God’s Love

One of TV’s most popular show in the 1970’s was a Korean War army hospital show called MASH. The theme tune that played was called ‘Suicide is painless’. I thought of that line as the NZ Herald on 26 February this year focused on NZ’s appalling statistics on youth deaths, and the role suicide played in those statistics. These numbers for NZ are a national shame. No only amongst our youth but amongst middle aged, men in both categories in particular. Though the incidence of women attempting suicide is higher, the ‘success rate’ (what a vile way to think of it) among men is much much higher.
We have the worst statistics in the ‘developed world’. For far far too many, death is preferable to life. 
How do we reconcile this with the knowledge that NZ is an educated, wealthy, peaceful beautiful country?  Something is devastatingly wrong with the message too many of our people are hearing. 
 
It is often said that suicide is selfish. In the eyes and lives of those who are affected by it, it is. For those who lose loved ones, work colleagues and friends in this way, it is devastating. It leaves people laden with guilt, it leaves questions unanswered, it leaves unimaginable pain. 
 
The NZ Mental Health Organisation says this: ‘Most people who attempt suicide don’t want to die – they just want their pain to end or can’t see another way out of their situation’. And Rick Warren, a world renowned Christian author and pastor says this: ‘‘suicide is a permanent irreversible attempt to solve a temporary problem.’ (Rick lost a son to suicide).
 
Suicide is an action taken out of pain. It isn’t the act of the selfish, it is the act of the broken. Broken by loneliness, financial pressure, confusion, not conforming to expectations, being bullied – in each case a sense of hopelessness. 
 
Suicide affects a wide range of people – good people, Christian people, successful people, lost people damaged people. Young, old, men and women. 
 
It should be seen and is as a national crisis. What then is the church’s response?
There are a number of biblical responses that can be made to suicide, I won’t cover them all. 
 
Firstly – it is a sin. The derivative of the word is self-murder. And murder is condemned in the bible; this includes murder of self. Suicide is the intentional taking of a life, even if it is your own. 1.    It’s a breach of God’s command, it fails to acknowledge the beauty the power the value of life, even your own – it disregards the sanctity of human life, it is a stain on the creative work of God.
 
Secondly – it feeds into a narrative that says suffering is to be avoided at all costs. That isn’t a scriptural view of the world this side of eternity. We are reminded through scripture time and time again that we are in a world that is fallen, that suffering is a part of the world we are in. In the West in particular we are increasingly failing to see value in suffering. Where as many parts of the world acknowledges that suffering can be an integral part of finding value in life. For a Christian, the way we respond to suffering is one of our most valuable forms of witness.
 
Thirdly – it can show us that we have our love priorities out of order. The things that are defining us when they are removed from us, cause us such pain that we feel we need to escape. Money, health, looks, popularity, success, these become the most important things in life. But we are called to love God above everything.
 
Fourthly – suicide is an indication that we have lost hope. In the Christian view, this means we have lost trust in God. We have failed to see that God is always with us, knows us, understands us, cares for us, loves us and will never ever leave us. We have forgotten to remind ourselves over and over again that we are loved by God and that he is faithful to his promises to us. 
 
Suicide is an evil.
 
What is our response?
 
We need to acknowledge that there are people who are hurting, and we need to be looking out for them. And if we are hurting we need to acknowledge that we are and reach out. People don’t know what they don’t know. 
 
Men particularly bottle things up. Worried about appearing weak. But asking for help isn’t weakness. Not seeking it is. Ambrose (Bishop of Milan in the 4th century) wrote , Not all weeping proceeds from unbelief or weakness’, after all Jesus wept. Be vulnerable, reach out.
 
In our community no one should be alone. 
 
Helmut Thielicke (a German theologian) wrote, “There are many suicides — not because people have too little money or suffer disappointments in love but because they lost the meaning of life and see themselves confronted by a black wall.” There appears to be no solution for the problems they face. Overcome with intolerable despair the individual feels trapped in a “no exit” situation. Suicide seems the only way out.
 
