23 Mar

Changing seasons, unchanging God

Taken from intimation sheet – 22 March 2014

As I write it’s 20 March, the rain has just stopped, and the sun broken through the clouds. Heavy rain to glorious sunshine in a moment, it seems fitting for the first day of Spring! The winter has gone and the summer is on its way.

This is exactly the imagery that the young man uses in Song of Solomon when he addresses his girlfriend:

“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”

As the young man looks forward to marriage and life lived together he compares their situation to Spring – the ‘winter’ of loneliness has passed and the ‘summer’ of marriage is to come.

Maybe you feel ‘spring-like’ – the clouds have cleared, the sun is shining, you sense that better things lie just round the corner.

Maybe summer has arrived – all is well and your sky is filled with joy and sunshine.

Or it may be that you are facing the cold harsh wintery storms of life.
In any church family, at any given time, people are in different stages and seasons of life. What security and comfort is to be found then, in knowing that God never changes.

Whatever the season, He is faithful.
Whatever we are facing, He is faithful.
Whatever we are feeling, He is faithful.

We can be utterly assured that the God who was faithful yesterday, will be faithful today, and tomorrow. He will be true to His Word and true to His people: with him there is “no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

In every stage and season of life, his faithfulness, his mercy and his love are perfect and constant.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been,Thou forever wilt be.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Let’s praise Him for his unchanging faithfulness whatever stage or season of life we find ourselves in today and always.

Yours in His service
Ross

16 Mar

Reading the Bible like Jesus

Taken from the intimation sheet – 16 March 2014

I’m speaking on ‘lead us not into temptation’ today in the service, one of the most famous passages about the Christian’s relationship with temptation is Matthew 4:1-11. This passage also gives us an important insight into the way Jesus viewed Scripture, as Thabiti Anyabwile describes below:

Reading the Bible like Jesus
By Thabiti Anyabwile

Perhaps one of the best-known passages of the Bible is Matthew 4:1-11, where the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. The account has everything: drama, suspense and conflict on a cosmic scale. We read that passage with a palpable sense of the universe hanging in the balance.

Most often I hear Matthew 4 preached as an example of how to overcome temptation in the Christian life. To be sure, it teaches us much about temptation and resistance. Occasionally I hear preachers and Christians turn to this passage and debate whether it was possible for Jesus to sin. What interests me today is how Jesus read the Bible in His struggle with Satan’s devices.

Note how Jesus read His Bible in a God centred way.

Firstly, Jesus hangs on every word of God. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”(v. 4). The words of God’s mouth are the bread of Jesus’ life. Every word. Not a few words. Not the words particularly easy to accept. Not the words that make Him popular. Our Lord Jesus read the Bible in order to live by every pronouncement His Father made. He understood the scripture to be ‘theopneustos’ – God breathed. He understood that the words on His scroll were words that “come from the mouth of God.”

Secondly, Jesus read the word in order to trust God, not test God. “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (v. 7). The Lord found in the Scriptures reason to believe God, to rely on Him. Facing Satan’s temptation, he knew there was a significant difference between trusting God and testing God. One humbles itself under the word of God; the other humbles the word under our desires. Jesus trusted the Father as the word of God called Him to do so.

Thirdly, Jesus read the word to clarify that God alone is God, to worship God properly. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve”‘” (v. 10). It’s possible to hear God’s word while listening to and serving our idols. Isn’t that what Satan was doing as he quoted the Scripture and asked Jesus to worship him? But not Jesus. He read the Bible as an act of worship. He found in the Bible reason to worship God alone. No rivals. No counterfeits. No idols. No exceptions. He purposed to serve the Father only. He read the word in order to bow to God. This is why the Devil leaves him in verse 11. There was nothing in Christ that could be satanically used to draw Him away from the true worship of the Father in order to trust anyone or anything else.

Until recently, I don’t think I’d ever recognised just how God-focused Jesus was in this passage. The Lord’s ears were glued to God’s mouth (v. 4). His hopes rested on God’s heart (v. 7). His service belonged to God’s throne (v. 10). Each time the Lord applied the Scripture He actually applied himself to God.

Watching Jesus use the Scripture in Matthew 4 reminds me of several things I need to observe in my own Bible reading.

