Preach // Being Mentally Transformed // Psalm 6

Mentally Healthy / Lives Transformed / 630 / Oct 2017

This is part of a 2-part talk. The first can be found here and they can both be listened to here:

Pt 1 Emotional health: Listen here

Pt 2 Mental health: Listen here

 

Intro

So we are continuing our series on lives transformed tonight, seeking for every part of our lives to be continually being transformed into the likeness of Jesus.

Last week we looked at our emotions and seeking to be emotionally healthy and today we are going to move on from that, to focus on our mental health. We are really moving forward from what we looked at last week, this is the next step if you like.

I also gave a sort of disclaimer last week, that I want to repeat. This is not an easy subject for any of us, it can be very challenging, especially for those of dealing with mental illness of any sort or supporting those who are.

I’m not an expert, but I want to be able to encourage us to seek Jesus in these themes and in our own situations. This is such an important area and as a church particularly we want to be able to explore it together, with grace and compassion so if you find anything difficult or you don’t agree with what I’m saying, please do come and talk to me or one of the leadership afterwards or drop us an email. And as always we have our prayer ministry team here and would consider it a privilege to pray with you either now or at another time.

So today I want to focus on mental health. We looked last week at how our emotions can get out of control but sometimes it’s more serious than that. MH issues are medical illnesses that thankfully we are becoming increasingly aware of. Diagnoses are better in this day and age than ever before. But there does also seem to be an increase in people suffering too.

As a church, as Christians, we NEED to have a better understanding of how to support people struggling with Mental illness. We can’t and shouldn’t ignore M illness because we don’t understand it or don’t know what to say. For example, I spoke to someone recently who has had some Mental health problems for some time, and is rooted in a church context and asked if they had been ever been offered prayer and the answer was no! and yet I feel sure if that person had a physical illness there would have been plenty of offers!

 

As I said last week, I’m not an expert, but I have received some invaluable advice in the last few weeks from those who have experienced Mental illness first hand or who support those with it. And that is our best advice – if we don’t understand it or don’t know what to do – lets find out! Don’t use that as an excuse. Ok?!

 

What is it

Did you know I in 6 people suffer from a MH issue of some sort. That means a significant portion of us here will be suffering with something, maybe anxiety, depression or other conditions.

It is a huge area and it is not something to be ashamed of, scared of, or something to be avoided.

Mental Health issues affect people in different ways, and come in many different forms, however what it IS, is illness, it might be through chemical imbalance, result of trauma, response to a deeply felt situation or another reason.

Someone said to me recently, and I think this is a very simple but helpful description:

They said: ‘we live in a broken world and I have a broken brain. As a consequence of that other parts of my life can be affected, my physical health, my spiritual health, and like any other illness the devil uses it to pull me away from God.’

 

And I’ve chosen Psalm 6 as a starting point today, I think it portrays some of the deep and all consuming nature of many MH conditions.

The Psalmist cries out: in v3

My soul is in deep anguish – can we really grasp the depth of what that means? His soul – deep inside is in unrest, and he can’t find his way out – as he says how long, how long Lord? So many MH conditions are long term, and can seem never ending.

 

In vs 1-2

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.

There is that sense of wondering if the Lord is angry with him, is this his fault? Is this some kind of punishment?

NO! God is not like that, he is a God who loves us.

And verses 6-7 too are full of the physical outworking of that soul in distress: Worn out from Groaning, endless crying, growing weak with sorrow

and in v 10 David talks of his enemy being overwhelmed, so on the subject of the enemy, let’s address the elephant in the room shall we – the demonic or the spiritual angle.

Now, I know it’s controversial and people take differing views but here’s what I find most helpful:

 

: everything in our lives is spiritual, or has a spiritual element to it. We are spiritual beings, created in God’s image, with mind, body and spirit and we live in a world created by God too, in which the spirit is at work.

So if we can accept that everything is spiritual then we could say of a common cold for example, that it is spiritual – it’s not God’s intention that there is illness of any kind and it won’t be like that in heaven. But to be honest we wouldn’t say, the devil has given me a cold would we? And it would probably not be entirely helpful to attempt to cast out the cold would it? Might be better to go to bed and take a lemsip right?! But if that cold means we get overly angry at God for allowing us to be ill then something, potentially spiritually, is pulling us away from God.

Actually we can treat Mental illness in exactly the same way, it is not what God had planned for us, in the same sense as anything else then it is spiritual, but just as we would take lemsip for a cold, people suffering from Mental illness can and should be helped by medication – or therapy or by other means.

Now I’m not saying don’t pray, of course we pray and we seek healing for any sick person who wants it. We are always happy to offer to pray for healing and we should be open to doing that in compassion and grace and with sensitivity. I would always suggest that when we pray for healing we ask the person how they want to be prayed for first.

And I know of people in church (in the wider church) with MH conditions who have been hugely damaged by the suggestion that they are possessed or have a condition that is demonic. In some cases that has stopped them seeking medical help. So the spiritual attitude of someone else, has caused them to deliberately avoid seeking the medication that could help them become well. That doesn’t sound very Godly either does it…? So you could ask where actually where’s the force of evil in that?

So I’m not saying things are not spiritual, the opposite, everything is.

basically everything in our lives has a spiritual element, but that is no more so necessarily for those with MH conditions. There is nothing wrong and usually everything good in medical treatment and that it is not really all that helpful to go around suggesting that anything is demonic. And to attempt to cast things out of people who are already suffering deeply.

I’m more than happy to chat about that if you want to know more or question that!

 

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Encouragements from the bible – David and Elijah etc

 

Now, I want us to look at a few biblical examples which might help us as we look at Mental illness and mental health.

Someone shared with me last week that they saw it like this:

God knows the world is broken, he knows as a result of that there is pain and suffering, including M illness, and so his response is to give us things to help us through that: being medical professionals, scientists who produce medication that can help with chemical imbalance, people to come alongside us and support us, he has not left us alone in it… So lets seek where is he in each situation?

 

So let’s start with King David, the Psalms

Last week we looked at Psalm 139, tonight Psalm 6. And I want to reiterate how great the Psalms are for looking at emotion and outpouring of our feelings from joy to absolute despair. They can be so helpful as we face our own situations.

Now David experienced great highs and lows in his life.

He started out as a shepherd boy before being chosen by God as the future king.

He had great riches and wealth as well as times of living in caves and being on the run.

He loves God but does not always walk the right path. He even suffered the grief of losing a child.

And much of all of this we can read through the Psalms. They cover a huge range of David’s emotions and different mental states. And actually a lot of what we see in his expressions of emotions has caused some to ask whether he was actually bi-polar.

Now we don’t know and the rollercoaster of his life’s circumstances might just be reflected in his continual extremes of emotion and behaviour.

But here in Psalm 6 we can see a bit of that where he starts from using words like being in agony, deep anguish, being worn out, weeping all night. TO the end where he declares that it’s all going to be ok because God has heard him and will overcome his enemies.

David takes his feelings, his wretchedness and puts it before the Lord in prayer.

It can be hard for us NOT to turn away from God when we are struggling or suffering.

All our Good positive spiritual habits we have built up can be torn down by the strength of the illness we face.

But I want to encourage you to keep the lines of communication open between you and God, even if it is to tell him exactly what you think of him right now – I’m sure he’s heard worse!

Think of it this way, if one of your children or someone you are really close to was suffering and struggling, wouldn’t you want them to be honest with you, for them to recognise you can be a support to them.

God feels the same. He loves you no matter what and he wants to be there in the agony as much as the celebration, perhaps even more so.

 

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And as those of us seeking to support those with mental illness we need to be people who can help and enable others to do this, to pour own their emotions to God. To be willing to sit with someone while they cry uncontrollably; to hold their hand while they swear at God, but on their terms.

Not to take offence if they are angry and can’t face seeing you;

Not to try and fix things necessarily,

not to try and provide the answers – because sometimes there just aren’t any. Sometimes things are just bloody awful and there isn’t anything more to be said.

And that’s a tough ask coming alongside someone in that. But perhaps you can be a real gift to that person. The gift of being able to walk with them as they fight through the journey of depression, or anxiety or bi polar or anything else, unconditionally and with patience and understanding and on their terms…

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So, another example for us to look at is

Elijah. It has been suggested that Elijah was suicidal or perhaps even pyschologically disturbed.

Elijah, was an amazing prophet and servant of the Lord. You can read about him in 1 Kings & very start of 2 Kings.

He had seen amazing miracles happen through God. God sent ravens to feed him, Elijah raised a widow’s son from the dead, he called down fire from heaven against idol worshippers and then as a result revival swept the nation.

So he’s not who you would expect to suffer from depression or suicidal tendencies is he? But that is the thing, sometimes there are markers or pointers, but actually its not always easily predicted.

And here Elijah, not who we’d expect to, spiralled into despair. In 1 Kings 19:4 we read:

1 Kings 19:4-9

He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”.

He wanted to die and we don’t know what might have happened, except that God sent his angels to Elijah:

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

 

Did you notice that God said to him, the journey is too much for you.

Elijah clearly felt he couldn’t bear what he was having to face here, so much so that he wanted to die.

And what is God’s response?

he responds with compassion, and with simplicity. He sends an angel with food and drink and as I read this week this passage described as ‘ God is present in the wilderness with the broken’ – what a lovely way of thinking about it. And he is. He’s there with us in all seasons.

 

There’s also a lesson there for us in how we support those with M I. To just be there sometimes, to provide basic support if needed, but also to help point to spiritual nourishment, to draw the person towards Jesus when they feel that can’t do that for themselves.

We might suggest ‘Church is the best place for you’ – but it might actually be the opposite, someone who is struggling with M illness might find coming to church impossible. We do not beat them up for that, we can find other ways to support them for that season… and lets do so but gently and encouragingly, not prescriptive, and give them time.

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So we can see how God helped Elijah through what he could not bear, even seeking death. And I’ve spoken about suicide before and I’m not going to go there too much tonight, but briefly I want to say:

does God, in seeing someone in their darkest hour, their absolute moment of need, suddenly become uncompassionate and turn away? When a person might be the most in need of some love in their entire life? I don’t think that sounds like our God does it? Despite what some church teaching has said in the past and particularly in relation to Judas, we just don’t know what happened at the point of his death, but we do know that our God is about redemption, about taking people out of brokenness, of healing, of wholeness with God. Mercy and grace are all about us getting what we don’t deserve. I think it’s more helpful and encouraging to focus on that isn’t it?

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Naomi

And one last example. Naomi, who we can read about in the book of Ruth. She lost her husband and both her sons and becomes understandably overcome with grief and bitterness and as she says in verse 12 – she feels there is no hope for her.

 

Ruth 1:11-13

I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me…?

No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

 She goes back to Behtlehem, her home town with her dil Ruth and when she arrives people almost don’t recognise her: She says to them:

 

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.

She feels that God has taken away all goodness from her and instead afflicted her with a life where she will be consigned to poverty, where she has no one to look after her in her old age.

She has named herself ‘bitter’ but that gives us a good lesson –

the illness does not identitfy the person. We show compassion to the person not the illness, we don’t want to loose sight of who they are. Every one of us is made in God’s image. As we looked at last week with Psalm 139, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Our identity is not ‘depressive’ or ‘anxious’ or ‘schizophrenic’ it is in being a child of God.

So when we come alongside people let’s see them not the illness, when we identify with a condition we have or others have, lets not allow it to take over who we are. Those suffering with Mental illness are not ‘a problem to be fixed’ but children of God needing to be loved just like anyone else.

 

John 10;10 SAYS :

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

The devil will do all he can to draw us from God and take us away from what God has for us – the abundance of life he has for us. We should not forget that.

A person who is ill in any respect, has a life, a purpose, and wonderful gifts from God, and is as worthy as anyone else, as loved and precious as anyone else. Steve was talking last week in the morning about how sometimes we can see people as worth-less, as worth less than us. And that is not how God sees us. He loves each and very one of us the same. Lets remember that…

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And what seems to help Naomi out of her situation?

I think it is in having someone alongside her in Ruth. Ruth commits to Naomi when she doesn’t have to, she works to help them both survive, and she humbles herself, she seeks advice from Naomi, giving her some sense of self worth and being able to do something useful. And even when Ruth is later married to someone else she remains with Naomi, in her life, she even offers her, her child. She has committed to her completely.

We need to support people with MH conditions and we need to commit to it but not to do so lightly.

and on that… – The ‘how are you’ question.

So here’s the thing, if you see someone looking upset or sad or down at church, whether they might have MH issues or not, ‘how are you?’ is not a great question. If that person is struggling they have 2 options – to lie and say everything is fine because they don’t want to have to face it all right now, or to tell you the truth that things are not ok. They might have just about being holding it all together and then suddenly a question like that breaks into it all.

I’ve been there when it has taken everything in me to drag myself to church and then to be just about holding in the tears when someone said how are you?

Cue the damn opening and and it was not someone who I wanted to share how I was feeling with. And they clearly had no idea what to do next anyway, so it was horrible and awkward and I just wanted to run away.

Of course we want to be people who care and to have compassion so I am not saying don’t look out for other people, but if you think someone might need a friendly face or you want to enquire, why not go and start a less threatening conversation with them instead? – can I get you a coffee? I like your jacket, what have you been up to his week? – which easier to respond to and less intrusive.

And more, do not ask someone how they are if you are not prepared to pick up the pieces if there are some. Or if you are not prepared to follow up with them later in the week and see how they are doing, or to take them out for a cuppa to chat or whatever it might be.

