The Importance of Companions

This is our final sermon in our Colossians series.  We have looked at Gospel Growth and the authority of Christ.  We have examined the importance of turning an enemy to a friend and have been given hope when we are struggling servants.  We have learned of the dangers of bad religion and what real spirituality is.  We have learned about the importance of family life and we have heard the call to prayer and evangelism.  Today we look at the importance of unity and togetherness for the Gospel.
                One of the most appealing aspects of Christianity is the fellowship; the sense of community.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ, we are a family.  Sometimes the family is small, sometimes it is large but we are connected to those who came before us, those who are around us now or across the world and those who will come after us.  In the Old Testament Moses recorded that he was encouraged by his father in law Jethro to gain assistance to manage the affairs of the Children of Israel so as not to be overburdened.  Proverbs has many verses on the wisdom in walking with companions of faith. The New Testament emphasise this age old principle.  In today’s reading Paul is emphasising and highlighting those people who are of help to him.  Christ talks about the importance of fellowship and community, “where two or more are gathered in My name I will be amongst them.”  He sent out disciples two by two and the Bible teaches us that a man is blessed who may fall and has a companion to help him back up.  The Scriptures use the parable of a cord with two strands breaking but one with three is very difficult to separate.  Paul frequently references his companions throughout the New Testament.  So the Apostle Paul has always been the kind of person who needed help from his friends. As great as he was he could never do it alone. And it’s still true. We can’t do it alone. We have to halp each other.  There is a theory in psychology that our personality is comprised of the 5 people that we surround ourselves with the most; in this passage Paul gives extremely honourable mentions to several people that were dear to him, and each of them brought something special-a facet of Christ’s being; And that’s the two fold message of this text for us today.
                At this point in Colossians the Apostle Paul is a prisoner in Rome.  He has been imprisoned for the first time; he will be martyred during his second imprisonment.  During his jail time he has spiritual family with him at one time or another.  He gives each of them a description, almost like an early photograph.  The letter to the Colossae church was written around 60 A.D. And there were people who were very special to Paul at this time. They were devoted friends to a criminal.  With that came danger, social stigmatism, and persecution-but these are dangers that no Christian should fear.  The Lord felt that their friendship was worthy of mention in the Holy Bible and remembered for all time.  Paul introduces these companions in this great Scripture.  The first is a man named Tychicus (pron k).  Paul calls him “a beloved brother, faithful servant and a fellow slave in the Lord whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose that he might know your state and comfort your hearts.”  Tychicus has only been mentioned a few times in the Bible and even then only briefly but it is not quantity but the quality of the passage that stands out to me.  He was first mentioned in the later part of Acts and is last referenced in 2nd Timothy.  He was an Asiatic Christian who had been accompanying Paul for quite a while from Macedonia to Jerusalem, supporting him in his missions and support of the other churches; as well as the building up of the other churches.  We do not have any words from Tychicus’ mouth but we are given a clear and concise window into his soul.  Tychicus would have had very little experience in the outside world and yet his faith in Christ compelled him to serve Paul over several books of the Bible.  Paul sends him to the other churches to “be of encouragement” to them.  He is always portrayed as one who is serving in the background but Paul is pushing him up to the front, because one who can be trusted with a little can be trusted with much.  Eventually Tychicus is sent to Ephesus to free Timothy so he can join Paul in Rome.  Tychicus does everything on a complete committed faith in Christ Jesus, the fact that we hear nothing of this close brother of Paul’s suggests his humility we almost get a sense that Tychicus tries to stay out of the line light.  He is humble, loving, devoted, faithful, encouraging, and hospitable-Tychicus appears to be used as a symbol of the heart of Christ and a model to which we should aspire to.
                The next companion mentioned in this passage I would like to reflect on is Onesimus, the man with a dodgy past.  We met the man with the servant’s heart. Now let’s meet the man with the sinful life. In the book of Philemon we learn more of Onesimus, we learn that he was a slave to Philemon at Colossae, a thief in the past, a coward who frequently tried to run from responsibility he converted to Christianity through Paul and as Paul says “was useless before but is now useful to all of us.”  He is a “faithful and dear brother” not a sinful and cowardly sinner and slave.  What can we learn about these brief mentions of Onesimus?  Often times we feel as Christians like we get a one time shot to get forgiveness, afterwards we should be perfect as Christ is perfect and that if we truly sin as Christians we can never get back on the right track.  Often Christians who backslide convert to another religion because they feel they have fallen too far and want a fresh start.  A recent study indicated that many of the converts to Islam are in fact backslided Christian. We must view Onesimus as the symbol, the metaphor of the repeated redemptive spirit of Christ- we must take the lesson that until we stand before God we can always go back to Him and become faithful servants in Christ and slaves for Him.  Christ makes sure a man with a past has a past that’s passed.  And that man with the sinful life eventually became the Pastor of the Colossians church.  He shows us that to become great we must always be a servant to Christ.
