It’s For The Kids… by Gary Millar (Principal of Queensland Theological College)
Deuteronomy 6
How does God view children and how does this shape the way set up our kid’s ministry?

What’s The Big Idea? by Fiona Millar
Unpacking God’s truth for children begins with finding the big idea, then capturing that big idea in a short phrase kids can understand and hang onto.

Talk Manuscript

Brad Thorn tells us about his career as a professional league and union international player. Playing for Queensland, Australia and the All-Blacks. Most importantly he shares with us about his new life in Jesus.

Persecution speeds up evangelism. So far, the story of Acts has focused on Jerusalem and what is interesting is that mission to the nations is not the result of endless praying meetings, or strategic planning sessions, or setting smart goals, its good old fashion persecution. The pressure has been building and it now comes to boiling point where the lid has come off.

And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. ~Acts 8:1-3 (NIV)

The bold preaching has escalated the conflict and the apostles are first arrested, threatened and released. Then arrested again, imprisoned and escaped. Then arrested beaten and released.

In Chapter 7, Stephen is stoned to death with the approval of Saul. We have the first man to be killed for Jesus and the first man to kill Christians. Now its ratchetted up, the attack led by Saul is vicious and violent and the goal is clear: to destroy the church. This time it’s not just apostles but just ordinary men and women, mums and dads are dragged out of their homes and

thrown into jail. The result is that Jewish Christians are dispersed into other nations. Yet again, we see God using evil for good. Persecution becomes the gateway to evangelism.

Tertullian in the 3rd century speaking about the persecution of

Christians wrote “…as often as you mow us down, the more we grow in number. The blood of the Christians is the seed [of the church].” (Apology 50)

Instead of killing off Christianity persecution grows the gospel and builds the church.

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. ~Acts 8:4-8 (NIV)

The apostles are now trying to catch up to what God is doing. The message is outrunning the apostles, one of the 7 chosen to wait on tables is Philip and like Stephen, he was full of the Holy Spirit and like Stephen, he was a Greek-speaking Jew. Persecution has taken Philip to a city in Samaria and this is the next stage in the plan of God. Remember what Jesus said

… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~Acts 1:8b (NIV)

Jerusalem, done. Judea, done. Samaria, now in progress.

When the Communists kicked out the missionaries from China in 1949 everyone feared that it would be the end of Christianity in China but it gave birth to the house church movement, the number of Christians tripled over the next 30 years. In the last 30 years 80 million Chinese became Christians.

Philip is now breaking new ground for Jesus. Samaritans were the hated feral cousins of Jews and they were ethnically impure. They were the result of 10 tribes intermarrying with their Assyrian victors. The venom between a Samaritan and a Jew is like the venom between an Arab and a Jew. The worst thing the Jews could call Jesus

“… you are a Samaritan and demon possessed” ~John 8:48 (NIV)

They were spiritually impure, they opposed the building of the temple and they only held to the first 5 books of the bible. The real clue they were spiritually bankrupt was when they let Simon the sorcerer became so popular.

Now for some time a man named Simon had practised sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery ~Acts 8:9-11 (NIV)

He claimed to be great, he acted like he was great and they believed he was great. He was persuasive and all levels of society followed him. He practised in the dark arts, from sorcery to magic spells.

We had a former white witch come to Christ, she was into wicker, casting spells. I asked about her experiences and she said ‘I had a sense of peace when I did the chants, but the moment it was over the peace would leave me’. Coming to Christ gave her a permanent sense of peace.

God did not leave Samaria in the dark, He had a future for these people

… I will restore the fortunes … of Samaria and her daughters, ~Ezekiel 16:53 (NIV)

They had given up on the true God but God had not given up on them, He sent Philip to preach the good news that Jesus is the Messiah and with it came real signs and wonders, not your mickey mouse counterfeits.

But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women ~Acts 8:12 (NIV)

What Philip offered was not the works of men but works of God, not the words of men but the word of God, believing that Jesus is alive and Lord and King. The Samaritans went from “Simon says” to “Jesus says”. Simon himself repents and believes and is baptised. Simon who amazed others is himself now amazed

Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. ~Acts 8:13 (NIV)

Simon, this self-appointed great one bows before the greatest one – the Lord Jesus. But things are not quite right with his heart.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. ~Acts 8:14-17 (NIV)

Can you see the problem? I hope you can! We have a surprising delay between faith in Jesus and the baptism of Spirit. It did occur again in Acts 10 and 19. Why here and why now? For the first time the gospel has gone to the Samaritans. New barriers were broken down. Could Samaritans become Christian? Would they be equal with Jewish Christians?

In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Samaritan. For that reason, the Spirit is withheld until the Apostles lay hands and pray for them and only then does the Spirit come on them. It was absolutely crucial that the apostles could verify. The delay was not setting a pattern for all Christians. Be careful in turning a description into a prescription and confusing what is and what should be. The delay was to confirm once for all that Samaritans were in the kingdom. What happened to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem now happened to Samaritan Christians in Samaria. To prove it the section ends with Apostles preaching through the cities of Samaria.

This passage has been seriously misread and the real question is this: when and how does a person receive the Spirit of God?

  1. Roman Catholics/Orthodox and some Anglicans say that you are not baptised in Spirit until your Confirmation by a bishop. That is why the hats of a bishop are shaped like flames of fire – Pentecost
  2. Pentecostals say that there is a 2 step process in the Christian life. Step 1 Repent and Believe in Jesus and Step 2 Baptised by the Spirit, confirmed by speaking in tongues.

Only then will you have victory over sin and Satan, and the only proof of that is speaking in tongues.

Can you see why it’s appealing? Which Christians don’t want more power, more joy and more victory in their life? But the bible is clear, speaking in tongues is a gift given to some not all and there is no mention of tongues in this passage. For others, it’s an attempt to find words to describe wonderful experiences that are given by the Spirit.

So, it’s a real experience but the wrong language, God`s Spirit does many works and it may be tied to gifting or godliness or grasping Christ love, but the language of Baptism of Spirit is not the right language. The Bible language is filled with the Spirit, gifts of the Spirit and fruit of the Spirit. Lifelong work of the Spirit in the Christian life.

Traditional Pentecostals see two classes of Christians, those Christians who are baptised with the Spirit and those who are not. Its ironic that the reason why God delays in giving the Spirit to the Samaritan is to affirm that there are no 2 classes of

Christians. Peter already said it on the day of Pentecost ‘Repent and you receive forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit’

Paul is also clear

For we were all baptized by one Spirit …—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. ~1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV)

No Christian has missed out, which is not to say that every person who claims to believe are genuine believers. Time sifts out those who are real and those who are not.

Simon the Sorcerer was one who believed and was baptised but there is something wrong with his faith.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” ~Acts 8:18-19 (NIV)

Simon saw the Spirit come when the Apostles laid hands on them and he thought it was a kind of magic. Simon wanted to have access to that power and be great again. You could say that he wanted a good thing, to give the Spirit to others but Peter is not so kind.

Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” ~Acts 8:20-23 (NIV)

Peter calls on Simon to repent and for Simon to pray for himself. He does not say, you have an evil spirit which needs to be delivered, he wants Simon himself to pray for mercy. Why is Peter so tough? Simon claimed to be on the inside as a believer in Jesus, if unchecked, Simon would do more damage than Persecution.

Simon wanted to buy his way into ministry in a way that Schumacher bought his way into Formula 1. We already saw the clues, he was overly impressed by signs and wonders and he came from a world of power, and self-glory. It still ran deep in his soul that was full of bitterness because the apostles were the focus and not him.

Peter knows what it’s like to be on the end of a stiff rebuke, remember when Jesus rebuked Peter “God behind me Satan you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men”

How do you receive a rebuke? It will determine how your Christian life will go, so many get one small negative comment or correction and they leave church. Don’t judge me!!! not every correction is right and not every right rebuke is done well but its how we grow brothers and sisters.

Simon needed to learn that you can`t buy your blessings from God. If a second baptism of the Spirit is a serious error then those who moved into Prosperity doctrine have reached a new low.

Is it not evil when we are told we can buy blessings from God, you can`t manipulate God to bless because He doesn’t need your money and He knows your heart.

If you have pledged thinking God owes you then take your pledge back or Repent. Give because you’re thankful or don’t give at all, give for God`s glory or don’t give at all, give because you want the lost saved or don’t give it at all.

Today we saw the Samaritans believe, and they were baptised, next time we resume Acts we will see the first Africans come to faith.

“Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow!” Those were the last words of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple before he died at the age of 56. This was from a man who described death as “very likely the single best invention of life”. Whereas most of us fear death and do anything to avoid thinking about it or talking about it, Steve wanted to capture the beauty of death.

Today, we’re going to look at the last words from another man named Steve, these were words that cost him his very own life.
And yet that didn’t stop him at all, he didn’t back down and he didn’t shy away from the truth.

Now before we look at the speech, let’s just remind ourselves of where we’ve been in Acts. Jesus has died. He’s risen. He’s ascended back to heaven. But one of Jesus’ last words which frames the whole of the book

But you [the apostles] will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~Acts 1:8 (NIV)

OK, so come to Chapter 6 and let’s do the status check. The Holy Spirit has well and truly been poured out. Last week we left things at Acts 6:7.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. ~Acts 6:7 (NIV)

There’s plenty of witnessing going on in Jerusalem. Priests are turning to Jesus.

Judea? Not yet.
Samaria? Not yet.
Ends of the earth?

The mission’s got a long way to go, there’s work to be done and Stephen takes it upon himself to get the ball rolling.

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. ~Acts 6:8-9 (NIV)

We saw last week that Stephen was 1 of only 7 deacons who were chosen to serve food to the widows, but that’s not the reason why he’s copping some opposition in verse 9. You don’t offend anyone by doing good deeds or performing miracles, do you?

Christianity’s not called NICE-ianity. No – it’s called CHRIST-ianity because the main game is Jesus. It’s all about him!
And Stephen can’t stop talking about Jesus.

See, being a Christian, and if you’re here today and you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, we are so glad you’re with us.
In fact, let me speak to you for a moment: to call yourself a Christian is more than being nice and friendly. Sure, that might be one of the things that’s attracted you to check out Christianity in the first place! Maybe you’ve had a friend or a family member, who just seems different, they don’t gossip, they don’t badmouth and they seem secure.

Christianity is that but it’s way more than that. Because to be a Christian it’s to look at the world in a totally different way. The things we chase after, how you spend your time, your money, your attitude to relationships, sex, work and sometimes (often) that kind of counter-cultural thinking results in butting heads. Because deep down what’s happened is there’s been a massive switch, a swap, a change of allegiance. No longer are you living for yourself. Instead, you’re living for the one who rescued you, Jesus, God’s one and only way out of the mess we’ve brought upon ourselves. This is more than doing good. This is good news! It’s this message coming out of Stephen’s mouth, that was landing him in hot water!

That’s why I thank God for those of you who’ve stuck your neck out for Jesus. Those who’ve opened your mouths for Jesus. Even if that’s meant opposition. I think of the grandparent who faithfully, sensitively, drops Jesus into the conversation even though her daughter and son-in-law doesn’t want a bar of Jesus. I think of the uni-student who gently disagrees when her classmate pays out on Jesus and then later has a personal conversation to hear how she came up with that view, because chances are there’s some previous hurt. I think of the guy who at a mate’s bucks party, calls it a night when everyone else is heading to the strip club.

You can see that following Jesus comes with a cost, it does today and it did back then. For Stephen in Acts 6, that opposition came in three stages. This was an all-out smear campaign against Stephen, what began with arguing quickly escalates to spreading lies.

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” ~Acts 6:11 (NIV)

That then moves to stage 3: seizing Stephen and dragging him before the authorities and for good measure, let’s throw in some false witnesses as well. Come verse 13 we hear the accusation being levelled at Stephen is this.

“This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” ~Acts 6:13-14 (NIV)

You have to understand that for a Jew there’s nothing more sacred, nothing more precious, than the temple and their law. These were prized possessions in Jewish culture. The temple was where God had promised to ‘put his name’. It was the place where he would meet his people. The physical building represented security and God’s protection. The law, otherwise known as the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible. These were the precious words given by God to Moses. It constituted, it defined Israel as God’s chosen people, it was their history and how they were to related to their God.

The law and the temple, these were cultural icons. It’s what made you Jewish. They were like, say the Aboriginal flag to Australians or the Statue of Liberty to Americans or what Nelson Mandela is to South Africa. Well Stephen, by attacking these Jewish fixtures, it’d almost be like him burning the national flag. That’s how serious it was.

Now before we dive into Stephen’s response it’s worth noting this verse:

All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. ~Acts 6:15 (NIV)

Let’s just pause for a sec there. Can you imagine being there in the audience? Stephen’s in the dock and all eyes are on this prisoner, only you have to do a double-take, hang on a sec there’s a different Stephen and he looks like an angel!

This is a throwback to what happened to Moses as he walked down from Mount Sinai. That just as God caused the people back in that day to see that Moses had God’s tick of approval, so too He does the same with Stephen now. Stephen’s not an apostle, one of God’s appointed eyewitnesses. But he sure seems like he’s the total package, he’s full of God’s grace and power, he’s got Spirit-given wisdom and now he has the shining face to go with it. Stephen is without a doubt God’s anointed and appointed for what’s about to happen. God wants those listening to what Stephen’s about to say, to know that these words come with the authority of God himself.

Come Chapter 7. We now get Stephen’s speech! Its the longest speech recorded for us in the book of Acts. Some people joke it’s so long because that was Stephen’s way of buying time, so he could live longer! But more than self-defence in the face of death, more than being an outstanding summary of the entire Old Testament, which it is. More than Stephen just talking through the family tree, more than this being simply a history lesson, Acts 7 is a rousing wake up call!!!

Get with the Program. If you had to sum up what Stephen’s said then that’s what I’d say: get with the program; listen up! Don’t follow in the footsteps and don’t make the same mistakes your ancestors did. God has come good on the promises he’s made all along to our ancestors and Jesus is better! The old has gone and the new is here.

Now you break down the details of Stephen’s speech, and he really takes those two accusations that have been levelled at him, the temple and the law, and what he masterfully does is give the back story of what God intended with those two cultural icons.

So first the temple. Stephen’s point here is – you can’t box God in! The God of glory can’t be contained to one building or in one city. Stephen says to look at Abraham! God appeared to him in Mesopotamia, in modern-day Iraq and God blessed Joseph where? In Egypt! Second half of Verse 9:

….But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace. ~Acts 7:9-10 (NIV)

God’s always been a God on the move. Next stop, Midian in Saudi Arabia as Moses leads his people out of slavery.

In fact, you guys are here today living in the Promised Land but Abraham, Joseph and Moses didn’t even make it in alive! Their dead skeletons had to be carried in! and yet God was just as much with them, present with them, speaking to them, God spoke to Moses from a burning bush and He was no less committed to blessing them, temple or no temple.

In fact, the physical temple building itself that didn’t even turn up on the scene till WAY down the track, after David because it was Solomon who built it. Stephen says ‘you Jews, you’ve known this is the way God’s been working all along. In fact, don’t you remember Isaiah, one of our very own saying these words:

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?’ ~Acts 7:48-50 (NIV)

God can go wherever he pleases, He’s not tied down to one location! God is on the move and on the march, accompanying, directing, guiding, calling his people from here, there and everywhere!

And now, thanks to Jesus, the temple’s been upgraded to a person. We meet God in the person of Jesus, He’s the new temple. You and I, we don’t make pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Why? Because we can meet God right here, here in the Scriptures. That’s why we, as a church, have been on about 1 thing and 1 thing only since the very beginning, introducing people to Jesus, from the Scriptures and in the context of loving relationships.

So in response to charge Number 1: That Jesus will destroy the temple. The verdict is in and Stephen is guilty as charged.

What about Charge number 2: Changing the customs of Moses. Well here the tables have turned, the accused becomes the accuser. Stephen points the finger at Israel’s track record of treating Moses. For me, verse 35 pretty much captures it, in the second half we read that:

…he (Moses) was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself’ ~Acts 7:35c (NIV)

But in the first half, Stephen says this:

“This is the same Moses they had rejected… ~Acts 7:35a (NIV)

And how did they reject Moses? by saying:

…‘Who made you ruler and judge?’… ~Acts 7:35b (NIV)

In verse 39 Stephen mentions again how Moses was treated:

“But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. ~Acts 7:39 (NIV)

Stephen says: You want to accuse me of getting Moses wrong? Well look yourselves in the eye, look at what our ancestors have done. When God sent Moses for our good, to make himself known, what did we do? We rejected him, we refused him, we would much rather worship a golden calf, some dead, worthless, pretend god who was puny and powerless. The history of the Jews again and again and again, it’s God moving towards his people and them pushing HIM away.

Essentially Stephen is saying, the problem isn’t God, it’s you! You’re the ones that are missing what’s there right in front of your eyeballs! you’re too busy being caught up in your traditions and customs. In a word, the problem is this: Idolatry. They turned good things, good, God-given things, like the temple. like the law of Moses and they turned those good things into God things.

What’s going on here is a refusal to let go, a refusal to see the bigger picture because all along the Jews have been fixated on pursuing their agenda rather than God’s, of keeping their customs and preserving their way of life instead of getting with God’s program.

Today, in church life, it’s no different. Rob helpfully alluded to some of these things last week. I was in one of those churches where it felt like we spent an excessive amount of time deciding what chairs we were going to buy. At another church, we were forever doing the delicate dance of being mindful of existing customs and traditions and not offending the original people who started the church and were still alive. Changes needed to be made for the sake of the gospel and there were cultural sensitivities involved. Both things were valid, but both, in my opinion, distracted us from getting on with the mission of Jesus.

Come verse 51. Stephen after putting the temple and the law in their proper context now gets stuck right into his audience. And I mean stuck in.

“You stiff-necked people… ~Acts 7:51 (NIV)

I remember a few years ago I woke up with a locked neck, I couldn’t turn and I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t check the blindspots. It carries that idea – you’re stuck in your ways, you’re stubborn, you won’t budge.

Stephen’s not done yet, he moves further down the body.

… with uncircumcised hearts and ears… ~Acts 7:51 (NIV)

Essentially Stephen’s saying this: The problem isn’t God, it’s you! Sure, you might be circumcised to mark you out as a Jew, but in terms of being circumcised where it matters, in your hearts and in your ears, the foreskin’s still on! It’s a graphic as that!!

Stephen’s not done yet, he’s still turning the screws.

…you are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him ~Acts 7:51-52 (NIV)

Instead of like father, like son, here it’s like ancestor, like you. Time and time again, they’ve failed to get with the program. The one thing Israel’s leaders have been good at is this, Rejecting God’s messengers, dragging them over the coals and they’ve even put some of them to death!

If you’re someone here today and you’re not yet a follower of Jesus, let me ask you, What’s stopping you? The thing about saying No to Jesus, again and again, is that you get very good at it. Perhaps the take-home for you today is what Peter was driving home: Get with the program.

Maybe you’ve been hanging around church for a while and you’re not happy with the way things are done, you want church to fit in around you. You know – why hasn’t church given me a best friend? Why hasn’t anyone from church reached while I’m doing it tough? Why is my kid not following Jesus? Well, the take-home for you is exactly the same: Get with the program.

See the bigger picture of what God has done, is doing and will do. He’s in the business of putting all things under the rule and authority of Jesus and that includes us!

Over the course of this week, I’ve developed a litmus test for myself. A self-check to see how on board with the program I really am. I’ve found myself asking again and again: Do I have that same fire in the belly as Stephen? What things do I get upset about? What things do make me want to speak up? To not back down. What things make my blood boil? What I’ve realised is this that for me, there’s been plenty of times when it’s been things other than the gospel.

Maybe like me, you need to ask God to put that burden on your heart, to make the mission of Jesus the forefront of your mind, your ambitions and your heart. To let that be at the centre and let everything else fall into place around that.

I want to be upset at the fact I spend more time pursuing small, tiny, limited dreams, things that revolve around me. Or limited to just this lifetime when God has given me a much bigger, a much better, a much bolder vision of the future. I want to feel the weight and the burden of the people around me, failing to treat Jesus rightly, the way he deserves.

That was the weight that Stephen felt. That’s what compelled him to do what he does in verse 54 when the heat is being turned up. When things are about to come to a head, Stephen looks up to heaven and what does he see?

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” ~Acts 7:55-56 (NIV)

The layers of heaven are peeled back as much for Stephen as it is for the Sandhedrin.

