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Sermon - The Hour Is Near

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The Hour Is Near

Matthew 26:36-46

Opening Prayer

Father, as we come to your written word, keep our eyes and minds awake by your Spirit, so that we can engage with, and learn more, about your living Word, Jesus Christ, apply that learning to our lives so that you receive all glory and honour due your name. Amen.

 

Well, I don’t know how you are coping with this lockdown due to CoronaVirus, but not much has changed for myself, as I am used to working from home. I have been praying with people regularly online and have done interactive Church services every couple of days as people want. If you think that internet Church, isn't Church, well that is ok. You can think of it as simply an interactive time on the internet, between people in different physical locations, meeting at the same time, where God is worshipped, prayed to and studied in the Bible by each of them simultaneously. My biggest problem is forgetting to take breaks, unlike in normal practise, going off to the coffeeshop for a couple of hours with the newspaper. But I know that some folks aren’t coping with the lockdown and isolation, particularly the extroverts amongst us. What can we do about that? As ever, the Bible has something to say into that situation. So lets start with our passage in Matthew 26.

The public ministry of Jesus has been going for just about 3 years now. It started when he was baptized by John the Baptist, where the crowds heard these words from God the Father: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” And where God the Holy Spirit descended upon him as a dove.

Since that time, Jesus has gathered his disciples, such as Peter, James and John with the words: “Come and follow me!” During those three years, Jesus has traversed the countryside, announcing Good News, feeding the multitudes, healing the sick and raising the dead. Jesus, who was asleep in the back of a boat while his disciples were scared of the storm. Jesus, who awoke, told the storm to cease. And it ceased! Jesus who cared for the poor, the destitute, and the outcasts of society. Jesus who taught with such wisdom and authority, that people were amazed. Jesus who confidently walked upon water. Jesus who throughout his public ministry gave clues to the events which are now coming into eventuality.

Jesus who clearly proclaimed that he alone was the living bread; the light of the world; the good shepherd and the gate; the resurrection; the way, the truth, and the life; and finally declaring that He alone was the true vine! Whereas the nation of Israel was the symbol, Jesus was the reality, and it was He who was the long waited for Messiah or Saviour. Jesus, who not so long ago, entered Jerusalem in that amazing scene, to the shouts of the crowds: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ A very different scene than the one before us in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus also seems a different person as well.

 

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Sermon - A God of Wonder

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A God of Wonder - Genesis 1:1-19 & John 1:1-14

We read Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”

This is that moment in time when God, who is outside of time and space, created the universe which is 90 billion light years across. Within this universe, He created galaxies, including our own, the Milky Way. Within the Milky Way, God created a Solar system which contains our Planet Earth. God created the planet Earth and placed it so that it would always be just the right distance away from the Sun in order to support life. Never too close and never too far away as the Earth orbits the Sun. Just right. Though I am sure there are some people here who think that in the past couple of weeks it has got a bit too close for comfort.

We see in this story from Genesis 1, that Almighty God created, hovered, separated, made, let be, gathered, called, saw, commanded, set, gave and blessed. He said let there be light, and there was! A great God of Wonder is He! Do you know this God?

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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.

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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Joy Gets Its Hands Dirty

Leviticus 18 & 19 & Mark 12:28-34

Introduction

Leviticus 18 & 19 is where the rubber hits the road. Leviticus moves on to the matter of wholeness of life and personal holiness. God gives to His people, Israel, some laws of how they were to live. Laws for such things as: food & diet, foreign nationals, justice, the poor, sex, social etiquette and tattoos. Sounds very relevant for us today in Boscombe, doesn’t it?
 
Let’s briefly take 2 examples. Firstly, concerning the laws regarding sexual activity. The other nations engaged in all these sexual activities as given in Leviticus 18, often as part of their religious devotion and worship but also as an abusive power. But Israel was not to be like that! Sexual activity was to be between one man and one woman within marriage. Tattoos. Look in Leviticus 19:28. Why are tattoos mentioned? Primarily because the other nations tattooed and cut themselves as signs of their devotion, worship and allegiance to their gods. That was their manner of “outward holiness” as it were. Hence their prohibition for Israel who were to be very different from the surrounding nations.
 