1. I need to learn to hang on every word of God. How often we find ourselves debating which parts of scripture apply? Yet it seems Jesus would have us debate not if they apply but how they apply. The if is settled. God speaks; we heed. Indeed, we ought to hang on every word, awaiting the life that comes from it. I too often read the Bible with an “I’ve read this before” or “I know what this says” attitude. I find it difficult to “hear again for the first time” and I find it all too easy to skim the words on the page in distraction. So I need to pray – more than I do – ”Holy Spirit, let this next word be life to me! Let me feed on it like bread! Let me hear it as a word straight from the mouth of God!”

2. I need to recognise how critical to sanctification knowledge of God’s word is. Jesus lives by every word of God. His reading translated into His living. That was critical in our Saviour’s temptation. Thus He was able to use a three-fold strategy for resisting demonic temptation: (1) Hide God’s word in your heart so you can live by it; (2) Trust God implicitly so you don’t take matters into your own hands; and, (3) worship the Lord God alone so you can refuse all idolatry.

3. I must give careful attention to proper interpretation. Have you ever noticed that Jesus was the first to quote scripture in this encounter with Satan (v. 4)? Then Satan follows up with a subtle twisting of God’s word. Perhaps the Enemy would have been content to leave God’s word out of the temptations had not the Lord raised it. But when Jesus quotes the Scripture, the Adversary felt certain he could overthrow our Lord even on biblical grounds! He must certainly feel confident he can do that with us. When we endeavor to live by the word of God we face the temptation of distorted, self-serving misinterpretation. That temptation was not in Jesus, but it is in us. So I’m reminded of just how vital careful interpretation is.

How is your Bible reading going so far in 2014? Do you find yourself reading the Bible like Jesus? I’m fighting to.

09 Mar

"Give us each day our daily bread"

Taken from the intimation sheet: 9 March 2014

Last week we looked at the petition “Give us each day our daily bread.” How have you been doing with that prayer that over the last 7 days?

At the end of the sermon I listed 5 things that should happen in our lives if we make this petition a regular feature of our prayer life. Truth be told I added these onto the end of the sermon at the last minute, and on reflection, realised they may be more digestible if you have them on paper! So I’ve decided to list them in the newsletter today.

If we regularly pray this prayer:

1. We will see the Lord provide for our needs

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
(Matthew 7:9-11)

That’s the joy of praying any specific biblically mandated prayer. You see Him answer. There are very few things that breathe life into our souls and courage into our Christian walk like seeing prayers answered.

2. We will be less anxious, and more familiar with the peace of God

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:6-7)

Don’t be anxious, pray to your Father; and rest in his paternal, providential care.

3. We will be less likely to be proud and self-centred

‘Give us our daily bread,’ we’re all in the same boat. We all need God to provide. As the illusion of self-sufficiency is deconstructed day by day, as you see where you truly stand in relation to God, then you are able to look at others through the lens of humility.

4. We will be less likely to be ungrateful

If we consistently ask the Lord to provide for our daily needs, we will remember that if there is food on our table and a roof over our heads, if we are able to live and serve him, it’s only because he has provided. He is the God who graciously gives. There is no explicit thanksgiving in the Lord’s Prayer, but we can’t pray through it regularly and wholeheartedly without being profoundly grateful to God for his goodness and his grace.

5. We will be less likely to wander into ungodliness

We are not ok by ourselves, we need God. Asking the Lord to give us our daily bread ought to remind us to cling closely to him day by day.

To put these things positively – we will be; given what we need, more at peace, more humble, more grateful, more godly!

A small prayer, but it really should play a big part in our Christian life.

In His service
Ross

09 Mar

“Give us each day our daily bread”

Taken from the intimation sheet: 9 March 2014

Last week we looked at the petition “Give us each day our daily bread.” How have you been doing with that prayer that over the last 7 days?

At the end of the sermon I listed 5 things that should happen in our lives if we make this petition a regular feature of our prayer life. Truth be told I added these onto the end of the sermon at the last minute, and on reflection, realised they may be more digestible if you have them on paper! So I’ve decided to list them in the newsletter today.