For the Sanhedrin it’s a sign, your authority is being stripped away, the Son of Man, God himself is calling the shots now. The Jesus you’ve rejected, that you’ve killed, He is the one standing in all authority. He will judge and deliver his verdict because he carries the authority of God himself. Your rejection of Jesus, that’s rejecting God.

For Stephen, it provides great comfort and great confidence. That what he’s been saying all along has got God’s tick of approval. He has well and truly got with God’s program. Whereas at the start of his speech, he had the face of an angel now he is able to set his gaze directly at the glory of God. He’s able to see God in all his splendour and majesty. You can understand how Stephen, having laid eyes on the glory of God, how he can face what happens next.

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. ~Acts 7:57-58 (NIV)

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. ~Acts 7:59-60 (NIV)

Notice here two very different responses, one use their position to kill, to silence and to engage in violence. The other uses their power to forgive.

For Stephen what a way to die! He’s seen the glory of God, he’s seen the bigger picture, there’s no fear in death at all for him. He can echo the words of the Lord Jesus himself who cried out to his Father on that cross: “Receive my spirit” and he can pray like Jesus too! Pray an other-person centred prayer, for his enemies, that they would be forgiven for the very thing they’re doing as they’re getting stuck into Stephen. Murdering another one of God’s messengers, just like their ancestors did. Following in the footsteps of their family.

Right to his dying breath Stephen is other person centred! Stephen speaks as one who knows what it’s like to not have his sin held against him.

I said at the start Steve Jobs’ last words were: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” Well, I want to say about Stephen: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

Stephen is the first martyr but he’s definitely not the last. In fact, Stephen is part of our story today because it’s the death of Stephen that blows things up. It’s this event that kickstarts the global expansion of Christianity. The disciples become scattered as we’ll see next week and God’s word will continue to spread. Things won’t be the same after today, what was once a localised affair, will go gangbusters, reaching all the way to you and I, here 2,000 years later.

Thanks to the boldness of Stephen, he is part of our story, he played a part in you and I being able to hear this wonderful news of Jesus. The challenge is this, who’s story are you seeking to be part of? Is that something that’s on your mind?
Is that something you’re asking God for?

For me, this past week, the person who God’s put me in regular contact is a lady who stands outside my house every weekday morning and every weekday afternoon, she’s the “School Crossing Supervisor”. It’s still very early days and I don’t even know her name but we’ve had a couple of conversations over the past few weeks. This week I got to say that I work at church and next week, the last week of school, I’m praying for an opportunity to invite her to Christmas.

Now what happens God only knows but we have a tremendous opportunity coming up to Christmas to be part of someone’s story don’t we. It’s why we’re committed to sending a launch team to Parramatta next year, so that they too can be part of someone’s story. A story that may involve them saying Yes to Jesus.

Let me ask you, the challenge is this, who’s story are you going to be part of?

In the history of the church, there have been some massive controversies that have split the church.

The divinity of Jesus. How is a person saved, by faith or by works. Baptism to the Lord’s supper. From Scripture to the Holy Spirit, there have been some serious church splits over these issues. And some were needed!

But there have also been some big fights over things that aren’t anywhere near as important… Some of these things still cause some of the biggest divisions in church today!

Here’s a few:

  • The colour of the carpet or when it’s time for replacing.
  • The choice of the chairs, pews or single chairs? Which way should they face and what colour should they be.
  • Music choice, hymns or modern songs, more heartfelt, more truth. In a church I visited in Africa, there were 3 separate choirs because they couldn’t agree on what songs they wanted to sing, so the service went for 20 minutes longer for each choir to do their round of songs.
  • The air-conditioning temperature! It’s always too warm for Ray but I’d have it on freezing summer and winter if I could because I’m such a sweater!
  • Dress code, especially on stage, shoes off? I heard of a church petitioning for all their pastors to be clean-shaven, therefore I’m out!
  • People have left churches over decisions about what coffee beans to use in their coffee ministry.
  • One of the biggest troubles I had in a previous church was over how we set up the Church Facebook groups.
  • In COVID times, to sing or not to sing…

Well we see here in this passage one of the first church quarrels, up until now the heat’s been coming from the outside but now it’s getting heated on the inside and rather than being about trivial things, it’s a serious issue, let’s check it out. Presenting Issue:

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. ~Acts 6:1 (NIV)

So, we have a problem! It’s important to note that it’s a good problem! The number of disciples was increasing, Praise God! after being heavily persecuted. But with more people comes more complexity and these widows are missing out on support.

Now, remember, back in chapter 4 people were sharing their stuff, selling fields, and bringing money to the Apostles to distribute to whoever was in need.

Up to this point, the Apostles have been overseeing everything, the teaching and the organising of the church and also the social needs of people in their community, that’s 12 guys for thousands of people! Seems like, they’ve got their hands full, they’ve got a load of work to do and something’s falling off the table. We’ve all been there before, too much to do and something’s got to fall, what or who will it be? How do we make the decision?

Something important to note here is that this ministry to the widows was a service to those inside the church. These widows are Christian and possibly relatives of other Christians who were a part of the new community of believers. This daily distribution is a ministry to those in need within the Christian community. It’s not an example of the early Church’s endeavour to relieve Jerusalem of poverty and hunger. These weren’t just hungry widows needing food. This isn’t your downtown food shelter where anyone can roll up and grab a warm meal. This ministry is not a wider social justice endeavour.

Now that’s not to say that that kind of thing isn’t important, needed, good and right. It has its place in the Christian life and the witness of the Church, it’s just not what was going on here. What’s going on here is a demonstration of the body of Christians, the community of Jesus believers serving and caring for one another in the church. It’s a continuation of the beautiful picture at the end of chapter 4. That is, doing the Christian life together well. But at this point, they weren’t doing it so well. So, what do they do?

So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. ~Acts 6:2 (NIV)

What could they not let fall off the table? The ministry of the word! Why? Because the Church’s mission is accomplished through the ministry of the word. The Gospel is a message and if it stops going out, the Church ceases to exist. The Church is not merely a social club, it is a spirit-filled community, brought into existence by people putting their faith in the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The church exists, grows and continues, by the ministry of the Word of God! And these Apostles have been specifically entrusted with that ministry by Jesus himself! If they let that slip then they’ve failed.

But, there’s a whole lot more that needs to happen within the community, and a commitment to the word doesn’t make everything else unimportant! The word must go out, but the church also needs to function. People need to be loved.

I think we can often create this unhelpful priority to the two things, and make them opposed to one another so that serving one another’s needs and organising church can be seen as an enemy of the word ministry. But that’s not the way the bible speaks about them. The bible holds them together much more tightly. This passage is saying, and this is the point here… Both things are extremely important but both accomplish different things.

The poor and struggling won’t be fed or cared for if no one helps feed and care for them. It doesn’t happen if we don’t do it. Likewise, the lost will not be saved, if no one preaches the gospel to them. Food won’t save someone from sin to eternal life. In the same way, the gospel doesn’t magically make clothes and food appear on a kitchen table. Both need to happen but both aren’t the same thing.

Let’s have a think about each of them. Jesus said the Church will be known by the way we love and care for one another. In the Old Testament law, God was always concerned for his people to be looking out for those in need. I’ve been reading Jeremiah and it’s striking how when God judges his people, it’s often because of their lack of care for widows, for orphans, for the poor and needy among them. They overlooked them.

The New Testament’s also flooded with calls to care for the weak, support the poor and practice hospitality, to share with one another. Use the things we have to ensure others are getting on ok to live sacrificial lives of love for one another in the church, that’s what Jesus calls us to do.

We are a body, and we function well together as we all care equally for one another, it’s like trying to walk when you’ve got a sore toe. But God also says the Church is built on the foundation of the Scriptures; the prophets and Apostles. And the way it grows and functions well is by being fed with God’s word. So, we’re called to teach the word, guard the word, obey the word and be transformed by the word.

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. ~Matthew 4:4 (NIV)

A well-functioning Church makes sure both things are happening. So, what was their solution to keep both going?

Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” ~Acts 6:3 (NIV)

Now notice here what kind of people were raised up, not just people with the right skills but the right convictions and character. These men are well known among the community, tested and approved and they’re full of 2 things, The Spirit & Wisdom.

Now being full of the Holy Spirit means firstly that they’re believers! United but also they’re following the Spirit’s lead in all areas of life. To have the Spirit and not be filled by Him is to be at war with him as he seeks to work in you. These men are working to align their whole life with his will. They’re also full of wisdom and wisdom according to the bible is usually in regards to having a right view of God and being able to make good decisions about things in life because of that. These men are mature Christians, they listen to the word and do what it says.

There’s a challenge there for each of us, would you have been chosen as one of these people to take up this ministry? If not then why? What things in your Christian life are lacking or getting in the way of you giving yourself to God’s work in this way? This particular role of theirs is later described as being a Deacon a word you might have heard before, especially as we’ve been talking about pledging at this time of year.

In 1 Timothy 3 Paul describes the differing roles of Elders or pastors (overseers), and deacons. The word Deacon literally means a servant, it’s the Greek word that we get the word ministry from. It’s the act of doing a service of taking one thing and passing it on. This passage contrasts 2 ministries, serving/distributing food for the widows and serving/distributing the word. So, the Apostles call on the church here to gather a group of people to take up and oversee this ministry of serving the widows, so the word ministry doesn’t have to stop.

Our deacons here at MBM essentially do the same service for us pastors. They work at a higher level, overseeing things like the finances, building and property things, a lot of the behind the scenes managing. They do those things so that the pastors don’t get completely bogged down with those important things and then can’t continue to commit ourselves to teaching and praying, pastoring. And we thank God for them! and so should you.

I just want to publicly honour them now actually. If you didn’t know, our deacons are: Steve Pieri, Jono Anderson, Ed Johnson, Aron Calfas, you have to know that most of these guys have been growth group leaders or done other various word ministries in the past, some are still heavily involved in word stuff. I asked one of them this week what he loves about being a deacon at MBM: He said “The deacons meeting is honestly the one meeting I’ve never dreaded going to, it’s such a joy to work with some amazingly skilled guys to take care of a range of things so our pastors can focus on the main game – people and Jesus” and he said “it’s also good being able to be behind the scenes and not have to be upfront.”

I also need to mention Bruce Winters and Leanne Shepherd who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make so much ministry happen and function! There’s plenty more along with them!

It was beautiful to see on Monday, while we were having our staff meeting and had just spent time praying, to look outside and see our brother Warren Kuschert spraying weeds and fixing up the gardens and Frank Spiteri and his team working on the maintenance around the place.

It’s not only the official Deacons who are involved in organising and overseeing things to ensure the word isn’t neglected. Everyone who helps out in any way around the place to free-others up, who have been equipped for word ministries, (kids ministry and youth, and Growth Group leaders), you are ensuring that the ministry of the word continues! You’re ensuring Christian growth can happen, ensuring lives are saved, ensuring the mission of Lord Jesus doesn’t come to a screeching halt in our generation, in our Church. So thank you!
Keep praying for those who teach, that we’d stay faithful in our devotion to it.

OK, So how does the church respond?

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. ~Acts 6:5-6 (NIV)

If you know anything about the origin of names, you’ll notice the men they chose have Greek names. They choose Greek men to care for their own Greek widows, those who had the issue have become solutions to the issue. As you know those who know their culture serve their culture best.

And if you know anything about the next few chapters in Acts… 2 of these guys end up out there preaching the word in massive ways. Next week we’ll meet Stephen, who gives a powerful speech to the Sanhedrin and ends up stoned for testifying about Jesus, he’s the first Christian Martyr. Then Philip goes out evangelising a bunch of villages along with the Ethiopian Eunuch! It’s not about doing one or the other.

in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord, always be ready to give a reason for the hope you have. ~1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Whether you make coffee or set up seats, serve morning tea or help people into the car park, if you’re a Christian, we all play our part in the ministry of the word and the growth of the Church! Amen?

Honestly, those Christians who say talking about Jesus just isn’t my thing, I just stick to helping people, I know it feels safer but as someone once said: “How much do you have to hate someone to have the life-saving message of Jesus and not try to share it with them, knowing they’re on their way to hell” Love does both right, it helps them in their need and holds out the gospel.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. ~Acts 6:7 (NIV)

A transformed community transforms communities! Remember in the chapter before this, the priests were the ones persecuting the Apostles and now with the Apostles freed up to focus on prayer and the word, they’re turning to Jesus.

Let me say a few things in reflection on MBM and this passage. At MBM we’re committed to the word and prayer that’s why we open the bible and preach every week. It’s why we run kids church and youth group and why we have prayer meetings. Its why we pray together in our staff meetings all through the week. It’s why we’re also committed to seeing all our members gathering around the word in smaller communities in our growth groups, which is also where a lot of prayer happens.

We’re also committed to training leaders to handle the word better, so we can all grow. If you’re keen to grow in the word come and chat with us, we need Leaders. It’s also why we don’t load our church calendar with a bunch of really fun social events, but we do make sure we guard our church gatherings, our small groups meetings and our explaining Christianity courses. We’re committed to people hearing the word and we’re also committed to caring for one another. We see that happening mainly in those small groups through the week, where you can be known and know others so you can know better how to care for them.

But that’s not the only place care happens. I was so encouraged when COVID first hit to see people so willing to offer assistance to anyone in need. So, we set up our [email protected] email address for anyone needing assistance. If that is you at the moment, please don’t do what these Greek Jews did and just grumble, get in touch so we can help you. We’re also committed to seeing every member doing their part so we can all function better together. You have gifts that God has given to only you and what a blessing we can be to each other and the gospel as we put those gifts into practice.

If you haven’t found your place in a serving team or role yet, please come and speak to us. But mainly we want to keep asking the honest question about what we might be doing that’s getting in the way of the word continuing to go out. And I ask you all to keep helping us clear those blockages so we can see a western Sydney who know and love the Lord Jesus, who have a secure place in heaven, and who’s lives now are being transformed by His Spirit.

If you’re thinking about becoming a Christian, think again!

Jesus was very clear “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”

In the 1960s we Christians were viewed as irrelevant, by the 1970s we were a joke and by the 1980s we were viewed as narrow-minded and stupid. In the last 5 years Christianity is viewed as dangerous and the bible as hate speech. Covid has taken some of the heat out the debate but it’s coming back and it will never stop! So friends, be prepared.

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, ~2 Timothy 3:12 (NIV)

Today’s passage is round 2 of persecution in the early church. God’s message won’t be stopped, God is behind the mission of the Lord Jesus. The apostles asked for signs and wonders and they got it

Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. ~Acts 5:16 (NIV)

All who came were healed, God was confirming that Jesus is the living Lord, by the sheer number of miracles, the extradentary nature of the miracles and now drawing from people outside Jerusalem. God is truly at work. They were giving the Jewish leaders every reason to repent.

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.” At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. ~Acts 5:17-21 (NIV)

The Sadducees taught that there was no life after death and the apostles taught that Jesus is risen. You can see why people were shifting loyalties. If your worldview can’t answer the problem of death then it’s time to change your worldview. Its everyone’s felt need, there is lots of false hope.

You can now send a hologram of someone who has died to speak a message to a loved one from the grave. Kanye West did one for Kim Kardashian of her dead father. False hope!

My brother in law Greg was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer a week ago. It was his trust in the living Lord Jesus that made him face life threatening surgery with confidence.

If the Christians are filled with the Spirit then these Sadducees are now filled with jealousy. Out of jealousy they arrest the apostles for the 2nd time and put them in jail overnight. But when you oppose God it will come to nothing, so God sends an angel, which by the way the Sadducees don’t believe in. The angel opens the prison doors and directs the apostles to preach at the temple.

The next day the council convenes and everyone has turned up except the apostles and they are nowhere to be found. Then the leaders hear that the jail doors were locked tight, the prisons guards did not leave their post and the jail is as empty as Jesus tomb. And they are bemused, they go from jealousy to puzzled, people say “I will believe if I can see” well the evidence is mounting but they cannot see.

I remember asking an Atheist Relative “if Jesus were to appear today would you believe.?” “No!” it was never about the evidence. All the leaders can see is that their orders to be silent have been disobeyed, so they arrested the 12 now for the 3rd time.

“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” ~Acts 5:28 (NIV)

They are upset at getting blamed for Jesus death, this is so ironic.

All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” ~Matthew 27:25 (NIV)

They got exactly what they asked for and yet the message of the cross is that their guilt does not have to fall on them. Their guilt, your guilt can fall on Christ in our place. The apostles were not about to apologise for pointing people to the risen Jesus.

Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! ~Acts 5:29 (NIV)

We are forever faced with this choice, God or human. Its not often obey God v obey humans, Jesus said the reason why people do not go public with their faith

for they loved human praise more than praise from God. ~John 12:43 (NIV)

I was talking to someone last week, a self-confessed people pleaser, they decided to draw different stick figures with the name of every significant person in their life. They then systematically crossed over each person, they were trying to live for the applause of one.

Notice the 12 apostles are so bold for Jesus, but Boldness is just Bravado when it’s not based on truth

The apostles make the same case as before:

  1. They crucified Jesus
  2. God they both claimed to worship
  3. He raised him from the dead and placed at his right hand as Prince and saviour
  4. Both the apostles and the Spirit himself testify to this truth, if that is all that was said you can see why they are furious.
  5. But listen to what is said.

God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. ~Acts 5:31 (NIV)

There is a way out – with repentance comes the promise of forgiveness. This was their chance to lead God’s people into repentance. I often wonder, what stops them and us from taking up the call to repent.

Is it pride?

  • That I have to admit to my sins;
  • That I have to concede that: Jesus is right and I am wrong

Is it shame?

  • Owning publicly they murdered the Messiah
  • Can’t come to Christ without confession on their lips

Is it fear?

  • Fear of upsetting people whose love and respect you
  • Fear of being an outcast in a tight community
  • Fear of being accused of cultural disloyal

It has never been cool to come to Christ. Is it too good to be true? Sometimes people never get passed the bad news and
so miss out on the good news. Or is it the cost of commitment, for if Jesus is Prince then they would need to obey him. If Jesus is saviour then they would need to trust him. It means that I have to get out of the drivers seat and let Jesus take control.

So, which is holding you back and is it worth it? Fear, Shame, Pride, or Cost of commitment. That is why the Spirit has to witness to your Spirit that Jesus is Lord. But who is interrogating who? It may look like the apostles are on trial but it’s the ruling council who are on trial

When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. ~Acts 5:33 (NIV)

Watch the emotional words in this passage. Jealousy becomes Fear and Fear leads to Rage. Every instinct in me wants to say to the apostles tread lightly boys and don’t cause trouble. That is what I feel like saying to our Prime Minister when he talks tough on China on the inquiry into COVID. I’m thinking ScoMo tread lightly you’re going to ruin our trade and our farmers are going to pay a heavy price. Sometimes you say the right thing regardless of the cost.

There is a real place for being winsome, it’s never right to be rude and cruel but sometimes the truth needs to be said loud and clear.

They can’t be forgiven unless they repent, they can’t repent unless they confess their sin and they won’t confess their sin unless they confess Jesus to be their Lord and Saviour. In the face of death threats God provides an unlikely rescue.

But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. ~Acts 5:34-35 (NIV)

Gamaliel cites two cases to make his point. Two men, Theudas and Judas of Galilee, both led a rebellion and both were killed and their followers were scattered and both movements came to nothing.

Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” ~Acts 5:38-39 (NIV)

Leave them alone and let them go, don’t kill them and he gives 2 reasons. If its just another human ideology then it won’t last.
That is why when I see Christians push another human ideology learnt at the university of Facebook or Google I think, friends remember the words of Jesus “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.” Only Jesus words stand the test of time and nothing else.

At one level success is not the only criteria if something is from God otherwise Macdonald’s and Islam are from God. I put it this way “Not all success is from God but if it is God-given it will succeed”

Part of the reason why I believe in Jesus is that what Jesus promised in Acts 1:8 has taken place. The Good news as spread from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the ends of the world. “Christianity is believed by people from over 2000 different language groups in the world. More people pray and worship in more languages than in any other religion in the world.”

Its why we have a God-given optimism toward growth and that is why we seek to plant 5 congregations in 10 years and ask God for a 1000 new disciples and that is why I don’t apologise in calling for every person who makes MBM home to financially partner in Gods work.

But more than that you stand against the cause of Christ, you stand against God himself and that is not just Wrong its Dumb. Its why the Jewish leaders are so frustrated, you can’t take on God and win and it’s why some of you are so exhausted, you’re warring against God. The word is to surrender and let Jesus set you free! If God is for us who can be against us. If God is against you then heaven help you, because there is no hope.

But this is no Disneyland Christianity.

