God is enriching every aspect of your lives, grace of God, will of God, called to be saints, thanksgiving, enriched in speech, knowing what to say, knowledge, lacking, having all the gifts, waiting, revealed, sustain you till the end, God is faithful, set apart for service, called into community, grace and peace, the right words to say, everything you need to know, necessary gifts, faithfulness

God is enriching every aspect of your lives

Lectionary reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 1-9

In this first letter from Paul to the Corinthians, he reminds them that not only is he designated by the will of God, but rather that all of them are also called.

Leaving aside my personal bones to pick with Paul, I cannot ignore the deep learnings that are available to us from reading this passage. Each of us, even today, has a calling. These verses remind us that we are up to this task – the task of fulfilling our purpose – because the Divine enriches every aspect of our lives.

I want to explore:

  • What we are invited into?
  • Consider the tools and gifts we are each given to fulfil our life mission.

Your Divine purpose

Every tree, every blade of grass, each bird fulfils a purpose on this planet. When we take the time to simply sit and notice, we see how each living being on earth, whether plant, animal or human, fits into the bigger scheme of life.

Nonetheless, we also see a lot of confusion – internally and in society – about our purpose and callings. Many of us are merely “staying alive” and struggling to survive.

Growing up in a very evangelical church, I was brought up to believe that my purpose would be “a cross to carry”. I was terrified of discovering my purpose, hoping it would not be a calling to go to Africa as a missionary. In churches, we talk about “knowing the will of God in your life”, but most of the time it’s put on us as “you’re called into missions” or “you’re called to preach the word of God”.

But if we take a look at most of the “heroes” of the Bible, we find that they were ordinary people with ordinary jobs. They simply happened to be in the right place at the right time. And when they were asked to step into doing something “big”, their lives had already prepared them for this.

Consider Deborah, for example. While she was considered a prophet, she was busy doing her day-to-day responsibilities of being the local “judge”. I’m pretty sure that she didn’t see her job, most days, as anything out of the ordinary. Especially if you watch any episodes of traffic courts or have ever spent a couple of hours in your local magistrate’s court, you will see the everyday complaints that people bring. There was nothing remarkable about her calling — until there was.

Knowing your Divine purpose starts with recognising that we were already given the necessary gifts to fulfil our mission. Paul reminds the Corinthians of this:

“you are not ill-equipped or slighted on any necessary gifts”.

If you are unsure what your purpose and mission are, a great place to start is looking at your talents and natural gifts and abilities. You have everything you need to fulfil your purpose in life. Because a bird has wings, it flies (or if it’s a chicken, it tries to).

I doubt cherry trees complain to each other that they wish they were able to produce oranges, and yet we waste so much of our time lamenting the gifts and talents that we don’t have.

cherry trees, enriched, loved, divine love, loved by the divine, purpose in life

Today I want to invite you to do an inventory of your natural gifts and talents, and consider your calling and purpose in this light.

Set apart for service

Think for a moment of when you are arranging a table for dinner: you go to the cupboard, and you pick up the plates. If there are four of you for dinner, you don’t choose six plates, but only four. You set them aside for service: the ones that you need when you need them.  The rest of the dishes sit in the cupboard, waiting to be shown when they will be required.

Know this: you have been set aside for service. Perhaps you feel like you are sitting in the cupboard – always on the shelf rather than in the game. I wonder if Deborah thought that she was on the shelf as she worked through listening to all the petty complaints that were brought before her.

But Paul reminds us that our purpose will be revealed.

General callings

There are two other callings, apart from our life purpose. We are called to be saints, and we are called into community.

Called to be saints

While Deborah might have been “a saint”, the first description of Deborah was that she was the wife of Lapidoth. I wonder if Lapidoth considered her to be “a saint”; probably not in the way that you and I imagine the word to mean.

So, today I invite you to rewrite your definition of what it means to be a saint!

The calling to be saints is about how we live our day-to-day lives. If I had to sum it up in one word, I would say it’s compassion: 

  • Love for the Divine, with a constant connection that we are overflowing with love and compassion
  • Love for our neighbour as ourself

Compassion allows us to be kind and patient. It will enable us to live with love in our lives, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:

  • not envious, proud or boastful
  • not self-seeking or dishonouring others
  • it keeps no record of wrongs and is not easily angered
  • protects
  • trusts
  • hopes
  • perseveres

We are all called to live in this place of being fulling aligned with Divine Love. What is your personal definition of what it means to live as a saint? Make it realistic for you, rather than something so out of reach that you could not aspire to live each day in sainthood!

Called into community

You are also called into community: that we cannot live in isolation. Take a moment and consider what your community looks like:

  • family
  • friends
  • work colleagues
  • hobbies and activities that you participate in
  • volunteering & community activities
  • your neighbourhood where you live
  • your spiritual community

What does your community look like?

spiritual community, volunteering, charity, neighbourhood, family relationships, social life, professional relationships

God is enriching every aspect of your life

You are promised that nothing is lacking because you have all the gifts that you need. Paul describes this as

God is enriching every aspect of your lives.

He then goes on to explain what he means by this.

You are enriched in speech

This means, when you are in touch with the Divine and that deep inner knowing, you will have the right words to say. Enriched in speech is knowing what to say and when to say nothing.

Most of us want to think about what to say. We make up scenarios and speeches in our head, failing to listen to the still small voice of Spirit.

Consider silence and just going within to listen, confident that you are enriched in speech.

You are enriched in knowledge

Everything you need to know, you will know. Can you trust this?

My first “real job” at sixteen was working as a cashier at McDonald’s: “Would you like fries with that?”. Later in life, I have come to cherish what I learned from “would you like fries with that?” – because it is a lesson in upselling. McDonald’s sells millions of fries every year because of this simple phrase. The client is already there, and they have their wallet in their hand, ready to buy something. The cashier doesn’t know what the client wants, and often the result of the question is “no, but I will have…”. While they didn’t sell the fries, they got an additional sale from the client.

This mundane, everyday job taught me a skill that has served me well over the past thirty years. Am I always open to adding more value to someone else’s life?

You, too, are enriched with knowledge. You have life experiences, abilities and life lessons that you possibly haven’t tapped into. You might not be aware of everything you know.

But trust that you know everything that you need to know when you need it.  You are enriched with knowledge.

Enriched with God’s grace, peace & faithfulness

Today I want to remind you that you are enriched with grace, peace and faithfulness. I don’t mean that you show others mercy, but instead that you accept grace, be open to a peace that transcends your understanding, and that you experience Divine faithfulness towards you.

“Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.”(John Stott)

It is said that the grace of God is the opposite of karma – it’s receiving the good that you do not deserve because you are a child of God. You are loved and cherished. In my life, I can see where I have blocked grace, continuing to believe that I deserve punishment and the consequences of my decisions and actions. Nonetheless, we are enriched with grace. Are you willing to accept more grace?

enriched with grace, peace that passes understanding, peace that transforms, faithfulness

We are also enriched with peace: that peace that while we are waiting, we will be sustained emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. It’s the peace that we hold within us, even in the middle of the storm. This inner peace does not depend on what is happening in our environment. While we are aware of the situation and in touch with it – we are present – but we also connect with the Divine. It is that Divine that allows us to say

I am not overcome by the storm, because I am one with the storm.

