PREACH // Daniel 3: ‘Three Friends Trust’ // 23 Oct 2016

Daniel 3: ‘Three Friends Trust’ // 23 Oct 2016 // 6.30pm TRINITY Church

 

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In 2005 8 men and 1 woman were arrested in Bali for attempting to smuggle a large amount of heroin into Australia. Amongst them were Andrew Chan, aged 21 and Myuran Sukumaran, aged 24.

They were sentenced to death for their crime.

For 10 years legal wrangles continued between Australia and Bali, high profile celebrities supported the campaign to have their sentences reduced or for them to be returned to Australia. Throughout this time both men became Christians, their lives being transformed by the love of Christ, in their darkest hour, with Chan even becoming ordained as a Christian minster during this time.

However, the Balinese authorities were unrelenting despite the obvious rehabilitation of the men and finally last year a date was set for the execution.

This is from a newspaper report at the time:

Strung to a pole and staring down at the weapons pointed at their hearts, the prisoners defiantly sang Amazing Grace in the moments before they were executed.

Pastor Karina de Vega described to the Sydney Morning Herald the extraordinary scenes of the prisoners “praising their God”. “It was breathtaking,” said De Vega. “This was the first time I witnessed someone so excited to meet their God.”

They reportedly refused to wear blindfolds so they could look their executioners in the eye, and as they sang in unison the bond between them was visceral (deep and inbuilt), said the pastor.

“They bonded together,” she said. “Brotherhood. They sang one song after another. Praising God. They sang a few songs together, like in a choir.” After singing Amazing Grace they moved on to Bless the Lord O My Soul. The order to shoot was issued before they finished…’

Such conviction to one’s faith is something I am sure we all hope we would show in times of great trial, but for most of us it won’t be tested in such a dramatic way as it was for Andrew and Myuran, or for Shadrach, Mishach and Abednego.

What must it take to be able to stare death in the face? to face pain, uncertainty, absolute fear and yet to be so sure of God, to have so much trust in him that nothing can away us from our absolute love and devotion to him? For Shadrach, M & A to face it with such conviction, such defiance in the face of the kings death threats? For Andrew and Myuran to walk to their death singing – in fact encouraging all the prisoners to sing and praise God, perhaps helping people to meet Jesus in their final moments? They had amazing faith, amazing trust in God, amazing devotion to him, but also they had each other.

We are just at the beginning of our new series, Seeing Jesus through Old Testament Heroes. Kirsty kicked off us last week looking at Samson and being a weirdo! And we are specifically looking at how these old Testament heroes point to Jesus.

 

You know I love this quote from Martin Luther –

 

The bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid

Luther was a Priest, a Monk, very intelligent, well educated and knew the bible inside out. He was hugely influential in the reformation – a time which challenged some of the doctrine of the church and their practices. Luther taught that salvation had nothing to do with good deeds, or doing right but is only received only as the free gift of God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus has to be our focus. And in fact all of the bible points to Jesus.

Not sure I’ve said before but something like only 5% of all preaching is from the OT (not sure how they worked that out) (one stat here says less than 20%) and yet ¾ of our scriptures are in the OT – we cannot ignore them! These were the Jewish scriptures, the scriptures that Jesus himself would have known, loved and spoken from. Of course they were written before Jesus arrived on earth but the Jews believed there was a Messiah coming, they looked forward to that day he would arrive, their Saviour on earth.

We believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT scriptures. So if we only read the NT then it’s like just watching the ending of a movie, missing the whole build up, it doesn’t means as much if you don’t know where it’s all coming from.
So it’s great that we are looking at OT heroes and how they point to Jesus.

This evening specifically through the story of Shadrach, Mesach & Abednego in the book of Daniel we are going to look at:

  • Trust in Jesus – completely trusting in our amazing God, in all things
  • Focus on Jesus – absolutely fixing our eyes no him and him only
  • Together with Jesus – walking out our faith in fellowship with others – friendship.

…oo0O0oo…

 

  • Trust in Jesus – completely trusting in our amazing God, in all things

trust3JPG Proverbs 3 is all about wisdom and advice for a Godly life, it’s a great passage, go and check it out later, but v 5-6 says this: 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Amazing words and quite challenging. TRUST IN THE LORD with everything… don’t trust your own thoughts, just be led by him.

In the message version is says this:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.

Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health,  your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over.

What does it mean to trust God? Just that – bring him into every part of your life, every thing you do, every choice or decision, every action. And the rewards are huge. Do we entrust our lives to him – every area, our decisions, big and small (not, perhaps, what colour socks to wear in the morning.)
Which we might think ok I can do that, but what about in the tough times? When the really hard things come along, temptation kicks in or we face something hard?