It is the erosion of hope that makes suffering unbearable. But dear friends there is hope. We are not alone in feeling despair.    Scripture is full of those who felt it, who felt alone and afraid. David, King of Israel , expressed his in the Psalms frequently. This man who was called a friend of God.
 
There is hope. The gospel, God’s story is good news. That Gospel is a Gospel of Hope. That is God’s story from Genesis to Revelation. The world is screwed up, our lives can feel screwed up – this agonising sense of aloneness, loneliness , not been understood and seeing no way out.
 
There is hope !!! It is into that despair that God steps. He looked at broken world, he looks at broken us, and says, ‘I’m doing something about it’, I’m not leaving you alone. 
 
In Psalm 23:4 David writes, ‘ Even when I walk through the darkest valley,  I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me’.
 
David writes that he does not fear because God is with him. He relies on God’s presence, and it brings him strength and comfort. The picture here is David in a valley, the mountains are casting a shadow plunging him into darkness. But for there to be a shadow, there has to be a light. I don’t know what your “valley of the shadow of death” is, but I do know who the Light is that is walking with you in that valley – you are never alone. 
 
We can’t determine God’s love for us based on good or bad circumstances. We determine his love based on the cross and what he did for us on it. And what does that cross mean? It means that it isn’t the end because the story didn’t finish there. We are children of the resurrected Christ – we have hope based on that resurrection. Our future is one of perfect unhindered, uninterrupted love, love with God and with others.
 
If you are feeling desperate, if your energy is getting low, if you are feeling lonely, afraid or hopeless. Talk to me, talk to the elders. We are here for you. Let us pray for you, the Bible says in James 5  ‘ Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.  Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results’.
 
Remind yourself of the promises of God. Rely on his word, and speak his words to yourself. Listen to these verses for example: 
  • Psalm 46:1-3 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
  • Proverbs 18:10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.
  • Nehemiah 8:10 Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
And there are so many more.
 
Remind yourself of God’s great love for you. You are valued. Don’t you understand that ? The creator God has made you, he knows you, he loves you and has plans for you for your good. He will never leave you, you are always safe in his arms. 
 

Psalms 86.5 ‘You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you’

Psalms 86.15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. –

Psalms 136.26 ‘Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever’. 

Zephaniah 3.17 ‘The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing’. 

1 John 4.9-11 ‘In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another’. 

Romans 8.37-39 ‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of Godin Christ Jesus our Lord’.

May you know God’s deep deep love and his hope

Living for Christ

Philippians 1.21 “ For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better”.

Imagine if this could be the words we all were able to say!! Take a moment to think about the man who wrote them, the Apostle Paul.

Not too many year before, these words would have been unimaginable coming from him. This man who stood at the stoning of Stephen, a death he heartedly agreed with. This man who ravaged the church, who was determined to crush it to get the followers of Jesus in oder, now says ‘living means living for Christ’

Paul was doing what he thought was right. He saw this group who followed Jesus as a threat to his lifestyle, his belief system, the community that he was a part of. But confronted with the living Jesus on the road to Damascus he is confronted with the reality that what they said about Jesus was right. Jesus lives!!

The two takeaways are these:

  1. No one is beyond the grace and transforming love of Jesus. Those who we might have given up on, Jesus doesn’t. Those who we think cannot change Jesus can change. Transformation is Jesus work – ours is to be faithful to him
  2. We are in a cultural war. We live in a world who’s culture is against God. They don’t know it, but their ideals, their values, their lifestyles that the long to protect are against God’s perfect ideals. Paul saw the followers of Jesus as a threat to his lifestyle. We have to ask the question, are we a threat to the lifestyles, the value systems, the priorities of the world? Do we live a life of tension – following Jesus makes us different. Does it really? Are we living and speaking a gospel that challenges others?
Jesus came to give us life in all it’s fullness. That fullness comes in a life that is wholly dedicated to him. 
Church, lets do it. Lets be passionate followers of Jesus, so that like Paul we can say, “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better”.