Sometimes storms clear our path. Can you recognise this inner peace which sustains you while you wait?

Finally, the Divine is faithful, constant and true. When I say we are enriched with faithfulness, I am not referring to your faith in God, but rather how the Divine relates to you! It doesn’t matter how small your faith is, but rather that we know that Divine Love is faithful. We can trust that all things are working for our good and that we are enriched with all good things.

Thanksgiving

Our response to this is one of gratitude and thanksgiving.

If you are struggling to discover your purpose, consider a daily practice of gratitude, where you each day you focus your attention and thanksgiving on your talents, gifts, strengths and abilities. Start to notice the patterns and what you genuinely enjoy. Be grateful for the desires of your heart and the wisdom and insight that you gain from being present.

Take note of the times when you receive grace: when in spite of the natural consequences of your choices and decisions, you get a second chance! Practice thanksgiving for all those opportunities.

Start to notice when you are filled with peace, in spite of the situations and challenges you are facing. Be grateful for those moments.

Notice the presence of the Divine in your life in each moment of the day. Sit in silence and be thankful.

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Sermon: If you really loved me…

LECTIONARY:

IF YOU REALLY LOVED ME…

Recently I was listening to a presentation by Jim Rohn, where he was talking about measuring our personal progress – about how each of us, no matter how young or old, should be growing and progressing. We need to be realistic, look at ourselves and our lives carefully, asking regularly – am I really growing?  He put it this way:

“How many years do you want your child to spend in fourth grade? About one.

Well, if they’re nice kids, would you give them three or four years? No. You can’t give your child four years to get through fourth grade. That’s too much time …

And that got me thinking about our spiritual lives, spiritual growth and church growth (not the numbers – the actual heart and soul of our congregation).

There’s a saying in business:

Measured performance is improved performance.

When we want to improve something, we measure it – can I run 5 KM, 10 KM, 15 KM, a half marathon?  Can I do 50 sit-ups? Can I play Concerto No. 5 in D Major?

What about your life?  How are you ensuring that you continue to grow each year? How will I (or others) know if, and when, I am growing toward a more full experience of faith? What is the real difference between someone who has only been a Christian for one year, and someone that has been a lifelong follower of Christ – a person devoted to Christ and his vision, for say 30 years? What does this look like?

With so many devotionals out there, online courses, causes that we could take up, programs that we could implement in Balboa Union Church, how is what we are doing today, this week, this month, this year, lead us toward becoming more Christlike?  When I look at my life and my beliefs, do I want to be influenced by and glean insight from the emergent church? The seeker movement?  Am I looking for a house church?  A bible study?

Can you, individually – can we collectively, as a church – afford the luxury of an unchanged life and vision?

Spiritual life is not just about doing things – being busy – it’s about doing the right things.  And when you are looking at the results and measuring your progress – it’s about measuring the right things too!

Individually:

  • Am I more patient?
  • Am I learning to love people that are hard to love?
  • Do I desire to be more like Christ today than I once desired?

Obviously, it’s hard to put numbers on these intangibles – it’s so much more satisfying to look at something “measurable” – On some levels, it’s much better to say “I want to lose 10 pounds” than “I want to lose weight” – we need to know if we’ve arrived.  But how do you know you’re growing? By what criteria do you objectively quantify the growth?

In some instances, there is a measurable criteria (the 3 “B”s – bodies, budgets & buildings):

  • Does the Church have more income today than it did a year ago?
  • Are we within budget?
  • How much are we spending on missions and serving the community?
  • Do we have a bigger membership?
  • Have we increased attendance?

But when we shift this to spiritual pursuits, and we say “my goal is to grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ” (2 Peter 3: 18) – How do we measure progress? For some years, the practice of spiritual discipline was used:  growth is happening if the person was reading the Bible each day, praying, attending church, generously giving, fasting, meditating, serving in some capacity.  But, then we discover that these actions might not actually lead to spiritual maturity. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were great rule keepers, but they completely missed the point!

Maybe it’s knowledge: how’s your spiritual vocabulary? How many books have you read? How many retreats have we attended? How many seminars are we organising as a Church?  But while it’s good to grow in our knowledge, this isn’t really a measure of spiritual maturity either – just look at the Pharisees – it’s hard to get more learned than them!

Going to the other extreme –  “I feel closer to Jesus” – does that convince you? Too subjective?  

John 14 presents us with an easy litmus test: LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!  Do we love God? Do we love others? We can measure our love for God according to how we love and treat others.

So – what if, we measure service?

To be like Christ, means a life of service. BUT….  Doing something because we feel guilty or because we are worried about what others will think of us if we don’t do it, is all the wrong kind of motivation.  It’s not enough to look at attendance & giving, if we are overlooking anger, contempt, honesty and the degree to which we are simply guided by our fears!

I agree totally – if we are to grow spiritually -individually and collectively – we need to be reading books, listening to sermons and seminars, studying the Bible (personally and in groups) – but if we want to mature spiritually, then we must also become passionate about serving.  We need to BE the Church in the community.

Christian maturity is when we stand still long enough to perceive God’s amazing love for us, and so, in turn, begin to love and serve others because we just can’t imagine it any other way.  There’s a special vitality to this – it’s not the tempo of the music or the emotional response in a worship service. Instead, there is an expectancy, and enthusiasm, a sense of hope, a feeling that “life” itself is present.

Crissi Jami says:

“Good works is giving to the poor and the helpless, but divine works is showing them their worth to the One who matters.”

John 14 reminds us:

“All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, …24 Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. 25 I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. 26 But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Do you love the world like Jesus?

I don’t – I usually have a conditional, temporal love – what I mean is:

I see love in my heart: for God, my daughter, family, and others.  But I also see other things: fear, despair, jealously, and even resentment.

Jesus says that we are left with a gift: peace of mind and heart, a peace that the world cannot give.  We are not to be troubled or afraid. But I don’t always feel this way!

 

For a moment, I want us to focus on why do some people feel this and others struggle with this?  Why is this easy for some, and so difficult for another person?  Do you know that person that loves unconditionally?  That just radiates love?  That always seems to have enough?

I believe the answer lies in our beliefs and perceptions:  You and I may differ in our views – the glass is half full, the glass is half empty.  We are both missing the whole point!  It doesn’t matter whether the glass is half full or half empty, Jesus says that the Father loves us, and is sending the Advocate, with gifts of peace of mind and heart – the glass can ALWAYS be refilled!

The real question should be: do I truly believe that God is love, and that in this world and Universe there is enough love, if I would simply open my heart and allow my soul and spirit to be filled to overflowing with this love?  If I would be willing to simply become a vessel that could be filled and not depend on how much I have, but rather to allow all of God’s peace and love to flow through me – there would always be enough!

Let me ask you one more time – how would you measure your growth and progress as a Christian?

Let us pray:

Creator and all-knowing Spirit:  help us to stop measuring our spiritual growth by checklists and numbers.  Give us the grace and peace to measure our lives by love and love alone.  Help us to receive your love, and teach us to love.  Create in us clean spirits, that live out amazing love stories so that others are drawn to You.

Amen.

Sermon: the Helper

Lectionary Genesis 2:18-24

A HELPER WHO IS “JUST RIGHT”

You’ve all heard the 10 reasons why God created, Eve, right?