Israel were not to be like these other nations in any way, shape or form. Other cultures were not to be allowed to infiltrate them. Israel was to stand out as God’s light to the other nations. These laws were for Israel and also for all immigrants, foreign nationals and aliens who lived among them (Leviticus 18:26). In our second reading from Mark 12, we see that Jesus said that the whole of the Law, including these in our 2 chapters in Leviticus today, is summarised as “Love God and love all other people”.


From Mark 12, we see that Jesus said that the whole of the Law, including these in our 2 chapters in Leviticus today, is summarised as “Love God and love all other people”.
 
The Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “I am the Lord your God. 3 You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. 4 You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. 5 Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.(Leviticus 18:1-5)
 
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
3 ‘“Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God.
4 ‘“Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. I am the Lord your God.
5 ‘“When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the Lord, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. 6 It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned. 7 If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted. 8 Whoever eats it will be held responsible because they have desecrated what is holy to the Lord; they must be cut off from their people.
9 ‘“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:1-10)
 
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
29 ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” 31 The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’
32 ‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.(Mark 12:28-34)
 

Repeatedly in this book, God has said “Be holy, for I am holy”. But what is holiness? As we have glimpsed in the last 2 weeks, holiness is what separates God from all His creation. For God alone is holy and full of glory. Remember what Aaron had to do when entering the holy of holies on the day of Atonement? He had to create a wall of smoky incense, so that he wouldn’t glimpse God’s glory and holiness and be struck down dead, like his sons Nadab and Abihu. Holiness is in fact the sum of all God’s attributes. God is holiness and holiness is God.


Holiness is also a moral attribute of God, of His purity, and His freedom from the stain of ALL sin. There is an innate moral goodness about God – an absolute perfection which always seeks creation’s welfare. The goodness of God has several key aspects within His moral attributes. These include the following but they are not an exhaustive listing: Grace, holiness, patience, love, mercy, righteousness and truth. They are part of our God’s moral framework. Have you seen evidence of these in your own life?

Let’s keep having a look at our God. God says, for example, in Leviticus 19:2 “I…” That indicates that God is personal. This God is personal and there is an intimacy to be had with a personal God like this. No god of rock or wood like the surrounding polytheistic nations for Israel! Their God is one! God is a God who is personal, and must therefore be capable of having and sustaining relationships. A God who sustains relationships will also want to be known! We know that God is spirit, yet also a personal and infinite being (John 4:24). He is one in substance or nature and incapable of being divided. Even more, as we saw last week, God is love. Love is one of His key attributes. If God was only a single person, then how could love possibly be shown? Love requires more than one Person for Love to be active. If it is not active, then it cannot be love. How can we answer this seeming paradox?
 
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Sermon - Leviticus 16

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A God of Joy and His people

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Introduction

Book of Leviticus

Tonight, we look again in the book of Leviticus. Some of the words and phrases we commonly use come straight from the book of Leviticus. Words such as jubilee and scapegoat are commonly used today. And what husband hasn't offered a form of guilt offering to his wife!Leviticus does have important things to tell us about sin, obedience and holiness. Perhaps most importantly it tells of God dwelling with His people. So today we delve into Leviticus chapter 16, which is the centre and pinnacle of the book. So please do turn in your bibles to Leviticus 16.
 
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Sermon - Leviticus 9-10

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Obedient Service of God

 

Introduction

How to read Leviticus today? What is the best way for us in the 21st century to read these ancient laws of Leviticus? Is it just to simply ignore them or are we to slavishly follow them? Perhaps the best way is to simply let Scripture interpret Scripture and see what the New Testament says about the Leviticus laws.

Take for instance the food laws. We know in the New Testament that all food is now permissible, whereas under the Old Testament, certain foods were not permitted to be eaten. In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter had a dream in which all food was declared clean!It is also wise, not to see them as merely a list of "not do" statements, but also as "do statements".

Rather, we should see them as a love letter from a God who wants to save His people from distress and anxiety in order to give them a life of peace, unity, health and a joyful life in all its fullness.All these laws were to lead ancient Israel to be a holy nation. Holiness was about being set apart for a purpose and making wise, conscious decisions about what was right or wrong. It involved being obedient to God and keeping His decrees and regulations.