                Now there are several people mentioned in this passage but we only have time for a few, the next man I wish to examine is the one who has most of the passage connected to him, Epaphras.  Epaphras was with Paul in Rome according to the book of Philemon, a preacher and a Colossian whom Paul says “is always wrestling in prayer for you to stand firm in the will of God, matured, and fully assured.”  Paul assures the Colossians that Epaphras is hard working for not only their church but the ones at Laodicea and Hierapolis.  But he was also the founder of the Colossae church, so what was he doing with Paul in Rome?  Epaphras had travelled there to inform Paul of the false doctrines and teachers that were wiggling into the church there and in response Paul wrote this letter for them.  Epaphras does stay with Paul for a time; I believe not only to support him but also to learn from Paul.  Paul encourages his church however that even though their pastor is away from them the shepherd is always wrestling in prayer for them, like Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord.  And his prayers are that they will never be led astray again.  Paul emphasises Epaphras is working hard to show them that even though the leader may be absent they are never far from his thoughts and he is never far from theirs.  Epaphras was a prayer warrior who wrestled (in some translations agonised) for his congregation, to be well founded, not to be lucrative; For if they were well grounded and mature then they could grow, evangelise, and persevere in his absence.  To me Pastor Epaphras represents the commitment of Christ that we should all hold in our lives, he could even be a symbol of Christ’s ever loving soul-wrestling and fighting always for His flock.
                The final person I would like to look at is the medical man of the group, Dr. Luke.  I do not say the most educated man because Paul himself, when he was Saul was extremely educated perhaps even more so than a doctor.  But Luke is clearly identified as a physician.  He is the author of the Book of Luke, the Book of Acts, and about 52 chapters of the New Testament; and was also Paul’s personal physician.  In a land where education and science was not as highly emphasised we see a man of the aforementioned discipline who became one of the key Christian apostles.  It’s interesting to note that on Paul’s first missionary journey he was constantly ill. On his second missions trip he took Luke with him again. The need for a personal doctor was evident but also the support of a friend who had similar interests as Paul;   so he took him along. God’s work needs specialists.   Not everybody goes to seminary; There are some people who can do something else and fit in. The famous preacher and healer Smith Wigglesworth was an uneducated, inarticulate plumber by trade and one of the most influential ministers and healers of the 19th and 20th centuries chosen by God.  But it was not without sacrifice that Luke accompanied Paul.  He left the potential for a lucrative practise; he ventured into a world of unknown diseases but the love of Christ and his desire to dedicate his professional discipline to the Living God was of a greater calling. He was also the beloved physician as Paul calls him, the one to be with Paul as he was dying in II Timothy.   In Luke we see the embodiment of the intellect of Christ.
                But let’s look at Paul’s final concluding remarks.  He sends greetings to the brothers and sisters, to the house of Nympha and the church there, along with the church of Laodicea (Ephesian Church) which Paul wants his letter circulated to.  Paul wants his teachings to spread and support other Christians.  Christians are a community of believers, of saints and to be isolated from the teachings of the church leaders and the encouragement of others would have made a difficult existence as an outlawed religion even harder.  Other churches had other letters by Paul’s hand which also circulated and these churches would copy them and the basis of our Bible began to form out of this communal sharing.  Paul continues on with a disciple named Archippus “Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”  18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”  Archippus, which was Greek for “master of the horse” was born in Colossae and was an early Christian believer.  In the book of Philemon he is referenced as a “host of the church and fellow servant.”  It is believed he was the first bishop of Laodecia and one of the seventy Christ sent out.  Paul is calling Archippus to take a lesson from these people he has mentioned and this epistle, follow through with what God has commanded you to do, devote yourself to what ministry you have been placed in-this is a lesson we should all take, when I agreed to preach I did not go into it half heartdly, but prayerfully; and in everything remember whatever we do, do it as unto the Lord and not unto men.”  And above all else we remember that Paul needed prayer and companions as he had all through his missions, and as we do all the time as well.  He is saying do not forget me; do not forget to pray for me, I need the help of God and you.
Today we looked at the importance of companions and the lessons they can teach us.  We looked at several men in a long list of great men who embodied a few of the many facets of Christ’s identity.  His Heart, His Spirit, His Soul, and His intellect; these are facets all Christians should aspire to live out everyday.  We also saw the other theme of the message, the importance of the Christian community.  A great man of God like Paul shows us that it is not only alright to be reliant on others but it is a benefit of knowing Christ and maintaining an identity in Him.  Colossians teaches us many things about our identity in Christ, but for today try to take these two lessons away based on the examples of some great men of God, understand the personality and being of Christ, and live out that understanding for your fellowman giving praise to the Glory of God, let’s pray.
Benediction:  Colossians 3:15-17
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