  1. God worried that Adam would always be lost in the garden because He knew men would never ask for directions.
  2. God knew that Adam would one day need someone to hand him the TV remote because men don’t want to see what is on TV; they want to see WHAT ELSE is on TV.
  3. God knew that Adam would never2. buy a new fig leaf when the seat wore out and therefore would need Eve to get one for him.
  4. God knew that Adam would never make a doctor’s appointment for himself.
  5. God knew that Adam would never remember which night was garbage night.
  6. God knew that if the world was to be populated there would have to someone to bear children because men would never be able to handle the pain of childbirth.
  7. As Keeper of the Garden Adam would never remember where he put his tools.
  8. The Scripture account of creation indicates that Adam needed someone to blame his troubles on when God caught him hiding in the garden.
  9. As the Bible says, “It is not good for man to be alone”, he only ends up getting himself in trouble.
    And the NUMBER ONE reason…
  10. When God finished the creation of Adam he stepped back, scratched his head and said, “I can do better than that.”

Seriously, there is so much debate now about the correct interpretation that we should give of the Creation story, and especially of the role and relationship between man and woman.  The Church is supposed to be shaped and guided by the Word of God, and yet it is clearly evident that our cultural norms and expectations have guided our interpretation of the Bible, and even come into play with respect to the translation of the Bible.

There is no question that gender issues have been shaped by our culture. In a patriarchal culture, the Church accepted and used passages of the Bible to justify male superiority and female servitude.As cultural views shifted, we have looked back at the translations and words used, and searched for a new understanding of the Bible – but we should ask ourselves, are we simply looking to once again “be right”, as opposed to being guided by the Word of God?  Are we simply now looking to justify a feminist or egalitarian perspective of the creation story that is acceptable in today’s society?  Or are we looking for the Bible to present to us an actual Biblical response to the question of “what is a Godly relationship between a man and woman?”

This morning, I would like to explore the verses of Genesis 2: 18 to 24, and  provide some insight regarding translation and meaning.  But this is merely one of many possible understandings and meanings that can be found, and I would venture to say only scratches the surface of a possibility of interpretations.  But there are lessons here for us!  While God created man & woman equally in His image, there is  no doubt that we are different – the same way that the males and females of all species are equal but different.

In Genesis 1 we find a chronological view of Creation – from day 1 in which God creates time, through to day 7 in which God rests.  On day 6, God is particularly busy, creating all creatures that habitat on land.  Great and small, he creates them, and when God is done, he declares that “it is good”. After this God – Elohim – the multiple nature of God, decides to create man in his image. God says:

“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”

And so, man is created, both male and female. In order to avoid confusion, I’m going to use the term “mankind” to refer to humans, and man to refer to the male gender.  To emphasize the godlike nature of mankind, God gives mankind dominion over the earth, and asks Adam to name all of the animals.

The creation story in Genesis 1 is repeated in Genesis 2, but told from a different perspective, demonstrating different facets of God’s character.  And so, in Genesis 2, we rewind a little, and are given more details regarding the creation of mankind, and in particular the differentiation of men and women.

Most versions of the Bible have simply translated verse 18 “It is no good for the human to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” or “a helper that is just right for him”. And because it was culturally acceptable and appropriate to define “helper” as an assistant or as subordinate to the man, the woman was interpreted as having a role of serving: somehow intended to be responsible for catering to the needs and demands of her husband.  Because if woman is the helper, man is the boss, right?   Even Paul says that the man is the head…

But much has been written about the translation of this section, especially regarding the original term “ezer” having been user rather than “azar”.  “Ezer”, with an e does not mean the same as “azar”. Azar does mean helper or servant, but ezer has a different meaning completely.

The word EZER is used in the Old Testament some 21 times, 2 in the context of Eve (women made in creation), 3 times in relation to man’s help and 16 in relation to God.  And the 3 times it’s used in relation to man’s help, it is referencing that help did not arrive such as that help which only God can provide.

So let’s see what other words and terms ARE used throughout the Old Testament that might have been used to describe women as servants or assistants, that would have clearly established woman’s role as being subservient to that of man:

  • The best word for helper or assistant in Hebrew is Azar – and it is used 82 times in the Old Testament, in contexts of helping, assisting or giving aid.  So, if God had wanted to say helper, he could simply have used this word, azar, instead of ezer, right?
  • And if we wanted to specify that woman was a servant-helper, a better word would have been ebed.  In fact, the word ebed is used over a thousand times in the Old Testament.  But that’s not what it says in Genesis 2.
  • Or then there’s the word sharath, which means high-ranking assistant, like Elisha was to Elijah, or like Joshua was to Moses.  But Genesis 2 doesn’t use sharath.

So, what does ezer mean, then?  Ezer is help from God: not only from a superior, but a miraculous help.  Divine intervention.

Before you go off thinking that women are witches and we really fly on broom sticks, let’s get into the translation issues a bit more closely.  Ezer means that God is the help.  Ezer conveys that it is never a servant, helper or assistant.

So, how does this help us?  Well, possibly because if we realise that this was Divine assistance, we will realise that maybe we’ve always been misunderstanding this verse.  It never was intended to say that the woman was the helper! In fact, it should not be ascribed to any human at all.  So, if she isn’t the helper, what did God make?  What does Genesis 2:18 refer to?

Let’s look quickly at the other word that rises in this verse – “suitable” or “right” or “companion”.  The word in Hebrew is kenegdo. Kenegdo arises from 2 words:  Neged refers to a mirror image or reflection, and ke refers to “himself” or “likeness”.  So, God has said he will make a likeness of his mirror image or reflection.  So, woman was supposed to be a mirror-image of man.

Going back in the verses in chapter 2 of Genesis we see what the story of the creation of Eve starts out with the only time God says about creation – “this ins’t good”.  And what isn’t good?  It’t not good that man is alone.  Man is incomplete – because unlike all of the creatures that he has just named, male and female, Adam is alone.

And so God says, I will help man by making his mirror likeness, a reflection of himself.  The solution for man’s loneliness is woman, made to reflect him. God did not create woman to be man’s servant, or assistant or subservient to him. He didn’t make Adam “the boss”.  But rather, God makes them one – flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.  Equal and together. In harmony and communion.

But, as with the fall in Eden, the moment we allow our self-interest to get in the way, we start to run into  relationship and control issues.  The moment we start to allow our egos to rule, we look at our differences, and then separation and domination begin to take hold, rather than unity and oneness.  Separation and domination was never part of God’s divine plan for men and women.