If someone is already feeling low or struggling with how they are mentally. If you offer a hand and then withdraw it, that can be hugely damaging. It would be better not to offer it in the first place.

 

 

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So there’s just a few examples from David, Elijah and Naomi and there are plenty more in the bible that might give us help or encouragement in situations of mental illness.

If you are struggling with a MH condition remember you are not alone, perhaps you can take some comfort from those who have been there before, who have expressed their pain and despair in God’s word.

Try and keep those lines of communication open between you and God, like David, tell him what you are thinking, let out the emotion and pain.

And try to remember that God is always with you, you are always precious and loved, fearfully and wonderfully made.

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And if we are supporting someone with MH issues, lets try to learn more of how we can be helpful. How we can support. And let’s do so with love and grace and compassion (and not by asking how are you?!)

Lets be: present in the wilderness with the broken, isn’t that what Jesus would do?

 

 

however you can always contact us if you’d like some one to pray with you another time..

Preach // Emotionally Transformed // Psalm 139 //

Emotionally transformed // Psalm 139 // TRINITY 630 service, 24th Sept 2017  

Listen here

Intro //

So we are continuing our series on ‘lives transformed’ and over the next 2 weeks we are going to look at emotional and mental health and transformation.

Now I want to say up front that this is not going to be an easy subject for any of us! The whole area of emotional and mental health is huge and can be very challenging. I want you to know I am not an expert in mental health conditions, far from it!, I simply want to, over these 2 weeks, help and encourage all of us to seek Jesus as we look at these themes, both for ourselves and for others. Especially for those who might be struggling in these areas particularly, or for those supporting people who are, I want to help us all to seek the Lord in those situations.

I should say I’ve been really grateful to a few people who I have spoken to while I was preparing these talks who have first hand experience of some of the things I’m going to talk about, however I do know it’s a tricky area and conditions can be quite individual, so if you have comments or questions please do come speak to me or one of the leadership or drop us an email. This is such an important area and we want to be able to explore it together, with grace and compassion.

And of course the prayer ministry team are on hand as always, so do make use of them later on if you feel God is stirring something in you this evening.

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So, this week we are going to focus on emotional health and build up to talking about mental health next Sunday evening. So what I am saying tonight might not really scratch the surface if you are struggling with mental illness of any kind. Tonight is really a focus on general emotional well being. I hope it’s accessible to all of us and I hope I’ll raise some questions and tools that can be relevant for us all.

But as I said I know that for some of us things are much more complicated and it might be that when we go a bit deeper next week into mental health as opposed to the emotional that might reach some of us more. So I want to encourage you to listen to both talks and if you can’t be here next week or if it might be a difficult subject for you, the talks will be available online to listen to or you can email me for a copy of the text

 

What are emotions – God given for a purpose

 

Our reading from Psalm 139, gives us a wonderful picture of us being made by God, and him knowing us inside and out, in great detail.

We are, made by God, it says: vs 13-14

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

 

Every part of us made, known and loved by God, so that includes our mind and our emotions…

We are emotional beings, it is how we were made. We are meant to have emotions so they aren’t a bad thing – though often we can see them that way:

when someone gets angry about something, we perhaps don’t know how to respond, we get a bit scared maybe. Or when someone is crying we want them to stop, we want to make them feel happier, or perhaps worse, we just ignore them because we don’t know what to do.

But they are part of who we are.

 

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As human beings we have 6 basic emotions or predictable responses to situations:

happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust and anger. There are over 600 words in English to describe them and we use 42 muscles in our faces to express them.

Over time, this list of basic emotions has been added to, changed and reshaped based on the idea that human emotions are universal, so we all have them

And psychologists think that there are two reasons for emotions:

  • they are the response to any situation we face or (so based on our mind )
  • as a result of changes in our bodies (based on physicality, that’s hormones and the like)

So they help us react to situations, setting off a physical behavioural reaction.

So for example when we feel fear it sets our heart racing, it gives us the impetus to escape from a dangerous situation if we need to. Less likely for us today to be in that kind of situation but for our ancestors they needed that emotion to survive. These days however emotions tend to (not always of course) help us make lifestyle choices rather than staying alive!

But they are also a social indicator. When we are happy we smile or laugh, which is a sign to others that we are happy. Sometimes that is contagious isn’t it – our emotions can affect others emotions. If we see someone crying, sometimes we find we need to join them in crying too. Emotions bring us closer to each other or give as an understanding of each others needs or feelings, which in turn helps to shape society.

Of course none of this is coincidental if we are fearfully and wonderfully made. And

the brain communicates with itself by transmitting chemicals from one neuron, or nerve, to the other. And those chemicals either stimulate brain activity or they have a calming effect, so they have a huge role in how we feel each day. But we also have hormones that are released by those neuro transmitters which also can effect our mood or mental health. These chemicals and hormones play a key role in our physical health as well as our mental health, so they are all there for a purpose.

So they key to be emotionally healthy is about maintaining a balance in those chemicals. And to some extent we can help maintain that health by looking after ourselves. But there are things that can cause imbalances in the chemicals which can then cause mental health conditions.

 

So science lesson over…

 

I read all of that and I find myself thinking, wow, all that detail and intricacy that God has designed, created, to make us ‘work’, to make our bodies function and not just function but abundantly function – we don’t just go through life as a machine, eating for fuel, going to work, procreating, we do it with a whole range of experiences and emotions that enrich our lives and enable us to flourish.

 

So Emotions are part of who we are. Just as they are part of who Jesus was when we was here on earth.

If we look at Jesus throughout scripture we can see his emotions at work:

He felt sorrow, he wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, but also at the fate of Jerusalem (John 11:35, Luke 19:41) and in fact Isaiah (53:3) tells us that the Messiah would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”.

He got angry too, we see him in the temple getting angry with the money changers (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-22) and he wasn’t particualry enamoured with the Pharisees either.

he loved, he showed compassion (Matt 14:14 and various places),

he showed joy (Luke 10:21), possibly even despair at the cross ‘my God my God why have you forsaken me?’ (Matth 27:46).

So just as Jesus did, we can and should embrace that full range of emotions given to us by God, but they key as Eph 4 says, but we should, not sin in them:

 

Be angry …and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26)

 

So the question for us is, how do we act on our emotions?

Do they get out of balance, out of control? Because it’s when things get out of that perfect balance, we can find a problem.

We need to express our emotions, if we hold on to past hurts or emotions, if we smother them and hold them in, they can end up taking over in other ways, we can become bitter and it can effect our own mental health. And in fact there is some scientific evidence to show that some physical conditions can be as a result of the pain of past trauma that has not been expressed.

Likewise if we express our emotions too much, then they get out of control or take us over, so that we find we can’t function as we should.

 

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As Christians we want to draw closer to Jesus I hope, we want to be more like him, we want to be growing into his likeness, and that should be in all areas of our lives, including in our emotions and our emotional response to things. So lets be seeking to see Jesus in all situations, all places, and all emotions. Lets ask ourselves: Where is he in my anger? Where is he in my hurt? Where is he in my joy?

 

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Now the bible is full of emotion and I think there are some key things we can learn from God’s word to help us to have healthy emotional lives that are being transformed into God’s likeness…

So I’ve chosen three examples here for us to look at:

 

Express /lament

The first is to express what you feel. The Psalms are full of David expressing his emotion, this one here Psalm 139 is full of Praise and declarations as to who God is. But David’s life is a rollercoaster – anf he expresses such vast highs and lows of emotion. But one thing that people often bring out of his experiences is the idea of lament. In fact there’s a whole book i the bible called lamentations!

We are not very good in the west at expressing our stronger emotions, there’s that whole British ‘stiff upper lip’ thing going on, we don’t always feel we can talk about how we are feeling or it feels easier to just shut it all in. But that means we are essentially ignoring the things that matter most to us in that moment or that season. We are in some sense, ignoring ourselves, not accepting who we are, just acting like a cardboard cut out of ourselves. (Simon Stocks) and more that ignoring where God might be speaking to us, helping us to be more whole even.

As we’ve already heard emotions are part of how God made us, they are not something to be ashamed of, so we need to get better at releasing them and expressing them.

Lament is all about recognising the sorrow we are facing and feeling, so in biblical terms we see phrases like beating ones chest, tearing ones clothes, falling down, were all examples of people expressing a deep sorrow or pain. We see it still often in the middle east when people have lost a loved one for example and they wail and cry very publically. It can seem quite alien to us, but it is a natural human and emotional response to the pain they are experiencing.

I think we need to get better as the church at allowing a space for lament, and allowing people to express their deep-seated emotions without fear or shame or worry at what people will think. Often people feel they can’t express how they are feeling, they can’t make themselves vulnerable because they are worried about the response they might get. And I’ve heard some awful things people have been told in church in response to them making themselves vulnerable. Let’s not be afraid of emotion, and emotional response, actually let’s get in there with that person, get alongside them. Mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice…

If we can allow space for that then for some it will be a true release of what they need to let go of, and not let it build up into something more damaging.

 

So express your emotions!

 

Guard your heart //

Secondly, guard your heart

Prov 4:23

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Often in the bible where it talks about the heart, it is referring to the mind or to emotions. They thought the heart was where feelings and emotion originated.

So Guard your heart, meant to guard your mind in that sense, look after your mind, so as Rick Warren puts it ‘garbage in, garbage out’. If you fill your mind with stuff that is not going to help you be emotionally healthy you won’t. From what you read, what you watch, what you hear. It all shapes us.

 

David says here 5-6

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

 

He just wants to be filled with the knowledge of God, aiming to fill his ind with more of the Lord and his truth.

But we can’t always choose what goes in though can we, even with the best intentions because well, because other people, right?

I can still remember some harsh words that were spoken over me as a child, as if they were yesterday. I can picture what I was wearing, how I was stood, the person as they said them. And those words have in one part shaped who I am now. I was a child, I didn’t now what to do with those words other than to internalize them. But as adults we can try to choose to make a choice as to what we hear, what we accept (it isn’t always easy of course, we get hurt by things said about us as adults too).

But I think of that expression ‘taking offence’ .The key word there is take’ we don’t have to take hold of the offence, we don’t have to take hold of those difficult words, or those negative sentiments, we might respond to them emotionally but they key is to not let them settle in us. Vs 10-11 says even in the darkness God is there… so if we’ve been hurt by thigns said of us, or we’ve taken on board thigns we maybe shouldn’t have done, lets seek God in there.

2 Cor 10:3-5 says:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ

So we can bring things before the Lord and seek him in them whether they are new to us or historic. Is there anything good there? Is there something we need to take in or can we leave them with him and walk away? Let’s weigh up what we believe, what we think, what we hear. Take hold of your thoughts.

And if we need to, replace the negative stuff with Godly truth Let’s not believe lies!

You look in the mirror and see someone ugly – well God’s word says you are fearfully and wonderfully made!

You are told you are useless? God’s word says he has gifted us all for the common good 1 Cor 12

& that he has plans for each of us, to prosper us and to give us a hope and future Jer 29:11

Think you are too old? Well grey hair is a crown of splendor (Prov 16:31)

Lets seek out the truth of God not take on the rubbish

 

 

And let’s nourish ourselves and our minds

Scientists tell us that to a certain extent we can help ourselves to be healthy physically and emotionally by looking after ourselves, by eating the right foods, getting exercise. So it makes sense that we should do that spiritually too.

Nourish was my one word for the year, my word to focus on and so my plan was and is to eat more healthier, run more and spend more time focusing on my relationship with God. All three of those things are key to me living a healthy and balanced life.

 So what do you find spiritually nourishes your mind, what helps you feel closer to God?

The Psalmist does that by spending time with God, pouring out his thoughts and feelings to God in every situation and asking God to cleanse him if you like or to point out where things might not be right.

V23-24

Search me, God, and know my heart;

 test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

He makes declarations about who God is vs7-8 all about God being ever present.

What helps you to draw closer to God – reading the bible, Coming to church, praying, praying with someone, listening to worship music, singing, walking, painting – what makes you feel closer to God?

Sometimes when we feel our emotions are dragging us down it’s hard to keep doing those things, our routines get out of place, we loose the impetus or the inspiration, sometimes we need a bit of encouragement – so here it is! What do you do that nourishes you spiritually and helps you to feel closer to God, really think about that and how can you make that a concrete and reguarl part of your life?

 

Romans 12: 2

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We should seek for our minds to be renewed, made new, made whole, made in God’s design, God’s image not the image of this world. And more than that, that in itself will help us to become closer to God and knowing his will for us!

And then we will be more able to follow God’s plan for our lives – his perfect plan not our own flawed one!

So let’s embrace our emotions, let’s express them, and if they get out of control we seek help.

Lets seek God in our emotions, where is he in our happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust and anger?

Let’s guard our minds, think about what we et in, what we belive, what we take on board.

And lets nourish ourselves spiritually as much as any other way.

 

////

Now look, there are some pointers but I’m well aware that sometimes it isn’t that easy . Sometimes there are seasons to be worked through – necessary seasons – grief after death, dealing with something traumatic and so on, and sometimes we just need time or we need healing. Sometimes those things develop further and we’ll look more at how our mental health can be affected next week

But for now let’s remember that our emotions are not a bad thing, they are God given and help us to live a full and flourishing life.