For Shadrach, Mesach & Abednego, it is clear that they totally trusted God, with everything.

In V16 after Nebuchadnezzar has threatened to throw them all in the fiery furnace – they show no fear at all – in fact the opposite, total defiance. It does remind me a little bit of my kids when they are being a bit antsy and answering back, like ‘ well, fine, I don’t need my ipad anyway’. Kind of ‘I am so unphased by what you are saying…’ There’s that almost teennage arrogance – ‘we don’t need to defend ourselves before you…’

Except its not arrogance, it’s confidence, because they completely trust in God.

 

 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

 

I think it’s all about the bigger picture. Instead of focusing on what was right in front of them they looked to God.

 

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It’s like looking at a painting close up you just focus on the bit in front of you, it’s just a blurry mess. But when you stand back you see the whole thing.

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And Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were able to see the whole thing because they knew God – they had experienced him. So when faced with something that was right before their eyes, they could stand back and see the bigger picture, see where God was.

And what happened? – perhaps one of the clearest pointers to Jesus in the Old Testament: v:24-5

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

Don’t forget they didn’t know Jesus, they believed a Messiah was coming but they didn’t know when or who, perhaps this was Jesus walking in the fire with them, but they very fact that Nebuchadnezzar refers to him as a ‘son of the gods’ points us to the fact that there was a bigger picture and that God was at work here.

S, M & A they were fully persuaded. Fully focused on God. Nothing could make them bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue – no threats, no consequence, no punishment. They were fully persuaded of the promises of God and in their obedience to him. 

Are we totally focused on Jesus? Do we trust him in all things? Can we step back and see him in the bigger picture?

 …oo0O0oo…

  • 2) Focus on Jesus – absolutely fixing our eyes on him and him only

 

So how do we trust in God completely as they did? We put our focus on Jesus completely.

S, M & A model this for us, they are so focused on God and won’t let anything tear them away from him.

Now these guys had been through the mill. They have ended up here because Nebuchadnezzar has already attacked Jerusalem (Daniel 1). Not only did he carry off plunder and things from the temple but people too.

These guys are from the nobility, the royal family and Nebuchadnezzar takes them and orders that they be trained to serve him. They have gone from living in the palace as nobility to being forced to serve those who live in another palace. It’s like the UK being attacked and Will & Kate being taken off somewhere and being forced to be a servant to a king in another country. It’s shocking, it’s demeaning, they have been taken by force from a position of great power and authority and reduced to this.

I wonder how that felt? They could have been angry at God – why did he let this happen? Why did he not rescue them? Why had he reduced them to such a position?

Real faith means obeying God even under difficult circumstances. And they just continue to honour God.

We read in Daniel 1 how he refuses to eat the meat provided by the king – it was ‘defiled’ – had probably been offered to one of the Babylonian Gods. Instead they ate vegetables and water and yet God made them healthier and better nourished than anyone else!

1:17 tells us that God gave them gifts of understanding, knowledge, literature, and that Daniel could understand visions and dreams.

In fact later Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream when no one else can and the king falls down and says ‘Surely your God is the God of the gods and the Lord of kings….

So they have seen God at work and are completely focused on him, even when threatened with death, they refused to worship the idol set up. Anything that would take their focus from God, they were not interested.

I wonder if we can say the same – that we are so focused on Jesus, we refuse to worship other idols?

Because I think often we get a bit disillusioned and we get drawn away from fixing our eyes on Jesus.

Old Testament idols were literally sculptures or carvings or things that people bowed down in front of as we read earlier (3:44)

But what are our idols? What draws us away from focusing on Jesus? It might not be a an actual sculpture but I think an idol is anything that takes our focus from Jesus – anything we spend more time focusing on, than on Jesus.

What are the things that take your focus away from Jesus? What are the things we might see as idols in our lives? What does our society encourage us to worship and focus on rather than God?

 

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Ourselves? ‘Because you’re worth it’ – society teaches us we can do what we want when we want and no one has the right to take it away from us…

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Do we make an idol of ourselves or our lives – I must have the next pair of Nike trainers, the latest hoody, or pair of jeans, I must look good, have perfect ‘on fleek’ eyebrows, defined cheekbones….

Our stuff – what about our stuff? Are we more focused on our possessions than on following Jesus? Do we worship our iphones and ipads for example…

 

Or do we worship other people? If only I could be more like them…?

Are we led by our friends, influenced by them and not by Jesus? Or sports teams? Frankly in our house I’m not sure that Seagulls aren’t an idol ;) My son’s room is like an albion shrine!

Or social media – here’s a biggie – how many of us spend more time on Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or Instagram than you do reading your bible? I actually want to challenge you this week to time it.