The Presence of Christ in India

This has been a long time coming. The following is the sermon I wrote training it through the country of India from outside Delhi to the tip of Kerala.

I watch the Indian wilderness from my second class window seat. I see jungle, marsh lands, rice fields, villages working on crops. I see rolling mountains, animals that are plentiful and those that are endangered. And my mind wanders from this time to 52AD. This was the time that Indian Christians believe St. Thomas the Doubtful came and brought the Gospel to Kerala (which happens to be the largest collective group of Christians). We met an Indian Christian who had trained it 30 hours to and from for a 3 day Christian conference. He told us that his family were descendents of some of the first Christian converts under St. Thomas. St. Thomas was not the most welcomed person as the country was still Hindu but some families hid him and they were blessed by him. Centuries later Muslim invaders from the north ousted the Hindu emperor and set up a very Islamic state which is still evident today. In the south it is like a totally different country, there are still copious amounts of different religions but it is clearly very Christian in Kerala. As we train it, we even see the differences and changes in the villages. We see more Christian buildings, signs, and church roofs. But in this country I see Christ in the most unlikely places.

If you go anywhere in Southern India you will find old-ancient churches, the closer to St.Thomas’ touch down point will bring ancient church ruins but I find evidence of the Gospel in the people. These Christians live as Christ intended, humble, friendly, hospitable, kind, joyful, and generous. Now I am not saying other Indians are not this. But only among brothers and sisters in the faith will a random stranger welcome you into their home for a meal and a place to sleep! But I also saw Christ in the most northern parts of India. Delhi and other cities have such poverty but yet I see generosity there. A certain older man was given food from a street vendor and this old man clearly needed it; he had but only a crum and gave the rest to three little children. The Gospel lives and breathes in these people. I will not write an extensive sermon since I was not there extensively but it makes me wonder. If these people look more like the Christian life that our Lord challenges us to in the Scriptures, what have we been living?

David of Bethlehem-a man after God’s own heart

I was originally going to write a sermon on King David involving the series I wrote on the Holy Spirit and the Old Testament but found it got away from. I have decided instead to do a series on a recent survey of the 50 most well known Biblical and post Biblical men and women of God. I have prayed long and hard about it and am excited about this series. One of these sermons will also be written while I am on a train travelling through India! There are countless wonderful Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs to start with but I chose David of Bethlehem (1040-970 BCE). I sort of covered Abraham and Moses before, this will not just be a compressed biography but also an analysis of lessons we can take from their lives and circumstances. But above all else how God directly worked in their lives even if it did not seem direct at times. The sermon will look at David’s life in three portions, the first being his rising action; the Spirit of God falling on him to be the next King of the united kingdom of Israel, his conquering of the Phillistines and then Jebus, and finally one of the lowest points for him, the adultery with Bathsheeba and murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite.