Lessons we can take away from Genesis 2 today:

  1. Companionship – It is not good that the man should be alone.  Human’s are social creatures – we need to connect with other people.  One of the most shattering emotions of which human beings are capable is that of loneliness – it consumes people: whether they be teenagers, struggling with acceptance, stay at home mothers or fathers who are thirsting for interactions, or the elderly who are feeling forgotten.  We need each other.  What are you actively doing to be part of the lives of those around you?  If you are a spouse, are you making sure that your other half doesn’t feel alone?
  2. Are you sharing the load and the burden?  Whether it be with your spouse, or a team member at work, or another volunteer in an organisation you have joined: is someone feeling that they have to do everything themselves and that they are not getting the support that they need?  What can you do to support that person?  What needs to change so that you become a team player?
  3. Are you taking care of your responsibilities?  In every team, each person has different functions and tasks: and your first priority should always be to have fulfilled your responsibilities first.  It’s  no good to be worried about what others aren’t getting done to the detriment of your own responsibilities.  You will always hear – finish  your own responsibilities before helping another – just like in an airplane you put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs. AND FINALLY
  4. Acknowledge and rejoice in our individuality and differences.  They are not meant to separate us from each other – they are intended to complement each other.  Yes – women and men are different – women may be more emotional, or protective of our little ones – but that doesn’t mean the weaker sex! And some of us are black, white, yellow, pink or any other colour under the sun.  We come from different cultures and customs.  But these differences are to be enjoyed and celebrated, creating a diversity in our team work and fulfilling all of the needs.

Today I would invite all of you to explore how you were created to be “just right”, a Divine gift to help and connect with those around you.

Sermon: We all stumble

If you asked me to name my favourite book of the Bible, I would be hard-pressed to choose between Proverbs and James.  This could be because James seems to be so knowledgeable about Proverbs.  The book of James is quite short:  it has only five chapters and is known for its practical wisdom and common sense. At about 12 years of age, after having memorised the book of Philippians, I set out to memorise the book of James.  Practical wisdom for a teen – controlling your words!

Someone has said that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. The church that James is writing to was full of small-minded people who gossiped about each other and tore one another apart with their tongues. Throughout the letter, James is helping his readers learn to view their trials from God’s perspective and to resist temptation as they bridle their anger. They were in a church where their tongues were used to destroy each other, as they participated in fighting, slander and lying about one another.  Complaining and grumbling are mentioned in the Bible more than 100 times (compared to the 6 times that the sin of homosexuality is actually mentioned).  Guess which one has done greater damage to the Church, to groups and to growth?  We all stumble in many ways, most of us tripping over our tongue!

Our reading from James this morning is simply fascinating, with its similes and his presentation of the tongue as a restless evil, a spark (that can cause a forest fire), poisonous venom, or a spring of water.  A human tongue weighs about 3 ounces… if you weigh 140 pounds, that’s about 0.1% of your body weight.

This morning I want to present two opposing ideas: tearing things (or people) down versus creating or building the reality and relationships that you dream of having.  As well as presenting you with the Biblical angle, I’m going to steal some ideas from NLP (neuro-linguistic programming).  NLP explores the relationships between the way we think (N), communicate (L) and behave (P). Let me explain it to you this way:

Our words become thoughts, our thoughts become feelings, and our feelings become actions. If I see a negative world I will use negative words, creating negative thoughts, generating negative feelings, which will make me act me in a negative way, then I will see an even worse world, and have even worse thoughts, …  (Ruben Marcelos Lagos)

Who saw the rain storms this week as a blessing – filling up the Canal basin and feeding our water supplies?  Who saw the rain storms this week as floods and chaos?  Were the 2 families that lost everything an opportunity for this Church to participate in the community? Or a burden?

There are those who firmly believe that words are not just elements of speech or writing, because they can be used to affect how energy travels through space. When spoken out loud, words transform into vibrations, and as we know, vibrations can direct energy and how energy flows around us.

There is a whole science based on “Words that Change Minds”, how you can use positive words to impact your own life and also to influence others around you – to build them up.  What kind of words do you speak to yourself? Are they words of encouragement and self-esteem? Do your words reflect the fact that God created you in His image and that He loves you? If not, they should.

It will be your tongue that will shape your character. Do you know that Christian person that is always negative, complaining and grumbling?  They have nothing positive to say: their demeanor, or the way they carry themselves, reflects this. Please get this in your spirit, a person will eventually get what his or her mouth says.  Is it any wonder that the person that is always complaining and bitter about how life has treated them always seems to get the short end of the stick?  They never seem to get a lucky break?  Their words are creating their reality, as if they were speaking it into existence.

If you think I’m speaking about magic or something airy-fairy, let’s have a look at some verses from the Bible:SpeakLife

Proverbs 18:21 reminds us:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Psalms 141:3

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!

Proverbs 21:23

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.

Matthew 15:11

It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.

 

Do you remember as a child, when you visited the doctor and he asked you to “stick out your tongue?”.  He seemed to be able to tell a great deal about our health by looking into our mouths. Spiritually, it’s about the same – what comes out of our mouths is usually an accurate index of the health of our hearts.  James explains this in chapter 3:  how is it that you are worshiping and praising God, and then using that very same mouth to cut someone else down?

In fact James again addresses this issue for those who consider themselves “religious”. In James 1:26, he says,

“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.”

Jesus called out the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34-37:

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

In the Bible we find 4 principal areas of talking that God condemns: complaining (or grumbling), slander, gossip & lies.

Phillipians 2: 14

Do all things without grumbling or complaining

Proverbs 26, versus 20 to 28 focus entirely on our words and the power of the tongue, covering all  four of these areas: complaining, slander, gossip & lies.

Proverbs 10:19

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

 

But there is more to it than just that, there is also thinking before you speak and speaking a kind word, even when you have been attacked.

Proverbs 17.27

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding

Proverbs 15:1

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

We have opportunities, constantly, to choose how we will respond.  Will we be the spark that starts a fire? The venom that poisons the relationship?  Or will our words be a healing balm?

General Robt. E. Lee was once asked what he thought of a fellow officer in the Confederate Army–an officer who had made some mean-spirited remarks about him. Lee thought for a moment, then rated him as being very satisfactory.

The person who asked the question seemed troubled. “But general, I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you.”

“Oh yes,” answered Lee. “I know. But I was asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”

Each one of us has the power to stop gossip:

  1. We can stop listening to it, rather than participating.  Without an audience, it’s hard to gossip.
  2. We can stop the cycle, by dealing with the problem.  This is where tough love and the hard truth are sometimes the most difficult road to choose.  It’s so much easier to say “it’s not my problem”, rather than get involved and have the compassion and love to see it through.  People had being confronted.
  3. Start confronting those who spread gossip – calling it by its name.

For yourself, when you are speaking to someone, think before you speak, using this short Acronym:  THINK

  • T–Is it true?
  • H–Is it helpful?
  • I–Is it inspiring?
  • N–Is it necessary?
  • K–Is it kind?

Then, we should look at healing.  We have all, at one time or another, been hurt by malicious words.  But we don’t have to stay hurt, we have the power to heal.

Step 1 – Let it go: The longer you hold on to the cruel things that people say about you, it will begin to develop bitterness and resentment in your life. The best thing to do is let it go.

Step 2. Be gracious to those who say things you don’t like – Be gracious to those who speak bad about you. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

perception-reaction Maybe what the person said wasn’t meant the way you took it. Maybe the person was having an off day. Maybe there is turmoil in that person’s life that you do not know about. Remember this simple fact: Hurting people hurt people and are easily hurt by people. 9 out of 10 malicious gossips are people who are hurting so bad and so deeply that they have to hurt other to make themselves feel better. Let’s face it, Jesus has put up with an awful lot of things from us, we can be gracious to others.

Step 3. Be silent – If something that is being said about you and you do not need to respond, don’t. Sometimes remaining silent is the best thing that we can do.