 

Anything that draws our focus away from Jesus can be an idol. And the bible is pretty clear about worshipping idols – basically it’s a bad thing!! For example:

  

Therefore I poured out My wrath on them for the blood which they had shed on the land, because they had defiled it with their idols. Ezekiel 36:18

They served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.” 2 Kings 17:12

 

 

Don’t get me wrong it’s hard! In fact I think the devil does everything he can to draw our focus away from Jesus. Distraction – it’s one of his biggest tools! And in our society there are so many things to distract us and draw us away from Jesus.

If we look at Shadrach, Messach and Abednego, I wouldn’t have blamed them for giving in and going along with what the culture around them was doing – it would have been far easier, let’s face it. Just eat the food you are give, do as you are told, join in and worship the statue when told to. It took real guts to be different – and it’s the same for us. It’s not always going to be easy, we might face trials along the way, but let’s not despair!

I read this quote this week:

Don’t despair. Because when the devil turns up the heat, God does too.

I like that – so appropriate here, we might not get thrown into an actual fire of course (I hope) but life brings us our own fires – the trials and difficulties we face. But you know, what we see with Shadrach, Messach and Abednego is that God doesn’t save them from the fire, he doesn’t stop them going into it, but he goes through it with them – we see him in the fire, the fourth person. And it’s the same for us. And you know what I think is amazing is that when they came out they didn’t even smell of smoke! What a great picture for us.

  …oo0O0oo…

 

3) Together with Jesus – walking out our faith in fellowship with others – friendship

So, how do we remain strong and focused on Jesus? Just like S, M & A did – with each other 

Life is pretty tough if you do it alone. And I know, I’ve been there. In my rebellious younger years which I have mentioned before. I was fiercely independent, not really knowing what friendship was, not letting people into my own life, my space. I had friends but only on the surface, I’m not sure there was anyone I could have called on if I was in deep need.

But God creates us to live in relationship with others. He himself is three persons, living in unity together. Man was not complete alone so God made him a companion. Jesus had his disciples, Moses had his brother Aaron, Paul had various companions – Timothy, Silas, Titus.

In fact there are few positive examples of people in the bible going it alone.

– we are not achieving all we can if we try and do life alone.

 

One example I love is in Exodus 17 where there is a battle going on and all the time Moses hands on the air, they are winning but he gets tired and his arms come down and they start losing. So Aaron and Hur hold his arms up.

We all need someone who can hold our arms up.
Daniel, S, M & A stuck together and in that there is great strength and support.

Daniel gets promoted by the king earlier on having interpreted a dream of his but he doesn’t leave behind his friends, instead he asks the king to promote them too, and he does (Dan 2:48-9)

When we stick together we are accountable to each other, when one person is struggling, the other can pull them up. When one person is in need, ill or having a tough time, the others can support them and help them. When someone’s focus in drawn away from Jesus, the others can draw it back.

1 Thess 5: 11-15 tell us:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing… Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

Friendship – much easier to stay strong in a group together
Castellers de Vilfranca – a Catalunyan tradition in Spain – building towers of people. – they way they can do something so unbelievable is in their mutual strength and be focussed on the task to achieve amazing things.


We need that too. We need to trust in God and in each other – recognising God in each other

Guest Post on Joy //

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This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my word for the year). This month we have an anonymous post but you can find out more at the author’s blog here. I am so grateful to her for sharing some of her story, and for her absolute honesty and inspiring faith.

**trigger warning, this post contains some of the author’s story of abuse**

 

Roughly 2 years ago somebody approached me who’s now a very dear friend of mine and suggested I could find my joy in the Lord and that nothing was impossible in him, well at that time I just wanted to tell her where to get off, and what she could do with the Lord’s joy!

Now the reason I reacted like this was because all I could see in my life was utter hopelessness and I felt worthless in the world so there was no room for feeling joyful in my eyes.

The fact that I was severely depressed, had daily suicidal thoughts and rarely even got dressed out my pyjamas to even attempt a new day was a big problem to start with for me.

These problems started from birth as I was brought up in an abusive and violent home and as a young lady I was subject to sexual abuse and horrific rape so how on earth could I even contemplate joy or even know what it was?

The past two years have been a big turn around for me as my dear friend never gave up on me and kept gently dropping little things in about her Lord and saviour and I could see it beaming from her.

I started to find out about Jesus for myself, dared to trust, have faith and began the process of breaking my walls down and letting the Lord into my life in a big way.

I have learnt what joy is and my joy comes from Jesus every day

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My Joy comes from looking at how I have been healed in magnificent ways and that the horrors of past don’t define who I am anymore.