David has a lot to claim. Still recognised as the progenitor of the only royal line of Israel even today, a warrior, general, poet, and musician that was thought to be allegorical until archaeological evidence found evidence of his existence and confirmation of his kingship. But it did not start like that. Truthfully NO ONE EVEN KNEW HE EXISTED BUT GOD! Samuel had been told to go to this remote place called Bethlehem, a small, dusty village no where on anyone’s radar. He was told to sacrifice with the house of Jesse that one of the sons would replace the disobedient and disowned King Saul. See the Holy Spirit is not something that makes an appearance after Christ in the New Testament but something that has been referenced since the book of Genesis and whether it was a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a dove, an angel of the Lord or a whispering voice the Spirit had been ready to pour its blessing on David that day; “Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.”Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.” (1 Samuel 16:6-13)
I love it when the Lord says do not look for what you would expect. He wanted a king unlike what anyone would have expected. God said David was a man after My own heart and that is what He was looking at. David’s physical nature, age, and abilities in the grand spectrum of eternity made little difference-and no one could argue with what was expected because it already had been ordained since before time began, Samuel’s annoiting and the Spirit’s descent were merely a physical and divine affirmation of what God had already decreed. Now you might be thinking what could this POSSIBLY have to do with me? Often times we are called to difficult tasks. It could be something like a difficult missions trip, a demanding post, or even a difficult decision that would make us unpopular and we are hesitant to take that calling up, but the catch is this; we were assigned that task long before the nature of our lives were put into place and so for the sake of our own ease, sanity, and faith, we should just take it up and trust the Lord because not only will it be ok but glorious! And we see that next in David’s confrontation with the one known as Goliath.
Saul had been at war with the Phillistines for some time but it seemed their champion could not be beat, now Jesse’s sons had been involved with Saul’s war (1 Samuel 17) but the Spirit of the Lord after the annoiting continued to grow in David as he grew in the Lord. We see this in his conversation with Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
The confidence with which David speaks is one who has had his spirit changed, altered, and overtaken by that of God’s. Certainly David has no other training or has not changed in any real way outwardly since Samuel but God has began to change the Temple inside of him. What can we take from this? David was at great risk going before Saul every time, and certainly at risk going before Goliath but when the Holy Spirit comes into us, it changes us from the inside out. Sometimes we live, sometimes we die, but always we are successful and victorious in God. I think of a modern example, a missionary known as Hudson Taylor; Taylor was the founder of the China Inland Mission (now known as OMF) and had seen emperors rise and fall, regimes take their place, and survived the Boxer Rebellion of the 1800’s. All the time with authority, truth, and confidence to overcome physically, mentally, and spiritually the tyranny that had a throat grip on China.  This is a continuation of the previous sermon/blog.
The final portion of David’s life in this sermon I wish to address is that of one of the lowest points in David’s life. When the golden boy became slightly tarnished, his adultery with Bathsheeba and murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite. Adultery and murder are some of the most serious sins one commit, yet they are viewed as equally sinful to others. Sin is sin to paraphrase the Bible but for anyone to do those two things are quite serious, one was to cover up the other. And there are consequnces to these things, in modern day immorality can bring broken relationship, stress, anxiety, and even death. For David it brought three punishments which the prophet Nathan informed him of, “I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.’’ (2 Samuel 12:11) After this one would assume that like Saul the Spirit and blessing Yahweh would depart. But we do not see that, David is convicted, mourns, laments, and repents at the temple. He has been shamed, lost his son, and put his kingdom ins jeopardy-yet God says that his line will continue and the son born of an adulterous relationship will be the greatest king of all time. His descendents will even produce the Messiah. God covers David’s shame and shows him more blessings than any man should deserve.

So what does this mean for us? It again reinforces our God is a merciful God, that we should have fear of the Lord but that we should have hope. When we sin, we can deal with it, confess it, repent, and move on. We need not be prisoners of the past. Regrets and guilt not only can be let go but because of God’s forgiveness must be let go. Who are we not to forgive ourselves if God has? God gave the wisdom to David via His Spirit to conquer Jebus (now Jerusalem) which had been untouchable for centuries; a seemingly minor military movement was directly guided by God and yet we feel God cannot possibly love us for what we have done? David was a warrior, king, poet, musician, general, and the unifying force of Judah and Israel but he was also an adulterer, murderer, liar, and manipulator. If God calls him a man after His own heart, we should be a little bit more forgiving of ourself, Christ has paid the price. Repent, accept the gift of forgivenss, take a lesson from David and be great for God whether the task is minor and in the background or leading a movement. Praise be to God!

Should Christians go on strike?

