, doesn’t it make sense then to give him the extra mina to increase the king’s wealth even more? Jesus is using the results of the servant’s work to reveal the loyalty and faithfulness to the king that is in each of their hearts. The more you love the king, the more faithful you are to the king, the harder you will work to please him and make him even greater. 
The king goes on to say, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.” Those who listen to the king and do his will, they will be rewarded, while those who hear the king’s desire and do nothing, such as the servant, will lose whatever they have. More is not about money, in this parable; it’s about sharing in the new kingdom. As for those who actively worked against the king, they will be judged for they refuse to show loyalty to the new king.
This is a parable about judgement, Jesus is getting close to his death and he is preparing everyone for what is about to happen; his death, resurrection and ascension to heaven where he will be given all authority in heaven and earth. Our words, our lives reveal where our heart and loyalty is at, this is why our words and lives matter so much. I know for myself that I want to hear Jesus say, “Well done, my good servant.” I want to be given greater responsibility in his kingdom; I don’t want to squeak into his kingdom with the door hitting me on the behind as I enter in.