Stand Firm in the Lord

Encouragement to ‘stand firm’, in response to recent terrible events, based on Philippians 3:17-4:1 (Lent 2C).

Introduction

We’ve heard two awful things recently, that George Pell[1] abused children, and of the murder of 49 Muslims in NZ. How should we respond as Christians?

Scripture: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Paul has just cautioned believers: “For it is we … who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”  Phil 3:3-6 (NIV)

Instead, Paul encourages the faithful to focus on the cross, Christ and heaven, and the transformation of our weak (willed) bodies in heaven.

Application: Stand Firm … in What?

Pell and the NZ killers had all fallen into the sin of pride.  They had so much confidence in their strength, so much zeal for their beliefs.  They did not fear God; we suspect they did not really know Him.  They had way too much confidence in the flesh, i.e. their own desires and their power to apply them.

Contrast this with the disciples’ advice to us in the Bible:

  • Paul: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” Phil 2:3 (NIV);
  • Peter: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV); and
  • James: “…human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:20 (NIV).

This is the opposite of the terrible things we’ve seen.  

Conclusion

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” Phil 4:1 (NIV)

We don’t dare stand firm in anyone else, certainly not ourselves!


[1] This is not a dig at the Roman Catholic church; no church, no institution, has been immune to abuse and abusers.

Thanks be to God, who Delivers Me!

Let’s be honest: God delivers me from my sin. A sermon based on
Romans 7:15-25a (Proper 9A).

Scripture

Paul is having trouble understanding his own behaviour:

  • Isn’t he one of God’s people? 
  • Isn’t he saved by Jesus sacrifice on the cross? 
  • Doesn’t he have the Holy Spirit living in him? 
  • Isn’t he a man of faith, risking his life to preach the good news to the gentiles? 
  • Hasn’t he travelled half the known world for God?

Yes, to all of the above!

Yet he still find himself doing selfish things that he is ashamed of, that displease God.  And he has a shrewd idea that everyone else is just like him – well almost everyone.

Modern Application

We live in a consumer society, where the consumer is king.  (Well, the consumer’s money is king, but that’s another sermon.)  And kings don’t like being told that they are wrong, that they are sinners.  So, our message of salvation from sin is not popular: “I haven’t done anything wrong,” some people say, “I don’t need to be forgiven.”  We are popular if we tell people God loves them, and if we care for others – they’re happy for us to do those jobs.  Just don’t tell them that God is holy and will judge them.

If we do, we are likely to be called hypocrites, because we are.  We want to do the right thing, we say we want to do the right thing, but we often don’t, or we do the wrong thing: just like St Paul.  We are no different to anyone else, except a minority of people who have no conscience to restrain them – psychopaths.  They are not conflicted.

God Delivers Me!

But we, like St Paul, do know that get it wrong.  Thank God we have Jesus to save us!

United in our Differences and in Christ

A short message on being united, based on Romans 14:1-12 (Proper 19A).

Introduction & Scripture

In the second half of his letter to the Roman church, St Paul deals with practical aspects of Christian living. In this section, he speaks to Christian’s who are divided. One set feels that they must obey certain rules, like not eating meat, to practice their faith; the other group emphasize the freedom they have in Christ.

St Paul is usually happy to give firm advice, and we might expect him to say which course of action is correct. But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he offers no opinion on which side is better, but reminds people they must be gentle with each other. Neither side is to consider themselves superior when they are in front of the crucified and risen Christ.

A Modern Example

Recently, I met someone who had grown up in a family that belonged to an ultra-conservative religious group. This experience was so extreme that it had damaged her and others. She escaped from her family and had nothing to do with them for more than 20 years, because that was the only way she could look after herself and live a normal life. This reminded me of how destructive it can be to worship our own opinions.  Christ didn’t die on the cross to justify our narrow views, but to save us from our sins.

United in our Diversity

In our Fellowship at War Vets, I am pleased to say we are a mixed congregation. There are Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and probably a few kinds of Christian I haven’t heard of. We are not some hidden cult that thinks only we know the truth.  I am glad to say, brothers and sisters, that we are all different and all together in Christ.

Amen.

God’s Love Lived in Us

A sermon on living out the Gospel of love, based on Philippians 4:1-9 (Proper 23A).

Introduction

I saw an advert for an Atheist Convention, basically saying that all religion was bad.  I challenged this: isn’t condemning all religion, regardless of whether it leads to love or hate, just prejudice?  I will not share the nasty answers that I got!  Nobody even tried to address my question.