 

Resources //

 

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/whoami/findoutmore/yourbrain/whatareemotions

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/whoami/findoutmore/yourbrain/whatareemotions/canyourecogniseemotions

http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/what-are-emotions.htm

Songs for the Suffering – Simon Stocks

Mind & Soul Foundation

http://www.mentalhealthaccesspack.org/install/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Medication-and-faith-Bible-section-pdf1.pdf

 

 

 

PREACH // Spiritual Transformation

So yesterday evening’s preach didn’t exactly go according to plan as I just felt God calling me to go off piste. But this is what I would have said… (and did say most of at the 8am)…

 

///

 

Spiritually transformed

Ephesians 4:1-24

 

If you’ve done Alpha, you might have heard the story of Shane Taylor. Shane was at one point in his life known as one of Britain’s youngest most dangerous people.

He started with burglary, moved onto selling drugs, became violent, stabbed people and worse… at the age of 12 his ambition was to kill a police office or prison officer – to be well respected by fellow criminals. Here’s a bit of his story…


 

That is the power of God at work transforming just one man’s life. And we see it in the bible too – Saul being transformed from a murderous zealot killing those who followed Jesus, to one whose sole purpose in life was to tell people about Jesus’

Or Zaccheus, the crooked tax collector, whose house Jesus came to eat at and then Z is transformed and agrees to give away half his possessions and pay back what he owed people (Luke 19).

Jesus came, it says in Luke 19:9-190 MSG, for the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.

 

Restoration is all about transformation. Being transformed into his likeness, into a relationship with the Father

Jesus is all about transforming us more and more into the likeness of God. And that is what our vision here is at TRINITY, to see lives transformed by the love of Christ, Just like Shane, just like Saul and Zaccheus.

And this new teaching series we are starting today is all about lives transformed.

Rick Warren says this:

the world’s promises leave us empty and searching for more. God’s will is the only answer that promises to TRANSFORM our lives from the inside out.

 

Over the next few weeks at the 630 we are going to delve deeper into what that means, what that really means.

On our website our vision says this:

Jesus Christ came to teach, to serve and to heal. Most importantly, he came to die for us, so that we might be offered a life lived in relationship with God. Jesus invites us to find in him the security, joy, friendship and adventure, which we have all been made to enjoy. We believe in the power of this Good News to change lives and communities, and Jesus sends us to be agents of that change across our town and beyond.

This vision is the heartbeat of TRINITY.

And so we are going to unpack that and delve deeper into it. Over the next few weeks we are going to look at what it means to be transformed:

Spiritually (today)

Physically

Mentally

Relationally

Financially

Vocationally

 

You know that first step, that first encounter with Jesus can be mind blowingly transformative as it was for Shane, OR it might be less dramatic a transformation, it might be making a gentle choice, but that’s what it is, the first step.

And if you’ve always known Jesus, well wow that is so amazing and an absolute gift. Never be worried that you haven’t had a testimony story like some do. If God has given you a path where you’ve always known him, I think that is a really precious gift.

BUT! You are still on the same journey of transformation… we are all journeyimg towards that likeness of Jesus

 

You know when I became a Christian, one of the first things one of my friends noticed was that I had stopped swearing, literally overnight. But there was, and is, a lot more work to be done than that! And I tell you there are times when I still want to tell the whole world to F off… (if I’m completely honest) but I need to go on being transformed – We need to go on being transformed, seeking to be more like Christ. We need to be transformed in our whole being

…o0O0o…

In our passage from Ephesians we read that Christ gave the workers – the 5 fold gifts so that the body of Christ (ie the church) may be built up, and it says in : v13: UNTIL we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Until that day when we are united with God, we are all a work in progress and to be honest it’s our choice if we accept just that first step

OR we make the choice to keep on moving forwards towards that end goal, to seek the fullness of Christ.

Jesus said: ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.’ John 10:10

Do we stop at having life? At receiving that gift of salvation and think that’s it? Or do we want the second part too? Life to the full? Or life in abundance as the NRSV says…?

It’s our choice…

 

…o0O0o…

 

So today, particularly looking at spiritual transformation. ‘Spiritual’ is one of those words that can mean so many different things. People say ‘oh I’m not religious, I’m spiritual’,

It’s quite a modern thing, that is like we want to form our own spiritualities, to believe what we want, what we think. We make God in our image, not the other way around.

In fact spiritual transformation could be the title of the entire series, because our spiritual lives inform the rest of our lives. Our spiritual life encompasses anything that helps us to focus on God: worship, prayer, devotional time, reading God’s word for example.

 

 

lets go back to v 13 again: What does it mean that we might reach fullness of Christ?

Because Paul seems to suggest that is our goal.

The NLT puts it like this:

 

until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

And says:

 

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ

 

Our goal, our journey of transformation is to become, in every way, more like Christ.

And what does that mean? I mean let’s face it that is our goal but it’s a pretty tough goal, it’s not like we can pass a few exams and then we get ‘Jesus status’!

Paul says, we won’t be immature, we won’t be swayed by different teaching, we won’t be easily tricked by fake news. No we’ll know the truth, we’ll be full of love and growing more like Jesus. That is real spiritual transformation.

The MSG version describes it like this: in v16:

 

We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

Exactly that – we take our lead from God. We get nourished by him, made healthy by him and strengthened in his love.

So HOW on earth do we do that? How do we continue to seek that spiritual transformation, to journey towards being more like Jesus?

Habit //

 

We need to form some personal habits.

Here’s the thing – and some if us need to hear this – You cannot just come to church each Sunday (once a week) and expect to be spiritually transformed. We need more than that.

That’s like eating one healthy meal a week and eating whatever you like the rest of the time and expecting to get healthier. No! We need to punctuate our week with habits that bring us closer to God.

 

 

Habit definition: a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

We mean making a COMMITMENT!!

We have to make the commitment to want to be more like Jesus. Ask yourselves honestly. Is this a journey you want to be on?

Then if the answer is yes – and why wouldn’t it be?

Then commit to it and make some habits to help us seek spiritual transformation: so here’s a few key habits, personal habits, I’m not looking so much here at corporate stuff, but that is equally as important – gathering with other Christians etc

But these are thing that we need to vomit to in our own personal walk… things we need to make a habit in our lives.

 

Word

First up, God’s word. Where do we find out more about God than in his word? We read about his character, how much he loves us, that we are his beloved children.

The entire bible is a story of relationship, God’s relationship in the trinity, and his relationship with us, his beloved people.

God’s word is living and active – Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

God’s word is alive. It’s not just a stale old text where we read about what’s gone on in times gone by, thousands of years ago. No it’s alive for us today. So when we read about God we are not just reading what has already happened, but what can happen for us too.

Have you ever read a passage and just thought, wow, that is so right for me right now, or felt God had given you that verse for a particular situation you are facing, or felt it was for someone you know – a comfort or a word of affirmation?

God’s word has the power to do that – reaching right into our inner being – dividing soul and spirit as it says.

When I read the bible I always try to remember to pray first, Lord speak to me through your word to seek his presence within it.

 

Ps 119:105 – your word is a lamp for my feet and a light to my path…

I often find God guides me through his word…

God speaks to us in different ways but the bible is a good test. If something we are feeling doesn’t weigh up with what God’s word says then it probably isn’t right.

And we need to go on doing that, seeking him in his word and working towards that ongoing spiritual transformation.

You know I read my bible almost every day and have done since I became a Christian and I have read it all many times. But still, I find so often I read something I’ve read many times before and it just stands out like ‘wow’ I have never thought of that before or it seems completely new (&I don’t think that’s just because I have a bad memory!).

That is the power of God speaking through his word.

 

Prayer

 

Prayer is a conversation. Two way!

There are so many different ways we pray but for here I am focusing on just that conversation we have with God. That will look different for each of us and in different seasons be different.

Here’s some biblical hints on praying:

 

Romans 12:12 – pray constantly

1 Thess 5:17 pray without ceasing

Eph 6:18 and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…

Talk to God, share with him your innermost thoughts and fears, I mean he already knows it anyway so there is nothing you can’t share with him. Pray about everything and at all times!

I am sure you’ve heard this before, many times, but if you are friends with someone, how do you develop or grow that friendship? You spend time together, you do things together, you talk together. It’s the same in our relationship with God, we have to spend time with him. Bit like making someone a fiend on Facebook but never engaging with their posts. I’m sure we all have people like that on our social media – do we actually want to be friends with them?!!

True friendship is 2 way, talking, sharing, being together.

And sometimes that’s in talking, sometimes it’s in listening too!

So for example sometimes when I go out running I just pray at the start that God would go with me and if there’s anything he wants to share with me I’ll listen and then off I go. Sometimes it’s nice to just have some head space and other times I feel like he reveals things to me, or highlights things to me that he wants me to think about or pray about.

When we pray we draw closer to God, like we are opening ourselves us to be drawn closer to the very heart of God. As we put our lives into God’s hands and invite him into every area of our lives, we invite in his presence. We allow our hearts and minds to be transformed more and more into the heart and mind of God.

 

Holy spirit

For spiritual transformation, the HS is kind of essential!

So here’s the thing, there is a spiritual world, THIS is a spiritual world. I know that sometimes people find that sort of statement a bit tricky to get our heads around but really we shouldn’t have any difficulty believing that.

 

If we look at the very beginning, Genesis 1. What do we see:

 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Right at the very start, the SPIRIT of God was hovering over the waters at creation itself.

And we know that God is three persons – Father, Son and HOLY SPIRIT.

We have seen in our recent series on the HS, the Holy spirit at work both in Jesus’ time and now.

Eph 6:12 says:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

And so it shouldn’t be hard for us to recognise that our world IS spiritual, it is the HS at work throughout creation, throughout this world, on earth and in heaven.

We don’t know what that looks like, but we can sure see the work of the spirit, the evidence of a spiritual world

it is the HS that keeps us in tune with what God is doing, when we pray and we sense a word from God, or we think of something we should do. Perhaps we are prompted to pray for someone – they just come into our heads for no reason, or we think of something we really have to do today or go somewhere and we’re not sure why – that is the HS within us. Guiding us into God’s plans and purposes.

In seeking to be led by the HS we are allowing ourselves to see more into that spiritual element of the world, I don’t know if I’m explaining this very well. Or it’s just sounding a bit ‘super spiritual’!

The thing is, God is a spiritual being, 1/3 of him, of the trinity is the spirit at work the same spirit that was there at work at the start of creation. We are created in his image, we have his spirit within us. We should want that part of us to be nurtured and developed and allowed to flourish as much as any other part.

If we want to be spiritually mature, spiritually transformed then being aware of and being led by the HS is vital!

 

Love / serve

We need to Love and to put that love into action…

1 John 4

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

We believe in a God of Love – that God is love. And I love this passage.

We need to love and serve others because of that amazing love that God has poured out for us. But so much more than that – that last verse:

12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

The implication here is that though no one has seen God, they can see him through us – because his love will be made complete in us. That’s pretty mind blowing right? Is that the ultimate in spiritual transformation? IF we love one another, God will live in us and be seen through us.

As we show God’s love to those around us, it reveals God himself! The NLT says …his love is brought to full expression in us.

If we love one another, we are the very expression of God’s love…

And we can’t just do that by sending loving vibes to each other or thinking positive thoughts, no we put that love into action. That’s how people see God’s love, through the way we interact with each other. Serving one another, doing kind things for others, reaching out to those in need…

You know, RW suggests that our Spiritual health is measured by love.

That makes total sense doesn’t it?! If God is love, and we want to be transformed more and more into his likeness, and he wants to reveal his love through us then the more we seek to be life him the more that love will show…

…o0O0o…

There’s just 4 habits to help us towards spiritual transformation, I am sure there are many more but these seem key to me.

 

: Get into God’s word

: pray constantly about all things

: be led by the HS,

: and love as much as you can

 

Perhaps some of you are doing all of those already, perhaps you do one or two, but I want to challenge you to commit to them all!

 

 

Preach // Healing // Spiritual Gifts // John 9

Preach from TRINITY Church 6.30 / 25th June 2017

based on John 9 and 1 Cor 12:9-10

INTRO //

Recommend books:

The essential guide to healing – Bill Johnson and Randy Clark

Those controversial gifts – George Mallone

There is More – Randy Clark

 

Well here we are in our series on the gifts of the spirit (in our life and church) and today we are looking specifically at healing and miracles. Our main focus is still the passage from 1 Cor 12, and particularly today vs 9-10

Slide >>>

to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers…

But I’ve also chosen the John 9 passage we just heard to take us a bit further than that.

My view point //

And I need to say I come at this from the view point that the spiritual gifts are for today and for now. I have seen them at work in my life and in the lives of others and I think we need to embrace them more, so I won’t apologise for being very enthusiastic about this subject!

However I will say that if you don’t agree with me or you have questions do come talk to me or to one of the leadership team, because we really want people to embrace this subject, but we also recognise it is a difficult one.

Facts //

So healing is our focus today.

Did you know that out of nearly 4000 verses in the 4 gospels, 727 relate specifically to the healing of physical and mental illness and the resurrection of the dead – that’s 1/5th of the gospels.

Healing was a big part of what Jesus did and how he taught people about the kingdom of God.

So then if that’s how he taught, shouldn’t it be the same for us as we share about the kingdom of God?

We had a phrase at my last church and it was ‘there is more’ (from the RC book)

Because I believe there is so much more to life following Jesus than we are seeing right now.

We are only seeing a tiny fraction of the kingdom of heaven and what that means for us here on earth now. We really need the gifts of the spirit to step into the fullness of what God has for us. I was taught in that environment that we should always be seeking the more. And I have carried that with me ever since.