My Joy comes from seeing and helping others find Jesus for the first time and being set free from what’s holding them back.

My Joy comes from knowing that I’m a daughter of a king who lavishes his love over me.

My Joy comes from knowing I’m protected and can seek refuge in Jesus.

My Joy comes from seeing how I’ve changed so much and know it’s only because I have Jesus and have put my total dependency in him.

My Joy comes from knowing I have been saved from my tormenting thoughts of suicide and I now know I’m of worth.

I’ve learnt in a very big way that when you put your trust and dependency in Jesus there is so much to hope for, to be joyful about and most of all I can now smile…

Psalm 1 // All Age Service // resource

We ran an all-age service today based on Psalm 1, here is the plan below if anyone wants to use it.

“Rooted” based on Psalm 1 vs 1-3

Opening Song

 

Intro 

Clues to theme – What’s brown and sticky? A stick

What’s brown wet and sticky? A stick in the rain

When does a tree branch become a stick? When it’s disconnected from the tree/roots.

What are roots? Why are they important to trees?

  1. Anchor – stop trees falling over, keep it stable
  2. Source of life – take water and nutrients form the soil to help trees grows, devleope and repair.

So today we’re going to look at 4 roots that keep us focussed on Jesus.

Play video of Psalm 1 as above, available via Youtube to download

 

Root 1: Trust – Jeremiah 17:7-8

What does trust mean to you? Ask for responses – what does it mean to trust someone? interact with responses.

For me when I think about trusting in God it is remembering that God knows what is best for me. He loves me and has good plans for me so I know that what he asks of me is good. It means not being scared. Because sometime we have to do things that make us scared don’t we? what makes you scared?

For me as an adult. One way I know I have to trust God is in knowing that I have enough of what I need. Enough food, enough clothes, enough money.


Each of our roots we are going to have an action or response and for this one we are going to take up and offering, because when we give away from what we have, we have to trust that God will give us all that we need. So as we take our offering, think about how much you trust God and perhaps ask him to help you increase your trust in him…

 

OFFERING & 2 songs

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Root 2: Prayer – 1 Timothy 1:17 

“Prayer is like a telephone where we can talk to God”

What is praying? Talking and listening to God.

What can we talk to God about? Anything and everything!

Jeremiah 33:3 Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know!

Key Verse – 1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer and Praise Alphabet- what reasons have we got to praise God for? (Go through each letter of the alphabet asking congregation to name things for each letter we can be grateful for)

roots1Response – Leaves Praise & Thanks leaves – have leaf shapes cut out and pens that people can write short prayers on then come and stick/hang onto tree. we used a tree branch but you could use a fake Christmas tree or collection of twigs in a large pot. Play a song while people write them and then come up and stick them on.

 

Root 3: God’s love – Ephesians 3:17-19

 

God’s love is incredible – it is different to peoples love because..

It can’t be measured – its too big (use a tape measure as a prop)

It can not be stopped/broken – it is too powerful (hammer as prop)

It will not run out – its everlasting 

It is not conditional – God will never love you anymore or any less than he does right now (spirit level)

We can not be separated from it – Romans 8 – Nothing in the whole of creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We need to let our roots go down deep into God’s love – to have his love living and moving in us each and every day! To be aware of his love – to remember that we are his treasured possessions dearly loved by our Heavenly Father.

 

Stop for a moment and reflect on God’s love – possibly read a couple of verses about God’s love.

 

Root 4: God’s word – Hebrews 4:12 

(hidden scripture game)

Right for root number 4 we are looking at God’s word. In years gone by they used to tie Gods scripture onto their heads and hands (could do an example of this with a volunteer) but that doesn’t really work today does it?! So we’ve hidden some lines of scripture in the hall – send people off to find pre hidden scripture.

Get them to put into right order and read out. 

 

 

What does this mean for us? It means Gods word is for us, for now and it is powerful, full of truth!

For every situation we are in, every thing in our lives, Gods word is there for us

If we read the bible regularly that root will be so strong that we can face anything!

 

 

Response & Pray – Seeds & Pots or bulbs

2016-01-02 12.39.22So we’ve been looking at roots today, roots that feed us, keep us strong and healthy. quick recap on the 4.

And we wanted to find a way to help you remember this, so today we are giving you a little gift to take away, a bulb to plant. These bulbs, if you look after them will grow roots and then a plant with grown from them will grow. But you have to look after those roots, they need soil to be planted in, they need to be watered and looked after. Then that plant will grow and thrive, will grow flowers (or fruit) and will not wither.