I always get so thoughtful when travelling on a train or tram, I write some of my best sermons when travelling. I guess that is why they call me the the travelling preacher in some ways. But I am also a teacher. The other day over 75000 of Victoria’s teachers went on strike. I was torn ethically on what to do. Truly I sort of wished I had worked so I could have the money but it got me thinking about supporting my coworkers but I did not want to go to the rally. I decided to get involved with some charity work at my church and then I could use that as a support to witness. but through all this I wondered what does the Bible say about Christians going on strike? There is actually no formal word in the ancient Greek or Hebrew for work stoppage. The Bible clearly says, “slaves obey your masters” and Christ the Lord said short before he was crucified, “no servant is greater than the master/” Later in the Bible it says “masters be kind to your slaves.” But there are verses regarding employers and employess, below some are listed, and then I will discuss some of the modern work issues surrounding modern Christians with striking and what are some of the things we should think about.

Now most of the Bible’s verses about employers come from the New Testament and it really refers to Christian employers but it really is universal for everyone, below is just a few:
1 Peter 2:18-20: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. ”
Proverbs 22:16: “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.”
Matthew 20:10-15: “Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.”
Leviticus 9:13: “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.

One of the main tenents of the Christian faith is submission to authority. God commands it, whether it be to Him, the government, our masters, or our spiritual elders. Below are some verses listed about employees. Again at the time it was written this was directed at Christian workers but again the principles should be universal. Below are just a few verses:
John 10:12: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.”
Luke 10:7: ” And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.”
Colossians 3:22: “Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.”

So then I started to wonder should a Christian particularly in a country of plenty go on strike. Unlike less developed countries I do not suffer injustice, and I live a very comfortable life. So why should a Christian strike?

It shows you support your comrades, as well as you can use it as a witnessing tool, it opens up conversations.
You can find Bible verses and talk about work relations in Biblical times.
If it is for a just cause for example an employer putting the employees at risk.

Is it part of the employee hype?
Does your strike action cause others undue stress?
Have you prayed on it?

In this modern day whatever our decisions we should always come back to the question of what does the Bible say and where do we feel the Spirit leading us? Now if you do not want to strike there are still ways of supporting your coworkers as to not burn bridges.

Donate your day’s salary (Matthew 5:16: In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”)
Help set up, use your own personal time to assist in whatever way they need.
When people attack the strikers verbally or otherwise stand up for them as you would for Christ.
In this day and age life is never black and white there is so much grey but thankfully God keeps us focussed on what is right and when we are unsure we can always and should go to Him. Hallelujah!