If we regularly pray this prayer:

1. We will see the Lord provide for our needs

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
(Matthew 7:9-11)

That’s the joy of praying any specific biblically mandated prayer. You see Him answer. There are very few things that breathe life into our souls and courage into our Christian walk like seeing prayers answered.

2. We will be less anxious, and more familiar with the peace of God

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:6-7)

Don’t be anxious, pray to your Father; and rest in his paternal, providential care.

3. We will be less likely to be proud and self-centred

‘Give us our daily bread,’ we’re all in the same boat. We all need God to provide. As the illusion of self-sufficiency is deconstructed day by day, as you see where you truly stand in relation to God, then you are able to look at others through the lens of humility.

4. We will be less likely to be ungrateful

If we consistently ask the Lord to provide for our daily needs, we will remember that if there is food on our table and a roof over our heads, if we are able to live and serve him, it’s only because he has provided. He is the God who graciously gives. There is no explicit thanksgiving in the Lord’s Prayer, but we can’t pray through it regularly and wholeheartedly without being profoundly grateful to God for his goodness and his grace.

5. We will be less likely to wander into ungodliness

We are not ok by ourselves, we need God. Asking the Lord to give us our daily bread ought to remind us to cling closely to him day by day.

To put these things positively – we will be; given what we need, more at peace, more humble, more grateful, more godly!

A small prayer, but it really should play a big part in our Christian life.

In His service
Ross

02 Mar

A sure and steadfast hope

Taken from the intimation sheet: 2 March 2014

We find ourselves in a season of sorrow.

Funerals are sorrowful services yet they are also contexts in which we remember the strength of the hope we have in Christ, and how thankful we ought to be that we know Him as Lord and Saviour.

Whilst singing the old hymn ‘Will your Anchor Hold’ earlier today my mind went to the passage which inspired it (Hebrews 6:18-20):

18 These two things cannot change: God cannot lie when he makes a promise, and he cannot lie when he makes an oath. These things encourage us who came to God for safety. They give us strength to hold on to the hope we have been given. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and strong. It enters behind the curtain in the Most Holy Place in heaven, 20 where Jesus has gone ahead of us and for us. He has become the high priest forever, a priest like Melchizedek.

In the ancient world there would be a big heavy immovable stone found in every harbour called an ‘anchoria’.

Large ships had their own anchors. Small boats had no anchor, they tied themselves to the anchoria instead.

Sailing was a dangerous way to earn a living in those days and even sailing close to the shore was hazardous. Often a ship wouldn’t be able to get safely into harbour by itself. In this instance, they would send a ‘forerunner’ out. A sailor in a small boat would row to shore with a rope from the ship. He would tie the rope to the anchoria and it would lead them safely home.

Imagine after a long, draining and dangerous voyage, you saw your forerunner successfully venture through the stormy water to the harbour, and tie the rope to the anchoria. What a relief, what joy! You’re nearly home, safely secured to the anchoria, and the harbour.

This is the imagery used at the end of Hebrews 6. The author says:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, (more literally ‘where Jesus, our forerunner’) has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

The hope we have in Christ, is an anchor for the soul – Christ has already gone home to the great harbour of heaven, through the curtain, into the most Holy place.

The anchor is sure and certain.

We who are believers in Jesus, are on our way home to be with Him.

His promise is sure, we’re nearly there, though the last leg of the journey may be rough, our destination is certain and will be well worth the wait.

Death is never a friend, yet it has lost its sting, and its power to drown out our victory song. We grieve our loss but we rejoice in our brother and sister’s gain.

They have been led home to that heavenly harbour, and in that, we rejoice.

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
when the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain,
will your anchor drift, or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
steadfast and sure while the billows roll;
fastened to the rock which cannot move,
grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!

Will your anchor hold in the straits of fear,
when the breakers roar and the reef is near?
While the surges rage, and the wild winds blow,
shall the angry waves then your bark o’erflow?

..

Will your anchor hold in the floods of death,
when the waters cold chill your latest breath?
On the rising tide you can never fail,
while your anchor holds within the veil.

Will your eyes behold through the morning light,
the city of gold and the harbour bright?
Will you anchor safe by the heavenly shore,
when life’s storms are past for evermore?