Being holy, involved having a lifestyle, which was contrary to the cultures surrounding them. To be holy was a lifestyle choice of worship, to reflect their holy God.They were called to be loyal! Called to be distinct! Called to worship! What has all this got to do with us? Where does the Day of Atonement and these laws fit into the life of a Christian in the 21st century? We will take a look in the third part in al little while!

Outline:

Introduction

  1. Great joy Leviticus 9:22-24
  2. Great tragedy Leviticus 10:1-11
  3. A God of Judgement
  4. A God of Wrath
  5. So what’s all this got to do with us today?
  6. New Covenant?
  7. Called to service
  8. Judged for our service

Conclusion

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Correct thinking leads to correct action!

Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. The Church - 1 Timothy 1:4-11
  3. Timothy - 1 Timothy 1:18-20
  4. Paul - 1 Timothy 1:1-3 & 12-14
  5. God
  6. Conclusion - So what?

1 Timothy 1

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,
2 To Timothy my true son in the faith:
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Timothy Charged to Oppose False Teachers

3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

The Lord’s Grace to Paul

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The Charge to Timothy Renewed

18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

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David's Final Prayer

1 Chronicles 29:10-20

Introduction

Tonight, we delve into the book of 1 Chronicles and this great and perhaps last public prayer of the great King David! It is a fabulous piece of Scripture, I am sure you agree, that tells us a lot about God we as Christians claim to know and love, as well as how we are to respond to Him. Originally 1 & 2 Chronicles were one book. It was the final book of the Jewish Canon, probably written by Ezra and was also known as the "the events of the days", "the things omitted" which would suggest that Chronicles were to be regarded as additional to the books of Kings and Samuel. It's a book which was written for those from the nation of Israel who are now in exile, to remind them of their spiritual heritage - the journey & history of Israel as a nation. For us though, not least I, it issues certain challenges to us all.

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Here is the great king David!

Now here to Chapter 29, we have King David in his final days before handing over the crown to his son, Solomon. David is no longer the shepherd-boy who slew Goliath. He is at the end of his life. He wanted to build the temple himself, but God told him in 1 Chronicles 28v3 "You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood." The building of the Temple was to be ultimately achieved by his great son Solomon to do!

What has happened so far?

So what has happened so far, according to the Chronicler? In the previous verses before our reading, we see how David has given publicly a great deal of wealth including gold, silver and other personal possessions for this building - the great Temple. This was to serve as an active encouragement for others to also give generously! Not only of their material possessions, but also as we read from 1 Chronicles 28v21, their talents and craftsmanship as well! This house of God would be a community effort - King & pauper alike, giving generously and honestly! So here is David, a man, who despite his many faults, is described as a man after God's own heart. Israel's greatest king, saying this prayer of intimate praise & adoration to his God in front of the assembled throngs. This prayer, like his gifts of gold etc., could be said, to be David's legacy to the nation of Israel, to Solomon and by extension also to us.

1. WOW factor of God! (v10-13)

I get a wow factor of God reading this! Look how David talks of God! You can tell that David has had a vibrant and intimate relationship with this God - the God of his youth and his old age. He piles up the metaphors! He speaks of God personally: thou, thee, you, yours, our, I, my. David praises God for who God is! Verse 10 sets the scene "Blessed be thou, LORD God of Israel our father, for ever and ever." God is their father! He is everlasting! Before Israel was, He is and always will be! He was to be their God and they were to be His people. God takes care of them as a father does His children - giving generously, protecting them and always being available for guidance & wisdom.

Verse 11 is perhaps the central verse of this prayer: "Thine, O LORD is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all."

The whole emphasis is on the LORD God! Greatness, power, glory, victory and majesty - all are yours O God - throughout the earth and the heavens! Yours is the kingdom! Not ours, but yours, O King! For they are attributes of a king! God's greatness is vast, incomparable and unfathomable. God's power is that of a warrior: almighty, overwhelming yet alluring; and all power comes from Him to every dependent creature. God's glory is the exuberant and ecstatic magnificence of His very being!