 

 

John 9 / doubts etc

Now I imagine some of you are still unsure about this kind of stuff and perhaps not ready to totally embrace it yet or step into it for yourself. So I chose this passage from John 9 because there is so much in it – there is of course the healing miracle, but there is also doubt and questions, and there is even humour too:

You can see later on the man who was once blind is obviously getting a little bit exasperated with the questions from the Pharisees and he says:

Slide >>>

“I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

now that’s some banter right there. The pharisees are seriously important guys and our guy here is giving them some serious sass – it’s like a comedy routine almost!

But as well as humour there is also doubt and questions as well as the miracle of course.

All of which can help us relate to the idea of healing with our own questions.

Because questions are ok – I think we can grow in our faith by asking questions but let’s question intelligently – and let’s hold our doubts tension with the truth of who Jesus is, with what scripture says about him.

I want to show you a video clip now, this is of a man called Randy Clark who I believe has been given the spiritual gift of healing and has seen hundreds if not thousands of people healed. And here he is interviewing people who have been healed during one of his conferences:

 

>>>CLIP Randy Clark video 3 mins ish


Now, I’d be really interested to know what do you think when you see that? Anyone want to tell me – what is your immediate response to seeing that clip? Honestly.

Get responses… >>

perhaps you are inspired and in wonder at the power of God.

Or perhaps you find it really challenging. Did God really do that? Why? How? are they even telling the truth? Is this fake… it’s all pretty unbelievable right?

And that’s ok, it’s ok to have questions about stuff and especially when we don’t understand it or haven’t experienced it.

/////

You know, I literally was writing this preach sat in the Royal Alex hospital this week with my son who broke his arm – ironic right ?! I was writing this surrounded by sick kids who needed healing.

That was really hard, I was like should I be going round offer to pray for healing?!

And here’s the thing he had lots of prayer for healing and the bone did not get healed,

So about now I could be thinking, well I know God has the power to heal and he hasn’t and why hasn’t he? But if I focused on that I would be missing the answers to prayer that we did experience.

When we left the hospital on the day he broke it, we were told he’d need surgery and to come in on Monday for the op. So we began praying he wouldn’t need surgery. Monday morning after he’s already fasting – nil by mouth – we get a phone call to say they are not going to operate after all, they’ve taken another look and can he come in the next day to have it manipulated instead. Praise God!

Plus his pain levels which were through the roof even maxed out on paracetamol and ibuprofen dropped hugely, meaning he could go to school in between hospital visits to finish his end of year exams.

So I can take comfort in the fact that God has been with us all even if he didn’t heal Elliott as we would have liked! So I can hold the question of why didn’t he get healed this time alongside what I know to be true that God loves him and wants the best for him.

And I can’t say it enough, it’s key that we recognise that it’s ok to have those questions, so long as they don’t take over. So long as we hold them alongside the truth.

///

Here, in our John 9 passage we see 2 different ways of dealing with questions.

Firstly you’ve got the Pharisees with all their rules and objections:

: But it’s the Sabbath

: He must be a sinner because he did this on the Sabbath

: But how can he be a sinner and have the power to heal?

And so on…

 

But they just end up tying themselves in knots with all their questions and seem to deny the truth which is right in front of them, that Jesus healed a man who was once blind.

And then you’ve got the man who was blind – our second example – he says it all when he says:

“Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

It’s as simple as that! He doesn’t care who or how or why, he just knows, he can see!!

But still the Pharisees question. In fact they end up where this passage started – the idea the disciples suggest in v1 when they say:

“You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!”

they just can’t get beyond their objections and questions to see the truth.

Let’s not get too bogged down in what we don’t understand, it will just cloud our vision…

 

///////

 

So what are the gifts for?

So, we believe that these gifts are for today, well what are they for? Or Why are they there, why should we take notice?

Well I’ve got 3 reasons here but you might have others…

Slide >>

For the Common good

To bring Glory to God (Evangelism)

Jesus told us to

 

  1. For the Common good

 

In our 1 Corinthians passage v7 we see that the spiritual gifts are given for ‘the common good’

Slide >>

v7:

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

 

And that theme is picked up later on in the passage from verse 12-22 when it talks about us being one body with many parts

Slide >>

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ

 

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable

 

We are in this together people!

We all have a part to play.

Just imagine as our passage says, one part of the body says to another, I don’t need you.

What happens? The body doesn’t function completely as it should.

So say the hands don’t work, well that would make life very difficult but the body would still be alive right – my son has only one working arm at the moment and it’s a challenge! But he’s still living, going to school, etc but it means his body is not functioning to it’s full potential.

So take that metaphor to the church. What happens if we say, well we don’t need that bit of the church, we don’t need that part of worship, or that part of belief. What happens?

>>The church doesn’t function to it’s full potential.

 

So if we do away with part of what God has for us, we are missing out big time. If we say well the spiritual gifts are not for now, or God doesn’t heal today, or that’s not for me, then we are not achieving our full potential as Christians or as a church.

 

2 For the glory of God

Slide >>

Paul says in Romans 15:

 

17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— 19 by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.

His service is all about bringing glory to God and look at how he notes that through these signs and wonders the HS is doing through him, he is leading gentiles – ie: non believers – to come to know the Lord

Do you know what happens when people get healed?

They are so full of joy and excitement they tell people about it. See our clip earlier – look how excited they were to tell about what had happened to them!

Slide >>

In our John passage, verse 3 Jesus says of the blind man:

 

this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

When signs and wonders happen the glory is for God. And more than that – when God’s glory is displayed people want to know more.

There’s an example of this in Mark 5 when Jesus healed a demon possessed man. And afterwards it says:

Slide >>

20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

The miraculous power of God at work, inspires people to give glory to God and to share about who he is…

 

3) Jesus told us to

Ok , one of my favourite scriptures really speaks into this – it is from Matthew 10:8 when Jesus sends out he 12: and he says:

Slide >>>

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

So he says: preach this – the kingdom of heaven has come near. And then the action is to – heal the sick, raise the dead etc. The two are connected.

Now I love that passage because of the message but more… this is as much for us all now too, that we should both proclaim the kingdom and act accordingly – and if you’re not convinced let’s look at Mathew 28:19, The Great Commission – Jesus tells the disciples to:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Ok so they are to make new disciples – ie: preach the kingdom of heaven – and then teach those new disciples to do what they are doing. Yes, get that? Ok so what did he tell them to do back in Mat 10?

Yep you got it:

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.

So this is as much for us now as it was for them then! Make sense?

 

Hard stuff //

Now before I finish I do want to touch upon the difficult stuff –

God doesn’t always answer our prayers, for healing or otherwise, in the way that we would like.

And that can be really difficult, I am sure there are people here who haven’t received healing through prayer or have had a bad experience with people praying for healing for them. And it can be quite damaging actually. We need to recognise that and be super sensitive when we are teaching about and praying for healing.

People can come up with all sorts of reasons people aren’t healed – just like the Pharisees saying well he must be a sinner that’s why he’s blind.

I’ve heard for example:

  • well you haven’t got enough faith
  • there’s something blocking your belief.

 

Well you know Jesus himself said in Luke 7:

“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

A mustard seed – do you know how big a mustard seed is? tiny! I am pretty sure we could all muster up a mustard seed’s worth of faith!

(no pun intended)

Or you get those over zealous pray-ers – you know the type – people rock you around, pushing you over, or getting shouty, trying to force healing to happen… I’ve experienced plenty of that and it’s just really distracting, in fact I find it decreases my faith because I am just thinking ‘will you stop shouting in my ear you are spitting on me…’!

And those kind of experiences can just leave people with even more questions or with their faith damaged as a result

We have to remember it is not us that are the ones doing the healing, our role in praying for healing or anything else in prayer ministry is to bring that person closer to God, to help them to meet with the Lord in their situation. It is the Holy Spirit that does the work not us. They should be able to walk away from prayer feeling they have drawn closer to God whether healed or not.

And for some of us in those kind of situations, when being prayed for, trying to hold onto the truth of God, alongside what we are seeing in front of us can be really really tough.

If that’s you I’d recommend the book of Job, I have found it really helpful – in it there is a whole discussion going on between Job to whom terrible things have happened, and his friends who are trying to justify and answer and come up with reasons why all this has happened.

And then God shows up. And asks ‘where you there when I laid the earth’s foundation? Or when I made the clouds? Have you given orders to the morning, or seen the gates of death, or comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? And this goes on for some time!

And the answer is No, so how can you possibly understand!?

Because at the end of the day He is God and we are not.

Now I know some people think that is a cop out, they want to explore and argue and come up with answers to everything and I know because as a Christian I’ve been accused of being foolish, thick, naiive, brainwashed.

They think faith without proof is mumbo jumbo, a crux for the weak. But I say the opposite, wow I mean how much strength and courage and boldness does it take to believe in Jesus? It’s rarely easy!

The thing is he is God, He’s God! If we could fathom him out and answer all our questions then we’d have no need of him in the first place!

We have to get to a place where we can be comfortable with an element of mystery.

  

We don’t always know the answers, perhaps one day when we are up there we will, perhaps we won’t but for now :

What we don’t understand we hold alongside the truth.

So let’s finish with some truths…

Healing and the spiritual gifts are for now as much as in Jesus time.

They are for the common good

They glorify God and point people to Jesus

: Jesus IS the Son of God, he loves us and want to know us more and for us to know him more.

: He will be with us in any circumstance, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in.

We are a church that wants to see lives transformed by the love of Christ.

The more we know Jesus in all his fullness, we more we get transformed, the more we see others lives transformed.

Randy Clark said this:

 

“God is not looking for the well financed, the well educated nor even the well experienced in “ministry.” He is simply looking for those who are willing to yield their hearts and lives to all He wants to do working through them. He is looking for those who are willing to believe for more, because there is more!”  p.26 RC There is More

 

so my question today is – Do you want to see the more?

 

Lead into prayer…

 

Preach // 28th May 2017 // 6.30 TRINITY Church // Witness

6.30 service at TRINITY // 28/5/17

Witness and Mission // Acts 1:8

 

 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

 

 

…o0O0o…

Before I get into this preach tonight, I just want to say, I first sat down to write this sermon on Tuesday morning. I had just woken up and seen the terrible news from Manchester. A lot of thoughts and emotions went through my mind. And I have to be honest I just completely floundered, where was God is in this?

During the day I read an article which highlighted the good that was bring done in the wake of the tragedy but did so my suggesting Jesus came to Manchester after the bombing.

 

 

And I’ve got to be honest it just made me really angry.

 

I mean, ‘And then Jesus came?’

What was he not there before? Did Jesus not grace the doorstep of Manchester before this terrible thing? Does goodness only come out in response to terror and fear? What nonsense.

Look I think it’s almost impossible to come up with an answer to the why? in situations like this. We can talk theology or politics but it actually doesn’t really help us to understand why someone would do something so awful, to cause so much pain deliberately and equate that with an all powerful loving God.

But what I do say to people with those sorts of questions is that we need to hold the truth of who God is alongside the things we don’t understand. And I expect that is what the writer of that piece was trying to do.

Questions are ok, I’m not saying don’t question, don’t ask, because actually I think our faith grows through that, but we have to hold them in tension with the truth.

Now I know some people think that is a cop out, they want to explore and argue and come up with answers to everything and I know because as a Christian I’ve been accused of being foolish, thick, naiive, brainwashed.

They think faith without proof is mumbo jumbo, a crux for the weak. But I say the opposite, wow I mean how much strength and courage and boldness does it take to believe in Jesus? It’s rarely easy!

The thing is he is God, He’s God! If we could fathom him out and answer all our questions then we’d have no need of him in the first place!

We have to get to a place where we can be comfortable with an element of mystery. Or of not understanding.

 

So whilst what I say tonight I believe, it’s something I am passionate about and I believe it is what God has for us right now, I also recognise that sometimes it’s hard to hold that truth in tension with what we don’t understand. Perhaps what I say tonight will sound crass in the light of what’s happened, though I hope not, that is not my intention, or maybe you’d rather hear me say something about God and suffering, but I just encourage you just to try and hold what you hear tonight together with what you don’t understand if that’s ok.

 

…o0O0o…

And the truth of our passage tonight is that we are called to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. And I don’t suppose the disciples when they heard this fully understood what they were to do but they trusted in him.

 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

Jesus is speaking here to his disciples, literally seconds before he ascended and returned into heaven – and its very appropriate for this week, because did you know it was Ascension day this week?

Now, there are many times in the bible when Jesus sends out his disciples, but I think it’s hugely significant that these are, his very last words to them.

You will receive power

The Holy Spirit will come upon you

You will be my witnesses

In all the earth

 

And before I go on I want us all to understand that this is as much for us now as it was for them then – how do we know that?

 

Matthew 28 The Great Commission, another passage like this one, sending them out:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and (now here’s the key) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age…

And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. So the disciples are told to teach others to do what Jesus has taught them, so then the next generation of believers has the same commission, to continue to teach what they have been taught, and so on… right up to us in this day.

Whatever Jesus commanded the disciples to do, we can therefore say is for us too.

Does that make sense?

 

So for example. Matthew 10:7-8 one of my fave passages, Jesus sends out the 12 with these instructions:

 

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

 

Yes? Come on!

That’s what I want to see, the sick healed, the dead raised, lives transformed…

and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Remember…

 

So just as the disciples were, WE are Jesus’ witnesses – anyone who is a Christian who has been made a disciple is called to be a witness for Jesus to all nations, to the ends of the earth.

That’s us.

So, are you a witness for Jesus? Are we as a church a witness for Christ?

 

And what does that even mean anyway?

…o0O0o…

Well 2 words that strike fear into the hearts of many:

Mission and evangelism… that is what witness means.

But why is that we hear words like them and break out in a cold sweat?