His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. ~Acts 5:40 (NIV)

The God who raised Jesus from dead, who sent an angel to set the apostles free, the God who provided Gamaliel to protect the apostles from death. Still allowed them be flogged, 39 lashes to be exact on the back of each of the 12. So brutal it has caused some to bleed to death.

There is no force field protecting Christians, in fact, when the angel who set them free sent them back into the firing lines they asked for boldness that would get them into more trouble. Their boldness is escalating the conflict and its bringing further suffering on them. Eventually, the 12 apostles will be killed for their witness to risen Jesus.

Peter himself will be crucified in Rome upside down and none of it makes sense if they lied about seeing Jesus alive.

I love their response to the flogging.

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. ~Acts 5:41 (NIV)

They saw the 39 lashes on their backs opening up their skin as a privilege. To walk in the footsteps of Jesus who for the joy set before him endured the shame of the cross-honour. The honour of suffering shame for his glorious Name, the only name by which we can be saved. A joy that refused to be silenced.

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah ~Acts 5:41 (NIV)

I’ve put on the top of my list of impossible prayer points, “Lord give me spiritual courage to speak boldly about the good news of the Lord Jesus”. I invite you to do likewise.

At bible study this week we talked of what persecution looks like for them: accused of believing in fairy tales, of being left out and sidelined. One young man, who works on building sites, mentioned he was a Christian at work, the site manager made sure every person could hear him say “I have more hope in believing in werewolves and zombies” The rumour spread around the building site, opening up for more ridicule. I asked him what did he do “I prayed: Father forgive them for they know not what they do” Then I asked how did you feel? I wished he could have spoken better but so glad I could speak, the bible verse on his app that day was:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. ~Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)

Don’t be rude but don’t be ashamed or intimidated brother and sister. We are the only ones who have the answer to death. We have a living faith because we have a living Lord who has made us alive.

So far it’s been a great ride in the book of Acts. These new Spirit filled Christians are so grateful for being forgiven. There is bold preaching in the face of opposition.

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. ~Acts 4:33 (NIV)

The church keeps growing from 12-120 from 3,000-5000. How encouraging?!

Sometimes in life everything falls into place, there are moments in life where everything is just right. It’s true in Church where everything is humming:

  • Season of fruitfulness, where the word is preached and lots of people are saved.
  • Season of faithfulness, where people are servant-hearted and generous and love is the norm.

In Acts 4 we have a second picture of a beautifully transformed community

1. Radical unity

All the believers were one in heart and mind. ~Acts 4:32 (NIV)

When there is a deep unity to Christ there is a deep unity to each other. As John Piper said “When you become united to Jesus by faith, you become united to people by love.”

2. Radical view to their own possessions

Faith in Christ creates a love for people.

No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. ~Acts 4:32b (NIV)

A love for God cuts us loose from a love for things. They still had private ownership, they meet in their homes but no one claimed their possession as their own:

  • My house is yours to use
  • My food is your food to eat
  • My time is your time to enjoy

God has been so generous to us it is only right that we are generous to each other. If you sit tight with Jesus you will sit loose with your possessions.

3. Sacrificial generosity

It wasn’t just you can borrow my car and sleep in the spare room.

For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. ~Acts 4:34b-35 (NIV)

Remember this is on top of their normal giving, that is what makes it sacrificial. Some sold property and gave the money to the apostles to distribute it to the poor. It was sporadic, from time to time. It didn’t happen every day and not everyone owns land to sell. The land I am standing on is the result of one Mr. Lamb who gave it to the parish of Rooty Hill 130 years ago, its the gift that keeps giving.

The land on which Oakhurst Anglican and Richard Johnson is built on was given by a former member of this church. In fact, people leaving properties in wills has resulted in lots of churches being built.

As a rule, everything we have belongs to God and is to be used to bless others. Whatever your source of income we are called to give our first portion to God purposes, if you earn a wage or if you make a profit from a land sale or gain an inheritance. Don’t just keep it all for yourself and family, give the first portion for God`s work and the needs of others, there is no greater need than to be saved from sins. At present 40% has been pledged to cover our next budget. I call on you play your part and partner with us, fill out a pledge card and drop it in today.

4. Grace driven Generosity

And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. ~Acts 4:33-34a (NIV)

Inspired not by the law of God but the grace of God, it was not forced but joyfully given from the heart. It was willing not under compulsion. The Lord loves a cheerful giver.

5. Distributed according to need

There were checks and balances in Old Testament law-making, sure, widows and orphans were taken care of. The goal was for there to be no poor person.

However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, ~Deuteronomy 15:4 (NIV)

Now that dream is realised in this Spirit-filled community.

In 1987 the then prime minister Bob Hawke said “By 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty,” He did admit to regret that promise.

And yet we have much to be thankful for in Australia, we may not appreciate the early church but we have an economy that is a delicate blend of free enterprise and a welfare state. We got here because of Christian introduced biblical principles into parliament. We have a free-market economy with a welfare net, free Education, and Medicare, Pensions and Benefits for pensioners, the sick, the unemployed and the disabled. We have Financial assistance for those in need. Most recently the job keeper and job starter allowance represents 36% of government expenditure. Not perfect but a lot to be thankful for.

Unlike the Australian welfare system, the early church did not feed its poor by taxes imposed by apostles. Unlike Communism
there was no bloody revolution in Jerusalem to make it happen.

Unlike legalistic religion, there were no guilt trips. Just the grace of God moving in the hearts of thankful, forgiven sinners.
The Spirit loosens our relationship to things and tightens our
relationship to people.

One case study was the man Barnabas.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”),sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. ~Acts 4:36-37 (NIV)

Barnabas is mentioned because he will play a big role in the book of Acts, he is the full package, generous with his money, he preaches Jesus, he loves God`s people, he is reaching the lost and he is a man to imitate.

We know him by his nickname, Barnabas means son of encouragement. What is your nickname? Growing up mine was Pitt Galea, I was a bottomless pit and I could eat anything and everything.

Barnabas, son of Encouragement was not attached to things which freed him to love people.

After 30 years I have so many stories to tell of acts of generosity, I remember one family giving me an envelope to pass on to a single parent who was doing it tough, it had a thousand dollars in it.

When you’re free from the love of things you will be free to love people. When I read this I`m both inspired to be more generous and I`m convicted by how much more I need to grow. One thing I know! Barnabas is not regretting selling that property. For all eternity he is enjoying the glory he gave God in this single act of generosity

In chapter 5 we read of a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, doing exactly what Barnabas did, they sold their property and they both gave the sale of the property to the Apostles.

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” ~Acts 5:1-4 (NIV)

The problem was not that Barnabas gave all of the money and Ananias and Saphira gave part of it. Peter is so clear, the land and the money was theirs to do with what they liked, no one had a gun to their head making them sell it. The problem was the lie and the hypocrisy, they claimed to have given it all when in fact they only gave part of it.

At that point it became a form of theft, they wanted the applause from the leaders not from God, they wanted to feed the ego not the poor and they wanted a reputation for being sacrificial without the cost.

Why is this recorded?

  1. Bible is committed to truth. It will not pretend about the failures of the church. It’s written because it happened as much when as when a miraculous sign happens.
  2. It reminds us that the early church is not a perfect church, for those of us wanting to use the early church to judge the present church. Remember it too had its quota of sins and struggles.

Notice how the sin is understood by Peter.

Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit ~Acts 5:3 (NIV)

Not just lies and hypocrisy. A spirit was at work in Ananias but it was not the holy Spirit. It is viewed as an assault by Satan, lying to the church was nothing less than a lie to the Holy Spirit. It is a form of testing God.

Notice that the Spirit of God is not just a power but a person “He” not “it.” You can’t lie to a power but you can lie to a person. The Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Godhead, the long-awaited blessing of the new covenant.

And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. ~Ezekiel 36:27 (NIV)

To lie to church is to lie to the Spirit who dwells among and within each of us. I thank God for how people not only pledge but keep their pledges. We don’t bind people`s consciences, if circumstances change, we understand that giving is impacted.
The problem here is that they claimed to give all when they didn’t.

As you read this story you’re not expecting what happens next

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. ~Acts 5:5-6 (NIV)

Judgment was both swift and severe. It’s not as if there was no time to repent, when Sapphira comes to the house 3 hrs later Peter gives her the chance to tell the truth. She maintains the lie and falls down dead. We all long to see more miracles of healing and not miracles of judgment. We want to see the power to heal, and to amaze but not the power of judgment to create fear. Twice we are told:

And great fear seized all who heard what had happened… Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. ~Acts 5:5,11 (NIV)

Fear took place inside the church of God and fear took place outside the church of God.

Friends: God will not be mocked! It is a warning to all! How is your conscience friends?

  • Greed held back what they promised to give
  • Ego fuelled their lies
  • Pride made them refuse to admit their sin.

How is your conscience?

I knew a man who paid back years of giving. He knew he benefitted from a ministry at MBM that he never supported. I said “I didn’t think he needed to”- start fresh but his conscience would not let it go.

How is your conscience?

What do we make of this judgment? It served as a warning to every generation of Christians, it was the ultimate form of church discipline. It’s rare but it’s also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11, where some have fallen sick and died due to unrepentant sin but this is not the norm. We see godly Christians dying and ungodly believers living long.

But I did hear of one young pastor who served in the outback. The church was riddled with sin from the top down and there was no point of church discipline because you would have had to expel everyone. After 18 months of opposition in the church
He said “God I can`t do it. You have to do it.” In the next 12 months, 18 people in that church died for various unconnected reasons and then 1 year later 200 people were baptised, the Lord cleaned out that church.

At MBM we do believe in church discipline, after a lengthy process we say to those who carry the name Christian, and want fellowship but who justify their sin ‘One of those will have to go, either stop calling yourself a Christian, stop attending our growth group or stop justifying your sin.’ We do it for the sake of the person’s salvation and the holiness of the church.

But I`m also reminded of the grace shown to the rest of us, no conscience is perfectly clean, we each have uttered some lie and we say one thing and do another.

I`m aware of the grace shown to us and I wonder what will you do with this grace? Trample over his mercy and patience?

Remember Friends: God is no fool, God has shot a warning blow, so don’t presume on God`s kindness calling for us to take heed.

Christians have a high view of government, not because the government is always good but because it’s given by God. Submitting to government is how we submit to God, that is, we don’t sing at church and are socially distanced. But sometimes and very rarely you have to make a choice between God and Government. Today’s passage is one of those examples.

We saw last week a beggar who was lame for 40 years, he was instantly, completely, and permanently healed by the apostles in the power of Jesus name. The healed man proved that Jesus is very much Alive and Lord. Peter then called on them all to repent and their sins would be wiped out and over 5000 believed.

As Peter is preaching to large crowds in the temple area the Jewish leaders are upset and come to arrest him. They didn’t like what was happening because the power base was shifting,

This Jewish council was the Sanhedrin. They came from rich high priestly families and they belonged to a group called the Sadducees. They sentenced Jesus to death and they were known for not believing in the resurrection. Peter is now preaching that the same Jesus is alive and the resurrection of the dead had begun. Peter and John are stopped in their tracks.

They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” ~Acts 4:7 (NIV)

That was a gift question, it’s up there with “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” With that question, they go straight to Jesus

It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. ~Acts 4:10b (NIV)

Peter has come a long way in 2 months, he is no longer denying Jesus and he is now filled with the Holy Spirit and he gives bold witness to his Saviour, he does not hold back. The same Jesus you crucified, God raised to life and this mans healing is proof.

Its one thing confronting the crowd with courage but now Peter is confronting the leaders themselves. He quotes a psalm they would say as they went to Jerusalem.

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; ~Psalm 118:22 (NIV)

The stone they discarded on the cross, He became the most precious – who holds together all of Gods purposes and promises.

I once bought a second-hand surfboard at a garage sale in Mt Druitt for $20, it stayed in my garage for 8 years until I got rid of it by giving it to my nephew. He then sold it on eBay for $800.

The rock that was discarded proved to be most precious. So precious is Jesus that salvation is only found in him.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. ~Acts 4:12 (NIV)

That is a verse worth memorizing. The name of Jesus healed this man and saves our souls:

  1. Why the name of Jesus and not Jesus, because he is not physically with us, the name represents the person.
  2. This is an exclusive statement. Two negatives make a positive, salvation found, no one else, no other name given
  3. It’s exclusive because Jesus is unique, Jesus alone bore our sins in his body on the cross. He alone rose from the dead, Jesus alone offers full forgiveness, He alone is coming back to restore the universe.
  4. It’s the only name given by God. You can’t come up with your own name, well you can but it won’t do you any good. No other name, not the name of Allah, Buddha, or Krishna, not the name of God or even Jehovah anymore but only the name of Jesus.

I knew a man who came to Christ at MBM, he use to be a Taoist (Ying/Yang). He used the name of Tao as his secret password to access his bank account and after becoming a Christian he replaced that name with Jesus. Of all the possible names there was only one name that could access his account. Of all the possible names there is only one name, Jesus, that gives us access to God’s salvation.

  1. You complain “why is there only one way” or you can be thankful that there is a way
  2. Which means you can relax, your search for salvation has ended.
  3. That is why Christianity is the first world religion that was committed to persuading others. If you believe Jesus is the only way and you love people then the logic tells you to share the good news. Such boldness surprised the authorities.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. ~Acts 4:13-14 (NIV)

Shocked: not by the miracles but by the boldness of Peter and John. They were amazed that these guys were ordinary and untrained. But they were trained, these men had been with Jesus.

I am Ray Galea BTH, I would prefer Simon Peter BwJ (Been With Jesus). In Jesus, they saw it perfectly taught and then perfectly lived out. The leaders that once terrified Peter are now intimidated by him.

So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” ~Acts 4:15-17 (NIV)

If you not committed to truth, you suppress the evidence or explain it away, the healed man was irrefutable proof that Jesus is alive and Lord. The rulers lived in fear that this thing we call Christianity would spread faster than the COVID virus, so they issued orders to shut up about Jesus.

Now it came to just one question – Who do you obey? God or Government

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” ~Acts 4:18-20 (NIV)

Too many Christians use any excuse to justify civil disobedience. Like the church I heard in our area which kept meeting through the lockdown and with no social distancing, they believed the government was trying to suppress Christianity with COVID.

That makes sense… Governments around the world have trashed their own economies to destroy Christians who only make 5% of Australia’s population. That is a false choice between government and God.

But here is a real choice, when given a choice to obey God or man they chose to obey God. They could have been silent, they could deny Jesus and get out of trouble but Peter knew what that was like. We all know what that is like, we have all seen God open doors that we have closed. We did it by our silence.

What an enormous change has come upon these fear-ridden men. Listen again. “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

It was only 7 weeks ago when Peter denied he knew Jesus three times “I don’t know him…” now he’s confronting Israel’s leadership. Notice how these Christians operate under pressure? Their first instinct to is pray, oh that we would learn to pray under pressure.

When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. ~Acts 4:24 (NIV)

It begins with Sovereign Lord – If God is not in total control then I should panic because God is useless and so is prayer.

The ones who are making the threats are just creatures created by God. They say if you’re nervous giving a speech then imagine everyone naked. I would suggest imagining that each person is created by God, just like you and you will be less intimidated. God controls the universe and He controls the future.

Peter then quotes Psalm 2 that predicts the cross, in this psalm God laughs at the stupidity of rulers of the world who think they can take on his Messiah. It’s like standing in front of a semi-trailer barreling down the highway at 120 km per hour thinking the truck is going to come off second best.

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. ~Acts 4:27 (NIV)

Everyone shares the guilt, the Jews and the Gentiles, the governors and the King. Together they planned out Jesus execution.

They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. ~Acts 4:28 (NIV)

From one vantage point the cross is humans at their worst, that when we had the chance to meet God in the flesh, we killed him.

From another vantage point the cross is God at his best, bringing about the salvation of the world. They did what Gods will decided beforehand should happen.

Learn this lesson, humans are responsible and God is sovereign, like twin train tracks running through the bible. If you get this you are more likely to pray about anything and less likely to be frightened about everything. That is what Peter does.

Now, Lord, consider their threats ~Acts 4:29a (NIV)

They don’t tell God what to do! We leave it in your hands, God. There is plenty of stuff in your life you need to leave in Gods hands. Then they prayed for boldness.

…and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. ~Acts 4:29b (NIV)

The apostles are more worried about wimping out then being wiped out, the persecution is going to escalate. What was worse than being arrested, beaten, imprisoned and killed for Jesus, it’s denying him, Peter does not want to go back there.
The apostles prayed for boldness which would cause more trouble.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. ~Acts 4:31 (NIV)

God answered their prayers and he will answer yours as well. It’s not a boldness that comes by believing in yourself or feeding your mind with positive thoughts. It’s a boldness empowered by two things, first the Spirit of God. You don’t need another miracle to give you that confidence, you don’t need another sign to speak up for Jesus, but you do need the power of the Holy Spirit.

Seriously, have you ever prayed for spiritual courage? This courage is supernatural, its not limited to extraverts. Let the God-given evidence speak to your doubts.

I was given a box for a belated 60th birthday gift, it’s an urn – awkward, I have a box that will one day hold my ashes and it’s a touch unnerving because it made my own death that much more real. So I asked myself is this the end of me?

No! Why not? And then I recalled the evidence.

  • The eye witness report of the apostles
  • God appointed eye witness to Jesus
  • They testified to the many miraculous signs of Jesus
  • They pointed to the many Old Testament prophecies that predicted Jesus life, death and resurrection
  • They were there to see the empty tomb of Jesus.
  • They saw the risen Jesus appear many times after he died over 40 days
  • They saw him, touched him and ate with him
  • The apostles then saw Jesus ascend into heaven with the promise he is coming back.
  • 10 days later as promised Jesus poured out the Spirit enabling them to speak in languages of other people.

And now this lame beggar is completely and instantly healed in the name of Jesus which no one can refute. What proves they are telling the truth? These witnesses just 2 months before had denied Christ, so convinced that what they saw is true they will defy authorities and be willing to be arrested, imprisoned and die, proving that Jesus is alive and Lord and that salvation is
found in only him.

No, this urn won’t carry me or you, for Jesus is alive and the resurrection from among the dead has begun. So pray for courage to speak in the name of the Living Lord, Jesus.

Partner with us at MBM. Today is Commitment Sunday and the last day for pledges, if you believe Jesus is alive and there is no other name for salvation, then prove it. Put your money where your mouth is, so that others may know that Jesus is alive and salvation is found in only him.

Pray for boldness, pledge generously and ponder the evidence.

In my younger days, I was desperate to see the power of God, I longed for more. I probably claimed miracles that I fear had more to do with wishful thinking. I was in search of not just signs and wonder but for assurance and proof that what I believed is real and true and that what I gave up was worth giving up. That the Jesus I trusted was indeed alive.

Today we will the find the assurance we are all looking for and why don`t have to pretend. The story begins in the temple.

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. ~Acts 3:1 (NIV)

These new Jewish Christians followed the pattern of prayer of the Jews and 3 times of the day they spent in prayer at the temple. At the temple we find one desperate man:

Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. ~Acts 3:2 (NIV)

He was disabled from birth for over 40 years, so powerless he had to be carried and so desperate he was forced to beg. He was placed near the gate called “Beautiful” that was marked with an enormous bronze artwork, hoping visitors would stop and also notice this man. This gate was as close as he could get to the temple and he hoped that people who came to love God would love him. While the Spirit-filled Jewish Christians had no needy person, the same could not be said of the rest.

Jesus would have walked past him for 3 years, he never asked Jesus for healing, even now he only asks for money.

When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. ~Acts 3:3-5 (NIV)

Hoping he could have a piece of Christian generosity Peter and John look straight at him, Peter wants this man to give him his full attention, this was not going to be another shekel in the hat. Then the man focused his attention, could this be the day he was going to get the $100 note?

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have… ~Acts 3:6 (NIV)

The apostles were the opposite to the prosperity gospel preachers because the prosperity preachers are rich and these apostles were poor, prosperity preachers do fake miracles and the apostles actually do real miracles. We are about to see one.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. ~Acts 3:6-8 (NIV)

Dr Luke gives the specific details, the 2 words often used to describe a miracle. First, he was healed straight away

“…instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” ~Acts 3:7b (NIV)

He did not slowly get better over the next 6 months.

Second, he was completely healed. Notice the man didn’t go from a wheelchair to a walking frame and then 2 years of intensive physio, he went from being totally disabled to totally healed in an instant.

He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. ~Acts 3:8 (NIV)

With Jesus they don’t limp out, they don’t walk out, they go walking and leaping and praising God.