Victory shows God as an all-conquering hero: transcendent and supreme, to whom all creatures and creation are subject. His victories are irrefutable and undeniable. His uncompromising majesty symbolises a dignity, regency, splendour and awesome magnificence! These things: greatness, power, glory, victory and majesty are essential attributes of who God is: indelible, immutable, unchangeable and permanent. God is a King in greater splendour than any of the excesses of King Louis XVI.

If you don't know about Louis, go look him up and the scale of extravagance! This God is a mighty King to be exalted above all things and He is to be held in His rightful place: high and lifted up! As for the kingdom, whose is it? Is it Israel's? No! Is it David's? No! It is God's and His alone! His Kingdom is of total magnificence and greater than the Roman Empire to come! Even greater than the British Empire, which was never to see the sun set on it. Jesus is probably quoting here, in what we call the Lord's Prayer.

So David's words resonate down through history. In this context however, David uses kingdom to symbolise the fact that the building materials, the amassed wealth, did not belong to Israel, but rather they were God's alone! God's kingdom shows His universal influence, authority and universality. Everything is God's! Its all His! Nobody can say they own ultimate possession of anything! The only reason, to paraphrase David, "we have this amassed wealth to build the Temple is because we have the leasehold to it! God owns the freehold, its all His and because of His generosity we can build Him this house!

And not only these material possessions, but also the imagination, ingenuity, craftsmanship, skills and talents - well they all came from God as well, so you craftsmen, bless God because God has blessed you with skilled hands to work on His house! Your strength is ultimately from His unlimited resources of strength!" This is no impersonal statue or idol like the surrounding nations.

This is the living God, awesome in all things yet willing to be involved in a personal relationship. This is the God, who through the Levitical Law, wants to live with His people of joy, to be their Living God! This God is the light of all things good, bright and blessed. He is the greatest of the greatest, truly incomprehensible yet also knowable. David is in utter adoration of this great God! I wonder if David knew that this physical Temple itself was only ever going to be a temporary building until the coming of the Messiah - when God would no longer dwell in a house made of gold and stone but rather live in human hearts.

It is out of His wonderfully glorious grace that the Lord God Almighty gave the gifts in the first place and the cheerful sacrificial response from His people in gratitude to Him was remarkable! All these things were given willingly - the possessions, the gold, the silver, the skills, the power and strength - all in service of the great God of Israel, the great Father of Abraham, Isaac, Moses and the other patriarchs. Surely, this is a God worthy of all praise, worship and life commitment! Each person praises differently and in different ways, so let's rejoice when we see other people praising God differently to our own style.

2. David - its all Him (v14-20)

That's the wow factor of God: a God who is abundant in greatness, power, glory, victory and majesty. Now let's look together at David himself! All the attributes of praise, given here by David to God, could with a great deal of justification, be said about Israel, or even David himself. They were at the time a strong nation and David quite rightly still on the throne. Israel's greatest King - full of power, might and majesty. But no!

What does David say in v14? "But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee." Its all about God for David! He would say that I am only here because of Him! David has been reflecting on his whole life - from the time he defeated the Philistine armed only with a sling and stone. He sees his past failures, the utter depravity of those but also his repentant heart before a holy God.

The end of verse 14 again, "All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee", and this resonates down through history, in churches worldwide as the offering prayer. David exhibits great humility before God, and sets an example for his son, Solomon and the other people of Israel, to follow. And then in v15 "For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding" David acknowledges that Israel were only tenants in the Promised Land - on a leasehold agreement. They were a nation of sojourners travelling a journey, from their foundation as a nation onwards. It is like David was saying to the Lord: "We are here temporarily but You, O God, are here permanently. What an amazingly generous God you are, giving with such exceeding grace to us." David confesses they are but transient and aliens in the land God had given them. It is an image tying them to their patriarchs as they wandered in the wilderness, living only on what their God provided them with, as they looked for the Promised Land.

It is also an image of an acknowledgement that all life is supremely dependent upon God and God alone. God was to be their God and they were to be His people - to be shining as a light to all nations as God's representatives. Here is the mighty King David, bowing in humility before a great God whom he adores, serves and worships. He knew that his whole life had been one of dependence upon God for all things, and David was exhibiting this before his people. David's prayer was that the people of Israel would continue to depend on God but also exhibit that dependence and show how God supplied them graciously.