What is to prevent me from being baptised?

Acts 8.36  ‘What is to prevent me from being baptised?’
 
What a question. We easily from this distance miss its power, its significance.  Here was a man who could come to the outside but wasn’t welcome into the inside of God’s people. He could look in he couldn’t join in. He was scarred, he was different, he was an outsider. BUT with Jesus his death and his resurrection all that had changed. As a man named Philip sat beside him and the spoke together about the meaning of a Bible passage, his eyes were opened to the grace, mercy and love of Jesus. This event is surprising on many levels. Philip, say with someone very different from him. But the gospel drew the two together. Philip acted in obedience to a prompting of God. God was a work and Philip joined in. 
 
An African eunuch here’s the good news of Jesus explained, and knew he was no longer on the outside but was a child of God’s. His response for baptism was his recognition that his life was changed. His post baptism experience is one of joy, and the news of Jesus spreads.
 
What opportunities are you expecting this week to share the good news? Pray for them, look for them and trust God to lead you into them. The news is too good to keep to ourselves

The Seed

In the verses we looked at on Sunday, (Acts 7.54 to Acts 8.4) we saw Stephen stoned to death (the first Christian martyr) and we saw Saul persecuting the church. An occurrence that has gone on to various degrees in various parts of the world ever since, and we are not immune from it today.
What was the purpose of this anger toward Christians? It was and is to stop the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. But the intended effect was defeated. The church grows and it continues to grow. Persecution of the church doesn’t shut it down, doesn’t kill it off, it opens it up and grows the church.
Tetullian ( A christian who died in about 220 AD)  wrote these words, “Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to the dust…The more you mow us down the more we grow, the seed is the blood of Christians.’
This is the sovereign work of God. God is God, he is in complete control. Of all things. His work of growing his church will not be defeated. But there is a cost. And that cost is an uncomfortable one.
For us at Albany Baptist Church, for us as individual Christians what does that look like? When we speak of evangelism, of sharing the good news of Jesus, what are we prepared to do? What are we prepared to give up? How radical do we want church to be, how different?
When it looks as if things are falling apart, when it appears as if we are not making any head way, when life seems against us, don’t give up. Remember God is in control. He sees way beyond what we do – we focus on the short term, whereas God is seeing into eternity.
We mustn’t give up, but we must be prepared to pay a cost. That cost is obedience, that cost is holiness, that cost is courage, that cost is being different.
God is going to build his church. Are we going to let him build us as well?
 
Prayer and fasting
 
How are you going? Are you pushing into God, are you giving him space to speak. What is he saying?
Continue to pray for the lost, for new people to come into ABC, for  us to reach those who need to know the good news of Jesus effectively. Continue to pray for an increasing sense of his Spirit at work among us, for us to grow in obedience and holiness.

Evangelism

Evangelism (sharing the story of Jesus) can be a scary word, and with all things that we find scary, it can be easier to avoid than to do. There are lots of reasons why we don’t do it; we’re not confident, we’re worried we wont do it properly, we worried about being made to look silly, or being rejected, and ruining friendships.
These are understandable reasons, and I know I’ve being to scared or embarrassed to share about Jesus heaps of times. This year, we really want to encourage and to help us all to feel more confident about sharing what it is we believe about Jesus. We want others to know him. There isn’t only one way to do it. We all have a story to tell and there are ways we can feel easier about sharing our faith.
On Sunday looking at the first part of Acts 1, we saw three things that the writer focussed on in his introduction.
  1. He reminded his reader that Jesus had risen from the dead. That he had conquered death, and that he demonstrated it by appearing to a number of people. For us everything hangs on the resurrection. As Paul says with out it our faith is pointless. We believe only because Jesus has risen. The evidence for it is an empty tomb, Jesus followers saw him and told others about him, and the church grew. None of this can be explained without a resurrection.  
  2. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit – wait, Jesus says, until the Spirit comes, then go and be my witnesses. In other words, ‘I’m not leaving you alone, I’m giving you the power you need to do what I’m asking you to do.
  3. Hope – Jesus has said he is coming back, and that those who believe in him will have eternal life. We have meaning and purpose for living. Life isn’t just about now, but about a certain and perfect future. 
These three things can give us confidence about out story. We believe in a risen Jesus, not just an interesting historical figure, but God himself who is the God of the living not the dead. We do have the Holy Spirit to help us, and our story of hope is one that is for everyone.
 