It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see. ~Acts 3:16b (NIV)

Third, this miracle was on public record, it didn`t happen to some anonymous stranger. When faith healers fly into town in their private jets raking in $100,000s of dollars claiming to heal people, you don’t know the person on stage, you can’t verify anything, I commend the documentary on American Gospel.

Everyone knew the man who was lame from birth now walking and leaping.

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. ~Acts 3:9-10 (NIV)

Don’t every apologise to ask questions when people claim miracles.

Ray Galea quote: “God is never glorified when you praise Him for a miracle that did not take place.” It only harms the gospel!!!

Everyone knew this man was the beggar at the temple gate. No one at the time of Jesus and the apostles doubted the miracles. They may say they did it in Satan`s power, but it did happen. It`s not lack of faith to test the genuineness of a miracle. This was a miracle. The reaction to this miracle is the same reaction done by Jesus, filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him, and the man was filled with praise, he could not just walk but he could now join Peter in the temple to pray, at last he could enter that which had been off limits.

Now we have the explanation.

While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? ~Acts 3:11-12 (NIV)

When a miracle happens, the temptation is to think that the healer has some magic touch, or he must be especially holy or have special powers. If you don’t have the right explanation then you end up with the wrong conclusion.

This miracle is a sign and signs point away from itself to the living Jesus. Peter makes it clear…its not his power but the power of the living Jesus and that was both the good news and bad news.

Why bad news? Because he was healed in the name of the one they killed and this healing meant one thing, Jesus is alive and he is Lord and they were in serious trouble.

Notice: Peter will not let them off the hook, he tells them, you handed Jesus over to be killed and what made it worse was when the Roman Governor declared him to be innocent, you cried out “crucify him”. You disowned the Holy and Righteous one and what made it worse was when given a chance to set him free you chose a terrorist to be released instead of Jesus.

You killed the author of life, who gave you life. Like the ice addict who was choking on his own vomit and then stabs the paramedic who saved his life.

They killed the author of life. What`s really surprising is that they are deemed fully responsibility and yet ignorant. Their sin is not excused and it’s not covered up but it was done in ignorance.

“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. ~Acts 3:17 (NIV)

You killed him not knowing that he was the Christ. The sin of ignorance not the sin of presumption, both responsible and ignorant. That is what Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”

That is what Paul said of his own rejection of Christ. Paul says:

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. ~1 Tim 1:13 (NIV)

We probably need to remember this, don’t we? When non-Christians attack us and who blaspheme the name of Jesus and who sin without shame… responsible but ignorant.

But as Christians it is the one thing that we are not, you may have been ignorant but you are not now, so no more excuses. That is why it is a greater judgment on those who have come to Jesus and then walk away. That is why it’s said of Judas, it would have been better if he were never born.

For those who are thinking of walking from Christ, I plead with you, there lies a greater judgment on you. The word for those who killed Jesus is the word for you and me

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, ~Acts 3:19 (NIV)

Three Words beginning with ‘R’.

Repent: Do that you do what everybody has to do, everyone needs to acknowledge that they were born heading the wrong direction. Turn from your sin and turn to God.

And the promise is that your sins will be wiped out, completely obliterated, just as if you have never sinned, not one left to condemn.

That is why we are promised to be

Refreshed: If you repent you don’t have to carry fear or guilt or shame any more. If that is not grace then I don`t know what grace is. Grace is not just getting what we don’t deserve, grace is getting the opposite to what we deserve

Jerry Bridges “Grace is God’s free and unmerited favour shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment.”

If I give $1000 to a person who lost their job then its mercy but if I give $1000 to a person who stole and trashed my car then its grace.

That grace comes only through Jesus–the promised prophet.

For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. ~Acts 3:22 (NIV)

There is just one you must listen to. This is the KISS principle and it cuts through the complexity where you’re bombarded by never-ending options.

We live in world cursed by so many choices. Go shopping and you go nuts because there are 20 different types of milk and 30 different types of cereal. In the public square, there are 100 world views, options range from no gods to a million gods.

But there is but one Lord, one Christ, one author of life, only one whom the prophets pointed to, only one whom the Apostles witness to, only one whom God raised to life and only one who we have listen to.

Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people. ~Acts 3:23 (NIV)

I remember one woman saying, “I’m not interested in Jesus, whether he is Son of God or not, Jesus is irrelevant to me, I’m interested in God”

But its that God who said “This is my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased, listen to him or you have no place among my people”

Jesus will not be ignored. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people. For now, we receive the refreshment of sins wiped out.

When Jesus returns it will be a time of restoration.

Restoration

Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, ~Acts 3:21 (NIV)

They killed the agent of blessing but they did not kill off the blessing. In Christ we live in the time of refreshment now we end up in the time of restoration.

There are only 2 stories to believe in:

Story one: you are the result of a billion random accidents and will live a miserably short life marked with pain and then die a meaningless death and you will soon be forgotten.

Or, story two, you repent and take hold of Jesus, who refreshes your soul now and restores this universe when he returns. What Jesus did to this crippled man he will do to this crippled world. The picture of this man walking and leaping and praising God is a picture of new creation restored and released from its enslavement to death and decay.

We have such good news to enjoy, we have such good news to share, and oh, how the world needs to hear it. The west of Sydney is lost in its ignorance yet still responsible for its rebellion.

Pray that at MBM we bring the name of Jesus to our suburbs and our city and that they ache to hear that God refreshes their soul and restores this universe and that they long to know that there is a better world and a better future. The one who wiped out sins will wipe away our tears…and who will never wipe our names from the Book of Life. That is the assurance we need to hear.

Have you ever received a summons to appear in court? In my 60 years I’ve never been called for jury duty, others I know have been asked 2 or 3 times. I’m feeling rejected!

Did you know that each of you received a summons today? A summons to gather and praise our great God with joy; called to listen to His word and heed His warnings. Did you hear the summons from God today? Of course, you did and that is why you are here.

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. ~Psalm 95:1-2 (NIV)

This summons is from God but comes through his people, here are God’s people calling on each other to come ‘let us’ sing, come ‘let us’ bow down and worship.

A man once complained to his minister, he said “I don’t like the songs you chose today” The minister said “That’s ok, we weren’t singing them for you.” That is not quite true, we sing to God and we also sing to each other about God. When I sing “Amazing Grace” I’m telling you that I am a wretch of a sinner saved by God’s grace and you’re telling me the same thing.

But Praise is not just saying praise you Jesus 50 times like some mindless mantra, it should never be praise for praise sake.

I once went to a Christian conference and the first 8 songs we sang had me telling God that I loved him but I was not given one clear reason why. God had done so much but the writer of the songs couldn’t give me one reason. Listen to the reasons in verses 3-5.

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. ~Psalm 95:3 (NIV)

We shout and sing because He is a Majestic God. He is El supremo in the heavens and He has no rivals and He will not share His glory with another. Unlike the credits in a movie God will not share the billing, He will not co-star with other gods, He is the great King above all gods, He is supreme in the heavens and He is supreme on earth.

In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. ~Psalm 95:4-5 (NIV)

Like a potter with his clay, He gets his hands dirty in creation. Picture God at work as our maker, I will put Australia there at the bottom end because last shall be first and first last. For kicks I’ll make Italy look like a foot and since I know that they will love football why don’t I give them a ball to kick and I’ll call it Sicily. Look, a little bit of mud on the ball, I just give it a flick and there we have the Island of Malta. Isn’t that more interesting than plate tectonics?

In His hands are the depths of the earth, remember the song “He’s got the whole world in his hands”. It was a sad day when that song was used to advertise Mastercard. With Mastercard, you can pretend to be a god until you can’t pay your credit card bill of $10,000.

But God is no man’s debtor, the sea is His, for He made it, as are the peaks of the mountains, the simple rule is, you make it then you own it and it belongs to you. That’s the rule of copyright, you create something and it’s yours.

Friends, you do not belong to yourself you belong to God and that is why Joyful Praise is the right response to a great God. He is not only a great God he is our God.

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. ~Psalm 95:6-7a (NIV)

He is both powerful and personal, He is Majestic and He is mine. A Great God has made us his own. He is not just creator, and judge, He is our covenantal Lord, our loving Saviour, our Father in heaven, and our Good Shepherd. We kneel before the Lord our maker, he is our God.

The bulk of the earth’s population neither know Him nor are known by Him. The reason why mission happens is because worship doesn’t.

The hands that hold the earth, the hands that formed the dry land, the hands that rescued his people, they are the same hands where our names are written. We are kept safe in those hands, hands that were stretched out on the cross, that same hand that will raise you up on the last day. These are the same hands that are held out to you today.

In one way worship is the same in the Old Covenant and New, it’s about responding to God on his terms. But the terms are redefined between old to new, worship for Jews was temple centred and you approached God through a human priest, with an animal sacrifice and at a physical temple.

The reality for the new covenant people is that we trust Jesus Christ who is the perfect High Priest who offered the perfect sacrifice, his life, to the perfect God at the perfect temple in heaven to make us perfect and that is what we are. It’s on that basis that we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, wholly and pleasing to God.

Worship language in the New Testament is for all of life, 24/7. You worship God not just with a song from your mouth but with the whole of your life. To reduce worship to 10 mins of singing on a Sunday is like breathing for 10 mins a day, you’re not going to get very far, BUT part of our worship is to gather and sing with joy. Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; we have a reason to be joyful.

John Wesley was a missionary before he was a Christian. On his way back to England, Wesley was on a ship that was sinking and he was petrified. He noticed that a group of people on the boat were singing songs of joy as they faced their death. He was shocked and wondered, had they done more than he to be so confident? They shared with him how through Jesus our great God has saved us, so when this boat goes down we will go up to be with the Lord. That is why its Christians alone who sing songs of praise, marked with joy, for our God not only wants to save us he wants us to know we are saved.

1. A God of wrath

But almost as an intrusion to this joy-filled sound comes a second summons, to hear God’s word and heed its warning.

Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” ~Psalm 95:7b-11 (NIV)

Amidst the singing comes the warning, when we gather we not only sing we also listen and are warned.

Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts. It’s a living word with a real warning for this moment in time… This is a warning for TODAY! The warning is – Do not follow the pattern of Israel in the past.

Two places became the benchmarks for Israel’s hard heart: Meribah and Massah. The names of the places tell the story in Exodus 17:7. Meribah means quarrelling and Massah means testing and that is what Israel did again and again.

Instead of trusting God, they decided to test God, even though they had seen his works. Within a month after God rescued them from the Egyptians, after seeing God unleash his power in the 10 plagues, after seeing the parting of the sea with them walking through it and after seeing the same sea closed in on their enemies.

On their way to a land flowing with milk and honey and being fed daily for 40 years, Israel complained against God about not having water and they wanted to go back to Egypt and they paid the price. A whole generation failed to access the promised land, God’s warnings are his means of grace to keep his people fearing and worshipping him.

I remember when I had been a Christian for about a year, I started wishing I came to Christ a few years later because I had more sinning to do. I wanted to go back to my old life, forgetting why I left it in the first place, my heart was beginning to harden. Then one day I walked into the home of a Christian and there in the lounge room was the record cover of a Christian singer, Keith Green, the title “So you wanna go back to Egypt.” It was like God had hit me on the back of my head and I repented.

The warning is clear and the warning is for you. This is God’s voice and it is for you today and he is saying ‘Do not harden your hearts or you will miss out of the heavenly promised land.’

The warning to Israel is the warning to us, for forty years I was angry with that generation.

“So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” ~Psalm 95:11 (NIV)

This was not simply an emotional reaction, a whole generation died in the desert and they never made it to the promised land.

As a rule humans don’t like warnings, when they revised the American Anglican Prayer Book they left out the last 4 verses of Psalm 95 with God’s warning of God’s anger. The negative for our age is the church is so often ashamed of God’s anger which flows from God’s holiness. We must not change God’s nature to suit our cultural preferences otherwise we end up worshipping ourselves.

But to show how different the church is from the Bible when the book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 95 in the New Testament a 1000 years later, it only quotes the last 4 verses of this Psalm about Gods anger. After the psalm is quoted we then read

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. ~Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)

The word is the same, do not harden your hearts to Gods word. Specifically, they were tempted to not gather because the pressure of persecution made them withdraw.

We need each other and we need to encourage one another daily. What is your heart like toward this warning? Is it a HEART that is soft that melts like butter in the sun or is it a HEART hardened like butter in the freezer? The church is God’s great declaration that you can’t do it on your own.

This is how it often works: you slowly begin to isolate yourself from God’s gathering and for some its for the pleasures of life like sport and leisure or perhaps an addiction that everyone can see except you, the freedom of a new car or a first job or a new relationship or the distractions of a hobby. For others it’s worrying: worries of money or job or business or over mortgaging or relationships.For many they get stuck in one of the phases of life: going to Uni/Work/Tafe, getting married, having a baby, buying a house, starting a business or having a sense of failure in a Midlife Crisis or an aimless Retirement.
For others it, not pleasure but pain: a person you refuse to forgive leaving you with bitter heart, an ongoing sickness that makes you disappointed with God, a persecution that feels that following Christ is not worth it.

Through it all your heart hardens and you begin to isolate yourself from Christians and your attendance moves from weekly to monthly to Christmas and Easter. You tell yourself ‘I can be a Christian and not go to church’ with no congregation to encourage you and no sermon to warn you, you slowly die a slow spiritual death.

Then when someone follows you up you get defensive and blame others for judging you, at which, ask God for mercy because the hardening is almost complete.

Our corporate worship is a subversive act and no matter what mood you’re in when you gather, the gathering does not leave you focused on you. It turns you away from your anxiety to a God who is in charge and worthy of our worship, it turns you away from your guilt and shame to a saviour who forgives and inspire us to joyful praise.

The Singing, the Bible read and preached, Prayers, Fellowship, these are getting you to live for a greater cause, Gods glory. To look away beyond your small world and to look to Jesus whom we both worship and who leads us in worship to our great God and Father. Since you’re listening to this sermon, I am confident that you’re on the right track.

Dear Father
We come before you in praise and worship
With joyful singing and thankful hearts
You are our great God and saviour
You are both powerful and personal
There is none that compares to you
Your hands which made this earth, were the same hands that were stretched out on that cross
Thank you for offering each of us a fresh start
Today we have heard your voice.
We beg you to deliver us from a hard heart
Help us to heed the warnings of your Word
Stop us from the urge to isolate
Help us to encourage each other daily that we may be found faithful till the end.
In Jesus name we pray.

Monopoly has been a worldwide favorite board game, everyone in the game is given the same money – $1500. But as we know we all don’t start life with the same opportunities, some are born into poor families and some into rich but the one thing it does get right is that whether you make a lot or a little, whether you have hotels on Mayfair or not, at the end of the game it all goes into the box.

The challenge for every preacher is showing the relevance of a passage. The thing about death is that it’s the one experience that every human shares, it becomes an important lens to understand the rest of life.

This Psalm begins with it a shout out to everyone to listen.

Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike: ~Psalm 49:1-2 (NIV)

This is a Psalm that speaks to all people, not just people who believe, its addressed to all nations, not just God’s people. What is said makes sense, whether your inside or outside the circle of faith, because it speaks of death. Its for all demographics, rich or poor, the powerful and the powerless, whether you live in Darling Point or Doonside.

It’s not a lament, or a confession or a praise, it’s a wisdom psalm and it promises understanding.

My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding. I will turn my ear to a proverb; with the harp I will expound my riddle: ~Psalm 49:3-4 (NIV)

This is the very thing the world is so short on, we have lots of information but not much wisdom, we have lots of knowledge but no discernment, we have lots of Google me this but not much understanding. It begs the question, who is worth listening? With my bible closed I really have nothing worth saying. Lets open this psalm and gain some wisdom.

Why should I fear when evil days come, ~Psalm 49:5 (NIV)

The bible is realistic, it expects that days of evil will come but this Psalm also promises hope. Why should I fear and be intimidated when evil comes?

Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me—those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches? ~Psalm 49:5 (NIV)

Again, we have the importance of self-talk, why should I be afraid in the face of injustice? In this context the threat comes from evil doers who are deceivers. Liars are bad but deceivers are worse because a liar is easier to spot than a deceiver, a liar tells untruths for their own advantage but a deceiver tells a mixture of lies and truths to deceive and harm others.

Deceivers encircle the Psalmist. They both trust in their riches and boast in their wealth. Wealth is power and they were abusing their power by exploiting the poor. The way to dismantle one’s fear when you’re powerless is to think God thoughts, to understand the absolute false hopes of wealth through the lens of death.

No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—so that they should live on forever and not see decay. ~Psalm 49:7-9 (NIV)

Why not fear?

The price tag for eternity is too expensive for everyone. You can’t buy your way into heaven, you can’t bribe your way out of death. Sadly, you can’t ransom your life or any other, it’s what every grieving person knows, especially if you have lost a loved one, wishing you could take their place but knowing you cant.

When my son James nearly died at birth my theology went out the window, I was bargaining with God to save his life offering
everything I have.

Wealth can do a lot, you can use it to bless others, you can buy your way out of a lot of trouble with an expensive lawyer, you can buy your way out of poverty and move to a nice part of town, you can extend your life by paying for the best private medical treatment, but it cannot stop death.

Either way sooner or later we all owe God a death. As a result, we all die leaving our wealth to others.

For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others. ~Psalms 49:10 (NIV)

Observe how both the rich die with the poor, the wise end up with the fools and the POWERFULL end up the same places as the POWERLESS. Death is the great leveller.

We all leave our accumulated wealth for other others to enjoy. Ecclesiastes makes this point and extends it, you leave it to another and you don’t know whether they will be a fool or wise. Sooner or later either your kids, grandkids or their spouses will blow it away by gambling, or a divorce or a bad investment.

Train yourself not to be easily impressed

Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. ~Psalm 49:16-17 (NIV)

We all leave this earth in exactly the same way as we enter, naked and with nothing. On any given day you can have a homeless man and a wealthy man both lying on a slab next to each other at the Morgue, the exact same outcome. Bottom line is, don’t be overawed by the rich who take advantage of you, they can’t take it with them.

There is the story of the wealthy man who organized to be buried in his gold plated car, as the car rolled into the ditch, one worker asked to the other “how much did he leave behind?” The answer is always the same “All of it.”

Egyptian Pharaoh’s tried to take it with them but the grave robbers were the only ones who benefitted. You never see a removalist truck following the hearse to the cemetery, which is why it’s tragic when Christians sell their souls for some get rich schemes. The only house that we will live in is our tomb.

In that sense, we are no different from the animals

Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves. People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish. ~Psalm 49:11-12 (NIV)

When my kids were impressed by someone who was both famous and foolish I said “Don’t forget they will die like a dog like everybody else” now that is good parenting.

The only house you own and benefit from is your coffin. I find Mausoleums very interesting, they are impressive buildings that house a tomb of a loved one, the most famous would be the Taj Mahal. They are attempts to honour the dead and soften the reality of death, they look somewhere between a temple and a hotel, the only difference is that no one gets to walk out.

The Psalmist says, while you managed to leave your name on some piece of real estate or monument, you wont be around to enjoy it. Bill Bryon notes that if you’re buried in a sealed coffin you will deteriorate somewhere from 5-40 years. “The average grave is visited only for about fifteen years, so most of us take a lot longer to vanish from the Earth than from others memories”

This is the destiny of humanity, well not quite…

This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning). Their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. ~Psalm 49:13-14 (NIV)

The call is to be wise as to who and what you put your trust in. If you put your trust in yourself and in your wealth than death wins every time. While the mansion you built will carry your name, your corpse is rotting away. If you trust yourself then, death becomes your shepherd and it leads you to destruction. If Jesus is your good shepherd he will restore your soul and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

For one reason, while we can’t ransom our lives, while we cant take the place of another, God can and did.

But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself. ~Psalm 49:15 (NIV)

Jesus alone is able to ransom us from death. He is the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.

We have already heard that no one can ransom themselves or another, that is unless they satisfy 3 criteria.

  • They have to be human, for only a human can take the place of a human
  • They have to be sinless, otherwise they will have to die for their own sin
  • They have to be God for only God can endure the horror of hell

In Jesus alone we have all three, He was truly human, He was totally sinless and He was fully God. That is why Jesus can say…

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~Mark 10:45 (NIV)

It’s why He can say:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?

The psalmist is pleading, don’t be in awe, don’t be afraid of those who exploit you with their wealth. You’re not the one to live in fear, they are! Their blessings are short lived.

Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life. ~Psalm 49:18-19 (NIV)

Right now we are seeing many lose their jobs while others are getting a promotion, we are seeing some businesses die a slow or quick death while others are bursting with success. If things are going well the temptation is to trust yourself, take care what conversation you’re having with yourself. When other say “Wow, you have made it!” take care how you interpret the praise of others.

As one T shirt said, “The one with the most toys doesn’t win he just dies like everything else.” Not true, there is a different destiny between those who trust in themselves and their wealth and those who don’t.

People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish. ~Psalm 49:20 (NIV)

So, the issue is not just wealth, its not about those who have wealth but those who have wealth without understanding.

  • Don’t fear that person who cling to wealth and not Jesus.
  • Don’t envy a person on their way to hell.
  • Pity yes but not envy

How do I know that I am not putting my trust in myself and in what possessions I have, Jesus will urge us:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ~Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

So you can take it with you! if you use what you have great or small as if it belongs to God. You own absolutely nothing!
Death is proof of that. You are but a steward entrusted by God with much or little and as stewards we will give an account.

I was talking to one of our overseas ministry partners, they said “I want to live life like I’m playing Uno not Monopoly” “What do you mean?” “In Monopoly you win by ending up with the most things, in Uno you win by giving all your cards away.” I thought it was a helpful image.

I want to commend those who have kept their jobs but have not panicked, you are still generous and supporting the work of the gospel and care for the poor.

As Psalm 90 ends, Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Or as Luther put it, “Teach us that we must die…”

Dear Father,
Teach us to not be afraid.
To not be intimidated.
To not be overwhelmed with those who take advantage of us.
Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Teach us to not put our confidence in ourselves and in what we have.
But to trust in our Jesus for he alone can ransom us from death.
And set us free that we may store our treasures in heaven.
In Jesus name Amen.

Happy Father’s day. All Fatherhood stems from God the Father, which means our Dads were either stepping stones or stumbling blocks to knowing the one true God. They either hindered or they helped or a bit of both.

One of the most decisive moments in my life was when I went to hear Larry Crabb, renown Psychologist, speak at a week-long conference. He shared stories about his two boys and I didn’t realise, but I was being drawn to him as a father, in Larry Crabb, I found a man who both loved God and loved people. It awoke something inside of me and at the end of the conference as he drove away I started crying and I don’t cry all that much, I didn’t stop crying for the next 3 hours and they were the most beautiful tears I have ever shed. It exposed a grief I carried about my own dad.

At age 22 I started a journey that led me to know the love of my Father in heaven, which freed me to both face my Dad’s failures and yet be grateful for his love. Too many people spend their life desperate for their fathers. Approval or seeking to prove their father wrong. Psalm 103 speaks of the Fatherhood of God in all his glory, He is the Father you never had.

Yes, the Bible is patriarchal. Third-wave feminism wants to solve a real problem the wrong way, the aim is not to deconstruct patriarchy and dismantle fatherhood. We think the answer to bad fatherhood is no fatherhood but the answer to bad fatherhood is to imitate their heavenly Father.

Our Father in heaven deserves our praise. The Psalm is an extended call to oneself to praise God our Father.

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. ~Psalm 103:1-2 (NIV)

David is speaking to himself for most of this psalm, let all of me praise all of you Father. We can’t really sing “all of me loves all of you” because we don’t love the sin in the other person. But with our Holy Father, all of me can truly love all of Him.

The modern vision of Fatherhood is not a Christian one, in it, we Dads become the heroes and not God our Father. I think there are lots of fathers who love their kids, they take them to sport, they make time and have fun but you hear no God-talk on their lips and they share no joy in Christ.

John Piper is right when he says “Dads, your kids greatest need is to see you praise God”

Either by talking singing or sharing some truth about who God is and what he has done, whether at church, at home or in the car or camping. Psalm 103 is one long self talk.

Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits ~Psalm 103:2 (NIV)

Learn the art of preaching to your soul and don’t forget what God has done, don’t steal his glory and don’t be overwhelmed with life’s pressures. The way to remember is to keep urging yourself to praise God for HIS many blessings.

There are so many benefits in this Psalm, let’s break them down into 3 areas.

1. We praise our Father for he is in total control 

The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. ~Psalm 103:19 (NIV)

God rules! Praise God that he rules over every corner of this universe, from Angels to Atoms to Ants, He lovingly rules over the big picture and the small details of life.

In the fury of the moment
I can see the masters hand
In every leaf that trembles and
In every grain of sand
~Bob Dylan

Do you have a moment by moment awareness of Gods total control? God rules over the present and the future.

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ ~Isaiah 46:9-10 (NIV)

His total authority is clearly seen in his Son who had absolute control over sin, sickness, suffering, satan, and the surf. Let our children hear us say, I praise you, Lord, that you rule over all 7 billion humans in all 195 nations, that you rule over every world leader however they got into power, that you rule over every corner of this massive system and over a rouge virus.

Learn to give yourself a good talking to. For example:

Q: Raymond is God Lord of the universe? Yes!
A: Then why do you live with so much fear?

Q: Will God supply all my needs? Yes!
A: Then why O Ray, why are you so anxious

Praise your Father in heaven for he alone rules! We praise our Father who seeks justice for the powerless.

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. ~Psalm 103:6 (NIV)

God jealously defends those who can’t speak up for themselves. Think with me for a moment, the bible is honest about the sins of Israel. Why are we so afraid to admit the sins of Australia?

If like me you or your parents chose to make Australia your home then we must own its history both the good and bad. If we benefit from the past sins, we must assume responsibility of the past, not to mention the present. It’s a history that has oppressed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. We had a white Australian policy when the original custodians were not white. We only gave them citizenship in 1967 when I was 7. It’s shameful that my Maltese Father who came to Australia in 1939 got his citizenship before Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders who lived in this land for over 40,000 years. They fought in wars defending a country that would not let them vote, they were not paid a proper wage and at times were limited to who they could marry. Their children were taken from the mothers. We have systematically dismantled a culture over centuries and it took as late as February 2008 before a Prime Minister finally apologized, then wonder why or come up with cheap answers to why they have high mortality rate, unemployment and incarceration and shorter lifespans.

When you see injustice know the God of the bible hates it, so Praise him for being a God of justice

  • When wrongs are righted – Praise God
  • When sins are exposed – Praise God
  • When rights are trampled – Plead with God

Let your children hear you praise the Lord for his justice and plead for his protection of the powerless. Never forget, no one is more powerless than the unborn. Praise God that his cross is the ultimate evidence that he is a just God.

We praise our Father for his extravagant love

who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. ~Psalm 103:3-5 (NIV)

God never does a job that is half baked, He lavishes us with his love and His blessings are so complete that He

  • Cancels all of our sins (past, present and future)
  • Heals all our sickness (some in this age and all in the next)
  • Every good thing you long for will be satisfied

When God entered into a covenant with Israel He revealed his glory by revealing his character

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. ~Psalm 103:8-10 (NIV)

That is your Father in heaven. I don’t know what your Dad was like. Was he quick to anger and quick to blame, who constantly brought up your failures and shamed you in public? When you think of the word “Father” what words spring to mind? Harsh or Gentle. Mean or Gracious. Critical or Encouraging. Absent or Present. Abusive or Safe. Like me, my Dad was a mixed bag, that is why at times we Fathers must apologise to our children. If we don’t then we are liars and hypocrites, most kids can live with imperfect Dads if we genuinely own our failures.

God does not hold our sins against us and he is perfect SO why do we hold our children’s sins against them and why do we hold our Dad’s sins against them?

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us. ~Psalm 103:11-12 (NIV)

God wants us to grasp the full extent of his love that just can’t be measured. Sometimes God says When I forgive, it’s like I take all your sins and I plunge them in the deepest part of the ocean. Never to be used against you. Praise you Lord. When I forgive you its like I put your sins behind my back. So that when I look at you I see perfection. Praise you Lord God. Or, I create so much distance between you and your sin that its the distance between East and West. In a full moon, you can’t see the moon and sun at the same time.

The point is that God is saying I cant see you and your sin, He treats us as we don’t deserve.

But our sins are not placed at the bottom of the ocean or behind Gods back they are all stapled to the body of his Son
who took our blame, they were left at the cross never ever to be brought up against us again.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. ~1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)

But of course, this is only for those who FEAR GOD, three times we are told it’s for those who fear God, specifically, who put their trust in God’s Son. Do you joyfully praise God for his forgiveness or are you like Trump? When asked if he had ever sought God’s forgiveness and he replied, “I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness. I don’t bring God into that picture.”

Days later when asked to clarify if, “asking for forgiveness” is a central tenet in his faith life. Trump answered “I try not to make mistakes where I have to ask forgiveness,” Friends I’ll stay out of politics when politicians stay out of bad theology. You don’t want your kids, let alone your nation, ever to hear that. Remember it’s critical we point our kids to our heavenly Father
because we won’t be around forever and they won’t be around forever.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. ~Psalm 103:13-16 (NIV)

Here today and gone tomorrow. We are not preparing the next generation for our death if we make ourselves the heroes of the story.

I said to my Maddy, who has a sensitive conscience, if by chance I catch COVID from you and die please remember that God my Father numbered my days not you.

Don’t waste your life feeling guilty for God sovereignty.

Finally, as the psalm begins so it ends, but now he wants everything and everyone everywhere to praise our Father for his many benefits.

Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. ~Psalm 103:20-22 (NIV)

It’s a call to you angels who stand in the presence of God day and night, yes even you archangels Gabriel and Michael that includes Cherubim’s and Seraphim. Don’t hold back, give God the praise he deserves. To You who died in Christ and are gathered in heaven around the throne, you believers gathered in homes or around this screen or around the world. What is stopping you!!! Pump up the volume and let your neighbours hear praise coming from out of your mouth and out of your windows

And as for the rest of creation from Mt Everest to Mt Druitt from Buffalos to Bees, let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
You may not be able to sing at church but you can sing at home and in the car. You can praise God in words before the world and before the saints.

Here is one idea: Why not write a Father Day card to God your Father. My son gave me a Fathers day card and the cover said… Best Dad in Sydney …I was hoping for the World. He wrote “I am so thankful to God to have you as my Dad”

How about we all write God a Fathers day card telling him why we love him, then share what you wrote with your friends or family, here is mine.

Heavenly Father, Bless you for you choosing me before the creation of the world and adopting me into your forever family.
Precious Father I praise you for providing me with full forgiveness for all my sins, past present and future.
You have gifted me with your Son who died in my place.
You have gifted me with your Spirit who dwells in my body.
You have gifted me with your forever family where I have found a home.
Praise you for being the Father I never had and I could never have.
Praise you for being a God who is slow to anger and abounding in love.
Praise you for being in absolute control of this universe and my personal world.
Thank you for siding with the oppressed and for hating injustice.
And today I want to thank you so much for loving me through my earthly Dad
In Jesus precious name Amen.

On Monday this week, our family remembered that 2 years ago on the 24th August, our daughter, our little sister, Evie beat the rest of our family to the grave. We want to thank a number of you who messaged and sent flowers. One, in particular, helped us put our grief in context. “As hard as anniversaries are, that Evie hasn’t been with you for 2 years. Take comfort that she’s been with Jesus for 2 years”

24 August 2018 is one of those days that’s just etched in my memory. Teresa & I rushed to Mount Druitt Hospital in the wee hours of the morning. Evie’s breathing had become very faint, our hearts were fearing the worst. Shortly after, with all 5 of us around her bed, we said goodbye as she breathed her last.

Then tears, lots of them from all of us. Hugs, tight hugs, hugs with each other, hugs with Evie. In God’s kindness, we were able to take Evie with us to Bear Cottage, a children’s hospice. We got to spend more time with her saying our goodbyes in such a supportive environment. I still remember the drive there, Evie was in her car seat and apart from the sound of tears and sniffles God would have it that the CD that was playing in the background was a song from our very own MBM album. “Father’s Hands”

For each of the 77 days Evie was alive, we read a Psalm to her and with her. On Day 42 we would have read the Psalm we’re looking at today, verse 3 of this psalm pretty much described those next few days.

My tears have been my food day and night, ~Psalm 42:3 (NIV)

The day after Evie died, I remember from the moment I woke up just bawling my eyes out.

Now maybe it’s because of this pandemic, but is it just me? Or have these Psalms ministered to me, in a fresh way. As it effortlessly puts the full range of human emotions and feelings into words for me. Psalm 42 has connected with me off the back of major grief. But for you, it doesn’t have to be major grief.

  • If you’ve ever felt down in the dumps or felt deep disappointment (which is pretty much every single human being), then Psalm 42 is for you.
  • If you’ve felt as if life’s getting the better of you. If you felt dejected, depressed, whether it’s diagnosed or not, Psalm 42 is for you.
  • If you’ve felt as though God’s distant. If the joy of the Lord is no longer there. If you’ve ever felt dry in your walk with God.
    Then Psalm 42 is for you.

 

Psalm 42 is that go-to Psalm when you’re feeling lonely. When you’re under pressure. This week alone, I’ve heard how Psalm 42 comforts a parent whose adult child has turned their back on God. I’ve heard how Psalm 42 got someone through their battle with cancer. I’ve suggested it to someone picking up the pieces from a toxic relationship. I’ve shared it with someone who’s marriage has gotten stagnant.

Now what we’re going to do today is first look at the situation our writer finds themselves in. Then we’re going to see 3 lessons the Psalmist teaches us. These are super helpful for not just what we’re all going through now. But for all of life.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. ~Psalm 42:1 (NIV)

Picture a deer. What pops into your mind? This is my picture – there they are prancing around, frolicking with not a worry in the world. Now I didn’t know this about deer but they drink constantly, that’s because they’re creatures of instinct, see water, drink water. Well, not this deer, this deer, he’s not just thirsty, he’s beyond thirsty, he’s panting, he’s parched. Notice what he thirsts for.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? ~Psalm 42.2 (NIV)

He wants not water but God. He wants his entire being, his whole person, to taste and to see, to think and to feel, to enjoy and experience… God.

ALL of him wants ALL of God. I’ll say that again. All of him wants ALL of God. And yet, our writer is a long way from that. Three times we see the word “downcast” that’s what’s going on deep down inside of him. Verse 3 gives us more of a window into his situation.

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” ~Psalm 42:3 (NIV)

It’s there again in verse 10

My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” ~Psalm 42:10 (NIV)

Our writer is sick of being on the back foot with his back against the wall. It’s no different to our post-Christian world today, many of us have been ridiculed, by the workmate, at school, on campus, on social media, sometimes by another family member, all because we side with Jesus.

In my experience as a pastor, the number one question I get asked is this and maybe it’s your question too if you’re someone who’s still checking out Jesus: “Where is God when there’s suffering? Why doesn’t God stop COVID? Because if there really is a God who’s powerful, a God who’s loving then he’d put an end to all that. I mean that’s what I’d do if I were God. But you and I, we’re not God, my ways are not his ways. He knows what’s best.

To make matters worse, our writer’s not just feeling spiritually distant he’s physically distant too!

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. ~Psalm 42:4 (NIV)

The psalmist longs for the good old days when he used to enter the temple. From what we know about the writer, he most likely had a key role in temple life, leading the music and singing. Yet, here he is yearning to be back in Jerusalem praising God with others.

Do you notice the similarities with our Psalm here and our current situation? Sure, the writer may not have a pandemic on his hands but still, he’s unable to gather. That’s why, if you’re not meaningfully gathering with your church family, maybe now’s the time to do that. Why not have someone over? Why not reach out and call someone?

It’s been beautiful to see some of you out there in Youtube land, back in the flesh again! One person, when they came for a live service recently got emotional. They didn’t realise just how much they missed seeing brothers and sisters. How much being here felt like home.

Now, of course, you may not be up for meeting in person either with your small group or here at church. But can I say, if you ARE in a position to do so, I beg you, don’t let excuses get in the way. Yes, I know a good number of you are doing the Christian thing and allowing others who need or want to gather go first. I admire that, but the rest of your church family want to see you too! Here’s a suggestion – why not book in every second or third week? And yes, there’ll be a re-adjustment. There’ll be new habits to form, rather than just rolling out of bed and flicking on the TV, you’ll need to get changed and drive the 10, 20, 30 minutes, but boy is it worth it.

There are really good reasons NOT to come back. I remember when I was starting out as a Christian it would often get to Sunday night where I didn’t FEEL like going to church, a finale of a TV show was on, I needed to finish off that assignment or a family dinner. But I tell you what, the times I was there I remember walking back to the car thinking: “So glad I was at church tonight” Whether it was because I was ministered to by a song, whether it was an encouraging conversation or whether it was being able to Amen to a prayer that was prayed.

Our writer’s not done yet, he’s not going to let his feelings or his emotions get the better of him, no way. I love how this guy, we can tell God’s personal for him, calls God “My God, my Saviour, my Rock, my living God” right throughout the Psalm.
That’s why these next three lessons are so, so helpful.

LESSON 1: POUR OUT YOUR SOUL

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: ~Psalm 42:4a (NIV)

Pouring out your soul, that’s like the ancient version of what today we’d call: ‘getting in touch with your feelings’. This was his way of paying attention to what’s going on. Whereas at the start of the Psalm he was dry. Now, he’s drowning.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. ~Psalm 42:7 (NIV)

Picture two waterfalls plunging into a valley with you at the bottom. Can you imagine that roar, the noise would be off the charts. Now picture you out in the ocean being pummelled by wave after wave. I’ve had that feeling before and I nearly drowned. That’s what our writer is feeling here. It’s just relentless, it’s all around him.

…why God have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning?… ~Psalm 42:9 (NIV)

I mean it’s not as if there’s a sin that’s weighing him down. He doesn’t feel the need to come clean. He doesn’t feel burdened by guilt. No heavy conscience. He just feels God’s left him in the dark. If this were you and I, we’d run away from these feelings. Instead, we might be tempted to indulge in a bit of escapism. Maybe raid the pantry, binge some screentime or social media. But not our guy. No – He runs head-on into the issue. Or maybe we’d numb these feelings. Maybe self-medicate by hitting the bottle, watching porn. Not this guy – instead of numbing, he NAMES those feelings.

And look to be honest, in times of spiritual dryness when we feel forgotten by God we can feel like talking to anyone BUT God. But not this guy. Talk about putting it ALL out on the table. Our writer is not afraid one bit to take those real questions, those real hurts and to present them to God who’s REAL to him.

2. TALK TO YOURSELF

Not only does our writer talk to God, the second thing he does is this: he talks to himself.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? ~Psalm 42:5 (NIV)

Why so disturbed within me? ~Psalm 42:11 (NIV)

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who wrote a book called Spiritual Depression, explains this idea of self-talk better than I can:

The first thing we have to learn is what the Psalmist learned — we must learn to take ourselves in hand. …He is talking to himself, he is addressing himself….  [In] spiritual depression… we allow our self to talk to us… instead of talking to our self.
Listen to what he says next: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

Wow! What a profound statement.

Lloyd Jones goes on to say: [The Psalmist has realised his] soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: “Self, listen for a moment.”

There’s been plenty of talk about self-care during this pandemic, about exercise, eating well, managing screentime, giving yourself permission to feel all the feels. Well, I want to say that self-talk is a key part of self-care! See when we listen to our heart, that’s when the anxiety sky-rockets. “Oh no, what if this happens. This might happen. You better not do that.”

We end up being controlled by lies. “Dan – What will people think of you if you preach a dud sermon. Dan – you can’t do that task, you failed the last time you tried it”

But when we talk to our self like the Psalmist does here. When I reflect on who God is and what he’s done. When I say to myself: This is the sort of God I’m dealing with here. A God who’s slow to anger. A God who is all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful.

As I speak back to myself about what God’s done in the past. He’s a faithful God who’s kept every single one of his promises. He’s never let me down. He’s only inclination is to do good to me. He’s chosen me before the beginning of time.

This idea of self-talk – it’s the key to unlocking the whole Psalm!

Over the last two years, a good portion of my self-talk has revolved around the fact that God is good even though I might not feel it, even though I might not see it. Plenty of us have, or will face times where we’ll question God’s goodness, where we’ll doubt God’s goodness, but it doesn’t mean that God is NOT good.

As a dad, I’ve been doing self-talk about God’s goodness with my kids too with the help of a book called THE MOON IS ALWAYS ROUND. Together, we’ve been reading it a lot this week so I thought I might read a bit of it to you too. Just like the moon is always round, God indeed is good.

3: RE-DIRECT YOUR HOPE

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5b (NIV)

Our writer has had a lightbulb moment. One minute he asks “Soul – why are you downcast?” In the next sentence. “Put your hope in God” In the same verse, he’s answered his own question. His hope was in the wrong object, the wrong person. It was in something OTHER than God, something SMALLER than God.

