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Archive for the 'Sermons' Category

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Acts 20

Guided by God to serve…

I know what people think. They think that I work alone. That I enter a town like a lone superhero and boom – people are instantly wowed with my good news of salvation. That I am so intelligent, speaking things which are difficult to comprehend and without emotion.

But you know what. Those people who think like that, are wrong. I don’t work alone. I am always surrounded by a great team of people. Check out these folk with me on this occasion, or will be soon – Luke, Sopater; Aristarchus and Secundus; Gaius; my dear son, Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus. A community of God’s people from different places working with me. It is for God’s sake that I work and am His. It is my conviction that the good news of salvation can be had by all, through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection from the dead. As for being without emotion, clearly, they have never met me and therefore misunderstand me. Emotions are part of the human experience and that is what I am, a mere human being used by the God I proclaim, worship and serve.

I once was very different though. I was on a mission – a mission from God – or so I thought. A mission to defend God’s truth. It was my job to be God’s defender and root out the miscreants known as ‘The Way.’ Those people claiming that Jesus, Yeshua ben Joseph, had risen from the dead after being crucified. No way could God have a Son. That was blasphemy! Rubbish it was! It was! How could the Saviour of my people, the Jews, the Messiah, die on a cross – a Gentile cross at that - and be cursed by God? Patently absurd! Bald-faced and blatant blasphemy! No! No! No! It was my duty as a man zealous for the Law, to eradicate all those who were followers of this man, Jesus. Those heretics. Then… I still remember it as if it was yesterday. I was on the road to Damascus, embarking on my mission and boom! Suddenly a voice from heaven cried out “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

I asked who it was that was speaking and the voice spoke again “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

God had stopped me, arrested me (Philippians 3:12), shone his light upon me (2 Corinthians 4:6), and the mercy of God overflowed upon me (1 Timothy 1:14) and within me. Jesus is alive! WOW! It is true! Jesus is alive! Did you hear me? Jesus is alive! Jesus, the Messiah did die on a cross. But he came back to life, rising from the dead three days later just as He repeatedly said He would. Afterwards, he made many public appearances before He ascended back to God the Father. Then He appeared to me! Me! Saul of Tarsus! WOW!

That was about 20 years ago now. Now I am on a different mission. A mission given undeniably to me, by God – a mission which is to tell the world, by all possible means, this good news of Jesus the Christ. I, now named Paul, am no longer an enemy of Jesus, but now His friend. A friend of God! God calls me, friend - converted from a persecutor to being one of His faithful followers. This conversion was a total transformation by God upon me. My attitudes, character & relationship with God, have all been transformed and for His glory alone. My God loves me! Me! Unbelievable, isn’t it? My conversion is real, God continuing to work in me, upon me and through me.

So here we are today! Having just left that majestic city of Ephesus, where I spent the best part of the last 3 years. A city and people I love dearly – loved often with tears and joy. Recently as a result of my preaching and sharing the Good News of Jesus, some folk took exception and caused a riot.

So, onwards to Jerusalem and the believers there. I have a gift for them. A wonderfully sacrificial gift from the Gentile churches, to the Church there in Jerusalem. It is a practical way of looking after the welfare of the Church of fellow believers there in the magnificent city of Jerusalem. The churches in Macedonia and Achaia, are wanting to make a practical contribution towards the Christians in Jerusalem . Headlong we go, guided by God and serving Him. I will catch up with Timothy and Erastus whom I have sent ahead of me!

Firstly though, let’s look at the map so that you can see where I am and where we are going tonight.

  • v1-2 – first we go north from Ephesus to Macedonia. I may just stay in Corinth for the winter.
  • v3 – Then I will return through Macedonia instead of sailing to Syria
  • v7-12 - Troas - Eutychus is raised from the dead by God
  • v13 - By foot to Assos
  • v14 - sailed to Mitylene
  • v15 - sailed to Kos, Samos and Miletus
  • v17 - Ephesus elders came to Miletus

And still on our way to Jerusalem! We will get there, even if not directly!

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Genesis18

“God's Visitation to Abraham & Sarah”

There I was in Mamre. A distance way from Ur where we used to live quite comfortably. Sitting in the opening to our tent, under the shade of the great trees, in the middle of yet another swelteringly hot day. I was looking down into the dust and wondering to myself what was going on. My wife, now called Sarah, was inside the tent doing whatever it is that wives do in the middle of a hot day here. A mystery to me, as I am just a mere old male.

I am remembering back to a day when our life changed back in Ur. That was when God said he was going to bless me and made promises to me! Little old me - Abraham of the Chaldees! Not only to me but also to Sarah, my wife!
God told me specifically and with authority:
• I will be the father of a great nation (Genesis 12:1)
• I will receive personal blessing (Genesis 12:2)
• I will receive personal honour and a grand status (Genesis 12:2)
• I will be a source of blessing to others. (Genesis 12:3)

What’s more, there will be blessings on those who bless me and the nation which comes from me (Genesis 12:3) just as there will be curses on those who curse me and that nation (Genesis 12:3).