Not only for David but also for the Chronicler too! He was recording this for the people of Israel when they were in exile. The Chronicler reminds the people in exile to be utterly dependent upon God for all and everything. For the Chronicler, the building of the Temple was more a matter of the heart, and built upon the faith of God to supply. This faith was expressed in the building made of gold, silver, wood and other metals. It was due to God's generosity alone the Temple would be built and nothing to do with David and his people. It would have been a tremendous temptation to be filled with boastful pride about it. It was a test of people's hearts to see if they really did love their God.

Then in the final words of this prayer, we see David praying for unreserved and enthusiastic giving from the people. He changes from acknowledgment to petition. In verses 18-20, David exhorts an outpouring of generosity from his people, from a heart filled with thanks - a heart acknowledging total dependence on God for all things - a heart & life of loyal obedience to Almighty God. Solomon also was to be wholeheartedly obedient and devoted fully to God. A heart filled with peace with God, a life totally devoted to Him, exhibited with joyful giving. That's what David was praying for his people and for his son Solomon. Its also what the Chronicler was expecting from the people in exile as he recounts this to them. It was to be a community effort of devotion and obedience to an almighty God, on whom they were dependent for all facets of human life. Everybody giving what they could - out of riches or poverty. 

3. So what?

Firstly, we saw the wow factor of God: a God who exudes greatness, power, glory, victory and majesty. Then we saw David's utter adoration and dependence upon the God that he knows intimately. So, finally, what does all this have to do with us? How often do we receive from our God, but not thank Him for it? We are to be thankful for every good gift that is given to us. We offer praises and thanks to Him, for who He is and for His generosity and grace towards us. Tonight's bible passage was a superb piece of thanksgiving.

When was the last time you thanked God for all the things He has given you? How can we put this thanks and praise into action? Lets see quickly! Firstly, I am convinced there are enough wealthy Christians sitting in churches in the West, who could make significant donations and virtually eradicate a lot of the poverty in the developing world and indeed their own countries. This would be active Christian giving on a radical scale. In biblical stories, such as this from 1 Chronicles 29, its always those who had the most, gave the most as an example to others of God's generosity. After all, God owns it all anyway and it's only given as a loan from God and not a transference of ownership.

As Christians, we are to desire to mature spiritually - growing in adoration, obedience and commitment to God. Perhaps the greatest indicator of today, concerns our giving. Giving is to be done whole-heartedly and cheerfully. It is also not so much about how much is given, but how much is left after giving and the attitude behind it. God looks beyond that which is given to the motive and attitude behind it. All our money and possessions belong to Him anyway, as we have seen, so giving is to be in response to this. Our money and possessions are a leasehold agreement not a freehold one. Giving done willingly is also not done to boost our own egos or for the feel-good factor, but rather to bring glory and honour to God as a thankful response to His giving all things to us.

Many prayers seemingly go unanswered because God is waiting on people to be obedient to Him, in order to answer the unanswered prayers of others. . We are to be generous with everything we have, not just in the area of money but with our very lives. We all have time, information, knowledge imagination, gifts and talents. All these too are to be given back to God . That may well take radical action to do, but radical giving is what we are called to do. God has given everything so that you and I may live and have life, so by caring and giving, we will reflect that. Let's be radical church together and encourage others to be likewise.

But, as we have seen, it's not only about giving money and resources. Giving is also to include skills, information, imagination and knowledge. Remember, the priests and craftsmen were waiting to give in the building of and service within the Temple. Churches, particularly these days, need to capture the imagination of those looking for a church home, and get them involved. Involvement in such a way that it builds up commitment to God and a growing adoration of Him. If people are involved, they will stay. It means training them up, to be fit for service within the church. If training for service doesn't occur, then commitment and dedication to God is likely to be diminished. If the same people do the same thing year after year, that local church will eventually die out. Each local church is only one generation away from closing its doors permanently. Giving, as we saw in tonight's passage, is also a community affair. This Church is to be a community, both within the church and outside of it, where the strongest members support the weakest members - including their time, possessions, money, knowledge and wisdom.