Step 4. Keep your words sweet you may have to eat them – If you have to respond to a person who is either upsetting you or speaking bad about you, be kind and keep your words gentle. The words that you use carelessly may come back to haunt you.

Abraham Lincoln counselled us:

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Words have incredible power in our lives. For one, they provide us with a vehicle for expressing and sharing our experiences with others. Most of us don’t realize, however, that the words you habitually choose also affect what you experience. You have the power to take control of your habitual vocabulary to change the quality of your life. Simply by changing your habitual vocabulary—the words you consistently use to describe the emotions of your life—you can instantly change how you think, feel and how you live.

This week I would challenge all of you to be mindful of the words you speak – choose to speak only positive and hopeful things about your job, your children, your spouse, your health, your future, anything and everything that effects your life. It may be difficult at first, but see what type of results you get.  As I said before, your tongue will reflect your true character. Your words will reveal the real you. (Do you like what you’re hearing? If you don’t like what you’re hearing, then you need to change the discourse). If you are into journalling, I would encourage you to start writing down what you heard yourself say – and how you will say it differently from now on.

Sermon: Armour of God

Lectionary:
  • Ephesians 6:10-20

The Bible depicts countless battles. From Genesis to Revelation,  from the time Cain killed his brother Abel, right down to the present day and even into the predicted future and the Apocalypse.

In fact, it is estimated that more than 14,500 wars have been fought from 3600 B.C. to present day. Think of it this way:  5,305 years of war … compared to 292 years of peace.

Breaking it down for you, just for the 12-month period (August to August) of 2014 to 2015:

10,000 or more deaths in the last year:

  • Syria
  • Afghanistan (since it started in 1978, about 2M dead, which is more than half of the population of Panama)
  • Iraq
  • Boko Haram Insurgency in Africa

Conflicts causing at least 1,000 deaths in one calendar year are considered “wars” even if they are only “conflicts” or internal power struggles – so let me give you the details on those conflicts causing between 1,000 to 9,999 deaths in the last year:

  • Israeli-Palestine conflict
  • Somali civil war (at least 500,000 so far)
  • Communal conflicts in Nigeria
  • War in Darfur (Sudan)
  • War in North-West Pakistan
  • Mexican Drug War
  • Libyan civil war
  • Yemini crisis
  • Sinai Insurgency in Egypt
  • Central African Republic Conflict
  • South Sudanese Civil War
  • War in Donbass (Ukraine)

The Iraq war may be over, but in this world, we are still at war!

Plato said:

I exhort you also to take part in the great combat, which is the combat of life, and greater than every other earthly conflict.

Life truly is a battle. It is warfare on a grand scale – a war against falling back into sin and bad habits, a struggle to keep the faith, to stay humble, to love each and every person that crosses your path. Admit it, some people are just plain hard to love.  But, we are still called to be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

And so, I want to give us a brief outline of the armor of God that we have been exhorted in Ephesians to put on.

Let me read the passage for you:

fullarmorofGod4
Put on the full armor of God

10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.

Note – it says very clearly and more than once – put on the “WHOLE” armor of God.  Don’t leave a piece or two off.  Maybe you think one of the pieces is too heavy or unnecessary – “that’s just not for me”!  But I can only imagine that Paul had soldiers around him day and night while he was in jail and writing to the Ephesians, and hence the simile was very apt for his purpose.

So, where does the armor start?

PREPARATION

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

It starts, as you might have guessed, with God, rather than with ourselves.  Our armor is not physical, but supernatural.  It’s the reminder from Philippians:

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Psalms 28: 7 reminds us:

The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me…

PUT ON THE ARMOR:

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.

The Greek word translated “put on”(enduo) carries the idea of permanence. The full armor of God is not something to be put on and taken off occasionally but is something to be put on permanently.  You don’t simply take it on and off at your leisure.


Rather than doing the latest fad diet, it’s adopting a new lifestyle.  And it’s accepting that this is a permanent change, not just something you’re “going to try” and “see if it works”.


But Paul says more than just this – he also reminds the Ephesians that they need to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  When used in a military sense, the Greek word translated “stand firm” (histemi) refers to holding a critical position while under attack.

1 Corinthians 16:13 reminds us also:

13 Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.

KNOW YOUR ENEMY

Ephesians 6: 12 says

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Are you uncomfortable with this thought, that there are things happening in realms we cannot see?  In this day and age, many of our wars are not flesh and blood, but really are about corporations and corporate profits, powers and world forces that perhaps we don’t know who the true controlling hand and force is – the interest in keeping wars going is to sell more weapons or change the stage of a market.  We don’t really see or know what the true motivation behind any war or conflict may be.

The same way we can appreciate this on a physical level, we can also apply this on the spiritual one.

Most of us are acutely aware of our own struggles and we are preoccupied with our own problems. We sympathize with ourselves because we see our own difficulties so clearly. But Ian MacLaren noted wisely, “Let us be kind to one another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.”

BELT OF TRUTH

truthThe Roman soldier wore a tunic, an outer garment that served as his primary clothing. It was usually made of a large, square piece of material with holes cut out for the head and arms. It draped loosely over most of the soldier’s body. Since the majority of ancient combat was hand-to-hand, a loose tunic was a potential hindrance and even a danger. Before a battle it was therefore carefully cinched up between the soldier’s legs and tucked into the heavy leather belt.

The Greek word translated “truth” (aletheia) basically refers to the content of that which is true. But alethia can also refer to the attitude of truthfulness. It represents not only the accu­racy of specific truths, but also the quality of truthfulness. That seems to be the primary mean­ing Paul has in mind here. To be girded with truth reveals an attitude of readiness and of genuine commitment. Every encumbrance that might hinder his work for the Lord is gathered and tucked into his belt of truthfulness so that it will be out of the way. You can’t get tripped up in it or it can’t be used to pull you in another direction.

Do you know what your truth is?  Speaking from a place of criticism, comparison, false appeasement, and fear leads to living inauthentically, which translates into low satisfaction and high frustration levels. When we limit our responsiveness to our Truth, we compromise our ability to achieve our potential.

BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

No Roman soldier would go into battle without his breastplate–a tough sleeveless piece of armor that covered everything apart from his head and limbs. It was often made of leather or heavy linen, onto which were sewn overlapping pieces of metal molded or hammered to conform to the body. The purpose of that piece of armor is obvious–to protect one’s heart, lungs, intestines, and other vital organs. Also keep in mind that the high priest wore a golden breastplate over his linen robe that was set with 12 precious stones, each inscribed with one of the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. This place represented nearness to the heart.

Another interesting aspect of the breastplate was that it offered no protection to the person’s back. It was assumed that soldiers would not turn their backs toward the enemy to retreat.

SHOES OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE

In the Bible, the foot is a symbol for the direction or “the walk” of a person’s life.

Since the average ancient soldier marched on rough, hot roads, climbed over jagged rocks, trampled over thorns, and waded through streambeds of jagged stones, his feet needed much protection. A soldier whose feet were blistered, cut, or swollen could not fight well and often was not able to stand up–a perilous situation in battle. The shoes of Roman soldiers were usually impregnated with bits of metal or nails to give him greater traction as he climbed a slippery hill, and greater stability as he fought.

The Greek word translated “preparation” (hetoimasia) generally refers to readiness. A good pair of boots allowed the soldier to march, climb, fight, or do whatever else was necessary at a moment’s notice.