Well maybe it’s because we have seen really bad evangelism and want nothing to do with it? Maybe we’re worried people will think us weird if we talk about you know, (hushed) Jesus.

Or because the church often has a bad reputation, and we don’t want to have to deal with difficult questions about suffering or evil or homosexuality or women in the church…? Goodness whatever next!

Or maybe it’s just that we don’t really know what it means or what we’re supposed to do?!

Because we’ve already established that this is for everyone, right – we’re all supposed to be doing this, because we are supposed to be following what Jesus taught his disciples, yes?

 

…o0O0o…

Now look, some of us ARE called to be out and out evangelists. We are called to be project starters, to be pioneering new ideas out there… And that is great, we need pioneers to have ideas to get things going, to be out there among the people. And some of us aren’t called to that specifically as a calling or gifting, but we must not be people who sit back and think, well that’s ok – they, them over there are the missional types, they are the evangelists – I’ll let them get on with it…

But equally I’m not saying we all need to be out there on a street corner with a soap box and a loud haler telling people they are going to hell,

but we should be doing something.

So what can we do? And I’m going to focus on us as individuals though it’s as much a call for the church together as it is for us.

So we’re going to use Forrest Gump as an example.

Now I love Forrest Gump – how many of you have seen the film?

If you haven’t it’s the story is of a guy who, well I guess today he’d be classed as having learning difficulties, and it’s his journey through life. And he gets into all sorts of amazing situations mostly by accident.

And the reason I wanted to show it to you today is because I think Forrest is a great example of someone who is missional and evangelistic.

So here’s 3 things we can learn from FG about being a good witness, about being evangelistic and missional.

 

We can be incarnational

We can tell our story

We can go wider

 

 

1) We can be incarnational

 

Had to get that clip in, the most iconic line!
So, being incarnational – literally means in this context – just being who you are, a Christian – being a light for Jesus wherever you are. Jesus was the ultimate incarnation – he came to earth and took on human form in order to fulfil God’s mission. So for us that might mean intentionally seeking to be a shining light wherever we are. We can bring a Christian presence in any given situation, bring a different viewpoint, a bringer of peace and light.

So for example, Forrest makes the most of wherever he is, or wherever he is sent, or wherever he finds himself. He is just himself and takes everything in his stride. No matter what the situation – at war, in business, siting on a park bench – he embraces the place where he is. I am sure sometimes people think him weird but he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

So great example here – he’s just waiting for a bus and he doesn’t just sit there and ignore everyone, he is the same as he always is and so he just chats to people who come and sit next to him, or offers them a chocolate!

Jeremiah 29:4-7 says this:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

 

These are people who were sent to exile, sent away from homes and family and all that they knew, but God tells them to embrace where they are, to bless where they are, where he’s placed them.

We have to own where God has put us! I don’t think any of us are where we are by accident!

So, where has God put you? What’s your mission field? College, work, home, football club… where do you hang out with people?

Wherever you are, you are bringing the presence of God, because we carry that within us anyway. You don’t necessarily have to be talking about Jesus. sometimes just people knowing you are a Christian or that you go to church, is enough. It means that when they have questions or they need support they might just come to you.

John 13:35 tell us:

 

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples- if you love one another”

 

that’s how people will know about God, if we love people and love one another. That’s quite simple isn’t it?

And I always tell the story of my husband who had a work colleague who was a Christian, she didn’t go on about it a lot, he just knew because she’d said occasionally, that she went to church. So when he started having questions about faith, he knew exactly who to ask!

 

Be incarnational and embrace where God has put you.

 

OK so what else can we learn from Forrest Gump?

 

2.We can tell our story – we can talk about what God has done for us.

FG, talks about his faith quite openly and without shame or being embarrassed, he just talks matter of factly about it. And because he does that, people respond – so here you see Lieutenant Dan saying ‘where’s this God of yours’ but actually there is more to it that just teasing, he is on a journey, and later on FG says that he thinks Lt Dan made his peace with God.

But because he is open about his faith it’s easy for God to move! Here we see an amazing miracle but it’s the same in our lives too wherever we are open and seeking God, it just creates ways for him to move and for us to reach into peoples lives.

Your story is one of the best tools for evangelism that you have. Testimony is so powerful, we are a people who love stories, we especially love personal stories and stories of people going from sad to happy, from a bad place to a good one. Some of the stories we see in Alpha, like the guy who had been in prison and the became a Christian and his life was turned around. How many of you watch movies on Facebook or Social Media of heart warming stories? It makes you feel good right!? Your story could do that for someone else.

In Mark 5, where Jesus healed a demon possessed man and when the man asks to go with him, Jesus says no – just go and tell people what the Lord has done for you.

Mark 5:18-20

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

 

This man had been healed by the Lord. And what did Jesus tell him to do – just go and tell people what had happened to him. And that is key. Our story, our testimony.

You know someone close to me who is not a Christian, we’ve had so many conversations about faith and God and the bible, and he is very antagonistic and the only thing that gets him to really listen is when I talk about what God has done and is doing in my life. My story.

I’m not trying to be a theological expert or answer all his questions and get out of the traps he lays for me! I’m just telling him what’s going on in my life.

He even once said, ‘I wish I had what you have’. I’m still praying for him, he hasn’t recognised Jesus yet but I have faith that he will!

…o0O0o…

And you don’t have to have some amazing healing or dramatic conversion, it might just be that because of your faith you are able to feel peaceful in a stressful situation. Or are the one who can be a peacemaker between arguing friends, or the one who encourages people to help someone worse off than them. That’s your cue, your opportunity when people notice those things, that’s just as much you story…

And, we don’t see in this clip but the man sat next to FG on the bench doesn’t believe him and goes off laughing. But FG just carries on talking to the woman next to him. Just like in the parable where the seed falls on rocky ground, in weeds and in good soil, we still need to sow it! That man might never have believed but the woman next to him certainly does!

1 Peter 3:15

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…

Use your story you know it well!

…o0O0o…

And finally. FG shows us that we might go further, go the extra mile.

 

3.We can go wider/further

FG ends up in all kinds of situations that as a child no one thought him capable of, they didn’t even want him in school because they thought he couldn’t cope with it.

The truth is we just don’t know where God might take us. And that might be a one off situation where he calls you in that moment to do something radical or bold or courageous for him. Or it might be wider calling to go somewhere like Lisa from our congregation here who God has called to Uganda for example. Or I have friends that moved to a particular estate locally because that’s where God led them to.

We might end up in places we never thought we could go or doing things we never thought we could do. We need to be open to the leading of God. In our passage it says that the Holy Spirit will come on them. We need to be aware of the HS in our lives, to listen, to hear and be led by him.

I think this is one of the most inspiring scenes in the movie. FG is fighting in Vietnam and despite the danger, despite the fear, he is completely focussed on rescuing people, saving his fellow soldiers.

Isn’t that what we’re about at the end of the day? Seeing people saved? Rescued?

Where might God send you? Who might he be calling you to see saved or rescued?

And more than that, FG did in that moment more than he could have done without the adrenaline and fear and desperation to find his friend. It’s just like that when the HS comes on us, we can achieve so much more than in our own strength!

 

…o0O0o…

 

and one more thing I want to pick up on..

 

Mark 16:15 says

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation

 

And in our passage from Acts:

and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

 

 

To the ends of the earth…

Did you know that According to Finishing the Task, (evangelistic organization) there are 506 unengaged, unreached people groups with populations over 10,000, together numbering over 51 million souls that are still beyond the reach of the Gospel.

Most of which lay in what’s often referred to as the 10/40 window – a band which lies across Africa and Asia from 10 degrees latitude north of the equator to 40 degrees latitude north of the equator.

But what if we’re not called to actually go to somewhere across the world, does that mean we can’t share the gospel across the world?

No – in our technological era, with the internet and social media, I can put something online that can be seen across the world in seconds. Even in remote places. Of course there are people without access to the internet but it is still a very useful tool.

So for example, I went on my blog stats and looked at where people were viewing my blog from.

There was a huge list of countries. But some had just 1 or 2 views. So if I wanted it would be very easy to write stuff to reach a particular country, or to set my profile and settings to reach a different area. All without leaving the comfort of my sofa!

Social media – we can contact people all over the world. I have friend who runs a school and orphanage in rural Haiti and they keep in touch via Facebook because its the easiest way to get the news out to lots of people and quickly (and it’s free!).

 

Going into all the world might not necessarily mean actually physically going there…

 

…o0O0o…

So.

 

We are ALL called to be witnesses for Jesus. There can be no excuses!

 

We could be incarnational

We can share our story and

We might just be able to go a bit further…

 

…o0O0o…

Lead into prayer….

 

 

 

Preach // Palm Sunday 2017

 

Palm Sunday 2017 10am // 11.15am at TRINITY, Lewes

Luke 19:28-44

 

>> Holy week timeline slide

 

Anyone know what this is? If you can read the small print you can probably work it out. It’s not a tube map but a cleverly drawn timeline of Holy week. Palm Sunday – Easter Sunday (and beyond), different people in different colours, using accounts from all 4 gospels, including scripture refs.

And we are here – at the beginning of the week, what we now refer to as ‘Palm Sunday’ – when we remember the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, in what is usually called his ‘triumphal entry’. It’s the absolute contrast to what happens in just 5 days time (point to Friday) when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross on Good Friday. And exactly a week before his resurrection which we will celebrate next Sunday.

 

For many of us, if we are honest, this will be a normal week, perhaps a working week, we might not have the time to even consider that we are in Holy week or what it even means to us. We might simply go from one celebration – Palm Sunday today – to the next – Easter Day – without considering the in between. And that’s life, we don’t often have time to stop, reflect and consider until we are forced to perhaps by life’s circumstances or we deliberately choose to take time out to do so.

But I think that if nothing else, at this time of year it’s a great opportunity to really think about the truth of our faith, the unfailing love that was the fuel that led Jesus to the cross.

For us. For me. For you.

It’s easy sometimes to take for granted what Jesus did, we talk about him going to the cross, or we use phrases like ‘laying things at the foot of the cross, or carrying our cross, or we might wear a symbol of the cross, or have one in our homes. But what does it mean to us? Truly and really?

This week I want to encourage you to take some time even if just a few minutes a day to reflect on that and I’ve actually written some notes which will be online if you want to use them. 10 mins each day.

 

And we are going to start that this morning by thinking about triumph and it’s counterpart sorrow.

 

////////////

 

 

Palm Sunday

And here today we start at the beginning of Holy Week. Palm Sunday. But it’s not really a beginning at all, it’s really part of the culmination of Jesus’ life, of all that he came to do. And if we think about it in human terms it’s really the wrong way around – in one sense, this is a funeral procession not a triumphal one, and yet the death we see later in the week is the very victory over death.

So, here Jesus comes into Jerusalem in triumph. All who saw and were cheering, or waving branches were welcoming him as a king. It’s joyful, it is a celebration, they waved Palm branches and laid their cloaks before him on the ground. A modern day equivalent might be perhaps the Queen visiting today and hoards of people lining the streets just to see her, and waving union flags or singing the national anthem – it’s that equivalent – a royal welcome. There was huge expectation.

I want to show you a clip of what it might have been like back then…

This is from The BBC’s The Passion series and give us an idea what it might have been like….

>>>> Clip from BBC The Passion

 

I do love this clip, of course it’s full of artistic licence and those petals look distinctly like they are made of modern paper, not very 1st C Jerusalem, but I find it really helpful as a focus.

The scene is so emotive,

The crowds calling his name,

Laying their Cloaks on the ground

Palm branches wafting in the air, people’s faces alight with joy and hope

The petals scattered by smiling children onto a smiling Jesus

All around is celebrating, shouting hosanna, hosanna

Onlookers swept into the delight, led on by the disciples,

 

And yet…. If we fast forward just 5 days

 

Instead, onlookers jeer and question as the disciples scatter

Instead of shouts of praise are angry cries of ‘crucify’ ‘crucify’

Instead of the beauty of crimson petals falling, drops of red blood, fall on those same streets, not falling upon Jesus, but from him

Branches are forgotten, trampled under foot, dusty and dirty, under the feet of soldiers, animals and…

cloaks on the ground are replaced by the heavy feet of Roman soldiers,

hope has quickly vanished and replaced with angry faces.

The atmosphere has darkened, instead of joy, hate fills the air

 

Just to warn you this next clip is quite graphic…

 

>>> Clip 2 Contrast

 

 

Those two clips show such vast contrasts in the life of Jesus just a few days apart and yet, they are both necessary parts of his mission here on earth, his role to save us all from our own brokenness, from the evil inflicted on this world by the Devil.

Triumph and sorrow are all part of his Victory.

And that is what I want to focus on today – the triumph and it’s counterpart sorrow.

I chose that word sorrow carefully, as the opposite to Triumph, because an obvious one might be be defeat or failure, and yet there is no defeat or failure here because as Christians we can be sure of the ending, we know that Jesus overcame death, he did the unthinkable, he won against death. Both spiritually and physically.

And yet he had to experience such extremes of life to do so.

And I would venture to say that it is the same for us. Just as Jesus knew what the ending would be, we know that ultimate truth, that is the truth that should underpin our daily lives, that whatever we face there is an unbelievable future in store for us.  

But before we get there we have to navigate this fallen, yet beautiful, loving and yet hate-filled, triumphant and yet sorrowful world. And that can be flippin’ hard can’t it?

 

And we can just as much see that in things Jesus’ faced

– his friend Lazarus died and he wept at his loss. Even though he knew that death would not win, he still suffered the pain of losing a friend.