But, as we also saw tonight, it is not just for leaders to give! Giving is to be for everyone! Every church has a fantastic array of knowledge, wisdom, possessions and imagination. Let us share that with people outside the church. Who knows what our caring and giving will do for them as it reflects the glory of God! Too often, we are found turning a blind eye to the suffering of others where the necessities of life are in sparse existence. Too often we neglect to give up our personal space, time, imagination, information and money generously to help the poor and needy in our local, national and global communities. By doing this giving collectively, we will show our faith to be real and practical. There are people out there in our local community just waiting for somebody to give generously to them. We need to be seen to be radically giving to all - of our money, our possessions, and also our time, imagination, knowledge, practical help, care and love. Let us show our relevance to our local community and not be seen as just a curious gathering of people meeting on a Sunday. So if I could summarise all this up in one sentence, it would be something like this

"Ask not only what your God can give to you,

but what great things you can do and give to your God."

 

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Sermon - Conversion of Paul

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Sermon - Paul's Conversion

1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:1-6


The conversion of Saul (his name was changed to Paul later) is one of the most notable in the history of the Church. Certainly within the Bible itself. Indeed the conversion of Saul/Paul, was celebrated yesterday, 25 January, in parts of the Church around the world. Luke tells us the story three times. But was Paul's conversion special? Many people say "I have not had a Damascus Road experience". There were, it is true, special events on that day, which make Paul's conversion unique. However are they in any sense so special that they constitute an example for us today? Let us look together at Paul’s conversion experience.

Conversion Experience

The only possible cause for his conversion is the beautiful sovereign grace of God. It was Jesus Christ who decided for him. Each of the three previous times Paul appears in Luke’s story, he is recorded as opposing the church & persecuting it. Paul even witnessed the death of Stephen (Acts 7:58; Acts 8:1, 3).

Now Luke resumes his story of Paul by saying that he was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples (Acts 9:1). Paul had tried to contain the church to Jerusalem, but some had escaped to Damascus. Paul then devised a plan to capture the believers in Damascus. Armed with letters from the High Priest in Jerusalem, he set out for Damascus in a bid to stop the spreading of the Good News. He would arrive in Damascus, an unusually vigorous and single-minded man, bent on ridding the city of its followers of Jesus.

Why did Paul hate the believers so much? Because, to his mind at the time, a dead Messiah was no Messiah at all. How could the Saviour of the Jews, the Messiah, die on a cross and be cursed by God? Paul considered it his duty as a man zealous for the law, to eradicate all those who were followers of this man, Jesus.

Luke's description of Paul seems to be like that of a wild animal trying to destroy a flock of sheep, creating havoc and destruction whichever way he turned. Yet, he had not considered God’s sovereign grace. To a man like this there could only be one reason why he changed his mind, and became the most ardent follower of Jesus. He turned from a wolf who destroyed sheep, to become a shepherd caring for sheep. It can only be through the sovereign grace of God.

Paul and his companions were nearing the end of a week’s travelling on the 150 mile journey to Damascus from Jerusalem Then suddenly, a light from heaven flashed around him (Acts 9:3), brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13). It was so overwhelming that it both blinded him and knocked him over (Acts 9:8-9), flat on his face before his conqueror. Then a voice cried out "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" And in answer to Paul's subsequent question as to his identity, the voice continues “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."

Paul must have instantly realised how closely Jesus Christ identified with His followers. So much so, that to persecute Jesus’ followers, the Church, was to persecute Him. It followed, and he must immediately have understood, that Jesus was no longer dead as he supposed, but was alive and all His claims were true. Paul's companions, while hearing the voice, did not see the resurrected Jesus. They took Paul into the city of Damascus. Instead of arriving there full of pride and bravery, a self-confident enemy of Jesus, Paul entered the city, humbled and blinded, a prisoner of Jesus. The light he saw was the glory of Jesus, and the voice he heard was the voice of Jesus. In his letters to various churches in the New Testament, we discover how Paul viewed this event.

We see:

  • how God arrested Paul (Philippians 3:12)
  • God shone His light upon Paul (2 Corinthians 4:6)
  • God’s mercy overflowed upon Paul (1 Timothy 1:14).