The BIG deal is, our job is simply to tell God’s story and our story as best we can in our time, place and culture. We’re not responsible for people believing in Jesus and being saved, that’s Jesus’ job. 
 
BUT we do have a story and we have been told to tell it. We can do it way more effectively when we commit our efforts to God and seek him, his guidance and direction and power. We want to see Jesus moving in the lives of people, we want to see our church grow. So as a part of that, acknowledging our dependence on God, we will have a time of 21 days of prayer and fasting, and we’ll introduce that this coming Sunday.
 
Be excited!! God can do way more than we can imagine. Let’s really seek him!!

Wood

Exodus 15:22-27
v22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter.
 
Gito began with these words, New Year means New Hope. This was a wonderful sermon as Gito reminded us that sometimes life for us is bitter. We find something that looks nice, but leaves people beaten at the end; the abuse of alcohol, gambling, drugs. The news is often negative and that can makes us bitter. Being around criticism, hearing of life’s struggles, work problems family problems and how this can influence us to become bitter.
When we have difficulties we groan and moan, and we see this in this passage, the people found the water bitter and they moaned. Longing to go back to what they had, knowing that that was a life of abuse and slavery.  This desert experience where a people longed for fresh cool water but got something else and with that the question where is God, why has he left us.
 
But we were reminded that grumbling doesn’t change circumstances- instead we have to do something, and the something here was Moses crying out to God, and receiving this odd response, throw wood into the water. And the wood had the effect of making the water sweet and drinkable and refreshing. The wood changed the circumstances of the people, the wood provided what was needed. The wood came to the peoples aid and saved them.
 
Gito drew the comparison with another piece of wood; one shaped like a cross on which hung our saviour Jesus. That with this wood God provided the power for us to be saved. The power for us to have salvation which comes from faith in Jesus. The power to save is not ours, the power to save has been provided by God. The choice is ours to accept it, to know life can be different, to recognise that in life’s desert there is a way for us to drink from the cup of life, that as it happened at Elim (Ex 15.27)  where there was plenty of water and food, where refreshing came God has provided a way out of the desert for us. HIs promise is one of love, joy, peace and hope . God will never disappoint us, when we go through hard times we are to put our trust in God because God is good. So we are  not to give up, but to step forward and accept the love of God and his forgiveness and the power of what he has accomplished on the wood.

You are the only one who can tell your story

Matthew 26.6 “While Jesus was at Bethany, in the house of Simon (known as the ‘the Leper’), a women came to him with an alabaster case of extremely valuable ointment. She poured it on his head  as he was reclining at the table”.

On Sunday we began our journey looking at evangelism, that is telling people about Jesus, sharing with them who he is and what he is done and what he is doing and what he will do (it’s a little more nuanced than that, but that’s a general picture for the moment).

Evangelism is scary. For most of us it’s really difficult we’re not sure what to do or what to say. 