It’s as if he’s realised that in the process of talking to himself, he says: “Hang on a sec, the only thing that’ll satisfy my soul is God himself! Notice how it’s personal for him. He calls God MY saviour, MY God. For this is the God who’s been with him through thick and thin.

By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. ~Psalm 42:8 (NIV)

Through morning, noon and night, 24/7, round the clock, day in day out. Like the sun shining on his back, he feels the Lord’s love is with him every step he takes. God’s never failed him, no wonder he can talk to the God of HIS life.

Is it just me, or has the word “hope” been thrown around plenty of times in this pandemic. Hope for a vaccine. Hope for the depression, the anxiety, the loneliness, the social distancing, the fear will come to an end. Hope we’ll be able to travel again.
Hope we still have jobs. I even came across this headline in the newspaper this week. It was in relation to those finishing school this year. It read: “Give students hope amid coronavirus mental health crisis, experts urge”

Well, the writer of our Psalm would say this in response. Hope isn’t an object you just dish out. No, Hope is someone you turn to. And in this case, notice who the Psalmist places his hope in:

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. ~Psalm 42:2 (NIV)

He has a living hope because he has a living God. This is a hope that is more than wishful thinking its a hope that will be there post-COVID and on and on into eternity!

Now of course, we can only re-direct our hope because Jesus himself walked in the same shoes of our writer. Think about it. Jesus himself said similar words when troubled by anxious thoughts when having a downcast spirit.

The night before Jesus was nailed to that cross, Jesus says:

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. ~Matthew 26:38 (NIV)

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. ~John 12:27 (NIV)

Now THAT is self-talk.

  • Just as the Psalmist cries out “God why have you forgotten me”. Jesus cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
  • Just as the Psalmist hears the taunts of his enemies, Jesus heard the mocking of his scoffers.
  • Just as the Psalmist’s bones suffer mortal agony, Jesus has nails driven through his hands and his feet.

If anyone felt abandoned, forgotten, crushed or downcast, in the Lord Jesus, surely we have one who has tasted it on our behalf.

Jesus has walked in our pain. He has felt the feelings and emotions we have gone through.

I love the way Hebrews puts it better than I can. It’s a version of redirecting our hope in the midst of deep darkness is this:

For the joy set before him what did Jesus do? He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. ~Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)

Now that’s what it means to put your hope in God. Fix our eyes on Jesus who willingly got up on that cross. Who fully and finally paid the price and is now sitting down at God’s right hand. That’s what gives us every reason to NOT grow weary and to not lose heart.

This past week, someone suggested that I go away and spend some time, just me and Psalm 42. Initially, I thought, that’ll take 10 minutes tops, I’ll run of out things to do. But how wrong was I, I had to stop after 2 hours but could have easily gone for more! I didn’t intend on doing this, but one of the things I ended up doing was to re-write Psalm 42 in my own words. I effectively poured out my soul as I made this Psalm my own.

Let me share some of what I wrote:
“Like one thirsty deer aching for a tonne of water
Same too with my entire being.
I, Dan – every part of me, wants you, every part of you God.
My entire being is thirsty for God. The God who’s alive.
God – when can we see each other? When can we do business God?
I’m living on a diet of tears around the clock.
Meanwhile people all day long are having a go at me saying: Dan – so much for this God you’ve been telling me about? He seems pretty powerless.
As I’m doing this detox of my soul, here’s some things I remember:
The good ol’ days of meeting in the church building.
Where I could gather with brothers and sisters.
With plenty of singing. Plenty of people. Plenty of testimonies about your goodness.
Now that was a spiritual high!
But why Dan? Why do I feel down in the dumps? What’s troubling me?
God is object and source of my delight. Of goodness.
For yes – I will tell God how good he is. And how he continues to be to me.
You God are my rescuer. My God”

Let me encourage you to find time this coming week to pour out your to a God who is more than ready to listen. To talk the truths of the gospel to yourself and to not grow weary or lose heart as you redirect your hope towards the risen, the resurrected, the ruling and the returning Jesus.

When I was a Personal trainer, people would often say to me, “Let me get fit first, then I’ll come and see you for a few sessions.” and I used to say, “But that’s my job. To get you fit, you’ll never be fit enough to see me, because my job is to take you from where you’re at, and get you fit and fitter”

It was backwards thinking and we can often think the same way about God. “Let me get good enough myself and then I’ll bring myself to you.” The problem is, we can never be good enough for God–that’s his job–to make us good. He takes us from where we’re at and transforms us from there.

We often get it the wrong way round, thinking we’ll sort our lives out first. But it’s impossible, David’s thinking in a very similar way in this Psalm, when he asks…

LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? ~Psalm 15:1 (NIV)

God’s sacred tent and His Holy mountain refer to the place God decided to dwell among his people – in David’s day it was a large tent, in Jerusalem, soon to become a massive temple built by his son, Solomon.

There were a few rooms in the tent and only the High Priest could enter the inside room where the presence of God was and only after offering a bunch of sacrifices.

God’s people would come year after year, offering sacrifices and gifts, being reminded of their inability to stand in God’s presence, because of their sin. David’s essentially asking — who gets to see you – what does it take to go in that room where you are – and stay with you?

When Jesus was speaking with his disciples one day about who he is, he was telling them that he’s going away to His father, and he’s going to prepare a place for them in God’s house, a special room for them, and then he said “you know how to get there” and Thomas, in classic doubting Thomas style said:

“Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. ~John 14:5-6 (NIV)

Jesus is God’s way in, His death and resurrection is the only way we get access to God’s heavenly home. He is the perfect sacrifice for our sin, he is the door into God’s house.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. ~Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV)

By faith in him – He takes us in and allows us to stay and stand. Too many Christians stop there, they put faith in Jesus, and then think that’s it, I’ve arrived, but it doesn’t stop there, that’s only the beginning!

It’s true, God does accept us as we are, whatever we’ve done, however we come, he accepts us and because of Jesus he forgives us BUT just like a personal trainer — He refuses to leave us there… He loves us too much to leave us there — he wants to transform us to be just like Jesus, that’s the great privilege and joy of being Christian. Learning to have a heart like God for others. We must never think we’ve arrived at the end of our Christian life until we’re actually in the presence of God. Until that day, as the Apostle Peter put it:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. ~2 Peter 1:10-11 (NIV)

So, what does it look like to share the heart of God for others? David spells it out in these next 4 verses. They’re packed full of goodness.

It looks like.

1. Being holy because God is holy.

The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, ~Psalm 15:2a (NIV)

Blameless here doesn’t mean sinless, it can’t mean sinless, otherwise, Jesus would have died for nothing. No, it’s someone who’s done all that’s required before God. It’s the idea of being complete, dotting the “I’s” and crossing the “T’s” and filling in all the cracks.

Being blameless is having NO inconsistencies between your faith and your practice. Having nothing that God or others could hold against you. That doesn’t mean never doing anything wrong, but always seeking to do right. And, when you’ve done wrong, acknowledging it, confessing it, bringing it to God and seeking to change according to his word. Continual cycle…

I wonder if I asked everyone you know and come into contact with this week, to give an account of your life – If we downloaded a report from your mobile phone and computer and kept a recording of everything you said this week, if we had a full report of every aspect of your life, what it would reveal about you? How consistent or inconsistent would it be with your faith? Now, of course, we’re all a work in progress, and some areas are always going to be stronger than others, but the question is – how seriously are we taking those inconsistent areas… God tells us – Be blameless – because I am blameless.

Secondly – Having a heart like God means,

2. Speaking like God speaks

who speaks the truth from their heart; ~Psalm 15:2b (NIV)

This isn’t talking about that brutally honest person, you know the one, if there’s something that needs saying, you don’t have to ask them. That’s often me.

No, this is truth spoken with love. It’s the person who doesn’t just know the truth here in their head, just able to repeat it, but they’ve let the truth sink deep down into their heart. So, you know when they speak, they’re sharing themselves with you…

Jesus says

out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. ~Matt 12:34b (NIV)

Our words reveal our heart. Now it must be said, in James 3 he tells us – no human being can fully tame the tongue – he says – if anyone is able to control their tongue – they’re a perfect person. But we know that’s not us… And Jeremiah gives us the reason in 17:9-10 – The human heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure – who can understand it.

Our hearts are stained and our words are affected but thanks be to God, he’s working on that heart. So this is the person who speaks truth from a heart seeking to be consistent with God’s character. The person who’s been meditating on God’s heart from his word and values those words like the writer of Psalm 19 who says – they are more precious than gold, they are sweeter than honey.

Right speech comes from a right heart, so keep praying as you get to the word, that God would help those words sink deep down into your heart, not just stop at your head.

whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbour, and casts no slur on others; ~Psalm 15:3 (NIV)

Finish this phrase – “Sticks and stones will break my bones…” “but words will never hurt me.” Nice idea, but words are powerful, aren’t they? Words are so strange, they’re just vibrations spoken into the air, but they have the power to sever a marriage, to rule a country, to start a war, to mend a broken heart, to save a life. Words are fundamental to all relationships, especially God’s with us.

God is a speaking God. He shares himself with us by His word, that word eventually showed up in Jesus Christ who demonstrated what real love for others is and then left us his words that we might continue showing his love to others.

A wise friend of mine recently said: “Jesus is the reason for all words”. Words exist for his sake and it’s so true! The word himself gave us, words that we would use for His glory.

A person whose tongue utters no slander, does no wrong to a neighbour and casts no slur on others, is someone who seeks to honour and protect the value and dignity of others in the way they talk to them and about them. It’s really the opposite of gossip and flattery. What’s the goal of gossip? – self-serving – and flattery is always about me before it’s about others..

I’ve realised recently I’ve got a tendency to complain about others and point out their faults. Sally’s been trying to get me to see it for years but I’ve only just come to realise. For years I’ve justified it as “venting” or “clarifying information” but in the end, my heart doesn’t naturally honour others. I was even pulled up on it twice in the last few weeks, by 2 different people. I’ll share one example –

Our youth pastor, Rehan was catching up with someone I’d met before and he remembered me and shared in front of Rehan how we connected at an event. When Rehan came back after the meeting I said to Rehan “he’s a funny character hey…” I shared with Rehan that I didn’t think we connected but I chatted to him because I felt we had a disconnection… but after I said that Rehan asked me “Oh did I need to know that…?” And as I searched my heart I had no response, but that I for some reason sought to dishonour him, and honour myself. Rehan’s comment was so helpful and has stayed with me since then and helped me reflect on how I speak about people when I’m not with them.

I wonder, how do you go with honouring others with your words? If words are a big challenge for you then read the book of proverbs, every time I do, I get to the end and say to myself, I think I want to speak less…

Thirdly, having a heart like God’s is

Viewing people the way God views them

who despises a vile person but honours those who fear the LORD; ~Psalm 15:4a (NIV)

This one jars doesn’t it?! The Psalms are often talking about hating God’s enemies and loving those who love him but in the New Testament, the gospel and love is offered to all. Here are we hating the vile person, or hating the actions of the person that we wouldn’t align ourselves with.

Now, If we despised all vile people, we wouldn’t share the gospel with anyone. Sometimes I think we like to tell God who he hates, based on what we think about what they’ve done. If God’s will seems to line up with yours too often, you’ve got to ask some questions.

Ultimately God’s enemies are all those who reject him to the end to the last day, never repenting, but until then we don’t know who those enemies are, that person WE think is vile may hear the gospel and repent just like we did, who were his enemies.

But there’s a special word here to those inside the church who claim to be Christian but are living in sin in a way that is vile before God. The apostle Paul tells us to have nothing to do with the person who’s claiming Jesus’ name and living in unrepentant sin. Not the one struggling with it, the one who’s given up struggling and are now justifying it as ok. Paul says don’t even eat with that person, but again that’s not the final situation. We’re to break fellowship with those people so that they would see how much that life of sin isn’t worth it and how much they need God! It’s always with the goal of restoring the person.

I’m continually asking God to break my heart for what breaks his, and to teach me to love what he loves, but Honour those who fear the Lord

Let me tell you about a couple of guys I think are worthy of honour. A close friend of mine, Richie, topped his year at university and was offered a high paying role in a software development company. He turned down that role and kept his part-time job at JB-HI-FI so that he could keep giving his quality time to his church and serving on Christian youth camps. He’s been doing that for almost 10 years now. He’s a model of servant-hearted-ness.

Another guy from our Church named Nick. Nick just spent 4 weeks of his long service leave in our church offices helping out with some of our online training. Nick could have been skiing the slopes of Perisher, but chose to serve our church with his break. He even put on a BBQ for the staff team on his last day with us. Thanks Nick!

4. Faithfulness to our word

who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; ~Psalm 15:4b (NIV)

They say the measure of a person is their commitment to their word. Reflecting on the power of our words, if others can’t trust our word, what else do we have?

Our God is all-powerful, but there are some things he can’t do, He can’t do evil, because he is only good, He can’t be false/he can’t lie because he is the truth and he can’t break a promise he’s made! He is bound to his word. His word reflects himself and he is 100% faithful. If he says something – he does it!

“He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” ~1 Samuel 15:29 (NIV)

We on the other hand, often only keep our word as far as it benefits us, if things look like I’m going to lose out I’ll work out a way to get out of it. Did you know that 1 in 3 marriages in Australia ends in divorce? That’s 1/3 of all marriages, that’s 1/3 of people who vowed for better or worse, I will commit to you forever have a broken promise.

Sally and I have more than once acknowledged that if it wasn’t for God, and our commitment to him, we’d probably be divorced by now. We’re committed to our word to one another, because we’re committed to being like God in his faithfulness to His word. He’s the one keeping us committed! That doesn’t mean it’s an easy ride, but being a Christian means no matter the cost, no matter how hard reconciling is, and however long it takes, our oath to one another isn’t up for change.

But this doesn’t just apply to oaths and vows, Jesus tells us we don’t need to make promises to be consistent with our words. He challenges us to make our yes a yes and our no a no.

A friend of mine was recently challenged when he told his workmate he was going to do something, his workmate said, ‘is this another one of those things you just say you’re going to do but don’t do it?’ That was a window into his life.

Hear the Apostle John’s encouragement this is how we know what love is, Jesus Christ said he loved us… NO… He laid down his life for us, then he says – dear children let us not love with words and speech, but with actions and in truth! Imagine if Jesus showed up and said he was going to save the world and never did.

We have an opportunity to represent Jesus’ faithfulness to His word as we hold ours to others. When we say we’ll do something let’s do it.

5. Having a generous heart like God

who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. ~Psalm 15:5a (NIV)

This is about not taking advantage of those who can’t defend or protect themselves. Instead, just like God did with us, we show generosity to those in need, without expecting to make something out of it.

You might not know but we have a big freezer at church full of frozen meals that generous people have prepared and donated for those among us who are in need. Could you use that? Could you prepare a meal? Get in touch.

But this also extends further into our workplaces, the other day a Christian friend of mine was telling me about a deal his work was making with a company who went bankrupt and needed to sell off everything they had and his company seemed to be benefitting a little too much, it all seemed a little dodgy, so he asked, “Is this wrong what we’re doing?” and his work colleague said ‘it’s not illegal, it’s just not ethical.’

As a Christian, I’m not sure we would hold a difference. Do you know how your business affects others? Maybe you could ask some questions this week.

After spelling all that out David concludes with this reality:

Whoever does these things will never be shaken. ~Psalm 15:5b (NIV)

They’ll never fall off the mountain, or out of the tent. This is the hope we have, it’s firm and secure, an anchor for our soul.

Now, remember none of these things on their own secure us a place before God. It’s only by faith in Jesus that we are secured a place in God’s presence. But the one who understands they’ve been given the privilege of living like Jesus will seek to do these things in unending measure.

As the writer of Hebrews says

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be Shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. ~Hebrews 12:28 (NIV)

The truth is God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way, he wants to make you just like Jesus – Just like himself. What a privilege!

Let’s pray reflecting David’s prayer

May the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. ~Psalm 19 (NIV)

The famous English writer, Marghanita Laski, was no friend of Christianity, but before she died in 1988 she said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness. I have nobody to forgive me.” I guess she never fell for the modern therapeutic gospel which is you have to learn to forgive yourself.

The religion of psychology tells us that the one person whose forgiveness you need is not God and not others but you. What most people say, including Christians, is that what I think of me is the most important opinion. But it didn’t satisfy Laski who said “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness. I have nobody to forgive me.”

We know forgiving yourself has limited value because the rise of psychology has not brought about the rise of happiness.

1. The search for true happiness is being completely forgiven by God.

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. ~Psalm 32:1-2 (NIV)

David knew firsthand the need for forgiveness, he had committed adultery with his bodyguard’s wife and then murdered his bodyguard. True happiness was found in being offered a fresh start and a clean slate.

There are 4 different words for what needs forgiveness

  • The word sin itself describes falling short of Gods expectation to love him and others
  • The word Iniquity speaks of our twisted nature, turned in on itself like a knot that you can’t undo.
  • The word transgressions speaks of crossing a line you know is there

David managed to break 4 commandments in a short time.

  • He covets his neighbours wife
  • He steals his neighbour wife
  • He has sex with his neighbours wife
  • Then He kills his neighbour

He could not undo what he had done. He knew that every sin was written in God’s ledger awaiting judgment. David knew that being blessed was not about having a big palace and a 1000 chariots. True happiness is found in having the sin of adultery covered over, in having the sin of murder cancelled.

The 4th word is deceit. Until he confessed he was living a lie. To come clean to God is to become clean before God. By confession, we mean to side with God and agree that what we did was wrong. By forgiveness, we mean God will not count your sins against you.

Without a relationship with Christ, your sins will be counted, just like the odometer on your car counting every kilometre you drive. So, every sin you commit is being recorded and forgiveness means your sin not will be used as evidence against you on the judgment day. That is forgiveness and it is a beautiful gift from God.

A thousand “I’m sorrys” can’t fix the problem. Confession without the cross is empty. Someone has to pay. Happiness is knowing that sins confessed are sins forgiven only because those sins were paid for by Christ at the cross. This is where true joy is found.

We hate it when others keep bringing up our failures

  • “You always…” .
  • Or when people love to say, “I forgive you but I will never forget” with a tone that doesn’t sound like we are forgiven.

When God forgives he will not use our sins against us.

  • Others may judge us
  • Our conscience may convict us
  • Satan may rub our noses in those sins

However, God’s awesome promise is ” I will remember your sin no more.” This is where happiness is found. If you know the joy of being forgiven then you should know the joy of forgiving others. For Love “keeps no record of wrongs.” Why? Because that is exactly what Jesus did for you.

Happiness is knowing you are completely forgiven by God. Laski was so right when she said “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness.”

2. Unconfessed sins lead to profound unhappiness.

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. ~Psalm 32:3-4 (NIV)

This is David’s story: For a whole year, he covered up the sin of adultery and murder
For a whole year, Bathsheba knew part of it and General Joab knew the other part. Only David and God knew all of it and he wasn’t talking to God about it.

David reflects on the experience of unconfessed sin. It damaged him physically, psychologically, and spiritually

  • Physically it cut deep into his bones, and drained his energy.
  • Psychologically he groaned day and night. It never left him.
  • Spiritually the Lord’s hand was heavy upon him. This was the loving and painful discipline of the Lord.

David was silent to God and so had silenced God he was in his own personal hell. If you don’t hand your sins to Christ then guess who has to carry them? YOU!

“He (Christ) himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, ~1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)

Either Christ carries your sins in his body on that cross or you have to carry those sins in your body every day. And you can’t, no wonder you’re so exhausted. Over the years, I’ve spoken to men and women who have carried the guilt and shame of unconfessed sin.

When asked why they said

  • I was too proud to admit it to God.
  • I was too ashamed to talk to anyone
  • I was too afraid to confess
  • I was too guilty to acknowledge it

They say Western culture focuses on Guilt and Innocence. African culture focuses on Fear and Power. Asian culture focuses on Shame and Honour. All are true for every culture, but the cross means: Guilt, Fear and Shame are all gone.

The alternative to confession is

  • Blame
  • Denial
  • Pretend to God, to others and oneself
  • Living a life of distraction – from work to pleasure
  • Self-medicating
  • Living a compartmentalized life.

The result is that it eats into our soul. We become

  • Exhausted
  • Ashamed
  • Tired
  • Afraid
  • Anxious
  • Depressed
  • And Guilt that drives some to self-harm

This week at MBM we almost had a suicide, were it not for that dear brother finally confessing a decade long lie. Let’s hear from that dear brother.