Scripture, Philippians 4:1-9

The Apostle Paul is not giving us a new law here, but he is calling us to be people who are characterised by rejoicing and gratitude, and to cultivate those attitudes within ourselves. Now, how we go about striving to cultivate these things is given in verse 8:

‘Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ Phil 4:8

Living the Gospel

It reminds us again of that idea of having the same mind as Christ Jesus because it is all about what you set your mind on.  Think about these things. Fill your mind with these things. Seek them out and ponder them. Meditate on them.

We might add: whatever is gracious, whatever is loving, whatever is hospitable, whatever is merciful, whatever makes for reconciliation and peace. Think about these things. Paul urges the church at Philippi to keep on imitating the good things they saw in him, as he kept on imitating the ways of Jesus, who is imitating the ways of his Abba, the God and creator of all.

Conclusion

That way our religion will result in good things, in good lives lived in love, hope, faithfulness, kindness and generosity.  This is our work, our worship and our witness.  Those that look upon us with open minds will see God and may be saved as a result!  This is our duty and our joy, now and always. Amen.

Leadership in the Kingdom of God

This sermon on ‘leadership in the Kingdom of God’ is based on 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11 (Proper 28A)

Introduction

  • Probably Paul’s earliest letter, sent in haste to deal with specific issues.
  • Here he was trying to reassure Christians who had lost loved ones, wondering what would happen to them – at the time he expected Jesus to return soon (this view changed later).
  • He urges the church to remain alert and on good behaviour, because we expect the imminent, yet unpredictable, return of Jesus.
  • He first uses the military armour analogy for correct Christian character:
    • Is he thinking of a military-style organisation, which will carry out the Great Commandment?
    • As Christ will return soon and unexpectedly, there is no time to spare on anything but the Mission.  (In effect this is still true for each one of us.)

Leadership in the Kingdom

‘Leadership’ is dynamic, it’s about going from A to B, not staying as we are (c.f. ‘Management’ is about maintaining “business as usual”).

From the OT reading we learn that Deborah leads in three ways:

  • Judgement, to settle disputes by discerning right from wrong;
  • Prophecy, to discern what God wants for the future, perhaps by seeing events in the context of God’s will and plans.
  • Action, based on the results of judgement and prophecy.  

Paul does the same.  He looks at the church’s situation, considers the spiritual context and urges a course of action – in this case, resist pressure from the pagan world to conform.

What is the purpose of leadership?  Paul seeks to restore the people’s relationship with God:

  • Not just through preaching or Theology; also
  • Charity restores the bad done by an injustice in society.

Conclusion

We are all leaders now, as we have been given the Holy Spirit and the Bible. We can all judge the situation, discern God’s will in scripture and act.

This is my 50th post!  To see others go the preachers' resource page.  Please leave you comments in the 'reply' box, below.

Right Thinking and Actions

A sermon on Right Thinking (orthodoxy) and Right Actions (orthopraxy), based on 1 John 3: 1-7 (Easter 3B).

Introduction

John, Jesus cousin, the disciple Jesus loved as a brother, urges us to think about the extraordinary gift of love the Father has given us in allowing us to be known as God’s own children.  The world around us has never recognised God, and so it doesn’t recognise us as being God’s children either [v1].

Right Thinking, or Beliefs

So, he reassures us, his friends [v2-3]:

  • We are God’s beloved children already;
  • What we are destined to become goes beyond even that, but the details have not yet been made known to us.
  • We know Christ will return to centre stage in clear view of everyone;
  • Then those who recognise who he really is will be just like him; so
  • Everyone waiting will work at making themselves pure, like Him.

You see, false teachers were trying to separate the spiritual from the mundane, to separate God from humans, saying religion was a matter of secret knowledge (magic?), not living ordinary life the right way.

Right Actions

Everyone who does what is wrong is rightly charged with opposing what God wants. ‘Doing wrong’ and ‘opposing what God wants’ are one and the same thing.  We know that [v4-6]:

  • Christ was brought onto the scene to wipe out our wrongdoing. There is nothing corrupt in him at all.
  • Those who live their lives in him do not do what is wrong; and anyone who does do what is wrong has obviously not recognised him and does not understand him.
  • We are God’s little children, so do not let anyone pull the wool over your eyes about these things.

How? By Knowing HIM

How do we know? We practice!  We read the Bible, we pray, we live together in community and tradition, we use our minds to reason about all these things.  Thus, we feel the Holy Spirit at work in us and we get to know Him.

‘Everyone who is doing the right thing is on the right track in just the same way as Christ himself is on the right track’ [v7].

Jesus is Eternal, not just for Christmas

A sermon on choosing Real Love in the Eternal Jesus at Christmas, based on Philippians 1:3-11 (Advent 2C).