I have been called by God. Personally, and explicitly. Not only me, my wife Sarah as well. That was 25 years ago now. Not too bad for somebody 99 years old is it. It all seems rather inconceivable really seeing as both my wife and I are aged. God made a promise to Sarah too! She would be having a baby. Inconceivable it seems, doesn’t it? Sarah, my wife, is beyond the normal child bearing age to start conceiving a family. The way of motherhood has passed her by. In our culture where we are from, to be a childless couple, the majority of the stigma is cast upon the woman. It is a shame upon her. But regardless, I stepped out in faith, trusted the Lord and here we are on a journey.

Then suddenly!! I looked up from the dust and I saw them. Much to my surprise. How did I not see them coming from a long distance off? Am I seeing things? They seemed to appear out of nowhere. Three men. Three men just standing there looking towards me. I am sure that I recognize the one in the middle. Have I met him before? I still can’t work out how I never saw them approaching. I hurried to them despite my great age and the searing heat. I wanted to show them an even greater welcoming honour than the one my culture usually allowed to strangers. I bowed down as low as I could get. Even lower than normal to convey a great honour upon them. I asked them to come in for a little light refreshment before they continued their journey in the heat of the day.

They replied. “All right. Go and do as you have said.” Their blunt response stunned me a bit, if I am being honest!

So, I scurried back. I ensured water was taken to them and returned to Sarah in the tent. “Quick! Sarah! We have visitors! One of them maybe the Lord again. I am not sure. They are all in the appearance of men. Cook up some of that unleavened bread from the recipe your mum taught you! The bread that doesn’t take long to cook. I will go get a good tender calf and have one of the servants prepare it for eating. While he does that, I will get some yoghurt and milk to accompany it all. I will serve them out under the shade of the trees. As is our custom, you please stay here, my love.”

So, there I was. Waiting on our visitors as per the custom of our day, treating them to the hospitality of our culture. When all of a sudden, out of the blue, our guests asked “Where is Sarah your wife?”

How did these folks, these men, if that is what they really are, know her name? Any doubt that this was the Lord God began to leave me - after all He would know Sarah’s name. He is the one who changed her name!

If it was the Lord, we had indeed met before! It must be! It must be the Lord my God. The other two must be angels in disguise. I guess. If this really is the Lord God, then this is the one who blessed us and honoured us when he changed our names to Abraham and Sarah. He called us out of our life in Ur.
I offered in response to our guests, “She is inside the tent.”

Then almost surprisingly, one of them said that he will return in a year and by then Sarah and I will have had a child, a son! It was then, that my wife Sarah chuckled quietly. Almost silently, she talked to herself. “No way! I am outside the age of normal motherhood and Abraham is also a bit old now too.”

But my guests still heard that quiet laugh and that comment. Then I was questioned! Me! “Why did Sarah laugh mockingly and dispute what I said about you having a child? Is there anything that is too hard for God to do? This time next year you will have a son. Be assured of that and be of good courage, the pair of you. What I have said, I will accomplish. I always keep my promises!”

At which point, my dear Sarah who had clearly been eavesdropping, responded by denying that she had laughed. She did this to cover her embarrassment of being found out.

“Nope! You did, Sarah. I heard you!” the Lord God gently rebuked her for telling an alternative fact.

With that, our guests arose and looked out towards that evil city of Sodom. Being a good host, I arose and walked with them to see them safely away, wondering why they were going to such a place renowned for injustice, oppression of the innocent, wickedness and unrighteousness.

The one I identified as the Lord, started speaking quietly to Himself. He was asking himself a question and then answering it for himself. Or so it seemed. I guess he could have also been talking to the other two. Regardless, I could hear what he was saying.
“Hmmm. Should I tell Abraham concerning my plan for Sodom? He, Abraham, will certainly become a mighty and great nation. Indeed, the whole earth will be blessed by Me through him. Abraham will instruct and direct his family and ancestors in the way to follow Me rightly and justly. I have promised Him and I will do it. I am the Lord, and I keep my promises. I uphold my end of the deal.”

“I have heard such an outcry from the innocents there, that we are going to see if things really are as we have heard. A cry of pain from those being oppressed and violated. An outcry against injustice by those who are weak and oppressed. I don’t rely on gossip or hearsay. I have heard and I care for them. I want to see the full story for myself and see if anything has been left out. I am a compassionate God and I seek to act on behalf of those wronged and put things right. Does the hullaballoo and noise match the reality of oppression and injustice?”

Two of our guests then continued their journey onwards to Sodom. However, the third one, the Lord waited with me and seemingly also waited for me to respond to Him. Waited for me to talk to him.