So take these home, plant them and let them be a reminder of the roots you need in your life to help you to grow more and more like Jesus…

: Final Song

: Blessing & Goodbye

 

 

Equipment needed:

We had images for the screen for each root and scrolls to unroll (see below)

Leaf shapes/ pens and pencils

Tree 

Video or reading of Psalm 1

Props

Printed out scriptures (root 4)

 

Tree_roots_3rdJanROOTS Trre_roots_3rdJan_TRUST copy Trre_roots_3rdJanLOVE copy Trre_roots_3rdJanPRAYER copy Trre_roots_3rdJanWORD copy

 

Trust. It’s a black or white thing…

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This weeks prayer doodle as I wandered (or wondered) through Psalm 56.

 

So I’ve been thinking a lot about trust recently. 

The word trust (or derivatives of it) appear over 200 times in the bible (I’m looking at the NRSV but let’s face it, it’s a hard word to translate another way), and the phrase ‘Trust in the Lord’ or ‘Trust in God’ appears regularly. It’s a favourite of the Psalmist, frequently declaring his trust in God, even (or often) in the face of adversity (see Psalm 31 for example).

The Oxford dictionary online definition of trust is this:

Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something…

and

Acceptance of the truth of a statement without evidence or investigation

(amongst other definitions)

So really, trust is black or white. There isn’t a grey in between, it’s a choice, a yes or no. Do we, do I, choose to trust God in all things? So often we say that we trust him but when we’re in a tricky situation or have a tough decision to make, we waver, we question, we doubt, we try to fix things ourselves (well, maybe that’s just me.).

As I prayed through Psalm 56 this week I’ve been thinking about that. Am I allowing trust to be in various shades of grey or am I saying YES, a big fat yes, I choose to trust?

And of course it’s not really that simple is it? If you’ve ever been let down by someone you love then trusting again can be hard. You don’t just do it, it doesn’t just happen as it once might have, you have to actively choose to trust.

But as the definition shows, trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability and strength of Jesus. And an acceptance of the truth of who He is. Of course I can say I have a firm belief in the reliability, truth, strength and so on, of who Jesus is and of who He is in my life. So if I can state that and believe it, then I can choose to trust him, wholeheartedly in a black or white decision.

Psalm 56 was written as it says ‘under persecution’, in battle, and my only battle is not with military intervention but with my mind. As my head hits the pillow every night the questions and the plans start to whir around incessantly. It’s like the truth of what I am thinking is only allowed out then. So whilst I say I am trusting in Him, the reality is, underneath it all I’m still anxious, still uncertain, still questioning: why on earth would God have good and perfect plans for me?

for me?

The me who so often fails Him, who so often questions Him, who so often gets it wrong?

Well, if I can’t quite accept the truth of that ‘without evidence or investigation’, here is my evidence in Romans 5:8:

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

That is all I need. To make my trust a black or white thing. Because every time I will choose the light (or white). I’ve been reminded of that so much recently in this time of healing and recuperation (I won’t call it tough because the time with God has been so amazing!), that He is all I need. In the wavering moments, I repeat to myself, I will trust in the Lord. In the sleepless hours I remember what can man do to me? I will not be afraid, in God I trust. In the anxiety I remind myself, that God has proved Himself, whether I need evidence or not, He has more than proved his love for me.

And He is trustworthy…

 

Talk 12/7/15 // John 14 // Trust in God’s promises

I usually blog the notes from my talks but I didn’t really have full notes this week it was just a list of points to talk about, but if you want to watch it it’s below.

Based on John 14, I talked about how I felt God with me in the last 2 months whilst I’ve been going through the mill with my back issues. We can trust on his promises…

 

Trust

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Took this pic on my walk this morning. So lovely to be out in the fields again, funny how much we take for granted…

I was reminded of this scripture as I walked, just thinking about the path ahead and whether it was going to be uneven (and therefore tricky for me to walk on right now). We have some decisions to make in the near future and I am reciting this to myself. I just need to trust in him….

 

 

Talk // 16th Feb 2014 // Believe, Trust, Share // Philippians 1:12-26

Talk given at The Point church // Sun 16th Feb
as always these are form my prep notes so sorry for typos/inconsistencies etc!
So we are in the middle of our series on Philippians and as a reminder, we know that Paul is ‘in chains’, in prison of some
sort, probably in Rome. We
cannot be exactly sure what being ‘in chains’ means. It could be some sort of
house arrest, (as mentioned in Acts) but either way one can imagine how much fun that
would be – let’s face it, the Romans were not best known for their hospitality
to criminals. This passage refers to the palace guard – we  know he was being kept with the Praetorian
Guard, a sort of elite force, the bodyguards of the emperor.
 So
for Paul, he is in chains, with this elite guard, awaiting some form of trial
and here he is writing to the church at Philippi, perhaps his ‘favourite’
church.
—————–
Paul
gets a bit of a bad press sometimes, but you know I rather like him! He is a real
hero of the faith. And let’s face it I don’t think you can be such an avid and successful
church planter, as he was, without being a bit controversial. But truly he is
an example to us of the level of confidence and trust he had in Christ
throughout his entire Christian life.
This
quote is attributed to the Bishop of Rome, Pope Clement at the time, saying of Paul:

Seven
times he wore fetters (chains), he was exiled, he was stoned, he was a herald
both in the east and in the west, he gained the noble renown of his faith, he
taught righteousness throughout the whole world and having reached the limit of
the west (probably a ref to where he finished his travels, either in spain or
rome) he bore testimony before the rulers, and so departed from the world and
was taken up into the holy place – the greatest example of endurance.

The
greatest example of endurance?
and how did he become this example? Not in his own
strength but in the strength of Christ within him. How did he put up with
being arrested, exiled, stoned, persecuted for all that time? Well here in this
passage we get a little glimpse into how that happened. His strength comes through the amazing belief,
or faith that he has in the Lord. That faith breeds an unshakeable trust in
Jesus, which in turn shapes his life with one purpose, to share the gospel.
He
believes, he trusts, he shares.
—————–
This
part of the passage is the beginning of the letter proper, the previous 11
verses are the introduction, pleasantries, greeting if you like. Now he’s
getting into it. And what’s the first thing he says?  – we know that he’s in chains, probably not
having the best time of his life, but what is his first ‘point’ ?
‘I
want you to know that what has happened to me has advanced the gospel.’
That’s the first thing, his focus. He wants them to
know that the gospel is being advanced, this is his heart, that wherever he is,
to evangelise. His
zeal for the kingdom of God is unceasing, even in the face of adversity.
If
we look back to where Paul came from, we see before his conversion, he was then
known as Saul, a man referred to as zealous for the Jewish faith, (devoted
to, passionate)  so zealous/passionate in
fact, that he persecuted those who dared to come against it.  He threatened, persecuted, murdered. In
Galatians he refers to himself as ‘intently persecuting the church of God, even
 trying to destroy it’. He had such an
unshakeable desire to see Christianity wiped out – as he says to destroy the
church of God.
And
yet in Paul we see the power of God, the power of his hand, completely turning
the tables. 
Some years ago God gave me the phrase ‘volta face’ – which was
becoming so obvious in our own lives, derived from Latin, and literally means
turn and go the other way – an about turn or a U-turn if you like. This is
exactly what God does with Saul. And it’s not that he turns Saul into a
different person, no he just inhabits his life in a way that takes all that
Saul was and turns it for his good (Romans 8:28)
When
we become Christians we don’t suddenly become someone else, no I believe we are
all created in Christ, in Gods image, and sometimes we go astray, for whatever
reason, or circumstances. So when we do come to him, he uses all that we are,
all that he created us to be, for Him. So Paul as he becomes known, is still as
zealous, or passionate, devoted as he was before but now it is for God’s
purposes.  And how powerful is that?
There
is so much in this passage, but I want to focus on these three words: believe,
trust, share.
We
know that Paul is a believer, obviously, his faith is strong. And through that
he trusts in God for all his needs. And because of that trust he can share the
gospel in all confidence and all circumstances. He believes, he trusts and he
shares. What an amazing witness to those around him, even here in prison, that
despite being in chains, for some years we know, he can still share the love of
God, even with his guards! And as I said we’re not just talking about prison
guards, these are the ultimate guards, thought in some cases to be more
influential than the emperor himself and yet, Paul is not intimidated, or put
off, he still continues to fulfill his calling.
How
many of us could do the same? How many of us get bogged down by the difficult
stuff and then our confidence wavers? When something happens that we don’t understand,
or think why would God allow that? When God’s plans for our lives don’t seem to
be going the way we thought? Can we still stand up and say I trust in my God? That
is what we can learn from Paul here – to trust and have confidence in all situations.
The
whole book of Philippians has a theme of joy as Will has touched on already. In
fact I think joy or rejoicing is mentioned 16 times in just these 4 chapters!
But that seems so contrary to the situation doesn’t it? Prison, no sign of a
release date. In fact it was quite common for prisoners that were political or
perhaps a ‘hot potato’ as one book refers to Paul, to be kept locked up for
some time to allow things to calm down a bit.  And yet Paul rejoices! That joy comes from a
belief and a complete trust in Jesus.
So
here he is, in chains and yet he’s telling the church at Philippi, it’s ok
because I am still spreading the gospel! I wonder if they were concerned, after
all he had been locked up for a while, were they worrying where this would end?
Paul their founder, great missionary, inspiration? What would happen if he were
to be executed? I wonder if there were concerns for the faith – how many would
continue to follow if they knew Paul, this great leader, had been ‘abandoned by
his God’, so is he reassuring them here?
He
is showing them the difference between the kingdom view and the worldly view…
And it’s important to remember that whilst we view Paul as some kind of hero,
this is a letter to an ordinary church, one could say like ours. All Pauls