SHIELD OF FAITH

In New Testament times the tips of arrows would often be wrapped in pieces of cloth that had been soaked in pitch. Just before the arrow was shot, the tip would be lighted and the flaming missile would be shot at the enemy troops. The pitch burned fiercely, and on impact it would splatter flaming bits, igniting anything flammable in its path. In addition to piercing a person’s body, such arrows inflicted serious burns on enemy soldiers and destroyed their clothing and gear. The most reliable protection against these flaming missiles was the thureos; this shield was the first line of defense. Its covering of metal or treated leather would either deflect or extinguish them, and it was designed to protect the entire body of the soldier.

The purpose for our shield of faith is to deflect the fiery darts of the enemy and prevent them from ever making contact.

HELMET OF SALVATION

Your body has seven sacred openings from the neck up: two nostrils, two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. (and you ask why we only got one!) In order to protect their heads and these vulnerable parts, the soldiers wore helmets. The purpose of the helmet was to protect the head from injury, particularly from the dangerous broadsword commonly used in the warfare of that day.  Some of the helmets were made of thick leather covered with metal plates, and others were of heavy molded or beaten metal. They usu­ally had cheek pieces to protect the face.

The purpose for this helmet of salvation is not only to keep out the rocks, but also to keep in the brains! Your mind should not be open to anything and everything.  What are you feeding your mind and soul?  How are you protecting your thoughts?

SWORD OF THE SPIRIT – WORD OF GOD

The sword was the most common weapon in battle. Indeed, the word “sword” appears 449 times in Scripture. The other armaments in God’s arsenal are defensive in nature, but the sword is primarily an offensive weapon. The machaira was any­where from six to eighteen inches. It was the common sword carried by Roman foot soldiers and was the principal weapon in hand-to-hand combat. Carried in a sheath or scabbard attached to their belts, it was always at hand and ready for use.  Ancient soldiers also used their swords for cooking, splitting kindling, and for cutting the ropes that bound their captives to set them free.

Paul explicitly states that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. As such it is first of all a defensive weapon, capable of deflecting the blows of an opponent; and yet it is also a practical tool for every area of life.

Hebrews 4: 12 reminds us:

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”

Are you open to letting the Word of God work in your life, thoughts and heart?

PRAYER

Paul closes reminding the Ephesians of the importance of a life of prayer, of constantly having their relationship with God present in their lives. It wasn’t about them spending hours upon hours on their knees in prayer, but rather about them acknowledging, as when we started this reading, that God is the source of all of our strength. And it’s so appropriate that this prayer is not only for ourselves, but also for others.

Sermon: Boasting in my Weakness

“Boasting in my Weakness” – Really?

LECTIONARY:

  • 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

A teacher said to her students in class one day,

“Boys and girls, there is a wonderful example in the life of the ant. Every day the ant goes to work and works all day, a busy life. And in the end, what happens?

Little Johnny replies, “SOMEONE STEPS ON HIM.”

We live in an era in which life is a constant struggle. Everyone  wants to be healthy and strong; nobody likes to be sick, weak, depressed or worried. And yet, we face problems and tragedies; we struggle to live up to expectations – whether our own or those imposed by others.  We’re not quite who we think we should be. Just like Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.

Take a moment and put this in context: this letter to Corinthians was not written in a vacuum. When Paul wrote this letter (which by the way is his 4th letter, not the second), he didn’t pen in the chapter and verse designations. Those were added much later in history. So chapter 11 and chapter 12 are one continuous thought.  In chapter 11, Paul writes about the suffering he has endured because of the name of Jesus. He tells the Corinthians that he has been imprisoned for preaching the gospel; he has been whipped on several occasions; he had been beaten with rods. He tells them that on one occasion the Jews stoned him; and left him for dead. But he survived (probably with deep lacerations and broken bones.) Paul was shipwrecked three times, spending one night in the open seas. He experienced intense times of suffering and yet found strength.

It is apparent as you read this part of 2nd Corinthians, that some in the church in Corinth were questioning Paul’s authority as an apostle. “Not good enough.”  So in Chapter 11, Paul tells about all the things he could boast about, both good and bad, that make him an apostle. But in Chapter 12 the tone changes, because he is not living in the past.  Our past history and our past glories are all fine and well, but the real question is “who are you today?”.  Paul is writing this letter to the Corinthians when he is no longer in sparkling health and strength.  Who keeps singing “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen?

The church in Corinth has these “super apostles” or “big shots” that were criticising Paul. Paul responds, admitting that he was not a trained speaker, (2 Cor. 10:10), implying that the so-called super-apostles were trained speakers. One of their favorite criticisms of Paul seems to have been that he was not very impressive in presence or speech.  Paul warned the Corinthians against the pretense that knowledge can create. Toe to toe with these orators, Paul would fail. In many respects, his writing also lacked sophistication and talent.

And yet Paul says, he will boast about his weaknesses.  We feel unhappy and worried about our weaknesses, but somehow he has accepted his weakness in a positive way and so he is able to boast about it.  And he even accepts that he needs it long-term. In order to remain focused on God, rather than himself and his exploits, Paul has this “thorn in his side”. He prayed repeatedly and yet the thorn remained in his life. I don’t think that ‘three times’ means Paul said three prayers but that he spend three seasons in prayer pleading with God to remove this from his life.  And yet he has an unanswered prayer.

  • How many times could we cite that we are thankful for our unanswered prayers?
  • How often do our prayers tend to focus on making life easier and softer and rarely are for the kind of difficulties that would challenge us and make us grow spiritually.

None of us wants to really be moved outside of our comfort zone, and so we react to life’s situation by rejecting the difficulty.  Paul, for all his abilities and mighty use by God, could not escape the fact that he was human, and thus inevitably susceptible to weakness.

Paul doesn’t like it.
He can’t change it.
And God won’t remove it.

Had Paul focused on the injustice of this torment in his life, he could have become a very bitter man, consumed by how unfair this harsh and excessive situation had become for him.  But Paul not only accepted his negative circumstances but he also expresses his joy and happiness over them.

  • What is your hurt story?
  • What behavior keeps you from where you need to be?

I hate looking weak or insufficient. I particularly loathe being wrong, especially when the mistake I’ve made has public ramifications. What will people think?  God forbid that someone realise how far behind I am at work, or that I get upset and short-tempered with my daughter when I’m tired, or that I can’t seem to get things right in my marriage, or that I don’t think quickly on my feet and always come up with the perfect rebuttal three days later!  I get frustrated by these deficiencies and perceived weaknesses – I’m inadequate and useless.  And so, since I don’t like to feel this way, I adopt a fake persona that I hope others will see (or that they will at least pretend to see, because I pretend to see the fake persona they put forward).

We live in a world where all the photos of models in magazines are Photo-shopped to perfection, where there’s a special model for hands, and another for backs and another for legs.  Where there are body doubles for actresses in Hollywood for those close-up shots or for the action or dance scenes – each one showing a perfection that perhaps the actress doesn’t actually have.

Boasting in weakness goes so against the way the world operates today. We don’t boast to our peers about our weaknesses or in a job interview. Typically, when we’re asked to focus on our weaknesses in an interview, we are trained to say – “Well, I would say that I’m stubborn, and I just don’t give up until I’ve finished the project that I’m working on to successful completion.”  or “I care too much about my work, and don’t have a good work-life balance.” – or whatever we think the perfect answer to the question is.