“The weight of sin, which involved lies and deceit to my family over a decade to cover my destructive addiction simply got too much to carry any longer, gradually eating away at me from the inside out.

I knew it would eventually be all laid bare and the scale of destruction and sheer hurt it would cause to my relationships with my wife and children.

I’d reached what I thought was rock bottom but sunk even
lower to the extent I’d planned on more than one occasion in specific detail how I was going to end my life to avoid the shame and disgrace of my actions. I was totally weighed by down by guilt.

This was precisely the outcome Satan seeks for sinners who succumb to temptation but I couldn’t grasp that in those moments.

In desperation and complete and utter despair I reached out to ask for help in a totally distressed state. We talked, then met on several occasions and together we asked Jesus for forgiveness as the hopeless sinner I had become. If not for that intervention I would not be writing these words today.

While I am in early days of recovery and I have significant work to do to repair the untold hurt I caused to the loved ones around me I have Jesus to thank for his all powerful and enduring love that carried me through and for the ultimate sacrifice he paid for me. Nothing I can do will ever repay that. I now count every day as a blessing and praise God and his almighty powerful son Jesus for saving my life.”

Satan wants you to think you are unforgivable and that death is the only way out. Don’t llisten to him, he is a liar and he does not want you to be free or happy.

Did you hear the sadness in Laski quote? “I have nobody to forgive me.” M Laski. But we do friends.

3. The search for happiness begins with confessed sin

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. ~Psalm 32:5 (NIV)

From cover up to confession to cries of joy. Oh, the relief of naming our sin before God and others. David says “When I acknowledged my sin to you Lord, the pretending stopped, the sin is forgiven, the guilt is removed and God’s hand is lifted.

Here is the Paradox. When you try to cover your sin it remains exposed before the Lord. But when you uncover your sin to God, He then covers it by his Blood. If you confess your sin, God will conceal it. If you conceal your sin, God will condemn it.

We live in a culture that has found a thousand sophisticated ways to excuse our sin. Every department at University plays their part:

  • Chemistry will say it’s just the dopamine hit in your head
  • Biology will say its in your DNA
  • Psychology blames your parents
  • Economics points to your unemployment
  • Education will say you didn’t know better
  • No ultimate joy is found in these partial truths. The BIBLE IS full of unqualified confessions that satisfies the soul.

 

David says:

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. ~Psalm 51:2 (NIV)

Isaiah says

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! ~Isaiah 6:5 (NIV)

Peter says

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” ~Luke 5:8 (NIV)

The Tax collector says

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ ~Luke 18:13 (NIV)

Have you owned your sin?
What is holding you back?

It can’t be that God won’t forgive you.

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. ~Psalm 32:5b (NIV)

That is a promise! And its why we share the gospel!

4. Forgiven sinners plead with other sinners to confess and be happy

Therefore, let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble ~Psalm 32:6-7 (NIV)

If God is willing to forgive then don’t delay. He pleads with us to talk to Him while he may be found.

  • Today is the day of salvation. Don’t hesitate.
  • Tomorrow is promised to no one.
  • The thing about saying “no” to God is you get very good at it.

Don’t think God is like you. He never tires of hearing you say “I’m so sorry Lord.” He will never throw your confession back in your face.

God sent the prophet Nathan to David to confess his sin. God has sent me to tell you today to confess your sin.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. ~Psalm 32:8-9 (NIV)

In verse 8 God takes over the Psalm and talks directly to each of us. He says, I have my loving eye on you. I have been teaching you the right path. But if you don’t listen to my tender love, you will listen to my tough love.

Don’t be like a stubborn mule or an unbroken horse who need the bit and bridle. One way or the other you’re coming to me. We can do it the hard way or the easy way, either way you’re coming.

Spurgeon once said:

“If one severe trial does not sanctify you, expect another more rigorous.”

In last few years Sandy and I have both seen how God has used the bit and bridle to disciplined us in our pride…What personal feedback, bible reading and sermons didn’t do God did with the bit and bridle of reality. Painful as it was I’m so glad he did. This is where deep joy is found.

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart! ~Psalm 32:10-11 (NIV)

5. Forgiven souls want to rejoice and sing.

Great sinners are great singers. What joy there is in confession and forgiveness. See the pattern, it never changes:

  • Sin brings Sorrow,
  • Confession brings Forgiveness
  • Forgiveness brings Joy.

Is this not how any relationship works?

Conclusion

You may not be a Christian and so this passage is calling you to confess a life lived in rebellion. Let me give you the ABC of becoming a Christian

  • Admit you’re a sinner
  • Believe Jesus paid for your sins at the cross.
  • Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

You may be a Christian and this passage is saying never stop confessing. Stand with God against your sin and claim your blood-bought forgiveness.

You may be a Christian who has backslidden. Like a brother in Christ I spoke to some time ago, he was married but had slipped into a series of anonymous sexual encounters with other men. He was so overwhelmed by his guilt and shame that he too was very close to suicide. He finally came to me to confess, with tears in his eyes I got him to read David’s confession in Psalm 51. You could see the relief in his eyes and the joy in his soul.

Can I suggest confessing to a trusted brother or sister in Christ, Pastor or Christian counsellor? Having someone know your sins and having them announce that you are forgiven in Christ is a powerful thing. The prophet Nathan did just that to David.

And of course, your relief may be the beginning of someone else’s grief who you have sinned against.

  • Let them grieve.
  • Let them be angry with you.
  • Don’t demand they forgive you because God has
  • And don’t let their reaction deny your comfort that God has washed away all your sin.

What is stopping you? Laski thought she had no one to forgive her but you do friends.

It’s a psalm read at funerals and it will probably be read on your death bed. It speaks of the personal, powerful and protective hand of God. But it’s not a Psalm for the dead but for the living!

It speaks of the journey of life, the God of Israel, who watches over his people as a shepherd, not just in the good times but in the bad. Its wreaks of assurance and confidence because he the good shepherd is my shepherd.

1. I trust that my Shepherd provides all that I need.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. ~Psalm 23:1 (NIV)

This is a very personal psalm, it’s not a ‘we’ psalm but a ‘me’ psalm. He is My shepherd. This God doesn’t just watch every corner of the universe nor does he just watch over his nation, he watches over my life and yours. A Reminder that Christianity is not just a religion but a personal relationship with God.

King David makes the God of his people, the Shepherd of his Soul. So what does he promise?

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. ~Psalm 23:1 (NIV)

This is not a call to deny your desires, like Buddhism, nor is he saying everything you want you get like a prosperity preacher. The logic is: The Lord is my shepherd and because of that I lack nothing, or as one child said ‘the Lord is my Shepherd I’ve got all I want.’

We know Jesus is God for a number of reasons

  • He talks like God
  • He acts like God
  • He accepts worship as God
  • He takes the titles of God and applies them to himself

Twice Jesus says in John 10, I am the good shepherd. The act of saying this psalm and meaning it is itself an act of faith. I’m telling God and I’m telling others and I’m telling myself He is my everything. I have many desires but my deepest desires are fulfilled in him and his dear son. The good Shepherd provides for all that I need.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. ~Psalm 23:2-3 (NIV)

For a sheep this is heaven on a stick; green pastures to satisfy the hunger and, quiet waters to quench thirst. He is the source of life. It’s why Jesus said…“I have come that you may have life and have it to the full”

Do you know sheep find it hard to lay down if they are hungry or sick or afraid or stressed then they will not lie down? This good shepherd has taken care of all that that is why He refreshes my soul. Jesus is that Good Shepherd who provides all that I need. 

To appreciate Psalm 23 let consider the opposite. David Powlison wrote Antipsalm 23

I’m on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need.
Nothing’s quite right.
I’m always restless.
I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It’s a jungle—I feel overwhelmed.
It’s a desert—I’m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck.
I can’t fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.

This is life without a Shepherd. Its not a compliment to be likened to a sheep, they are dumb animals, but oh do they trust their shepherd who knows them.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me ~John 10:14 (NIV)

Sheep stations in Australia can carry 80,000 sheep. But in the Middle East, you may have 10-20 sheep and each one is known by name. The Shepherd is the source of life.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. ~John 10:27-28 (NIV)

There is an unquestioning trust in the Shepherds voice.

Elisabeth Elliot has told the story of a toddler who was very ill but had learned to recite Psalm 23 on her fingers. Starting with her pinkie she would grab a finger as she said each word of The Lord is my Shepherd. As she said the word shepherd she would clasp her thumb in recognition of the care that God has for her. One morning after a long and hard fight against her disease, the little girl was found dead with one hand clasped around the other thumb. The lord is her shepherd, He has made her to lie down in green pastures. He has led her to quiet waters. Surely she will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

That voice takes them down the right roads

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. ~Psalm 23:3 (NIV)

The Good Shepherd guides us down the right paths, down the narrow road where few go but life is found. He leads us away from broad roads where many are on but ends in destruction.

Why does he do it? He does it for his name’s sake. All he does is for His glory.

Friend, it’s clear from this Psalm that you matter to God the Shepherd of your soul, but it’s not about you. We do good to make the good Shepherd look good. We trust our Shepherd when the grass is green and when the valley is dark.

2. I trust my Shepherd to provide full protection.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. ~Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

To get to water and green pastures you sometimes walk through dangerous territory. You walk in the valley of the shadow of death where the predators prowl and the enemy stalks. There is good reason to be afraid but David says I will fear no evil. 

We all live in the land of the shadow of death, He promises to protect us. He comes not only with a staff to guide the sheep but a rod to thump the enemies. We know that David took on the bears and lions who attacked his sheep. As a shepherd, he risked his life for his sheep, as a sheep he knew what God did for him again and again. The Lord is my Shepherd, I will fear no evil.

I took my grandkids to the zoo and we were at the Tiger enclosure. We could barely see the awesome animal and then it walked right round the enclosure till it stopped and stared straight at my 20 month old grandson. With only 30 cms separating them, he let out this amazing roar and it should have been terrifying, were it not for the protective glass. Jesus is the good shepherd who promises to be with us and protect us.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. ~John 10:27-28 (NIV)

Notice, David goes from talking about God to talking to God. He leads me, He restores my soul, He guides…becomes in verse 4, for you are with me, your rod and your staff will comfort me. What we learn friends, is talking about God must become talking to God. Get into the habit of interrupting your talk about God to talking with him.

When does David talk to God? At the point when he walks in the darkest valley, when enemies surround.

3. I trust my Shephard who has the power to save

In verse 5 and verse 6 the image changes. This shepherd king now becomes our host.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. ~Psalm 23:5 (NIV)

You don’t eat a banquet when the enemy is about to eat you up. Picture marauding hordes of Philistines, alla Lord of the Rings. These are about to attack David and his men, the prophet Nathan whisper in David’s ear that God has promised victory. So, David decides to sit down to a banquet with his enemies on the horizon. He is taking his time eating his lamb Kebabs and Tabouli, he then pours himself a fine Israeli red wine and now General Joab is getting nervous “David shouldn’t we get ready for the battle.” Yes, yes Joab but hang on I haven’t tried the Baklava, I love the baklava! He will fear no evil why? Because if ‘God is for us who can be against us’ The victory belongs to God.

Dr. Zahiruddin, a Medical doctor, was abducted by the Taliban in Pakistan 8th Dec 2007. He was chained up in a rat-infested, dark cold room, threatened with beatings and then beheading if he did not convert to Islam. He prayed and fasted each day to his good shepherd to save him. He was eventually released after 25 days. On the last day the Taliban put on a farewell meal for him and as he sat to eat the meal in front of the Taliban he thought of this verse, You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

What was Jesus doing the night before he was betrayed, beaten and brutalised on the cross? He sat and ate the Last supper, eating with his friends in the face of enemies, with the enemy of death he was about to defeat, with the enemy of sin that he would pay for, with enemy of Satan he was about to disarm. 

It’s because of Christ’s victory over the enemies that we read this Psalm to people on their death bed. Confidence in the face of our death; I will fear no evil.

It’s a privilege to come close to a person breathing their last, to lean in and whisper ‘Jesus your good Shepherd says to you. “Today you will be with me in paradise”’ Unlike the atheist doctor whom my friend visited, so afraid to die, he couldn’t let his wife leave the room.

… You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. ~Psalm 23:5b (NIV)

It could mean the anointing of the messiah, but I think it’s the custom of refreshment. God refreshes our souls, that is why our cup is neither half empty nor half full, its not even full. My cup overflows…with the Holy Spirit who has poured out the love of the Good Shepherd into our hearts.

This is not a psalm just for the dying it’s for the living, It’s not for the end of life but for the whole of life…

4. I trust my Shepherd will never stop pursuing me with his love

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. ~Psalm 23:6 (NIV)

Are you feeling like someone is watching? You should!  Literally it reads

Surely your goodness and love will (pursue) me all the days of my life ~Psalm 23:6 

Here is God’s unrelenting love. A love that hunts down its victims. You are being stalked by God’s love. Seeking ultimate intimacy- anywhere else leaves you empty.

Antipsalm 23

I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me—except me.
And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
In contrast this Psalm brims with confidence

The certainty of statements like

  • I lack nothing
  • I will fear no evil
  • I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

5. I trust the Shepherd’s promise of his presence now and forever

The house of the Lord is code for the presence of God. So God has been with him from green pasture to dark valley, from banquet to battles. He is confident in the presence of his enemies. He is confident that he will be in the presence of his God forever. God is not a means to an end it is the end for David.

Assurance

The privilege of being in Christ is the privilege of being safe in the arms of God. He will not abandon you.

  • Your spouse may dump you
  • Your friends may betray you
  • Your children may reject you
  • Your boss may sack you
  • Your health may leave you

But the promise for those who follow Jesus is this, I will never forsake you. Jesus last words are ‘I will be with you always to the end of the age.’ 

You’re not alone even in the darkest valley. How long Lord will I feel this way? I feel nothing, not joy or sorrow – nothing.

I was meeting with someone from church who was doing it tough and I suggested they write a psalm to God about what they are experiencing. Here is what they wrote:

I am tired, I am always tired.
How can I feel completely overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time?
I am engulfed by my own thoughts.
Ohhh guilt. I do feel guilt. Guilt because I know you’re my
Father, I know that you are good.
I know that you love me dearly, much much more than I deserve.
I know that you are reaching your arm down to help me out of this pit but I can ‘t bring my arm up to meet yours.
I can’t be bothered. Who even says that?
I can’t be bothered to get the help from the creator of the world, my one true love.

I am my own worst enemy.
I am weary and burdened and feel no rest.
I read the beautiful words you write to me.
I know them and trust them.
They just go in one ear and out the other.
Lord, please clear my head to allow room only for thoughts of you.

I don’t like it here and I want to get out.
You’ve done it before Lord. Please do it again.

George Mueller once said “The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.”

Psalm 1 answers the question, how does one find their soul happy in the Lord? Let’s read Psalm 1 together as Christians have done from the beginning.

We begin a new series in the book of Psalms:

  • It is the most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament and by Jesus.
  • It was the song book of Israel.
  • It is the prayer book of the church.
  • It gives expression to every major emotion and experience a believer has and turns them to prayers
  • It begins as Jesus began his first sermon, Blessed or happy is the person..
  • It ends with a flurry of praise to the Lord. 

The opening verses of Psalm 1 start with “Blessed is the one” “Happy is the one” Not just happy, it’s in the plural, ‘happiness’ is the person who…

The world offers short term pleasure and the word offers lifelong happiness. But this happiness will include praises to God, confession of sin, and lament in our suffering. There are over 60 psalms of lament. There are many types of Psalms. Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm and it answers the question you have been asking all your life. How do I find true and lasting happiness?

Point 1 The happy soul says “No!” to the world’s influence.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, ~Psalm 1:1 (NIV)

The wise one who seeks true happiness has 3 postures. They do not walk, they do not stand with and they do not sit among the wicked, sinner scoffers. There is a descending tragedy. The wise one will not be drawn into ideas and behaviours that silence God or oppose his ways. Happiness puts up a fence, they will not entertain those ideas, they will not engage with those behaviours, they will not embrace those who stand against Christ.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s not like we put our thumbs in our ears and say ‘I’m not listening.’ We are to take every idea prisoner for Christ and run every idea through the lens of the bible.

Those seeking to influence are described in 3 words, Wicked–Sinners–and Scoffers. Those who defy God and have no shame.

A friend of mine, a solid Christian has read a book on how the bible is not against same-sex marriage. It’s written by a person who claims to love Jesus and loves his same-sex partner. My friend has a strong level of empathy and the book is drawing him away from 2000 years of consistent bible teaching on sexuality, to a view that is been agreed to for 30 years, promoted by the world marked by sinners and scoffers. To be fair he is doing the right thing by asking me to read the book and speak to the issue.

So the question is clear Who is influencing you in your life? Who are you opening yourself up to? Who has your ear? Every day is a battle for ideas and we are called to take every thought prisoner for Christ. Don’t let the world set the agenda for your life and faith a favourite singer, lecturer or influencer, a radio or TV personality, a preferred Podcaster or blogger or a friend or parent.

Come back to the question, Who has your ear? Who do you drop your guard with? Who do you find hard to resist? Who is shaping your values? Which set of ideas has your heart and mind? So often Christians take up an ideology that is fashionable and then dip into the bible to find the verses that justify their ..’ism’ Scienceism, Feminism, Chauvinism, Capitalism. Each has a partial truth but treat it as the whole truth. I know it sounds sophisticated. Don’t be seduced.

Remember when you were young and you did something stupid and Mum said, Who told you to do that?…my friends were doing it and she would say ‘Would you jump off a cliff if they were to do it?’ It was good argument then and it’s a good argument now.

The Christian knows that to worship God and by pleasing him we are to no longer conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of the mind. That is how we worship God and please him.

Someone at youth last term asked me a question: What to do with a friendship that is tempting you to sin. My rule is simple, who is influencing who more? If they influence you more than you can influence them then end the friendship. Nothing is more important than your relationship with Christ. “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

Any time I talk to a person with an addiction sooner or later I get to saying “unless you’re prepared to end a certain friendship that’s influencing you to drink, use drugs, gamble, or sexually sin you won’t stay clean”. I tell them, your future you will thank you for saying no to that toxic friendship. We know the studies, the people you hang with shape your decisions. But unless you fill your minds with the truth you will not resist.

Point 2. The happy soul fills their mind with God’s word

If the happy soul does not walk, stand or sit with sinners then verse 2 is his or hers.

… delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. ~Psalm 1:2 (NIV)

The Happy soul finds their joy in the law of the Lord, the law of the Lord refers to God’s instructions, it can refer to the whole of the Old Testament. Finding delight in Law of the Lord is finding delight in every book of the bible including the Psalms. The person marked by happiness in its many forms finds their joy in Gods word. They meditate on Gods word day and night.

To Meditate is to murmur under your breath, to chew over the Word, to think God’s thoughts after him. Christian mediation is not like Eastern meditation it’s not emptying the mind, it’s filling the mind with God’s word. The word for ‘mediate’ is an active word, it’s the same word in Psalm 2 when the nations conspire against the Lord’s Messiah. You’re either conspiring against Christ or for Christ. Happiness is found in learning, loving, and living the word of God, because in that word we don’t find a better version of you and we find the promise of the Messiah as in Psalm 2. Psalm 2 ends as Psalm 1 begins. On the theme of happiness

Kiss the son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all those who take refuge in him. ~Psalm 2:12 (NIV)

Kiss the son or kiss heaven goodbye. Happiness is found in our relationship with the Lord Jesus who we meet in his Word. That is why Happiness is found in meditating day and night. God has so much to say to you and he has said it in his written word.

“Complaining that God is silent when your Bible is closed is like complaining about not getting texts when your phone is turned off.” When we open the Bible, we find more than 750,000 words breathed out by God himself for you. There is a lot to meditate on. Since we are the generation that has never been distracted more and find it hard to concentrate less than switch off the notification on your smartphone. You can’t expect to meditate on the word of God while being reminded every 60 seconds of that text or that great deal. Take charge of your electronic world.

The happy person is one who meditates day and night. Find a time and a place to read slowly and prayerfully. Aim to read through Psalms this year.

I spent a couple of weeks early this year on the biggest psalm. Psalm 119. It is divided into 22 sections which follow the Hebrew alphabet. I found a verse in each section and rewrote it then I carried it with me and sent it to others.

Whether you’re in a Growth Group or not use the study material. Let me encourage you to memorize verses. This term in Growth Groups we are going to spend two weeks on Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd. Our aim to memorize it. Feed off Gods word and you will thrive.