God Speaking Out of the Storms in our Lives

Today’s first part of the sermon comes from one of my favourite portions of the Bible Job 38-41. Specifically when God confronts Job out of the whirlwind and humbles him. I always enjoy reading these verses aloud when I am camping because it reminds me of the awesome power of God’s creation and the fact it is a gift from Him. The Lord always seems to speak out of storms in the Bible, or clouds, or other weather phenomenon. There is an account of a slave trader in the 1700’s who was on his ship and there was a giant storm, he was at the helm and sure of his eminent death and the death of all those aboard he prayed to “the God to which I had known but not given a concern.” In that moment this young man became a Christian and he actually did survive the storm. He left the slave trade and became an Anglican priest. We all remember John Newton for writing Amazing Grace but I will always remember him for two very famous quotes, the first is “though my memory is fading I remember two things, I am a great sinner and Christ is a great saviour.” And the second, God does not always speak out of storms sometimes he speaks out of a drizzle, drip…drip drip…
Now in this sermon I will be looking at three key ideas, the first is hearing God’s voice in the storm, the second is, recognizing His authority by what He says, and the third is acting on it. Now when the Lord confronted Job there were some extenuating circumstances. Job had lost his children which in ancient Middle Eastern traditions meant the end of your bloodline and the end of your contributions to the world. He had lost his health, and he had lost his financial empire. He had nothing. He had more than nothing because as the song goes no man is poor when he has friends. And Job didn’t even have that. He had friends that came to try and support him at first. But with friends like this who needs enemies. Job’s wife was unsupportive telling him to curse God and die! His friends coming to comfort Job inform him it’s his fault and surely he must have sinned against God. Now the Lord can speak to us through our family and friends by the way of the Holy Spirit but that is not the case here. Job and his friends are talking about the mind of God in the earlier chapters. What I am interested in with this first part is what did Job say just before God confronted him? In fact it is not Job who speaks but his friend Elihu. Job remains silent, passive, and self pitying. I believe that it was possible all the friends are with Job when God speaks but they run off when confronted by the being they had claimed they knew so much about. What is interesting is that God does not go onto introduce Himself but confronts Job to account for his despair. “Who is this that obscures my plans?” He never once acknowledges that He is God or that Job has a problem, He presents a small amount of His power to show Job and make Job’s problem to what it actually is. See friends, when in the storms that come in life God will never introduce Himself and ask you what the problem is He knows. He will declare His majesty and confront you with the harshest truths. And yet it does not even have to be a loud booming voice but the drip drip drip of the Spirit. Dietrich Bonheoffer, the minister and spy against the Nazi’s was asked when he had decided to go against Hitler. His answer was that the Lord kept speaking softly and tugging at his heart over many years. See hearing the Lord out of a storm is not hard; it is hearing Him in the drizzle. In 1st Kings the author writes The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still, small voice.” Brothers and sisters we cannot hear that voice if we never stop talking like Job and his friends.
But now that we have recognized God’s voice how do we really know it is Him? In this day and age people do horrid things in the Name of God or because they claim it was His will; mercy killings, abortions, genocide, all in the name of God. People claim there is no way to know and that God gave no proof of His will. This is rubbish! Whenever we are feeling prompted by the Holy Spirit we should always do two things. The first is lining it up with the Word, if it isn’t in the Book it isn’t from God. And secondly ask other Christians to pray about it and if they confirm it then chances are that this is the Will of God. And the ultimate proof is the result. God will always bless anything that is of His Will and in line with His heart. If what you feel God is saying to you out of a storm or drizzle is about glorifying His presence or authority then you are at least on the right track. Now often times we never stop talking to God because we are afraid of what He will say. And we should fear the Lord with all our heart because everything He says is just a fraction of His truth and power. I remember in university I was at a very blessed Christian reformed church. From my first year of uni to my 5th they had grown from a few families to 1500. And in that church God spoke with authority through many people and because they recognized what He was saying as quite possibly the most important message of their lives they were blessed. See Job didn’t recognize his circumstances as a test, he questioned God and what He said and eventually God had to literally come down and ***** sense into him. If you ever feel God leading you to something other than the Biblical truth, rebuke it because it is like the wisdom of Job’s friends and wife. Tomorrow I will be posting the second part of this message and my final chapter in the Holy Spirit and the Old Testament.

Christian Unity in Today’s Society

Recently there was a brother in Christ who approached me after a sermon. He began to berate me and yell at me for something that he had misheard and misunderstood. However, it did get me thinking on the concept of Christian unity. We are called to live in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It says in the Bible that when we hold a hard feeling against our brother we should go and make amends with that brother before the sun goes down. We are called to love each other as Christ loved the church, serve each other as Christ served us. I take for my inspiration Epeshians 4:1-16:

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” 9 Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

This passage can be divided into several components with the overall theme of Christian unity. The first being maintaining the fundamental Christian unity.

Unity as Christians cannot be created because it is through the Holy Spirit. It is something that must be given by God. It must be preserved and we can preserve this through our meek and humble spirits towards our family of God. We are all the body of Christ and a body out of unity will not function and indicates signs of severe distress. We are of one faith with one Father, while fighting amongst brothers and sisters are common in the end we must maintain unified as a family, we may not like each other and that’s ok but we must never do anything to discredit the work of God. We all comes from different cultures, creeds, and backgrounds we can maintain unity in diversity.

Unity does not mean we must all follow the beat of the same drum, or to be uniformed. For example, in the Bible Paul says if a brother or sister worship in a certain way do not stop them, for as long as it is glorifying and pleasing to God it is all good. Another example of unity in our diversity is in the example of spiritual gifts. We all have different ones, some are teachers, prophets, healers, pastors, but each role is important, none is higher than the other. Each part of a human body has a specific function and role, if it is not performing that to its full capacity then the entire body suffers. It is the same with the body of Christ. And when we recognise this uniqueness in ourselves and each other we can become closer to the mind of Jesus in understanding how we are unified and connected. So an Orthodox Christian can join in common prayer with a Charasmatic Evangelical-this is the beauty of our faith. However there are characterisitics of unity to recognise and protect:

1) The ultimate measure of unity is the Lord Jesus Christ. We must always use the Bible as a guide to our interactions with other Christians. If we have a harsh conversation with a brother or sister we must consult the Bible and pray to know how to respond.