In our conversations with our friends, we don’t say, “Hey! Turns out I’m really bad at empathy and I’m totally self-centered. Isn’t that great?”

So, let’s each take a moment to reflect – what is your greatest weakness? What are you truly ashamed of?

  • I’m self-centered, frigid, insensitive and withdrawn;
  • I speak too loudly and sometimes have inappropriate social awareness;
  • I hate confrontation and so don’t deal with issues in a timely manner;
  • I don’t take criticism well;
  • I shut down and reject others;
  • I ride rough-shod over other people’s feelings in order to get what I want;
  • I can’t handle change and am stuck in a rut;
  • I take things personally;
  • I can’t say no and am always overloaded;
  • I’m condescending and treat others badly;
  • I have poor leadership skills;
  • I manipulate others;
  • I hold on to hurt feelings and dwell on them;
  • I overreact  …

Each one of us has something that we try to hide and pretend isn’t there. And if it’s a habit that we’re trying to break or a type of reaction that we know is wrong, whatever you do, don’t label it as “SIN”, so passé!  No one “sins” anymore… No one is a “sinner”.

Let me put it this way – the Bible says if you know what is right and you don’t do it, it’s sin – so, when you’re on that diet for your diabetes and you know you shouldn’t eat that chocolate bar and ice cream, that’s sin – not necessarily for someone else, but for you.  Because you know that it’s bad for you!  And yet you insist…

For how many of you, has ignoring and trying to hide this weakness, bad habit or character flaw actually worked?  As much as we may hate it, ignoring our weakness doesn’t make them go away. How many of you notice a character flaw in another person and say nothing, because you’re polite?  You see someone faking it and you go along with the charade, because you want them to go along with your charade?  They say there’s “nothing wrong” and you say “okay”, because it’s the easy way out.

If I took the time to actually ask, and they answered me honestly, I might have to do something about it!  I might then have to care for this person later, and ask how they are doing again… and then hear the truthful answer!  And it’s so much easier to just accept the “nothing wrong” and “okay” and carry on as if nothing had happened.

But that’s not who we are supposed to be!  We’re not supposed to be shallow and callous people, living on a surface, pretending that the weaknesses don’t exist.

When I don’t have enough love in my life, God reminds me that God is LOVE – it’s unlimited! I may be frigid and uncaring, but when I’m filled with God’s love there’s more than enough to go around!  I can be filled to overflowing – because God created me to be His vessel.  It doesn’t matter how much love I have, the question is “how much love does God have?”And so, it is when I can truly say “this is my weakness” that I allow God to shine through!  When I finally accept – “this is how I am”, I’m wonderfully and perfectly made, and God just wants to shine through all the cracks in my character, then I can truly boast in my weakness.

When I don’t have enough patience, God reminds me that He is PATIENCE – unlimited…

When I am filled with anger, God reminds me that He is goodness and kindness… unlimited…

I would invite all of you, during our coffee time after the service, to take a moment and share with someone your weakness, (yes, that one that you are SO ashamed of) and how God can shine through you, in spite of yourself!

forgiveness, lessons in forgiveness, what if Christ had hopped down from the cross, what do we learn from jesus, Father forgive them, forgiving

What if Christ had indeed hopped down from the cross?

Opening prayer:

Almighty and Everlasting God, with Paul we pray that you would fill us with the knowledge of Your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding – that we may live a life worthy of you and in every way pleasing to you – a life in which we bear fruit in every good work, and acquire strength, endurance,  patience and a joyful heart – a heart that gives thanks to you in every situation.  We thank you for what you reveal to us through the study of Your Word as we continue in our search for the truth. That our peace may be made full. Amen.

What if Christ had indeed hopped down from the cross?

It is said that “one of the great, unique features of Christianity is that it is a religion of God coming down to us, totally unlike other religions where we have to raise ourselves up to a godly plane. Christianity is light shining in the darkness. It is not the darkness trying to become light…”

Many of us struggle with the Christian life, the whole “nailing the old self to the cross with Christ” – it is a constant battle to “Be holy, as I am holy”.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the Bible asked us to “Be self-righteous…”?  But no… we are called to be holy, to be vessels of His light, and all the while the spiritual man within us battles against “the dark side”.

Did I say I nailed my old self on the cross with Christ? Face it, while Biblically my old self is reckoned dead at Calvary, this morning, as I woke up, it reared it’s ugly head, it was still alive and kicking and in need of being nailed back on that cross again and told to “stay there”…  so that I can be a loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, and faithful Christian, filled with gentleness, humility and above all with control over myself, my mind, my emotions, my reactions, and my desires.

So, what can we learn from today’s readings?

Let’s consider Luke 23:

We all know the reading well,  Jesus at Calvary (the Skull), how He was mocked and challenged to get down off the Cross, and of those eternal words that are engraved on our hearts:  “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

This morning I want to consider the implications of “What if…”.

What if…  Christ had not said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”?

What if Christ, having said in Gethsemane “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”, had then reached the Cross and come down from it as challenged to do by the Pharisees and religious leaders, by the Roman soldiers, by the thief nailed with him?  Judgement day arrived early…

How would our Bible read today if these events were not as recorded in Luke 23?  What would it mean to be a follower of Christ, if Christ hadn’t died on that cross?  There would be no books of Acts, the Epistles… would the book of Revelations have been written?  What would have become of Peter, who denied Christ 3 times?  What would have become of doubting Thomas? Would he then have believed?

I want to start by looking at our concept of forgiveness, and the influence that Christ’s forgiveness, right at that crucial moment has on us:  How would you interpret Isaiah 38:17 “…in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.”, if Jesus hadn’t died on the cross?  How far behind God’s back would you say He had cast your sins?  Would you really believe that God was a forgiving God; that He forgives and forgets?

If Christ had been silent at that moment, I could say, “I’m not making amends, It’s her fault, she has to say sorry first”, or  “I’m the one that’s hurt and offended, I’m the victim here, Why do I always have to be the one to say Sorry and I forgive you?”.

But no, Jesus had to go and ruin it all for us, and put the bar very, very high… No arrogance. No pride. No bitterness.  Just forgiveness.  An outpouring of love.

When you look at the gospels, Jesus was always preaching forgiveness:  to the paralytic Jesus said “Friend, your sins are forgiven you”; to the woman caught in adultery: “woman, your sins are forgiven”; in prayer: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

Daniel 9:9 tells us “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him”.  What kind of merciful and forgiving God would you believe in, if not for the example of Christ?  Psalms 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

In Matthew 18:22 Christ responds to Peter when asked about forgiveness: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  So, when another person offends us, we are to forgive that person for that one offence 490 times (in a single day), and if today he repeats the office, I have to forgive him once more 490 times.  It’s a state of being, not an action. Not something I say.

My perception of what forgiveness is has been shaped by Christ’s forgiveness on the cross. His compassion.  His empathy.  His understanding.

Christ could see that the soldiers were following orders; they didn’t know who he was or what he was; trained to survive wherever they were stationed.