 

Isaiah 53: 3 tells us:

He was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. (NLT)

 

– The bible tells us God is love and yet we see in the OT God being filled with wrath,

He’s a jealous God

      

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me…

Exodus 20:5

 

– and yet a joy filled God:

For as a young man marries a young woman,

so shall your sons marry you,

and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,

so shall your God rejoice over you.

 

Isaiah 62:5

 

And here in v 41 we see the second of 2 verses where Jesus cries.

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

 

 

Whilst our future in eternity is in a place where tears will be dried, there will be no death of crying or pain, as Rev 21 says

 

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea…. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 

For now, though we do have to face those things and it would be unrealistic to expect otherwise. But let’s be sure – suffering and hardship, illness and pain – none of it comes from God. That is not his intention for us. I am still amazed by how many people accept that. Like it’s some kind of punishment doled out on us for some perhaps unperceived sin. Rubbish! Look crappy stuff happens, it’s the result of being in a fallen world, where the devil has a foothold and we all have free choice.

 

That doesn’t mean God doesn’t or can’t use it for his benefit, for I know that he can and does. I think I’ve told before of how when I had a back injury a couple of years ago and had surgery meaning 3 months off work and lengthy recovery period that despite the hideous pain, I can look back on that time as a blessing as God spoke to me so powerfully through it all. I think of people like ‘The Heavenly man’ (Brother Yun) who suffered horrendous persecution in China because of his faith, being in prison, tortured for years and yet now his story touches people all across the world. Thousands of people have heard the gospel through him and his story.

Or a friend of mine who tragically lost her baby at 17 hours old to a Group B Strep infection. In her grief she channelled her pain, led by God and started a charity to raise awareness and to fight for routine testing to stop other babies dying.

Nothing is wasted in God’s kingdom.

However sometimes it isn’t that obvious where God is at work, sometimes it’s a wilderness, or a barren landscape where it is hard just to hang onto an iota of faith because of our journey, let alone see where God is at work.

 

In our passage we read:

 

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

That’s pretty harsh isn’t it? Even in his triumph as he approaches Jerusalem with people calling out praise to him, he weeps in sorrow for a lost city. For the people who won’t enter his kingdom with him…

But I believe that moments of triumph help to sustain us in times of sorrow. God gives us amazing experiences or knowledge of him to hang on to when we need them most.

I love how this is depicted in the second clip I showed you earlier – that in the midst of the pain Jesus was experiencing as he walked to his death carrying the cross, he looked up and saw, one assumes in his imagination, the girls from a few days before scattering petals on him and he seems to gather a renewed strength to carry on.

I wonder what those moments might be for you? A moment of clarity of Jesus at work in you life that gives you strength?

 

////////

 

But our triumphs are not just ours to keep and treasure, they are also for the glory of God.

As the disciples enter Jerusalem with Christ it says

‘’then he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

 

They praise God for the miracles they have seen. And yet the Pharisees, one assumes in fear or offense tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples, to tell them to stop and he simply says, ‘If they keep quiet the stones will cry out.’

Because all creation is made to praise the Lord

 

 

Psalm 66:4

All the earth bows down to you;they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.

 

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

 

 

Isaiah 55:12 English Standard Version (ESV)

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you  shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

 

 

We are part of God’s creation and called to cry out in praise, in worship and in testimony to the greatness of God.

And yet so often we fall short.

And we are not alone.

It’s all very well reading here how the disciples shouted in praise and worship but in 5 days time they all, scatter. Of the 12, John is the only one at the crucifixion. Peter denies Jesus 3 times, despite being warned he will do so, and Judas sells him out.

So we can draw comfort from them, that they were with Jesus every day and still they messed up.

 

////////

 

 but just going back to the stones crying out – I was thinking about Jesus crying over the city of Jerusalem and wondering whether we cry over our own town?

Lewes examples…

It doesn’t matter what our political views or how these situations arose, the question is, do we have compassion? do we weep for those amongst us as Jesus did?

There is so much more we can do – and I am so excited about our Love in Action plans and the vision for the new TRINITY centre at St John’s because it will give us a base from which to see so much more of God’s love spread across our town. We will have a much greater opportunity to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn, and to see lives transformed by the love of Christ.

Amongst the sorrow I want to seek the triumph of God at work. And I hope we will be united in that as a church!

 

 

//////

 

Because I think that is key to building faith, ours and other peoples – to seek the triumph of God in all we do. To look for those encounters with him that build us up as disciples of Jesus.

And it’s important to seek those moments in our present but also to remember them too from our past. There is such power in reliving things that God has done. I have various ways of doing that – I have a prayer journal, I write on my blog, I even have an ‘enouragement box’ for the days when I need some, it’s full of cards and letters people have written to me or thanked me for something I’ve done or said that has helped them. It was something I heard suggested at college and it’s really helpful. And my prayer journal – of which I have hundreds of filled ones in a box in my study – I look back on to remind myself of where God has been at work in my life. In times of sorrow that’s where I look for reminders of his triumph.

So I want to ask you… Where are those moments of triumph in your life? What is your experience of triumph? What stories of God at work in your life that can sustain you?

 

/////

 

As I said I’ve prepared some notes for this week, as a sort of aid to reflection…

Each day scripture from the Holy week narrative, poetry, images, prayer points and prompts to help you engage anew with the truth of what Christ has done for you.

 

////////

 

So this week as we remember the journey Jesus took from the triumphal entry, let’s take this opportunity to seek him afresh in our lives, perhaps we can look for moments of encounter or triumph, perhaps we can remind ourselves of the triumph amidst our own or others sorrow.

 

….. PRAYER…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preach // 26th Feb 2017 / Galatians 5 ‘Living by the Spirit’

Galatians 5:13-26 Living by the Spirit 

Given at TRINITY Church, Southover, 6.30 service 26/2/17

  

Right, what do we learn from this passage?

Is it just: no dodgy sex, no getting wasted, no seeking out witches for spells, and definitley no orgys? Sorry if that’s your evening’s plans ruined but it’s there in back and white…

But… this series we are doing this term at the 6.30, is all about what it means to live as a wholehearted disciple of Jesus in the modern world. So there is of course more to it than that.

You know so often we read the bible, or we talk about what we believe, or what the church doctrine says, people get bogged down in the ‘sensational’ stuff – sex, drink, debauchery, and you know Paul does tend to have a habit of talking about this kind of stuff, he’s always dishing out his thoughts, but if we can see beyond that stuff, there is actually a lot more here than just the ‘don’t do this’ instructions.

We are looking today at ‘living by the spirit’ and basically what Paul says is we need the Holy Spirit in our lives. To follow Jesus, to be a disciple of his, we are going to need some help, right? It’s not always easy being a follower of Jesus.

We want to follow him, we try to be like him, we try to act in a way that is honouring to him, but we get distracted – as he says: our flesh desires things that we don’t want it to desire. Anyone do ‘dry January’ or ‘Sugar free February’ or ever given up Chocolate for Lent? If so you might well know about your flesh desiring things you don’t want it to desire…

And actually I don’t think he is just talking about bodily desire here anyway. He is talking about things that draw us away from God, or from a Godly life, perhaps things that tempt us away. So for example he also mentions hatred, discord, jealousy and anger.

We need the Holy Spirit to help us, we cannot do it alone.

 

I love this, in The MSG version (verses 16-18)

 

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

 

I think often we forget about that part of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – or perhaps we are fearful or wary of it. But the HS is a guide, a comforter, one who comes alongside us in our every situation. We might remember the Acts passage where the Holy Spirit falls on the disciples for the first time and they speak in different tongues. Sometimes this is our only view of the HS that he makes people do crazy things. But he’s so much more than that. For example:

 

John 14:26 says he is a teacher, someone to point us to Jesus

Romans 15:13 that he brings Hope

 

The Holy Spirit is meant to be a part of our lives. Jesus sent him for us, he is a part of helping us to live as wholehearted disciples of Jesus.

So how are we guided by the HS? How do we live life ‘by the Spirit’.

Now, I’m not really a 3 points beginning with ‘p’ kind of preacher,

so we’re calling them keys ok? and I reckon that we can pull out some ‘keys’ if you like, some guideines from Paul’s writing, that might be a practical help for us all to live life by the spirit.

 

 1) Listen

We have to listen to God. To listen to what the spirit is saying to us, to be led by him. And we have to know HOW to hear him.

John 14:15-16 says of the Holy Spirit:

‘you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.’

 

So, if we are followers of Jesus, then the HS lives within us – he is there, it’s just we don’t often listen! 

In v. 13 Paul notes that we were ‘called to be free’. We have freedom from following Christ – freedom to not be tied down by sin, by the bad stuff we experience in our lives, because, Jesus takes away our shame and our sin, whenever we seek him and say sorry or we invite him into our lives.

BUT we also have freedom of choice, we get to choose how we live our lives and sometimes we just don’t choose very well! And I think a lot of that has to do with what we are influenced by – or by what we listen to in our lives.

So let’s do a little experiment – I want you, in a moment, to make some noise now. I want you to think of one thing that you follow, maybe a band you like, a football team, a designer, apple products, someone on Twitter, anything, anyone. Just someone that you would say you follow.

Ok everyone got one? So After the count of 3, I want you to call that thing out,

for example: Seagulls, or Justin Bieber,

ok everyone ready? After 3 shout it out…

 

123 ….

 

Noise…

 

Calm them down…

Right, now how many of those things that we shouted out, do you think you could actually hear? Maybe a couple of them? Maybe the person next to you shouted so loud you couldn’t hear, or maybe you were drowned out – did anyone even hear you?!

Because in life there is not just one voice calling us, there are so many things calling our name, enticing us to go with them. For example:

Advertising voices – you need the new iphone7, it’s so good, it’s only got one thing different to the iphone 6 but you really need it, you will be so on trend if you have it, people will be jealous of you….

Or it might be the influence of magazines and celebrities, or your boss at work, teachers at school or college, or your friends,

Or perhaps a more obvious one maybe – social media – who do we follow on Twitter? Facebook? Snapchat? Instagram? Whose voice do we listen to there?

And we have to find out way through all of that, all of those voices, trying to follow a path that is right for each of us, and learn to hear the HS speaking to us, guiding us. And that will happen differently for each of us. It might be through reading God’s word, or through prayer, hearing a voice in your own head, just an inkling or a feeling, through supernatural circumstances, it’s different for all of us. Which leads us to

 

So to lead onto key no. 2… 

2) Recognise

So we listen carefully and within that – we need to try and recognize the voice of the HS in our lives and amongst the distractions or – the acts of the flesh as Paul calls them – the things that pull us away from God.

So, what distracts you from listening to the Lord? From being led by his HS?

Look, it might be sex or money or drunkenness, as Paul is so fond of highlighting but it might equally as likely be, and I love how the message version puts this,

 

Vs 19-21

a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; trinket gods; paranoid loneliness; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival….

The things we allow in our lives, are the things that influence us and the more we allow them in, the more the influence us.

So here’s an interesting thing.

 

do you know what an algorithm is? I expect some of you do, basically it’s like a code or equation and there are thousands of them running the internet. So for example – Facebook has an algorithm that means it chooses what you see on your timeline, you won’t automatically see all the latest posts from your friends, you will only see the ones that the code thinks you want to see.

Or online advertising is another one – have you ever noticed how you buy something online or watch TV show online, then for weeks afterwards every website you go to has adverts for that shop or that show? It’s just another algorithm that has picked up you like that show or that shop so it keeps showing it to you.

 

Angela Merkel (the German chancellor ) said in an interview that “These algorithms – can lead to a distortion of our perception. They narrow our breadth of information.”

They actually distort the truth, because you only see what the algorithms think you want to see. So the more you look at something, the more they think you want to see it, and so gradually what you see gets narrowed down until actually, where we think we are choosing our path, we are actually only experiencing a very narrow sphere of life.

That’s online, but we do it in every part of our lives – for example we tend to hang out with people who like the same things as us, or have the same opinions as us.

So we really need to recognise what are the things that we allow to pull us away from a life lived for God? Who, or what we choose to follow shapes who we are, shapes our personal identity.

And you know we are living in a time where it is becoming more and more important for us to distinguish between the voices who are shouting out to us. The loudest or most retweeted or most viewed, is not necessarily the right one. Often the quietest ones, are the most important; or the most vulnerable are the ones telling the most truth.

So the one thing we can and should allow ourselves to be influenced by more than any other voice, the one we could allow to guide ourselves over any other, is the HS. No ifs or buts, it has to be. In any situation.

So we need to listen and recognise his voice above all the distractions. And there’s no easy way to do that actually, it’s about learning and practice, and seeking him in our every day lives . The HS speaks to us all in different ways but one thing you can do, is to seek the fruit of the spirit in your life…

 

Which is no.3

 

3) Seek the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life.

We don’t need to focus on the bad stuff. We listen, we recognise it, but then we don’t allow it to take us over. We need to actively seek out the fruit of God’s spirit in our own lives and make that the focus.

And what is that fruit? Well Paul tells us in verse 22, (NIV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

And here’s the thing, sometimes we can get a bit worried about the Holy Spirit, I expect we’ve all heard or experienced for ourselves people ‘being filled with the Holy Spirit’ and then acting crazy or shrieking or shaking or whatever. And if you have nothing to hold that against, or nothing to compare it to, or no theology of it, that can be pretty freaky right?