Yours in His Service
Ross

23 Feb

24 things that love is (part 2 of 2)

Taken from the intimation sheet: 23 February 2014

2000 years ago, another Paul reminded the Corinthian Church of the beauty and priority of love with these words:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-7)

If we’re Christians, then we can’t claim we’ve not known this love Paul speaks of, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13) No matter what happens to us; no matter what we face, or how we feel, nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8). And so we are called, mindful of the love that we have received, to love others. What does this life of love look like?

Maybe one or two of Paul Tripp’s statements below will leap out at you and offer you not only food for thought, but cause for prayer and action this week:

What is Love? (by Paul David Tripp)

13. LOVE IS… being willing to always ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested.

14. LOVE IS… recognizing the high value of trust in a relationship and being faithful to your promises and true to your word.

15. LOVE IS… speaking kindly and gently, even in moments of disagreement, refusing to attack the other person’s character or assault their intelligence.

16. LOVE IS… being unwilling to flatter, lie, manipulate, or deceive in any way in order to co-opt the other person into giving you what you want or doing something your way.

17. LOVE IS… being unwilling to ask another person to be the source of your identity, meaning, and purpose, or inner sense of well-being, while refusing to be the source of theirs.

18. LOVE IS… the willingness to have less free time, less sleep, and a busier schedule in order to be faithful to what God has called you to be and to do as a spouse, parent, neighbour, etc.

19. LOVE IS… a commitment to say no to selfish instincts and to do everything that is within your ability to promote real unity, functional understanding, and active love in your relationships.

20. LOVE IS… staying faithful to your commitment to treat another with appreciation, respect, and grace, even in moments when the other person doesn’t seem deserving or is unwilling to reciprocate.

21. LOVE IS… the willingness to make regular and costly sacrifices for the sake of a relationship without asking for anything in return or using your sacrifices to place the other person in your debt.

22. LOVE IS… being unwilling to make any personal decision or choice that would harm a relationship, hurt the other person, or weaken the bond of trust between you.

23. LOVE IS… refusing to be self-focused or demanding, but instead looking for specific ways to serve, support, and encourage, even when you are busy or tired.

24. LOVE IS… daily admitting to yourself, the other person, and God that you are unable to be driven by a cruciform love without God’s protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing, and delivering grace.

You can get the full series of 10 devotionals on Paul Tripp’s website for a donation of any amount.

Yours in His service
Ross

16 Feb

24 things that love is (part 1 of 2)

Taken from the intimation sheet: 16 February 2014

As I write it’s the morning of Valentine’s Day and I’ve just stumbled upon a devotional by Paul David Trip entitled ‘What is Love?’ 2000 years ago, another Paul reminded the Corinthian Church of the beauty and priority of love with these words:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-7)

If we’re Christians, then we can’t claim we’ve not known this love Paul speaks of, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13) No matter what happens to us; no matter what we face, or how we feel, nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8). And so we are called, mindful of the love that we have received, to love others. What does this life of love look like?

Maybe one or two of Paul Tripp’s statements will leap out at you and offer you not only food for thought, but cause for prayer and action this week:

What is Love?

1. LOVE IS… being willing to have your life complicated by the needs and struggles of others without impatience or anger.

2. LOVE IS… actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward another while looking for ways to encourage and praise.

3. LOVE IS… making a daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses.

4. LOVE IS… being lovingly honest and humbly approachable in times of misunderstanding.

5. LOVE IS… being more committed to unity and understanding than you are to winning, accusing, or being right.

6. LOVE IS… making a daily commitment to admit your sin, weakness, and failure and to resist the temptation to offer an excuse or shift the blame.

7. LOVE IS… being willing, when confronted by another, to examine your heart rather than rising to your defence or shifting the focus.

8. LOVE IS… making a daily commitment to grow in love so that the love you offer to another is increasingly selfless, mature, and patient.

9. LOVE IS… being unwilling to do what is wrong when you have been wronged, but looking for concrete and specific ways to overcome evil with good.

10. LOVE IS… being a good student of another, looking for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so that in some way you can remove the burden, support them as they carry it, or encourage them along the way.

11. LOVE IS… being willing to invest the time necessary to discuss, examine, and understand the relational problems you face, staying on task until the problem is removed or you have agreed upon a strategy of response.

12. LOVE IS… being willing to always ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested.

Yours in His service
Ross