Therefore, I neared him and said, quite boldly yet humbly, “In that place Sodom, where you heard that outcry from the innocent, will you really deliver judgement upon both those who are righteous and those who are wicked? What about if there are 50 such innocent righteous folk there? Are you going to do away with them as well as those who have transgressed against you and others? Will you not spare the city for their sakes? How can you, a righteous yet just and merciful God, destroy both the wicked and the righteous together? Why would you want to do such a thing? You are the Judge of the whole earth and you should do right, surely? Can you, O God, deny yourself and do contrary to your very nature?”
Then I went silent, allowing the Lord to respond. “Abraham. If there are 50 righteous people there, I will spare the city.”
“Ok Lord. I know that compared to you, o Righteous and Holy One, I am but mere dust and ashes. I am not worthy to be speaking to you. However, what if there were only 45? Surely you won’t decimate that city because of 5 people short of your number?”
“Nope. Not for the sake of 45 people.”

“Forty folk?” I asked yet again.
“Nope. I the Lord, won’t destroy the city if we find 40 righteous and innocent people.”

Ok, I was really still concerned for those people. I imagine that it’s a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of God! So plaintively I progressed: “30 righteous people?”
“Nope. Not if I find 30.”

“Ok Lord, in my boldness, how about 20?
“No, Abraham. Not if I find 20.”

Then I thought to myself, one last push, Abraham. “Lord God. Do not be angry with me, I am concerned for the innocent ones. One more request, a final one. How about if there are only 10 found there?”
“Abraham, I will not destroy for the sake of 10 innocent & righteous people.”
With that, the Lord God finished his conversation with me, and went on to meet his companions. Meanwhile, I went back to my tent and pondered all these things further. Lot, my nephew was near Sodom. I hope that he and his family are ok and will be ok.

Well that is Genesis 18. That is all a bit exciting, isn’t it? I hope you don’t mind my paraphrasing it and adding some context and explanation to the Bible text, rather than simply stating the context and explanations as we normally would. Please do download the mp3 using the link below to hear my explanation. Thank you.

 

 

 

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Sermon - Remember

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Colossians 3v1-4

“Remember Who You Are!”

Today I repost this  due to hearing about the death of a long term friend. This friend is now more alive than ever before! Why? That is explained here from Colossians 3:1-4. 

 

3:1-4 If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, our life, is revealed, then you will also be revealed with him in glory.

 

 

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Sermon - Jesus, Our Hope

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John 14:1-6

“Jesus - our hope”

I spoke recently at the funeral for a friend's father. I put this here today, due to hearing about the death of a long term friend. That father and this friend are now more alive than ever before! Why? Because Jesus was their hope. That is explained here from John 14:1-6.

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

 

 

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Christians and culture

Cultures from around this world are individual, unique and diverse. At least 20 are represented here in this room. Have you ever noticed how people from different countries greet each other? Those from Latin America, will kiss each other on the cheeks. Australians will shake each other firmly by the hand, punch each other on the arm, say "G'day" and proceed to jokingly insult each other. English people, however, shake each other by the hand limply, take a step back, start to talk about the weather and look for the nearest queue to join! Americans greet each other with a hug, take a step back, talk to each other and once the other person has left, promptly forget the other person's name. Yet other people from other nations say hello by bowing or even by sucking mouths! All these are generalisations!

So we see that from many different cultures from over 200 countries on this planet, there are many differences - rich in variety and stark in contrast! And that is why we have come together - gathered from many different traditions and cultures, to both see and show brief cultural insights. If we were to take a more indepth look into a culture that is different from our own, we would see in it, both likes and dislikes and also similarities. The things that are acceptable to me in a cultural sense, may well shock you, because of your cultural upbringing. Some of what we are as people is because of the culture we were born into and raised within. Take for example, an El Salvadorian wedding, where the husband at the post-service reception places his wife's left leg on a chair, discreetly lift her dress to the upper thigh and proceeds to pull her garter off with his teeth! This is in front of everybody! He then throws the garter to a gathered group of single men, all eagerly waiting to catch it!

Now if you are offended by this, it is probably because of your upbringing in a culture, where at a wedding, which is not the done thing. Somehow I can't see this happening in a Japanese wedding, in case it was deemed offensive, particularly to the guests! But just because something is different from your own culture, does not necessarily mean that it is wrong. Our cultural heritage and upbringing affects our ethics, lifestyle, family values, and worldview and so on. Culture also has a place and a say in our religion. Some cultures insist that you follow a particularly religion out of respect for tradition, whether that is nominal Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism Islam, Zionism, Taoism, Shintoism, Spiritism or any other ‘ism' which is your cultural norm. Sometimes there are severe pressures and penalties to pay if you want to change your religion, say to Christianity from Islam.