 

I know people who think the only way to be filled with the Holy Spirit is in that manner, and I don’t think that’s true. Yes it does happen like that sometimes, in the bible we can read in Acts that when the disciples were filled with the HS at Pentecost, people thought they were drunk! God can and does work powerfully in things we might think are a bit bonkers, I have experienced that for myself, but that’s not the only way, he is so much more than that. So if you are someone who finds the whole idea of the HS a bit freaky or scary, let’s look at what Paul says and this is from the MSG version again:

 

 

22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

So living with the HS in your lives can and perhaps should lead to these things.

Are these things you could say about yourself? Perhaps not all the time, but when can you see these in your life?

When are you filed with joy?

Or when are you patient? Or when do you have a ‘sense of compassion in the heart’ or serenity?

Because these are all indicators of the HS at work. So if you seek out where those are happening in your life that can help to point you to where the HS is at work and learn to be led more by him.

If we’re having a bad time, maybe getting dragged into temptation, all those things Paul talked about – instead focus on where the fruit of the spirit is in your life, even if it might seem in small doses.

I’m a parent and you know sometimes that is bloomin’ hard, it’s emotional, exhausting, whether they are in nappies and awake 10 times a night, or 16 and slamming doors in your face (it’s also amazing too!!). But when I was having a particularly ‘I’m a crap mother’ morning a while back, and I was just really seeking God in it all, and I felt like he said to me – through the HS, – just take the moments of joy when they are there and celebrate them. Joy – a fruit of the Spirit.

It was a good word, because I was focusing on all the times when I felt I’d done a bad job – like the times I’d shouted at the kids (I would never shout at my children, right…), or the times when I’d missed a school event for work, or as happened the other week, because I’d made spag bol for tea which was of course the thing my children hate most in the world and ‘you know I hate it, I’ve told you 1000 times…’

Anyway, I was focusing on all those times and not the times we’d sat crying with laughter over a particularly spectacular fart (not mine) or a cat video, or the times we’d just sat and chatted about important life stuff unexpectedly, or the time we all went bowling or whatever…

So instead I’ve begun to look for those moments on joy and see where the HS is at work in all our lives.

So look for the moments where the fruit of the spirit is present in your life.

 

 

4) Serve one another in love

One of those fruit is ‘love’. And I’ve talked a lot about love recently, it’s something that I just feel we don’t fully grasp how important it is and how love should be a foundation in our lives.

Here in v’s 13- 14 Paul reminds us that:

rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

 

So we need to act in love and serve one another in love. When we do that we are allowing ourselves to be led by the HS and it helps us to understand others, in serving one another, it helps us to proactively be like Jesus, disciples of his.

One of my favourite books of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee, It is a classic, written in 1960 it addresses issues of racism and prejudice and having to read it at school, I think it was the first time that I really recognised that injustice in the world often comes from peoples own preconceived ideas, that develop into prejudice or hate.

In it one of the main characters, a lawyer, Atticus Finch tries to help his young daughter, Scout, to understand that people are not always what they seem- he says:

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

You know, when you actively seek to love someone, to come alongside them, to serve them, that is in part what you are doing. And it changes us as we do that. But again, I think we need the help of the HS to do that.

 

 

Some of you might have heard of a woman called Jill Saward who died recently. She was a Christian and a campaigner on issues relating to sexual violence. Having been the victim of a violent robbery and rape in her youth,

She was the first rape victim in Britain to waive her right to anonymity which she did in order to campaign and support others.

12 years after the rape, she met one of the attackers and reportedly forgave him for his role in the crime. Jill Saward was quoted as saying

 

“Of course, sometimes I thought it might be quite nice to be full of hatred and revenge. But I think it creates a barrier and you’re the one who gets damaged in the end. So, although it makes you vulnerable, forgiving is actually a release. I don’t think I’d be here today without my Christian faith. That’s what got me through”

Her husband said of her:

“She was always trying to bring joy and love to people’s lives, which is what she does at home too, and with all her friends.”

She truly served people in love…

Now I didn’t know her and nor do I want to twist what she said. But I believe that had to be the work of the Holy Spirit in her life. She could have given in to hatred, or anger and who would have blamed her? But she chose to walk God’s path, I believe she chose to be led by her faith and the fruit of that being that she was able to forgive, to act in love, in peace, goodness, faithfulness. She was able to serve others in love.

 

Now we might not all be called to serve in the way Jill did, or as in the picture before, mother Teresa, but if we allow the HS to lead us to situations where we can love others, I believe we hill reveal himself more and more to us and those around us. After all God is a God of love and so it is in his nature to want to share that love…

 

 

So 4 keys…

 1) Listen to the Holy Spirit

2) Learn to recognize his voice – and recognize the distractions that draw us from God

3) Seek the fruit of the HS in your life

4) Serve one another in love

 

Lead into prayer….

 

 

Preach / / Service of Remembrance / / 4th Dec 2016

Talk from our annual ‘Service of Remembrance’, for those who have lost loved ones, at TRINITY Southover, 4th Dec, based on Psalm 46:1-7

shutterstock_207300925

I expect many of you have read or seen the movie of ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’, by CS Lewis?

In it, Narnia is in permanent winter, with no sign of Christmas or Spring. The cold is ever present, snow all around, lakes frozen, and with it much joy has been sucked from their world.

I sometimes wonder if winter isn’t a good analogy for pain and grief…

I mean I wonder if you have noticed the trees lately? it was just a few weeks ago I wrote a talk whilst gazing out my window and admiring the glorious autumn colours on the large Sycamore tree outside. Now it stands rather stark and bare with all that wonderful colour blown away.

Winter can be very stark. The trees are bare, looking like a shell of what they can be.

The air is often cold and crisp – on really cold mornings even breathing in can make us wince. The nights are longer, our afternoons fading into early darkness and we tend to find ourselves more often at home, wrapped up, shut in away from the cold.

 

There is something in the pain of losing a loved one that I think provokes those sort of feelings and reactions in us. We are stripped bare, we are not what we once were. Things can change so dramatically in such a short space of time. There may be mornings when we wake and find that drawing breath is such an effort.

We may want to hibernate, to shut ourselves away, as if we can hide from the awful reality that has hit us.

 

…o0O0o…

 

Grief brings with it such great uncertainty. The world as we knew it, will never be quite the same and how can we face the world with our new darker view of it?

At times like these finding some truth that we can hold on to, can be really helpful, a foundation for us to stand on when we need.

Perhaps that might be in a particular memory of our loved ones that we can cherish – nothing can take that away.

Or in something we do regularly just to have a moment of control, of certainty.

And for many of us, we find certainty by looking to the truth of God.

The Psalm we heard, Psalm 46, starts with these words:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

3 truths for us to hold on to:

 

God is a refuge.

God is a strength.

God is an ever-present help. Words of comfort and certainty and – because of those – our Psalm goes on:

 

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging

 

We may well feel that the earth is giving way under the weight of our grief.

We may feel surrounded by the swirling of roaring waters as our emotions rage out of control. BUT there is still that point of truth around which we can turn and perhaps sometimes it is all we can do to cling on to it.

 

…o0O0o…

 

Do you need that refuge – somewhere to hide?

 

Let him be that refuge.

Seek solace in him.

Psalm 91 is another that talks of God as our refuge, and verse 4 says:

 

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge…

 

What a wonderful picture – like a mother bird, drawing her young to her, protecting them, bringing them to the warmth of her own body, shielding them in their vulnerability from the outside world.

Perhaps that is where you need to be right now – just being, just being protected, being shielded form the world outside. Perhaps it is helpful to imagine yourself in that picture, under his wings…?

God is our refuge…

…o0O0o…

 

God is our strength too…

Or do you find yourself lacking strength to get though each day?

Pain, suffering, sorrow and loss are exhausting. Even the simplest of tasks can seem like mountains to be climbed.

Philippians 4:13 tells us

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

 

We need his help…

In our times of pain and weakness, God can be our strength. He longs to help us. In the Old Testament we can read of Moses, where he is facing a battle and at one point Joshua and Aaron come and hold up his arms when his strength is failing. All the while they are holding up his arms, they are winning the battle. And God can hold your arms up too.

I imagine for some of you, just coming here today might have been a huge step. If you are facing something that seems too huge, that you just don’t have the strength for, ask God for his strength – ask him to hold your arms up for you.

 

Jesus can be your strength.

 

 

…o0O0o…

And our third truth – Do you find yourself searching for that ever present God?

 

God is ever present? Sometimes that might seem laughable.

We may find ourselves questioning… wondering… not understanding

‘How could he let this happen?’

‘Why Lord?’

‘I don’t understand God…?’

And there may be no answers to those questions, there may never be, but he is always present – within what we are facing and what we are living with, of that we can be sure.

In Narnia, in the perpetual winter, there were rumours of Aslan’s return – Aslan, the lion, the king, who promised a hope for the future. ‘Aslan is on the move’ people would say. Fleeting glances were seen, snatched conversations were had amongst those who dared to hope even when they couldn’t be sure, when they couldn’t see him.

 

This is from the book after Aslan is mentioned…

And now a very curious thing happened… the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different…. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music has just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.

Just as the children experienced in the story, they didn’t see Aslan nor could they be sure that he would return, and sometimes God is like that for us. Sometimes we can feel that we just don’t know where God is, we are in that roaring water the Psalm talked of, or a stark swirling snowstorm, stuck in that perpetual winter with no Spring in sight. But perhaps, just perhaps we might see a fleeting glimpse, we might sense him with us, we might just feel a glimmer of Hope, or recognise a truth we can cling to within that.

Perhaps in a passing sense of him truly being our refuge, a feeing of safety. Or maybe an unfathomable strength in a moment we thought we couldn’t face.

 

Psalm 56:8 notes:

 

You keep track of all my sorrows

You have collected all my tears in your bottle.

You have recorded each one in your book.

 

I know for myself, there is nothing God is afraid of, nothing he can’t face with us. He has been with me through illness, through pain and suffering, through dark times and sometimes his presence, fleeting as it might have been, has been the one thing that gave me the strength to keep going.

He is there in our joy and celebration, and he is there in our grief too. He knows our pain and walks with us in it.

God is an ever-present help in trouble

And my prayer is that you will recognize his presence with you as you walk through your own journey.

 

PREACH // John 20:1-18 / Mary Magdalene & the transforming power of Jesus

Preached at TRINITY, 9.30am // 20th November 2016 & 10am and 11.15am 27th November

‘The transforming power of encountering Jesus’

 

48

Mary Magdalene //

The star of this piece (apart from Jesus obvs) is Mary Magdalene. Now I am sure it won’t be any surprise to you that I am a bit of a feminist, and so I really want us to start by taking a look at Mary Magdalene this morning.

So let me ask you, what do we know about her?

Answers…

Prostitute, Jesus’ wife, 7 demons cast out of her…

She is commonly referred to in modern Christian thought as a prostitute. But I want to tell you there is really no evidence for this whatsoever, it is total conjecture and theory throughout history that has been perpetuated down the years. So let’s just put something to right here! I don’t know really where this idea first came from but some suggestions are:

Perhaps this theory came about because when she is first mentioned in Luke 7, it comes straight after the passage where the ‘sinful woman’ anoints Jesus feet with perfume.

Or perhaps because when she is mentioned in Luke 8 with other woman, they are talked of having their own means, their own finances – how did they get them?

Or perhaps it is because nowhere is there any hint of a mention of family or lineage.

Or perhaps because we know that 7 demons were cast out of her (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2).

But is all of this enough evidence to label her as a whore? I don’t think so! Pretty weak case I’d say!

So what do we know about her…

In Luke 8 we read:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

She had demons cast out of her. And that she had her own means. So I would like to put forward another hypothesis here. Perhaps she actually came from a wealthy family – after all Magdalene where she came from (hence the name) had a prosperous textile industry. Imagine then she was the daughter of a wealthy family, who had tragically been afflicted by demons. What do you think her family’s response might be on seeing her free and healed from this? I wouldn’t be surprised if they literally threw money at Jesus! Or perhaps she decided to follow Jesus after this, and they were only too happy to support her in it?

Now of course her family aren’t mentioned as they are with some of the disciples, and many of them left home without even a backward glace, just following Jesus on his command ‘come follow me’.

And well as I said that’s just another theory, but we do know she was demonized…

So then we can be sure that her meeting with Jesus was more than a fleeting one – more than just a suggestion to follow him – I mean let’s just imagine her state, as demon possessed. In other biblical accounts of the demonised, we hear people are:

Mute (Matt 9:32)

Blind and mute (Matt 12:22)

Legion – uncontrollable, crying out, cutting himself with stones….

 

Mark 5:1-20

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.

 

Can you imagine then, if you had been living with any of that and then you were healed and freed from it? The man with the legion of demons was said to then be

‘clothed and in his right mind’ and talking with Jesus. Having been shunned by society, possibly locked or chained up, and then one man frees you from this? What would you want to do?
Well, we know what Mary did, she devoted her life to following him.

And let’s just be clear here, she was just devoted to him, any why wouldn’t she be? Again there is no evidence whatsoever of her being in a relationship with him (which has also been suggested). But she knew who he was. She knew her life had been transformed by the power of Jesus.

In fact there is actually nothing bad or negative written about her – she did not deny Jesus (John 18, Luke 22), nor did she betray him (John 13, Luke 22), or make foolish comments (Luke 9:55 calling down from from heaven). And where she is mentioned with other women – Mark 16: her name is sometimes put first, before even Mary, Jesus’ mother…

She was there through it all. At his trial:

Mark 15:

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs…

At his crucifixion:

John 19:25

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

She had cared for Jesus own needs, she had followed him everywhere, she was not afraid or hiding at the trial or at the crucifixion.

And now here we see her in this passage, the first one to find the tomb empty, the first one to see the risen Lord, and the one to tell the other disciples that he was alive.