letters are written to ordinary churches, yes they might have been set up by
him, but they are getting on with the day to day, this is a letter of
encouragement to an ordinary church…
An
ordinary church which has a few issues, I mean most of his letters give words
of correction or advice to the churches. Here it seems some are preaching the
gospel with the wrong motive – vs 15-17. It is thought that some other
followers of the way were perhaps making the most of the fact that their most
well know leader was in prison. He was quite a controversial character and
perhaps their intentions were to gain some notoriety for themselves while Paul
is out of the way.
And
his response? He says:
What
does it matter? Just so long as Christ is preached?
Now,
I don’t think he means that it doesn’t matter to God, I think he is just making
the point that even though their hearts may be slightly off track, they are
still spreading the gospel and to Paul that is the most important thing. And he
is maintaining humility rather than anger. Which is not as he always is, we
know in some of his letters he really does tick people off, but in this case,
perhaps he recognises that as with his situation here, God can use all things
for good. After all as Christians we are not perfect are we? We all make
mistakes and I am sure we have all acted out of the wrong motives some times,
but it doesn’t mean we aren’t still trusting in God. And for Paul, he has come
from a place of persecuting Christians, so the very fact that people are now
preaching the gospel, if not quite with the right heart, is a matter of
confidence in the God that he has been preaching.
So
here he is in chains, still just persisting with his whole heart that the
message be shared. Believing, trusting and sharing.
You
know, I think Paul is just so full of Jesus that he can’t help but tell people
about him! The joy just overflows out of him. We know that Pauls mission is to
preach the gospel, he is an evangelist. In Acts 9:15, where we see God asking Ananias
to go to see Saul, who has been blinded, he says this:
 “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles
and their kings and to the people of Israel.
And God keeps his
word. Paul proclaims the name of the Lord wherever he goes! Even locked up!  Confident not just in his God but in what he
is there to do.
—————–
So, what has God
called you to do ? 
If we step into what
God is calling us to do, we can be confident in him. That no matter what, he is
beside us, every step. We can have the same confidence that Paul had.
I am involved with a
charity in Haiti called Hope House, which has an orphanage and a school for the
poorest of Haitian kids. Life is hard for them, and they rely on God for
everything, literally everything. But the leaders out there have an amazing
confidence and trust in him, because they know they are there to do what he has
called them to do. And when there is hardship – which there is often, they
trust in him all the more.
One of the trustees
from the charity goes out each year and the area they are in is very dangerous
and people have been kidnapped before. But her view is that if you are where
God wants you, then it’s the safest place in the world. In fact last year when
they went out, their pick up was late and they had to stand outside the airport
for an hour and wait. Now this is a place where white people have been
kidnapped before and in fact the foreign office had advised people not to
travel. They were waiting outside the airport, two unaccompanied white women, and a man
came up to them and said to them: “Do not be afraid, Haiti is your land”. Although
he didn’t recognize them it turned out this man knew Yvrose who runs Hope House
and was the same man who had picked them up in previous years. They were
subsequently picked up and later found out that 2 white Americans had been
murdered on the very spot in which they stood just the week before.
But they had felt completely
safe. And as a result they have come back and shared that situation with many
who don’t know the Lord. That even in one of the most dangerous places in the
world, God has protected them. They believed, trusted and shared.
So you see if we are
where God wants us to be, in whatever circumstances we can have confidence in
the one we believe in.
Believe in him,
trust in him  and share him
Paul goes on to say
that often quoted scripture:
‘for to me, to live
is Christ and to die is gain’.
It’s like he’s
saying, I have such confidence in my God that whether I live or die, it doesn’t
matter. He goes on, ‘if I stay on this earth, I get to continue the good work,
but hey if I don’t, I get to be with him in heaven.
Message translation is brilliant here: Alive,
I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I
can’t lose…
There is such
freedom in that sentiment. I mean if he can live in a way that says life’s
circumstances will not divert me from this truth, this trust, this confidence
in God, then what can man do to me?
In 2 Cor 4:8
We are hard pressed on
every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We
always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus
may also be revealed in our body. 11 For
we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that
his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
It reminds me of the
film Braveheart – I’m sure many of you have seen it. That famous speech where
Mel Gibson – William Wallace is rallying his army, where defeat is likely. He