Now I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus, was, is and always will be God! So what does Jesus have to say about culture and cultural differences? Jesus kept all the cultural tradition, as a good Jewish man that did not affect his own personal holiness and offend those to whom he engaged in a cross-cultural exchange. Whether it was a Roman centurion; a Canaanite woman; Samaritans; Greeks or other cultures, Jesus was always sensitive to their particular problems regardless of his cultural traditions, taught to him about not touching or talking to foreigners, women, sick and poor people. He continually broke the traditional cultural religious taboos, by doing these things, and that is one of the reasons that Jewish authorities hated him and plotted to kill him. That is ok, you might be thinking if you are not a follower of Jesus. You may well be thinking that I am a Christian because I was bought up in a Christian country and it is your cultural tradition to follow this Jesus.

But if you are thinking that, then maybe you are also thinking that Jesus is only for Jews and those in the West where Christianity is the normal religion. You may also be thinking that Christianity is not for you because your tradition and culture say that you must follow another religion. I am a Christian because Jesus was pursuing me! True my upbringing in a country which at least is nominally Christian did pay a small part in my turning to follow Jesus Christ. But by becoming a Christian, I rebelled against my parents and against my culture. The main reason I am a Christian, is because Jesus Christ was chasing me. I have decided to follow him - will you follow him or reject him?

You may well reject Jesus Christ as your Saviour and the Son of God because you don't know enough about him yet. If that is your reason then read about him in the Bible. Or you may well reject him because you simply don't want to acknowledge him for who he is. That at least is honest! But please, don't reject him simply because your culture says to stick to your own cultural or national religion. That is just patronising nonsense. Jesus is for all people of all time, all nations and all cultures. Jesus, as we read in the Bible, crosses all cultural boundaries and welcomes all to his searching and outstretched arms. Don't let culture be the excuse for not accepting Him as your God and saviour. Jesus is and always will be the Son of God, the saviour for all people of all nations, languages and cultures for all time. In John 12v32, Jesus said that he will draw all people to himself. So, come. Come to Jesus and start to follow him right now! For those of us who are already followers of Jesus Christ, what does the Bible tell us about culture and following Him.

The Bible tells us to be holy, following Jesus Christ as Lord, and growing in righteousness. It is hard for us, because the Christian life is demanding and yet also exciting! We use all sorts of excuses for sinning; that is doing wrong against God and others. Sometimes we use the excuse that is part of our individual cultural identity to do that, so ergo, it can't be wrong! In some cultures, man can have more than one wife; in still others men treat women as a little lower than slaves or dogs. The Aussie culture is well known for its arrogance, insulting and being rude to all and sundry. Other cultures place emphasis on gross materialism & collecting possessions at all costs.

Yet other cultures and countries, allow indifference to the suffering of the poor and sick in their community, putting their low position in society down to bad luck, kismet or fate. Now we know that all these things are wrong because the Bible clearly tells us they are wrong. The Bible says only have one wife, love and respect each other. The Bible says love one another; don't be rude but be humble and not arrogant. The Bible says take care of the poor and sick in the community. The Bible says don't accumulate possessions for possessions sake. And yet we can use the cultural barrier excuse to try and justify our sins, time and time again. When our cultural traditions cross over the lines of sin, drawn out for us in the Bible, then we must at all costs to ourselves, stop doing them!

Now I am not saying do away with all our cultural traditions - just those that are clearly unbiblical and hinder our path to personally holiness and personal righteousness. Let us follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be prepared to sacrifice your cultural taboos at all cost to yourself and run the race set for you, whilst keeping your cultural differences. So, in conclusion, those of you who are not yet followers of Jesus, don't let your culture and traditions stop you from deciding to follow Jesus and running to those outstretched arms that are waiting for you. For those of us who are already followers of Jesus and believe in him for our salvation, let us stop using our cultural traditions as excuses for sinning. Repent of any attitude, behaviour or action that causes you to sin.

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Sermon - 1 Peter 1:3-9

1 Peter 1:3-9 - Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

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Introduction

Last week we looked at 1 Peter 1:1-2 & 2:11-12, under the title “Living in the face of alienation and its cure”. The Apostle Peter was writing to a group of people, followers of Jesus, spread throughout what we know as modern Turkey. These believing sojourners were undergoing trials, suffering & persecution. Peter instructs them toward Christian stability, and the proper expression of this stability and growth.

Throughout the letter, Peter stresses a hope so alive, so glorious and so very certain, that any persecution, trial and suffering can be endured. These people are sojourners or pilgrims on a spiritual journey! Last week we discovered that Peter reminds them of the God they worship and live for - a missional & relational God of salvation. A loving God who is Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God the Father has chosen and is calling all people to Himself, out of amazing love for them. God the Holy Spirit sanctifies and cleanses to allow people to enter God’s holy presence through the obedient sacrifice of God the Son.

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