And yet, while it was entirely due to the grace of God, that Paul was converted from enemy of the Christ to follower of the Christ, it was not sudden. Yes, the light was sudden, and Jesus Christ appeared suddenly, but Jesus must have talked to Paul before in some way, whether through his conscience, his dreams or in his thoughts. We may never know!

The Goads

The goads, that Paul says Jesus accused him of kicking against in his third account of the incident, likened Paul to a donkey or a mule being continually prodded to go the right way. The implication is that Jesus was pursuing Paul, prodding and pricking him, and Paul was resisting painfully. But what were the goads that Jesus used to prick Paul of Tarsus? While we are not told specifically what they were, by reading his letters we can gain an insight into what they were.


The first of three goads used by Jesus on Paul, was Paul’s own sub-conscious doubts. With his conscious mind, he proclaimed Jesus as an impostor, who had been rejected as the Messiah by his own people, and died under the curse of God on a cross. Yet, Paul would have heard reports about Jesus' teaching and miracles, claims and character, together with the talk that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Secondly, the goad of the testimony of Stephen. Paul had been present at the trial of Stephen and had seen his execution, both his non-resistance while being stoned to death and his face shining like an angel. He had heard Stephen's speech at his trial, his prayer for forgiveness of his executioners and his astonishing claim to have seen Jesus at the right hand of God. There was something about these Christians, that Paul could not explain - the divine living power of Jesus in the lives of His followers.
Thirdly, the goad of the inadequacy of the law to save. Paul clearly had a very extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. He must have become increasingly aware that Jesus fulfilled a great many of the prophecies of the Messiah who was to come even if he wasn’t exactly the sort of Messiah that he, Paul, and everyone else expected. In private Paul knew that his thoughts & attitudes were not clean. For example his sin of covetousness. Therefore he had no inner power or peace, and it was the goads of Jesus. His conversion was a sudden climax, to a long drawn out process with Jesus having pursued him.

Yet while his conversion was not sudden, it was not forced upon him. Although he was blinded and forced to the ground he did not change his character and it did not turn him into a robot. When Jesus asked those questions, Paul did not have to answer them. He still had freewill. Paul’s conversion, while not sudden or compulsive, was due entirely to the gracious pursuit of Jesus. Not everybody sees sudden flashes of light and hears voices that say his name. No one else has seen the historical fact of the Jesus' resurrected body and a call to be an apostle.

Yet our conversion experience today can have similarities to that of Paul. To be converted, we did not and do not, need those things to happen, any more than we have to travel to the same spot Paul was at on the road to Damascus. We must experience a personal encounter with Jesus. In doing so, we must surrender to Him our will in faith, and receive his order to serve Him. Jesus Christ has pursued all people everywhere, over the past 2.000 years, to return into a dynamic relationship with Him. Just as He did with me and I handed my life over to Him. Millions of other people have also done that down through the centuries. My final question to you is – have you?

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Sermon - Love in Practise

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Sermon

Romans 12 - Love in Practise

Paul is speaking a letter to the Church in Rome, those he calls “God's beloved”. He has not yet been to Rome and is currently in the great Greek city of Corinth, and it is about AD57-58. A man we know as Tertius is acting as his scribe and writing down what Paul is saying. Tertius would later go onto be a Bishop in Iconium.

So far in this letter, Romans 1 to 11, Paul has been drawing a word picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel which demonstrates that God gets his hands dirty. The Gospel which tells us that God has done all He could do, in order that humanity could be saved, be in a living and dynamic relationship with Him, if they choose to be so. Paul then goes on to investigate in depth about this Gospel, the nation of Israel and the Gentiles.

That is where we are up to with the passage before us, Romans 12. Now, just as Romans 1-11 shows us that God got his hands dirty, in the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, so must all those who call themselves His followers and children. As we will hopefully see together, if you are a Christian, you also must put your faith into practice, exercising it as you do your muscles. If muscles aren’t exercised or used, they wither away. The same can be said concerning our faith. How we live our life as Christians, is to reflect the life and love of the God whom we declare openly that we follow and love.

This morning, we will look at this chapter before us in two sections. Firstly, in v1-8, then we will have a break for a song before concluding with our second section in v9-21

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