Introduction 

We see lots of adverts and announcements in the run-up to Christmas.  Each one says “choose me!”  Choose this product, this activity, this charity (this image of happiness).  Often we are enticed with an image of love – a couple, a family, a community.  It’s all a bit idealised and not always very real; if people don’t already have love and happiness, then why should it be different on December 25th

Scripture 

Paul writes to his sisters and brothers in Philippi with real affection.  He is in prison, unable to go out or to do the things he would like to do, unable to apply the wisdom that he has learnt – rather like us in our mortal bodies, stuck where we are in time and space.  Being in prison means that Paul is waiting for execution, yet he has joy, hope and encouragement from the Philippians, because:

  • He can see what God has started in them – and that God will finish the job, making them perfect and ready for Christ’s return;
  • They have been totally committed to Paul – through thick and thin – (even waiting for death), he knows God’s love through them;
  • This is real love, not some mushy Christmas advert love;
  • Paul says that we can tell this love is real, because (five off):
    • Makes them alert, ready and determined to do God’s will;
    • Helps them to discern right from wrong;
    • It will ensure that sin can’t stick to them for long;
    • It enables them to work constantly with God for good; and
    • It shows the (true) glory to God to other people[1].   
  • This real love will prepare them for Christ’s return.

Application 

In this season of Advent we look forward to Christmas, to celebrating the birth of Jesus.  We also look forward to Jesus returning in power and triumph, when our freedom of choice will disappear forever.  Human beings will no longer be free to choose ignorance and selfishness, loneliness, war and cruelty. 

You who chose Jesus Christ will get your eternal reward, free from all the ills of the world, free from the limits of your mortal bodies, free from the limits of time and space – free of charge.  Amen, come Emanuel, come Lord Jesus!


[1] Whether they take any notice or not!

Persistence in Prayer & all Things

Persistence in Prayer and in all things, a sermon based on Luke 18:1-8 and 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 (Proper 24C)

Introduction

We are often told that we live in a culture of instant gratification.  I think that is only superficially true, or even, it was true, would it necessarily be a bad thing?  Would it be so bad if poor children could have what they need as soon as they needed it, or be able to go to university without incurring long-term debt? 

Nevertheless, I do think that the things that really matter take time.  Today we have a scriptural antidote to the idea of instant gratification. Here are two passages urging us to be persistent.

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus reminds us to be persistent with prayer to God:

  • He is our Father and wants to do the right thing for us.
  • Jesus promises us justice, not what we want or think we need, because;
  • God is just, Holy and all-powerful, but nevertheless He does care about us.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Paul gives Timothy advice with some urgency:

  • This is his last letter before he is executed. 
  • He is worried about the church facing persecution under Emperor Nero. 
  • Paul is also missing Timothy his adopted ‘son’.

Some Modern Theory 

I’ve been reading a book called ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed; he was a world-class table tennis player.  One of the things he tries to do in his book is to debunk the idea of innate or instant talent or genius: 

  • To get really good at anything takes ~10,000 hours of purposeful practice. 
  • That’s 20 hours a week almost 10 years. 
  • Not just 10,000 hours of repetition: it’s being pushed to perform better all the time.

Another thing he looks at is the placebo effect.  Just believing in something can make people more successful, whether the thing they believe in is true or not

  • Such ideas might make us feel threatened, it sounds like an attack on faith itself? 
  • But actually, Jesus’s parable of the persistent widow says the same thing. 
  • Her persistence wins justice though there is none in the human judge – her faith that he will do the right thing makes it happen. 

Jesus doesn’t see this as a reason to doubt faith; rather that he says if faithful persistence makes the unjust do right then surely God even more so.

Nevertheless

There will be bad times when it seems that our faith is achieving nothing. 

  • Paul was faithful for a lifetime: 10,000 hours of purposeful practice becoming a Rabbi; three years in the desert after his conversion; and many years’ hardship on the road.
  • This got him chained up like a criminal in a cold dungeon far from home and loved ones waiting for death. 
  • Despite this Paul encourages Timothy (if you are feeling down then read all of 2Timothy, it’s quite short).  Be patient with yourself, with others and with God. 

So let’s stick with it friends!      

Only Grace, Not Circumcision

Message: only grace is needed, not circumcision or any other symbols, based on Galatians 6:1-18.

Introduction 

Thinking about circumcision made me think of the symbols we all carry around:

  • Signet ring – bears my initials, given to me by my parents.
  • Wedding ring – bears both our initials and wedding date (c.f. ‘lady in the lake’ murder story – google it).
  • Help for Heroes band – anyone can wear (for only £2!), but I used to be in the RAF.
  • My Watch – not really symbolic, but indicates responsibilities.
  • My cross – I wear it because I belong to Jesus Christ (not as a good-luck charm).