Let’s just clarify that, of the 12, or of those who knew Jesus and followed him, Mary M (according to John) was the first one to see him, the one to break the news. Mary Magdalene who history has suggested was a prostitute and sinner.

 

Theologian Tom Wright notes that:

John has told us nothing of her history; the little we know, we know from the other gospels. But her place here is spectacular. She is the first apostle, the apostle to the apostles: the first to bring the news that the tomb was empty. And… a greater privilege yet: the first to see, to meet, to speak with the risen master himself.

 

He calls her the apostle to apostles?!

You know if anyone wanted to make this story up, she is the absolute last person they would have chosen. So it’s pretty important that she is the one chosen here for that task.

And I just want to say that I am so glad to be in a church that supports women in leadership, I have been so blessed by peoples support on my journey to ordination, but as we know not everyone agrees. But this passage alone surely has to cause them some doubt!

 

Mary Magdalene’s encounter //

But I’m not here to give a feminist manifesto! Mary Magdalene is an important player in Jesus life story that’s why I am focussing on her here. And as always we must ask ourselves, what can we learn from her? What can we learn from this passage and her interaction with Jesus?

Well I think there’s a message for us all here and it is:

Situation – encounter – transformation – sharing

There is a situation and in that an encounter with the Lord, transformation takes place and then the good news is shared.

Any God given situation should lead to encounter with Jesus. Any encounter with the Jesus should transform those within it. And those who are transformed should be compelled to share the news of who Jesus is.

So this passage starts with Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb early in the morning, One commentator suggests that in order for it be dark it would have been between 3-6am in the morning which might seem like a strange time for a woman at that time to be wandering around in the dark. But there was a Jewish custom to mourn at the tomb of a loved one for 3 days after the death, as it was thought the soul was still present for that time. Perhaps she was going there to mourn, to just sit and be there.

 

Situation – encounter – transformation – sharing

 

Situation

So here she is, this is the situation she faces, an empty tomb. Jesus’ body gone. What are her emotions? Fear? who has taken the body? So she runs back to get help. Peter and we assume John (the beloved disciple the text says) run back to the tomb with her. See the scene and then head back to the others.

But Mary Magdalene, she stays. She weeps, looks into the tomb. And here is her encounter. Firstly with the angels, and then Jesus himself.

 

And she doesn’t recognise him, thinks he is the gardener.

 

I love verse 15 where he says to her:

“Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

 

Because that surely is a key question to everyone who lives: who or what are you looking for? So often we seek our answers anywhere but in Jesus. This is a key question – WHO ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?!

And how often do we not recognise Jesus anyway? I think Jesus probably comes to us many times, even daily, and we don’t see him. But especially in times of trial – we are caught up in our own emotions, our own situation just as Mary Magdalene was here. We can’t see beyond the immediate situation and yet God longs to appear to us, if we would just open our eyes!

Here of course it is in mentioning her name ‘Mary’ that she finally recognises him.

 

And what a beautiful moment. ‘Mary’. He just says her name and in that her world is changed, transformed. Suddenly the one who was dead, gone, whose body has even been moved as she thought, is there in front of her and she knows him. (And is if she needed any extra confirmation, there are the angels too!)

Just in a moment – in him saying her name. And you know what, he knows our names too…

 

 

In Isaiah 43:1 the Lord is talking to the people of Israel and says:

‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine’

 

And Isaiah 49:16, also to Israel:

‘See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands’

 

and in John 10:3 Jesus talks of himself as the Good Shepherd:

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

 

Jesus knows your name too.

 

 

 

I wonder if you can remember the first time you encountered Jesus? Perhaps you have always known him with you, which is a wonderful gift so many of us don’t have, or perhaps there was a moment of realisation?

For me, one thing was a moment of realisation that I was loved. Truly and utterly, unconditionally. Phil, my husband, says, as we fell in love with God, we fell in love with each other all over again. And the knowledge that we were ourselves loved as we were, enabled us to experience God’s love for ourselves and in our lives, and to pour out that love on those around us. It was a transformation in our relationship and in our lives.

 

And here we see a moment of transformation –

as Mary Magdalene, seeing Jesus afresh, in a new encounter with him – she is transformed.

 

From weeping in grief and sorrow to the realisation he is there, she turns towards him, shouts out ‘rabboni’ and then what would be your next reaction? I think I would fling myself at him hugging him! Wouldn’t you?

st-mm1

And I think that is exactly what she did, when we read the next line:

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…

‘do not hold on to me’, I just imagine her clinging on to him, as if he might disappear again!

 

She is transformed, from grief to joy, in an instant… Any encounter with Jesus should bring about transformation like that.

And transformation of course should happen when we meet Jesus for the first time, when we become Christians, but we need to go on being transformed into the likeness of who he is. Mary Magdalene knew Jesus, she had already decided to follow him, to support him, to care for him, but this is another encounter, a new step.

Do you have those moments? When you feel something new in your faith, a step forward, a realisation? I’ve had those moments in prayer, by myself or when other are praying for me; or in reading scripture, when suddenly something you’ve read 100 times before stands out in a new way and challenges your thinking or shows you something you’d not seen before of who Jesus is.

Or maybe you’ve had a more ‘powerful encounter – you’ve been healed, had an answer to prayer, seen a miracle happen before your very eyes.

Let’s be open to those things, let’s be seeking those things. I mean here for Mary Magdalene she wasn’t seeking the Lord particularly, she was lost in grief, but how much more do we see, recognise, realise the presence of od when we have our eyes open, our eyes fixed on him?

We could start each day by saying, ‘Lord show me a transforming encounter today’, or ‘I want to see you more in this day’, ‘show me where you are today’, ‘give me open eyes and ears to see and hear you today’…?

 

 

And what do we do with those encounters? Those moments?

 

Situation – encounter – transformation – sharing

 

And the response to an encounter with Jesus – should be sharing about it, telling the good news – evangelism!

As Jesus tells Mary Magdalene (though I’m not sure he needed to!) she goes and finds the disciples and shares what she has seen ‘I have seen the Lord’ and tells them all that he has said.
When I first became a Christian I described the desire in me to tell people about it, as being like feeling I needed a loud haler that I could stand on the street corner with and wanting to shout out who Jesus was and what he’d done in our lives. I could happily have done that – though I don’t think it’s a recommended form of evangelism TBH!

The Rev. Frank Teesdale, pastor of Garfield Ridge Baptist Church, preaches the Gospel at 18th Street and Loomis Boulevard in Chicago on Friday, June 10, 2011. (Terrence Antonio James/ Chicago Tribune) B581333380Z.1 ....OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, NEW YORK TIMES OUT, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION...

Instead I began to write about it and years later I’m still writing that blog! Because there is something about a transforming encounter with Jesus that compels us to share it with others.

And it is so powerful…

 

I love hearing people’s stories of how God has been at work in their lives, don’t you? It’s just so encouraging and inspiring. Last Sunday at the 6.30 we heard from a guy whose family have disowned him for his faith. And yet the ways God had worked in his life were just staggering.

 

At my last church, there we met a woman who was healed of terminal cancer.

I often start my day by asking God to use me to reach people. On holiday one time, I felt compelled to go and talk to a chap at a table in the restaurant where we were eating. Thankfully he spoke english… As I shared what I felt God was saying, he looked at me in total disbelief as I saw him transformed before my very eyes. He was not a Christian but had spent the day sitting in a church wondering what to do with his life and every word I spoke to him was an answer to that.

 

Testimony is so powerful…

 

Revelation 12 talks about a great battle in heaven and notes this:

 

Rev 12:11

They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…

 

Victory was in what Jesus did and in out telling of what Jesus has done…

 

In Luke 8:38-39 – the man with all those demons:

begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying,  “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

 

 

In John 4 we read of the Samaritan woman who Jesus spoke to at the well, telling her everything she had done and that he was the water of life… she went back to her town and told them all about him and v 39 says:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…

 

In our Situations – look for encounter, be ready to receive transformation and then go and share what the Lord has done…

 

So I want to ask you today, where are you encountering Jesus in your lives right now? How are you enabling others to encounter Jesus? how are you sharing what he has done for you?

 

…..lead into ministry…

 

 

 

Preach // 9/10/16 Folk Festival Evensong // God in music

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Morris dancers as part of the Folk Festival

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Preach from Lewes Folk Festival Evensong, 9th October, 2016

Based on 2 Chronicles, 5: 4-14 (second reading: Colossians 3:12-17)

I’m afraid I won’t be preaching in the style of a 17th or 18th Century fire and brimstone preacher today, (the cassock is about as far as I’ll go on that one!) but actually the sentiment is the same, that God, our wonderful heavenly Father, Jesus his son, the Holy Spirit within us, should be at the centre of our lives. And today I want to talk about God in our lives, through music. Of course – couldn’t talk about anything else really!

I grew up surrounded with music as my mum was and is, a great piano player. As tiny children we loved hearing ‘the penguin song’, and as my mum played me and my brother would waddle around pretending to be penguins, over and over again until My mum was fed up of playing it!

 

Now, I am married to a music lover and worship leader, and our kids have inherited that love too: between us all we own I think 5 guitars, a bass guitar, mandolin, flute, drum kit, piano and keyboard as well as countless shakers and harmonicas etc. 

We love to play and to sing, and particularly for us, to use music to worship God.

For me there is just something spiritual about music, something more than just the notes we hear or the words being sung.

I love that line from our 2 Chronicles passage:

indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord’

They were as one – if you’ve ever heard a perfect harmony, or a great choir all singing in unison, it sounds just like that – they are as one. And here in our passage it was of course in worship to God.

And BTW just in case you think you can’t sing, (although unlikely this afternoon I am sure) Psalm 98 tells us to:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.

 

It doesn’t say sing perfectly in tune – it just says make a joyful noise – it’s all about intention, about the heart behind it.

You know, historians suggest that we just don’t know the origin of music, but it could be that it grew out of naturally occurring sounds or rhythms. Perhaps early human music echoed those sounds, or used similar repeating patterns or tones.

Of course we just don’t know for sure but as a Christian I believe that God created the world and with that humans, and with that different giftings for us to be closer to him and to glorify him. In Exodus 35 we see a craftsman, Bezalel being filled with the Holy Spirit in order to create beautiful artistic designs for the temple. Why not the same with music?

In fact in Job 38 the Lord is speaking to Job and notes:

When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

I think human music-making is part of the music of creation. It reflects the order, beauty, and diversity of God’s creation. Which would explain quite why it carries so much power. I believe music carries the presence of God within it, it’s just that we don’t always recognise it as that. In our Chronicles passage we heard that during the singing:

that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.

It was like their singing, their music carried the presence of God. It was so powerful they couldn’t continue their work!

Theologian Karl Barth suggested that singing is not an option for the people of God and that it is one of the essential ministries of the church.

He said:

The Christian church sings. It is not a choral society. Its singing is not a concert. But from inner, material necessity it sings. Singing is the highest form of human expression….What we can and must say quite confidently is that the church which does not sing is not the church. And where…it does not really sing but sighs and mumbles spasmodically, shamefacedly and with an ill grace, it can be at best only a troubled community which is not sure of its cause and of whose ministry and witness there can be no great expectation….The praise of God which finds its concrete culmination in the singing of the community is one of the indispensable forms of the ministry of the church.

Now I know not everyone here today will take this view, in fact many of you might not even accept that God exists, let alone be the author of music. But I hope we can agree that there is something extremely powerful in music, perhaps even something beyond the natural world.

I mean have you ever had one of those moments listening to music when you just have to stop, and listen? A piece of music that just touches something in you, you get goose bumps, maybe even shed a tear?

I had one of those a few weeks ago, looking at Facebook and a friend of mine had written a song about being a Child of God and put it on his page. It played automatically as I scrolled through my feed and it just hit me, it literally felt like the music was reaching into my soul. It was beautiful and haunting and it felt anointed, like it was full of God’s presence. I stopped. Tears filled my eyes and I listened to the song 4 times in a row. It was immensely powerful.

Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying:

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

indeed…

 

In our Chronicles passage the singers and musicians were part of the Priestly tribe, singing and making music was part of their calling, part of their God-given purpose. Just as today we might say that worship leaders, those who lead us in music in the church, are there to help us to encounter God, to lead us into the presence of God. Perhaps even into such a glorious presence that we cannot help but stop, like the Priests in our passage, just listen and breathe the atmosphere into our souls.

That is the power of music, as I believe the power of God in music. If you are a musician, or a singer, you have a calling, you have a gift, given to you by God to impact those around you. To help others experience something of God.

And of course the bible teaches us that the only way to the Father is through the son, through Jesus. We can experience something of God through music but if we want to truly know him, we have to know the son.

In our New Testament reading from Colossians, Paul says this at the end:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you.

Sing in your hearts to the Lord

Whatever you do, do it in the name of Jesus.

Music can help us to experience something of God but by itself, we see just part of the picture, a movement if you like, a verse maybe. Perhaps Jesus is like the Chorus, the point that everything builds up to, that brings a song alive, the part we remember most. The bible tells us that Jesus is the capstone, the person who holds everything together.

I’ve always loved music, but now that I know Jesus, when I sing, particularly in worship, there is so much more. Like another level of depth to a song, taking me both further into my soul and yet also further from myself, closer to my Saviour.

 

As we continue to sing our final hymn shortly, or perhaps as we listen to the music, let’s just think about where God is in the music, for us as individuals. What might we be experiencing through the music of worship? Why not take the opportunity to just think about Where Jesus is for us as we sing?