2) Unity can be measured by the stability of the church. When parishoners grumble and complain about various issues in a church it is a clear sign of disunity. But it is not the ministers job to bring about this unity. We are the ministers and it is our job to preserve and protect this unity.

3) Unity can be measured by the loving gestures we demonstrate towards each other and towards pre-believers. How can we possibly witness to people when they see us squabbling and fighting amonst ourselves?

4) Our final charactersitic of unity is maturity. As we grow in maturity in Jesus Christ the natural evolution is unity. When we are in sync with God’s will blessings, maturity, and unity of believers is inevitable. Christianity is the one faith where we do not have to work, create, or by our own merits gain the blessings and power of God, we just need to accept the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

5) Unity must exist not only in our church but between all churches since we are not islands unto ourselves. We loose something beautiful when we segregate ourselves.

6) Unity is useless unless we use it to bring the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to those who do not yet know him.

These are some reflections I have had and some thoughts. But what happened with that parishoner who ripped me a new one? I tried to reconcile with him, he wasn’t very keen, when we try to reconcile even if the person does not want to, we have done all we can and must commit it unto God. The Bible says we must try to live as peacekeepers, it says try because we will fail at one point or another. The brother in Christ left our church and from what I have heard has come and gone through several churches. Unity can be preserved but first we must push our hearts and minds closer to God.

Reflections on Ordinances and Sacraments

So fourth’s time a charm-I have tried this so many times. The blog posting is not going so well, and often times I have to retype my sermons but here we go.
I recently preached a sermon on the Lord’s Supper. It got me thinking about how the set up of the Christian church has changed over time. The Lord’s Supper used to be considered the literal Body and Blood of Christ and it could only be delivered by a priest or senior pastor. Services had a formal set up and followed a certain tradition which was steeped in the Bible. It was called the Eucharist, Holy Communion, and the Lord’s Supper. But as time went on, and the Anglican Church came into being we saw a change. It was still the centre of the service, but they were meant as emblems, sacraments. Many Orthodox denominations held the Lord’s Supper to be somewhere in between these two, depending on the devoutness of their beliefs. As Protestantism became more common the set up of the Lord’s Supper went from a priest or pastor serving crackers and wine to a lay person serving grape juice and wonder bread; this was a far cry from the unleavened bread and desert wine that Christ instituted over 2000 years ago.
When we were called to take communion we are told to examine our hearts, minds, and confess any sins. It is said anyone who drinks this cup or eats this bread in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgement on themselves. We were told that only believers in the Lord Jesus Christ were to partake of the emblems. It seems nowadays the services are not centred on the Lord’s Supper, we are given very positive messages that in an age of PC correctness is more concerned with giving a loving view of God rather than portraying Him as He was originally portrayed in the beginning, a Holy God to be feared, loved, and obeyed. And that fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and it is that knowledge which we should take to the table of the Lord Jesus Christ. But what does the Lord’s Supper mean to us nowadays?

1500 years ago, 150 years ago, 50 years ago most people had it drilled into them that the Lord’s Supper represented suffering, fear of death, betrayal, and the solemn, sombre, and holy preparation for the sacrifice of the Lamb. Many people now think of Christ’s life when they approach the time for Communion. They reflect on His birth, His infancy, His adolescence, and His teenage years. They focus on His laugh, His tears, and His ministry. Many picture Him spending time with His family and His friends, they imagine Him showing kindness to the adulteress woman, the Samaritan, and healing those who are sick. But as we reflect on the Lord’s Supper I find it is a very self-centred endeavour. How often do we wonder what was going through Christ’s mind on that Passover night? Passover is meant to be a time of hope and holiness. But what was Christ thinking as He was saying those words? What thoughts passed through His mind as He was washing their feet? I think that we should try to align ourselves to the Mind of Christ, if we can do this, we may come closer to a deeper appreciation of what Christ did for us on the cross. See the face of God never changes but His clothes of worship sometimes do. The danger there is that we must wonder, first is it Biblical? Does it add to the Glory of God? I think that when it comes to Communion a church must consider carefully before they alter an order of service.