Exegesis: Galatians 6 

This is the final chapter of the letter that is all about GRACE:

  • Bear each other’s burdens to obey the law (vv1-2).
  • Judge yourself – beware prideful comparisons (vv3-5).
  • Support Christian teachers (missionaries & minsters) – in the UK! (v6).
  • God can’t be fooled, you reap what you sow (vv7-8).
  • Do good to all, all your life, for God’s reward! (v9).
  • Especially do this for you Brothers & Sisters in the faith (v10).
  • This is personal!  Personal faith is a recurrent theme for Paul (c.f. his Jewishness). (V11).
  • The circumcisers focus on outward things so they can fit in; even they don’t obey the law they say they are promoting! (vv12-13). 
  • Paul’s focus is the cross of Christ that killed the old person of sin and enables the inner transformation to the new person (vv14-15).
  • Paul is circumcised and he also has other scars to prove his loyalty to Christ! (v17).
  • In the end it’s all about Grace – that’s the best Paul can wish them (v18).

Application

I think that there are two key verses here.

  • “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”  (NIV, v7).
    • This is a warning to those in Christ who might abuse God’s grace.
    • We can’t ignore God’s instructions or neglect his Word and expect to profit.
    • In God’s universe there are consequences for every action.
  • “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (NIV, v15).
    • I don’t think that Paul is deriding his circumcision (although it’s just one of many scars on his body).
    • But it only an outer symbol of an inner conviction – a new relationship with God that produces a new lifestyle in response.
    • Similarly, there is nothing wrong with wedding rings, but imagine that I was a lousy, abusive or unfaithful husband; then the ring would just be a reminder of my failure.
    • Worse, for those who know the truth – and God knows everything – the ring is then a mockery of everything it is supposed to be. 
    • Grace is the key to this change – we call it ‘salvation’ – that unlocks the new person.
    • Even now that we are saved, we need Grace to keep us going without backsliding or going stale, or becoming smug and satisfied with outer respectability.

Conclusion

Therefore I hope that we will never point to mere symbols to justify ourselves.  Instead I wish us all the very best, God’s Grace, to help us in our ongoing inner transformation and matching outer life style: our new life in Christ.

Grace

A sermon on grace, based on Galatians 1:1-12 and 1:11-24.

Galatians 1:1-9: Grace is Key

Paul’s greets his audience, prays for them and gets straight to business.

  • Vv 1-2.  Paul: an ambassador sent directly by God and Christ – raised from the dead.
  • Vv 3-5.  A (short) prayer for the Galatians (northern Turkey), emphasising Jesus’ sacrifice to save them from their sins and from living a world ruled by ungodly powers.
  • Vv 6-7.  Paul tackles the issue head-on:
    • The Galatians have strayed from the pure Gospel of grace from Christ.
    • They have been distracted by the Jewish tradition that demands the observance of practices such as circumcision, in order to be accepted by God.
    • This is no Gospel – where is the Good News of forgiveness at no cost to us?
    • This is an insult to the sacrifice of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross!
  • Vv 8-9.  Paul issues a ‘double anathema’.  He denounces anyone who would pervert the Gospel, even if they were an angel; perhaps he is reminding his Jewish critics that Satan (the ‘accuser’) was an angel, who seeks to punish us for our sins. 

Galatians 1:10-12: A First-rate Gospel 

Paul makes a plain statement to rebut his critics.

  • He is not a populist seeking favour with an ‘easy’ or second-rate Gospel to please people.
  • The Gospel that Paul preaches comes direct from God himself.

Galatians 1:13-24: Grace is Central

Grace is absolutely central to Paul for very personal reasons.

  • Vv 13-14.  Paul persecuted the church fiercely (inc. murder) driven by his zeal for Judaism.
  • Vv 15-16.  Yet God revealed Jesus to Paul and called him to preach.
  • Vv 17-19.  Paul did not seek by men (even the apostles), but followed God’s instructions.  (He refers to Peter and James – other good Jews who betrayed Jesus, but who were forgiven.)
  • Vv 20-24.  In his previous missionary work Paul did not rely on endorsement by church leaders; rather his totally transformed life and witness spoke for themselves.  

Conclusion

Paul is very passionate about God.  It was always in his nature to be so, but God has personally forgiven Paul’s very personal persecution of God:

‘“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  (Acts 9:4b-5).

Paul has been forgiven much and therefore loves much (see Luke 7:42b-43 and v47b). 

Today there is a danger that, in a faddy effort to be ‘inclusive’ and encourage ‘diversity’, the church may abuse grace and offer forgiveness to the unrepentant.  However, this appeasement of sin, this twisting of the Gospel, this heresy, should not put us off.

Paul stakes his life on grace: all sinners are accepted by God, because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Paul knew that he had sinned much and been forgiven much, and he loved God greatly as a result and lived accordingly.  So should we.