In this passage in Matthew we get a picture of what it can be. An expression of gratitude, and honouring of Jesus, and the courage to not worry what others think. Here is this woman, not named by Matthew, what is significant is what she has done, not who she is. She comes into this home, and does something outrageous, she pours a bottle of perfume on Jesus’ head. No ordinary perfume, but top shelf stuff – a whole years wages is poured out and goes all over Jesus. We know this because in John 12 this story is told and the woman wipes Jesus feet with her hair. She drenches him in this stuff – she doesn’t hold anything back. Imagine doing that, in NZ $ we are talking about the equivalent of $52,000 spilt over Jesus and the ground. It’s a beautiful thing, she has done, says Jesus.

A beautiful thing – against the wishes and the wisdom of Jesus’ disciples, here is an expression of love, and honour and gratitude. Fearlessly displayed!!

How can we be a witness for Jesus? We could start by being grateful. We can be grateful and acknowledge what he has done for us. We fearlessly acknowledge our dependence on him. We don’t hold anything back – we are willing to give all we have for him – why? Because we know what he has done. 

This women is grateful to Jesus for the difference made to her life, and yet the full power of Jesus was still a way off from being displayed. We know this Jesus as the one who died and rose again. The one who has conquered death, the one who has proven he is the longed for and promised saviour, the one who will put all things right, the one who said he would never leave us, and who said he is coming back to take us to be with him forever. 

Isn’t that a whole lot to be grateful for?

What about us? Are we living lives of gratitude for all that Jesus has done? Are we letting people know how grateful we are for what he has done for us? Are we giving freely of what he has given to us?

          

        Gratitude can be difficult In a sense, gratitude is an expression of modesty. In Hebrew, the word for gratitude – hoda’ah – is the same as the word for confession. To offer thanks is to confess dependence, to acknowledgment that others have the power to benefit you, to admit that your life is better because of their efforts.

 

       By showing gratitude we speak of something beyond us. We point to something that is away from us but important to us. By gratitude we we note that we are not the centre of the universe. Are you willing to tell others how grateful you are for what God has done?

           You are the only one who can tell your story. No one can do it like you. No one can describe the wonderful things that have changed in your life since you have surrendered yourself to Christ. It is your story; no one else can tell it.. “‘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” (Luke 8:39).

Tell someone who it is you believe in

Here we are at Christmas Eve. We think of all the songs and poems ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’ this sense of building anticipation. In all of this we wonder, what is it that we are really celebrating. 
 
A we who are believers in Jesus, what is it that our friends and families understand we believe? Is it some world view that gives us comfort. We believe in God, and that means we have a belief that on our death we go to heaven. Is that it? Are we living and sharing a life of excitement, something that has to be shared?
 
Mark in his gospel begins his book like this: 

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”  Or to paraphrase it, the good news of Jesus Christ Son of God begins here.

 
The good news is not about an experience, it is about a person Jesus Christ. The Bible is the unfolding story of God, it is the revelation of God and what he has done. That’s the good news. That God is not distant and disinterested, God is present and active. Has been, is and always will be. The gospel, the good news is about God so engaged with us, that he came and lived with us. He did so in such an unexpected humble way that he wasn’t recognised. But in Jesus we see the heart of God for us – his love, his desire to give us a new beginning to live a life in relationship with him. To know that despite the mess the world around us might be, the frightening and painful circumstances we are facing, God is in control and will put everything right.

This Jesus, who Mark knew, proved himself to be God not because he acted from a distance but because he came near – Emmanuel God with us. This Jesus who turned water into wine, let’s keep this party going, this Jesus who, listening to the heartbroken cry of a father for his daughter responded and raised her to life, this Jesus who looked at those who society despised and went and ate with them, this Jesus who looked on the disfigured and scarred, and said be healed, this Jesus who stopped as the blind man cried out and said what can I do for you, and did as he was asked and gave him his sight.
 

This Jesus who revealed powerfully the love of God for us. This Jesus who comes to us in the din of huge crowds, soldiers shaking dice gambling for his clothing, and priests raging with hatred against him, crowds who at once loved him and were drawn to him, who later would turn against him.