says to his troops, you are freemen and the famous line:
they may take our lives
but they will never take our freedom!”
That’s
what we need to say in the face of life’s circumstances, when the chips are
down, when the enemy would have us in chains – whatever it may be for you, for
some addiction, for some unforgiveness, for some anger, whatever it is, we need
to stand and declare that Freedom that we have in Christ…
We
are free! That’s the truth the Jesus gives us – if we believe in him, if we
trust in him, then with confidence we can share all that he has done for us,
and say ‘you cannot take my freedom’…
Listen
no one ever said following Christ would make life easy and it certainly isn’t
for Paul – Acts 9.15 – he will suffer… when God calls him carry his name to the
gentiles, he also says, I will show him
how much he must suffer for my name.
That
isn’t to say that we will all suffer greatly for the name of Jesus, but the
point is that here Paul, despite knowing that his suffering is part of his
calling, still rejoices in confidence that the gospel is preached.
Can
we rejoice in confidence in all life’s situations?
 —————–
I sometimes think
that the gospel is a bit like a James Bond movie – and don’t shoot me for
heresy yet, let me explain. In the movies, in every one I think, at some point
the villain always has James Bond captured, tied up, hanging over a pool of
sharks or with a laser pointed at him, or a bomb strapped to him or some other ridiculous method of killing him. The end seems
imminent, the villain has won. And yet without fail in the nick of time James
Bond escapes. It’s a volta face isn’t it? Where the enemy or villain thinks
he’s won the day, when the opposite is true. Just as I’m sure the enemy must
have thought that Paul being in prison would be a triumph, to stop him sharing
the gospel, but actually it is turned on its head completely…
In the message
version Paul this:
I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment
here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched,
the Message has actually prospered.
 It’s the opposite effect! The enemy is
defeated! The victory is won.
And we have to remember that. Even in life’s
trials, however big or however small, that the victory is won! We can have
amazing confidence in the one who has won that battle for each and every one of
us.
Freedom!
Victory!
 —————–
So what does this mean
for us here? What is Paul saying for us?
I know for some the
thought of sharing ones faith openly is a big deal, the word evangelism strikes
fear into your hearts! But it can so simple. We are all called to share the
gospel, but we are not all called to be out on the street corner sharing it or
be in prison for our faith…  So for example
Do your friends know
you are a Christian? Do people know you go to church?
When a colleague
asks you about what you did at the weekend – do you say ‘well I went to church’.
Or I played in the band at church, or I served by making coffee at church…
Sometimes it’s those things that plant seeds that means people know where to
come when they want to know more.
I want to tell you
about a friend of mine who some years ago sent me a text saying that her dad
was very ill in hospital. We had only really just come to true faith. I wanted
to reply and send her some words of encouragement and I remember sitting there
for ages thinking do I say ‘I’ll be praying for you’, or do I say ‘I’ll be
thinking of you’… I literally spent 10 minutes deciding on that one word! In the
end I thought, well I will be praying so I will tell her. As a result she
responded that she really appreciated it. Sadly he died but subsequently we had
many conversations, I told her about my testimony, how we came to know Jesus
and the long and the short is that she ended up doing an Alpha course and came to know Jesus. All that came
from one word in a text! Now most of you know that I am really open about my
faith now, and my friends know that I am training for ministry and that often
results in conversations about big issues and what I believe and so on. But
back then, it took a lot of courage to put that one word – praying – in a text.
And look at the results! Sometimes that’s all it takes!
—————–
So I want to
challenge you this week to be courageous, believe, trust and share.
You don’t
have to run into your office yelling about Jesus, but a little word, or reveal
that you go to church. It doesn’t have to be difficult.
For some of you,
it’s not hard to share your faith, so I challenge you to ask God to reveal
someone to you who needs to know about Jesus, or who needs to hear your story.
For all of you, ask
God for opportunities to share the gospel in your own way.
Above all we believe
in the most amazing God, we can totally and truly trust in him and if we can
trust in him in all circumstances then we can trust him to show us how to share
the gospel in a way that works for us.
So believe – ask God
for an opportunity. TRUST – trust that he will equip you – and then go for it!
SHARE what God has done for you.
Believe, trust,
share…
Finish with quote:
French philosopher
and writer: Albert Camus. He was not a Christian and not all than fond of religion either, but in true volta
face fashion I offer it because God can use all things for his purposes! He said:

In
the midst of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer,

And in each of us there
is an invincible summer – in any cicrumstances, even the midst of winter, an
invincible light – so go, Let it shine!
Believe, trust, share…
Amen