Christ saw Pharisees and Scribes that had spent years studying “the Law”, but that never allowed the law to change them on the inside.  They had head knowledge, but no heart knowledge.  And even though they had orchestrated his death, he still felt compassion for them.  He was able to look further than what they were doing to him right at that moment in time… He was clear about God’s will and his role in fulfilling it.

Christ saw a thief and murderer who was scared, who was hardened by the life he had chosen, … and who would use bravado to cover his fear. That like a dog that is backed into a corner, will lash out and attack another, rather than show how vulnerable he really is.

And Christ forgave.

Without this moment, without this event, we would never have had Acts 7:60 (Stephen, being stoned): “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Where would Stephen have learnt this kind of forgiveness, if not from Christ?  And the apostle Paul, that day a young Pharisee looking on and approving the stoning, holding the coats of those killing Stephen, what would have become of him?  There would have been no apostle Paul if there was not Christ dying on the cross.

Would we (gentiles) have the news of the gospel of Christ if Stephen had not been stoned to death and been able to forgive those that were doing so?  Would salvation have only been, then, for the Jews?  Without the Apostle Paul, what New Testament Epistles would we have?  What would replace: Ephesians 4: 31-32: 31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  What would become of Colossians 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Matthew 6:14-15 tells us: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Mark 11:25 “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Where would we be without Hebrews 12: 14 and 15? “14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, … 15 Looking diligently … lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you…” If I fail to forgive, bitterness will take root in my heart…

When we withhold forgiveness, we imprison ourselves.  Jesus understood the power of forgiveness: it frees me and the person that I have forgiven.  Forgiveness: in Greek, the power to loose, to free, to cast off chains.

Philip Yancy tells of an immigrant rabbi: “Before coming to America, I had to forgive Adolf Hitler”.  “Why?”  you might ask. The rabbi went on: “I did not want to bring Hitler inside me to my new country.”

When I fail to forgive, I carry that person (and the bitterness) inside me.  I build the walls of my own prison.  And so today, I am thankful to Christ for His forgiveness.

But what if…  Christ had hopped down from the Cross that day, if he had given the Roman soldiers and the Pharisees “what for…”, what religion would we have today?  What of… bowing to God’s will and counting the cost?

Mark 8:34 and Matthew 16:24 tell us “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”  What would that mean to you today, if Christ had hopped down from the cross on that day and demonstrated his power?

What would have happened to the veil in the temple, hiding the holy of holies from the human eye?  Would it have been ripped in two that day?  Would we believe in direct access to God, or burnt sacrifices, incense and offering atonement for sins?  Or would that just be for the children of Israel, with all of us living with our pagan beliefs?  Would we believe in a loving and forgiving God, that is holy and found the way to reconcile us to Himself?

Without Luke 23: 33-43 there would be no book of Philippians, chapter 2, verses 5 to 8:  Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:  Who, … made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, … he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

What if, instead of that, we had Christ on the cross saying: “ok, cut the crap! I am here to enforce God’s will and deliverance!  You think you’re big strong soldiers? You think your swords and spears scare me?  You have no authority over me.  You don’t REALLY think you can kill me do you?  Let me show you who’s really Boss…” Would lightning have sprung from the sky?  Would the angels have slain all present?  Would Christ have judged all those that deserved judgment? Think of the implications:  No more Pharisees, no more Roman invasion of Israel… no more freedom from sin through that blood sacrifice.

So… Why doesn’t Jesus save himself? He can raise the dead, walk on water, heal the sick, turn water into wine… Why not jump down? Jesus wasn’t a miracle worker. He’s not an entertainer; He wasn’t here to amuse and amaze.

Remember Luke 4:9-13? Then the devil took (Jesus) to Jerusalem, and placed him on a high pinnacle of the temple saying, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels, concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’  Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’

If … you are who you say you are… If… you are the Son of God… If you have the power…  and yet, Jesus rejects this temptation.

What does it mean to believe in a Saviour who doesn’t save himself?

I would like to have a saviour who would come to the rescue, kill the bad guys, cure the disease, end the injustice, and solve every painful circumstance. But salvation is not an event – it’s not a miracle that rescues us from pain.

Salvation is about re-establishing our relationship with God, about becoming a vessel of light.  It has nothing to do with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  Am I sitting in fields of green, surrounded by sunshine and happiness? Great! But how’s my faith?  Am I suffering from the death of a loved one, the prolonged illness of a parent or child?  Terrible… but how is my relationship with the Everlasting?

Is there commitment? – founded on the hope, wholeness and well-being that comes from being grounded in my faith. Jesus was here to show us the way to a relationship with God, a relationship that endures, survives and persists through all the ups and downs of my changing circumstances.

It wasn’t about power:  ¿Remember that Peter drew his sword the night before, to protect his Christ and leader?  And Jesus’ response: “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”

We often have the power to do things differently – we’re in a situation where we know we’re right, “I know someone that can make you do it”.  The nice thing about power is that when you have it, you can use it.  Or you convince others that you have it, and then you don’t actually have to use it.  But if someone isn’t convinced that you really have the power, that you really can make them minced meat, then sometimes we feel “forced” to show our hand, just to shut them up.

If Christ had not obeyed God’s will on that day, would my obedience to God be optional?  Is it convenient? Do I feel like it? Is the cost too high?  Can I stay in my comfort zone?

To be followers of Christ means that we deny ourselves, we obey God’s commands, even when it’s to our detriment, when the personal cost to ourselves is high.

We who follow Christ are the difference in the world:  the ones that kneel down and wash another’s feet.  We cannot discriminate.  We are no longer to follow our every whim and addiction, living capriciously or aimlessly.  We are to care for those less fortunate than ourselves, with generosity of spirit for all.

As a follower of Christ, we forgive the drunk driver who killed our son or daughter in a hit and run accident (and we pray for him); we forgive our sister for those bitter and twisted words that she said in a moment of anger and pain, we have empathy and do not hold it against her; we forgive the boss that curses us and take a moment to say a prayer for him and his family.

We read in Jeremiah that God promises to gather together the remnant of His flock, to raise shepherds over them, that we should fear no longer, or be dismayed or have anything missing.  This deliverance: YHWH Tsidkenu – the Lord is our righteousness.  Righteousness, when it refers to God, speaks to His nature, the saving and healing activity of God.  God shows His righteousness by making us whole, by forgiving us, keeping His promises to us.   The true purpose of our liberation and our freedom is to worship and serve God without fear.

Colossians reminds us that we are to be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, prepared to endure everything with patience (even when it’s unjust mocking and abuse), while joyfully giving thanks to our everlasting, ever loving Creator.  We are to share in the inheritance of saints in the light – allowing the light to shine through us, remembering that our God has rescued us from the darkness, that we have redemption and the forgiveness of sin.

Jehovah Tsidkenu, before all things, is our source of healing and empowerment.  We are not expected to do it on our own.

Our joy is not the power of influence and control, but the power of love that flows brings transformation.  Love lies at the heart of the universe and is God’s wisdom and will.  And that is what we see when we visualise Jesus hung on the cross between two thieves, being mocked by the soldiers, by the religious leaders, by the thief at his side.

We see that Jesus, the one that could forgive; He gives us the hope of our salvation and freedom from the chains of bitterness, envy, pride, arguing, hatred and strife.  Freedom from the darkness within us… to be vessels of light… and for this we are thankful.