This Jesus who was so misunderstood that in the midlde of a shouting and cursing crowd is spit at, flogged, treated with shame and dishonour. Has a thorn of crowns pushed onto his head, and in great darkness drinks the cup of suffering on a cross.

It is this Jesus that Mark begins his book by saying this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. Why? Because Mark was a witness to the power of God at work in and through Jesus.

What was the purpose of that work? To allow us to begin again. That is the wonderful good news for us. There is a new beginning. Not in our selfish desires, not in us having a God who will do what we want when we want it. Not in a God who fulfils our desires – NO because on our sinfulness we don’t understand what our greatest need is.

Our greatest need is a new relationship with God and a new relationship with each other. And  our relationship to God is based on unmerited forgiveness. Jesus came to fill the gap – a Jesus who will transform our lives and who has begun a new Kingdom.

That’s the exciting good news. We believe in a Jesus who has conquered death, who has shown us there is an eternal purpose to life. A Jesus who loves us so completely that he humbled himself to be with us – to show us we are valued. 

‘That is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ son of God. Are you excited? Then make it your goal this Christmas to tell someone who it is you believe in.

Emmanuel

This past Sunday we looked at Mary’s response to receiving the news that her life was about to drastically and dramatically change. It was a three-fold response starting with astonishment. Astonishment that someone so unremarkable, so ordinary, would be the recipient of such incredible grace. A grace that would change her life. She then wrestled with what this meant as it seemed impossible and her wrestling with God’s truth led to her place of acceptance. Acceptance was not a passive response, rather it was an act of surrender. And her wrestling with this happened in community with the friendship of her cousin, Elizabeth. By working through these various stages, Mary’s response was one of adoration, or worship. But she needed to process. She needed to ask questions. She needed the support of someone who could walk alongside her.

Sometimes it is difficult to know how to respond to what is happening around us and to see where God is at work. But, as Henri Nouwen says “True joy is hidden where we are the same as other people: fragile and mortal. It is the joy of belonging to the human race. It is the joy of being with others as a friend, a companion, a fellow traveller. This is the joy of Jesus, who is Emmanuel: God-with-us.”

We have the unique privilege of being in a faith community together. We journey through some dark valleys and see some glorious sunrises together. We do so because we are brothers and sisters in Christ and, because we have the wonderful reassurance that Jesus was, is and forever will be God-with-us. Because we have this wonderful assurance that we don’t have to face life alone, we can offer our adoration, our gift of joy, despite what circumstances or situations we find ourselves facing. As you reflect on Mary’s response, how might God want to speak to you today? And what does it take, for you, to be able to say “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47)

An anchor for the soul, firm and secure

Our first Christmas, when we moved back to Nelson in 2005, was spent at the hospice where my mum lost her battle with cancer. Christmas, for me personally, is always bittersweet. It’s a time of celebration as we remember the birth of our Lord, Jesus, but it’s also a time of sadness as I remember the passing of my mum. For some of you, Christmas may not be an easy time. It can be financially stretching or stressful negotiating oftentimes strained relationships with differing expectations. Sometimes it can be really lonely.

Last Sunday I shared Elizabeth’s story from Luke 1:13, 18-25. She experienced the loneliness of infertility, the disappointment of unmet dreams yet her attitude was one of hope because she knew that God was good. Elizabeth eventually conceived in remarkable circumstances as an old woman, and gave birth to John the Baptist. Her story is one of hope: hope because God is still at work even when we don’t know the outcome; hope because God is good and knows the big picture for our lives; hope because Jesus who knows the frailty and vulnerability of being human, knows what we are going through.

There is a quote from an author I read this week, which says:

Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope.

I would like to encourage you that God knows the coordinates for your life and has found you in the middle of your forest and is standing there, right beside you.

Hebrews 6:19 says “we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” As you read this, I pray you will know the comfort of the Holy Spirit and experience the hope that comes from knowing you are deeply loved by God. You matter. Your life matters.