Point 3 The Happy soul will bear fruit.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. ~Psalm 1:3 (NIV)

The wise one is likened to a tree whose roots draw life-giving water, who is fruitful in season and whose leaves stay green. Which means the one who meditates on Gods word doesn’t just survive they thrive.

We have plastic plants in our unit, they always stay green but they are not real. We also have real plants outside and they need to be watered. We chose cactus so that we don’t have to remember all that often. The lavenders are struggling because I’m not consistently watering them. They remind me of me when I starve myself of Gods word.

Did you see the summary? For the person who sinks deep into the word of God, whatever they do prospers. So, yes, there is a prosperity gospel in the bible, of course, there is. If prosperity is furthering God purposes. If prosperity is bearing fruit to the glory of God, bring it on. If prosperity is persevering in suffering with joy, hallelujah! Not the ugly prosperity gospel that names and claims health and wealth. “Come to Jesus so you can satisfy the selfish desires of your soul. As someone rightly said “Prosperity gospel is like marrying someone for their money”

Just read Psalm 73, the writer envies wicked because everything they do turns to gold as they curse God. • He thinks it’s a waste of time to worship God until he realizes that he’s using God.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. ~Psalm 73:25 (NIV)

That is how his soul is happy again in the Lord. He realises that God is enough!

Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. ~Psalm 1:4-5 (NIV)

There is no future for those who oppose God, they are like chaff, the husks that get blown away into oblivion, of no use with no future. The wicked and sinners are now mentioned again, this time the wicked who were so influential will not stand in judgment. This time the sinners whose conversation were persuasive will be absent in the heavenly church. Listen to them and you will be with them, shut out from the presence of the Lord.

We have here 2 ways to live and 2 destinies.

I was at a coffee shop preparing this sermon and two retired men were talking next to me. One of them spoke about hearing of a man who died, he said “when is the funeral?” The friend said it was yesterday but don’t worry it was private, he gave orders to ‘Take me to the crematorium and get rid of me.’ He saw his death as the end, like chaff blown away.

So different from Rapunzel who we heard at the funeral say ‘I’m so looking forward to going on holidays with God forever.’ The closer to face death the greater her happiness, for she knew the Lord watched over her soul. As one pastor put it “Our sin is not that we long to be happy but that we are stupidly and blindly  determined to find it in something or someone other than God and all that he is for us in Jesus.”

Dear Father,

We thank you for wanting us to be happy. Forgive us for seeking that happiness apart from your dear Son. Teach us to find our joy in your Word. Inspire us to meditate on your Word day and night. May we take refuge in your Son and reject the lies of this world. May our happy souls bear much fruit for your glory.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I must admit that watching MBM online has been very convenient, for the first time in 35 years I have got my Saturday nights back. On Sunday I move from my bedroom, shower, kitchen and go to my TV to go on MBM online, youtube. Sandy and I pray and share. I catch up with some of you on zoom. There are no more arguments about getting up, getting ready, getting out, getting in the car and no more car park miracles.

With forced smiles, and awkward conversations at church, are we sure we want to come back?

So, it’s a good time to stop and to see the church of God through Jesus’ eyes again. And in the words of the great Robert Abboud, to let personal preferences surrender to Gods purposes, to retrain ourselves back into the habit of meeting with one another. I so want everyone at MBM to see how precious the church is in Jesus’ eyes.

The word church in the New Testament is almost always the gathering of believers around God’s word, whether that gathering was at Old Testament Mt Sinai, or Mt Druitt or the heavenly Mt Zion. For too long the church has had a target on its back and let’s face it, there is a lot to criticize. But when we declare Jesus to be Lord, we choose to see the church through Jesus’ eyes.

The Bible is clear, God’s great plan is that He is saving a people for his Son. Every person at MBM was in God’s heart from before the creation of the world. We were chosen not just to be forgiven but to be adopted into God’s family – the church.

I want to look at 2 images to understand the church.

Point 1. The Church is Christ’s Bride
When Adam and Eve were placed in the garden, they were not just our first parents and the first couple, they were the first church. When these two were gathered, God was with them in the cool of the day. And each marriage points to the ultimate marriage between Christ and his church. Not surprising when Paul starts talking about marriage he ends up talking about the
church.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. ~Ephesians 5:25-27 (NIV)

From that passage we see Jesus posture toward the church. We are told 5 things about Jesus attitude to his church

  1. Christ really loved his church. Have you ever said I love the church?
  2. Christ loved the church knowing every stain, wrinkle and blemish. The failures of the church don’t stop Jesus loving his bride and they should not stop us.
  3. Christ gave himself up for his church. Jesus loves his bride all the way to the cross. Very few verses speak of Christ dying for me. Only 1, Christ died for his sheep, his church, his people, elect.
  4. Christ cleanses his bride by his word. When we accepted the good news we are washed whiter than snow.
  5. Christ wants a beautiful church not just a forgiven church. Jesus is committed to making the church radiant, we are the apple of his eye. And He rejoices over us in song.

Christ wants us to be with him and one day he will come to live with us. We are his forever people.

Now think about your attitude to the church. Do you have a love for the church like Jesus does? Or do you use the sins of the church as an excuse to ignore his bride? Do you use the sins of the church to judge his people?

Jesus is not naïve. Every letter in the New Testament is a rebuke to the churches then and now. We can see why people say ‘I love Jesus -it’s the church I can’t stand.’

I was talking to a guy, who owns a café, 2 months ago when we were on hard lockdown, he had 5 women not keeping social distance buying take away, he gently warned them that police were around. They stayed for 2 hours in groups of 5 when only 2 were allowed. They complained about the food and demanded a part refund. He said ‘I am going to refund all your meals’ They said, ‘You must be a Christian, so are we’. He said ‘its people like you that give Christianity such a bad name.’

Whatever sins you see in the church, Jesus not only knows them, he died for each one. As the bride of Christ, you can’t love Jesus and not love his church. You can’t love Jesus and not his people at MBM, too many Christian just don’t get this, they think they can love Jesus and not love his people. They are the very people Jesus personally chooses.

As a young Christian, I knew I did not naturally fit in at church, they were not my kind of people, I loved going to hear rock bands play at pubs, the music at church sounded like bad country and western. I didn’t realize that by saying yes to Jesus, I was saying yes to a new family who I didn’t choose.

They were not my kind of people but then it dawned on me as a young Christian, they were Jesus’ people, He loves them, he chose them and died for them, so I needed to love them and serve them. Those who I get on with and those I don’t, those who drain me and those who energize me, those who love me and those who hurt me. I needed to see them through Jesus’ eyes.

That is why when people withdraw from the church of God, they end up hanging with people just like themselves. Jesus said even the pagans love those who love them. You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family and you can’t pick Gods family, that is God choice. The church is Christ’s bride.

Point 2 The church is Christ’s body
With Christ as the head and we are his body. Each of us makes up different members of his one body, the moment you believe you belong.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body— whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. ~1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (NIV)

The moment you are born you belong in a family, the moment you are born again you are reborn into the body of Christ. This beautiful body of Christ crosses cultures, and class, where everyone belongs, flies first class. Just as a human body has different parts, head, fingers, legs, eyes and ears, so the body of Christ has many different people with different gifts all joined by the same Spirit. You belong, whether you feel like you belong or not. You belong even if you have not found a best friend at church that you click with.

There are 2 attitudes that can undermine that unity.

Warning #1 Don’t despise your place in the body.

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. ~1Corinthians 12:15 (NIV)

Telling yourself you don’t belong does not stop you from belonging.

An insecure big toe with low self-esteem does not stop the big toe from being part of the body. Imagine for a moment if the whole body were one big eyeball or imagine a 6-foot nose, no eyes, no legs just a nose. At best you would look like Mr Potato head and worse you would look like a Picasso Painting.

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? ~1 Corinthians 12:17 (NIV)

Try talking to a person who has lost a hand or lost an eye and they will tell you, every part matters. Sometimes we despise our place when we say to ourselves, if only they knew what I did this last week they would not be so nice. Or Everyone is so together at church and my life is such a mess. Relax: all of our lives are a mess. The church is not a gym for the spiritual fit and healthy, it’s a hospital for sick sinners crying out for mercy.

Christ did not pay the price of his life to buy you the most expensive ticket to be part of God’s forever people so that you can’t tell yourself you don’t belong.

Warning #2 Don’t despise the place of others.

As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” ~1Corinthians 12:20-21 (NIV)

This passage forbids that ugly rugged individualism that says I don’t need you. Now, of course, no one is not likely to say it, we just act like it.

So, when you only come to church when you feel like it you are saying ‘I don’t need others or they don’t need me.’ What is worse is when we justify our neglect of His church by saying “God is enough.” The church is God’s body language.

[we] should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. ~1 Corinthians 12:26 (NIV)

Jesus feels the joys and sorrows of his people, He shares our joys and weeps with our tears. The way he shows that is through us, we are his body language. He wants you to express his joy and sorrow over the joy and sorrows of others. You are his hands his feet, his tears and his smile.

Last week we lost our sister Rapunzel. This 27 year old woman who went to be with the Lord and left her loving husband Sam. Sam’s grief must be our grief as it reflects Christ grief.

There is not a person in this church you don’t need and there is not a person in this church who doesn’t need you.

“Satan loves detached believers, unplugged from the life of the Body, isolated from Gods family and unaccountable to spiritual leaders because he knows they are defenceless and powerless.” Rick Warren (p136)

So what helps people feel like they belong? The repeated feedback from people is this. Join a small group and find out how you can serve.

One woman said, ‘I was coming to the church for over a year before I knew anyone, when I made the move to join the morning tea team I began to know the people in my team so, that was a bit better but still mostly I would wander on my own. Then, I finally joined a bible study group, THAT made lots more difference’

MBM online has been the right thing to do during COVID but it’s not church. It’s been an important ministry of the word, but it’s not church. It’s what we do for a season, but it’s not church.

Jesus said ‘I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’ And neither will COVID. Not all of us can gather straight away as we move from 1 to 2 to 3 services. It may be because of limited numbers and services or it may be because you are vulnerable and we fully understand. Just don’t make inconvenience the reason you don’t gather. Personal preferences need to surrender to God’s purposes. I want you to grasp how Jesus sees his church.

Point 3 Judgement day shows the importance of the church

Jesus is seated on his glorious throne with angels. He separates the Sheep from the Goats.

To one group Jesus says

Depart from me ~Matthew 25:41 (NIV)

To the other he says

Come, you who are blessed by my Father ~Matthew 25:34 (NIV)

But what marks out the sheep from the goats?

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ ~Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)

It all turns on your treatment of Jesus.

But they are thinking: “How did we feed, clothe, visit, and care for you Jesus, you were in heaven?”

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. ~Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

Do you see? What you did for my people my bride and my body you did to me. Those “Brothers and Sister of mine…” When you neglected them you neglected me, when you ignored them you ignored me and when you loved them you loved me.

If a finger represents you and a hand represents your small circle of church friends you will not love Jesus until you love his whole body. That is why the place the church has in your heart is one of the great indicators of the place Jesus has in my heart.

Friends, it may be time to trade in those slippers for the privilege of serving the saints.

My Lord Jesus,
We know you saved us not just from hell but to be part of your family, your bride and your body. Help us to grasp that to ignore your people is to ignore you. And to love your people is how we love you. May we rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep in the body of Christ
In Jesus name.
Amen

Dr. Victor Chang was a great heart surgeon based at St.Vincents Hospital. He had the ability to transplant a heart and a lung and he gave people an extra 20 years of life. Things were said of him that will not be said of many of us. 

One Thursday morning while driving to work he was pulled over by 2 gunmen, he refused their request and he was shot dead, there on that footpath at Mosman was the very best and the very worst this country had to offer. His hand devoted to saving lives, the hands of his murderers were devoted to taking his.

The story that Jesus tells also puts two men together side by side in the presence of God. They stood for the very best and the very worst his nation could provide. 

He tells the story for one reason.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ~Luke 18.9 (NIV)

This is a critique on those who trust in their own goodness and as a result, look down on everybody else. What we have here is the Pharisee and the Tax collector. 

The Pharisees were about 1% of the Jewish population, they were hardcore and there were no half measures, these were spiritual heroes of that culture. They fasted 2 days a week and this is not your 5-2 diet where you drop to 600 calories 2 days a week. This was no food for 2 days every week, week in week out. It was all the more impressive given the bible only required 1 day per year, but that is religion for you, it always adds to what God says. 

They also gave 10% of their wage to a greater cause. If anyone had grounds for thinking they had done enough it was them. They had a high standard and a high success rate!

The tax collectors were on the other end of the spectrum, they were contracted by the Romans, who invaded Israel, to tax their own people. They were a nasty piece of work, they betrayed their own people by siding with the enemy. They exploited their own people by overtaxing them. They bled decent people of a decent living. Kids went to bed hungry because of the Tax collectors who lined their own pockets with illegal taxes.

Knowing that, who would you honestly think that Jesus would promise heaven to.

Let’s see how they approach God. The Pharisee comes before God prayerfully confident that he did everything required of him and more.

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ ~Luke 18:11-12 (NIV)

As far as he is concerned, he has kept the 10 commandments. He paid his taxes and he has not slept with another man’s wife. But most of all he is grateful that he is has not turned out like that treacherous tax collector.

He does not sing “Amazing Grace how sweat the sound that saved a wretch like me.” His hymn is “Amazing Grace how sweat the sound that saved a wretch like him.”

The Pharisee thinks he a good person who has done a lot of good and his community would agree, this is why he relies on what he does. You get the feeling that God owes him. What the Pharisee doesn’t do is this; he doesn’t come, wanting to be put right with God, not a hint of confession. 

The religious heart tends to produce one of two outcomes, you’re either proud or petrified. Proud that I’m good enough and you’re not or Petrified that I’m not good enough and I never will be.

The Tax collector, on the other hand, is very much aware of his failure before God

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ ~Luke 18.13 (NIV)

This is not low self-esteem, this is an honest assessment of himself. He knows that he comes before a perfect God as a sinner, there is no offer to try a little harder, there are no new resolutions. He places no hope whatsoever in anything good he may have done, because he may well have been good to his close circle of friends and family but he knows they are but crumbs. All we hear from his lips are “Have mercy on me a sinner’ or literally ‘the sinner.’

What made these two men end up coming to God in such different ways? 

1. Being good is its own temptation. The Pharisee was deceived by his virtues, he was a man who did good things, but he then concluded that he was good enough. The fatal error is, I’m good therefore I’m good enough for God.

So, the warning is clear, the better you are, the more sincere, more compassionate, more spiritual, the more causes you pursue, the more justice you seek on behalf of others, the greater the danger for thinking that these are the grounds of God’s approval. They aren’t.

The Tax Collector has no goodness to be deceived by, that is why he is not pretending. He knows he is a mongrel and so does everybody else.

Friends let me be very clear, Heaven is not for good people, Heaven is for forgiven people. It has to be because Jesus said “No one is good, except God alone.” The Pharisee didn’t come looking for forgiveness, he came to present his CV to get a promotion.

2. The Pharisee does what we are all tempted to do, he made other people the yardstick and not God. He measured his performance with other people like the tax collector instead of measuring his performance with God. Of course, he was better than the tax collector, but so what! People all over the world are pinning their hopes that they are at least statistically average and better than most. Did you know that 80% of Australian men think they are above average in sport? 

We are deluded by comparison, I am 5 ft 6 inches tall, that’s 165 cms which is not all that tall, yet growing up I thought of myself as being tall. My Father was 5 ft or 152 cms and my Mother was 5 ft or 152 cms and my sisters are 150 cms so, by the time I was 12 I towered in my family. As long as I used my family as the comparison, I considered myself to be tall. But by the age of 13, I discovered all my friends grew 5 to 10 cms taller than me and before I knew it I was on the receiving end of short jokes.

So what if you are as good as the average and better than most. So what if you’re the best person who has ever walked this earth, line yourself up to Gods standard and cringe.

What does the Tax Collector do? He doesn’t measure himself to the Pharisee, he measures himself to a God whose standard is nothing less than perfect. Once you know that yardstick you’re only left with one response. “Have mercy on me a sinner!”

The tax collector sees himself in light of God alone, hence the clean confession. No excuses. No, I’m sorry but here are my good points. No, I’m sorry but I support three world vision kids. No, I’m sorry but I fight for the rights of Koalas. Have mercy on Me the sinner. So simple and so profound.

The problem with the human heart is this. It overestimates human nature then comes up with superficial solutions, but Jesus will tell us we are far worse than we can imagine and God is more merciful than we could ever hope for. When the Tax collector asks for mercy he is saying “God I know you’re rightly angry with me, I know I deserve hell. I’m asking you Lord to turn your anger away from me..”

Jesus, who told this parable is on his way to the cross, to take that anger upon himself. We fail to see the seriousness of our situation. 

Imagine if you value your failures in terms of a financial debt toward God and you were told that you have incurred a debt by God for $250,000 and you have one life time to pay it back. What would you think? Serious – but I can solve this problem. You would work out how to pay it back…sell the car, or sell the house or take a loan. You would be optimistic that you could repay the debt. That is a human solution, to think I can pay it back. But Jesus’ message is, your failures are more like a 900 billion dollar debt and you have one life time to pay it. What would be your reaction? You’re not going to offer 3 cents in the dollar, you would give up and cry for mercy.

The Tax Collector has done what God expects everyone to do, Give up! Not give up doing good! Give up trusting that your goodness will justify you before God or qualify you for heaven. Heaven is not for good people because they don’t exist. Heaven is for forgiven people who ask for mercy. Don’t stop doing good but stop relying on the good you do and start relying on God’s mercy.

The Tax collector sees things as God sees them. Now Jesus, who is the one who will judge us all, tells us how he sees them.

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” ~Luke 18.14 (NIV)

What?! Jesus declares that the horrible tax collector now broken before God has his charges dropped. He is justified, and that is as offensive as putting a civil rights activist and a member of the ku klux klan in a church, both hear the same message of grace. The ku klux klan member cries out for mercy and is forgiven but the civil right activist is offended and refuses to ask for forgiveness.

The Pharisee wants from God what he thinks he deserves and he got it, rejection. The Tax Collector asked for what he didn’t deserve, mercy and he got it.

What do you want from God? I promise you, you will get it.

God will give you what you deserve if that is what you want.

Are you really sure you want it!

I remember watching a former minister of immigration talking to a Cambodian refugee in a detention centre. The minister of immigration asked the refugee “What do you want from me? The Cambodian man dropped his head and whispered, “mercy”.

He is saying. “I know I have no right to be accepted but I’m asking for what I don’t deserve” Mercy

Friends God is dying to offer you mercy. No, Gods son Died to provide you with mercy. Jesus lived the life we should have lived, but didn’t and then died the death we deserved to die but don’t have to. The payment is made, we owed a debt we just couldn’t pay and Jesus paid the debt he didn’t owe. And so let me plead with you, ask God for mercy, turn from your sins, turn to Christ. Begin a new personal relationship with this Lord Jesus whose mercy provides full forgiveness.

I preached this sermon once and a man came up and said “I was on that footpath in Mosman when Dr. Victor Chang was shot.” He was a British man working in Sydney, the assassin threatened him and he was too afraid to go home in Mosman.

So, he lived with a family for months who were Christians. They took him to church where he heard that Heaven is not for good people but forgiven people, who own their sin and cry out for mercy to Jesus. Is it not time for you to join the rest of us..

Dear God,

Have mercy on me a sinner. I know that what I deserve is your rejection but what I am asking for is your beautiful mercy. 

Thank you Lord Jesus that through your death on the cross you paid the debt that I could never pay.Thank you that I am now fully forgiven.

I now put my trust in you. I now seek to put you first in my life. Please help me to live for you and never look down on others.

In Jesus name, Amen

Is there anyone you don’t want to see in heaven? Adulterers -Terrorists -Child abusers or someone who has profoundly wronged you or someone you love. And does the idea of sharing heaven make you not want to be there? Or are you ok about them being in heaven but can’t rejoice at them being in heaven?

All of which exposes how our heart is not lined up with God’s heart.

Jesus tells 3 stories about something or someone being lost and then found. A lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son.

We learn 3 things about God’s heart.

  1. God is committed to seeking and saving the lost
  2. God rejoices when they are found
  3. He expects that we too will celebrate with him.

We all know the pain of losing something and the relief and joy of finding it again. If you have ever lost a child in a crowd for 15 minutes you know that sinking feeling and then the relief when you find them, unless they were hiding.

There are 2 kinds of lost, the lost where no one knows you’re missing & the lost where someone is looking for you. Jesus is looking for you, why is Jesus telling the story?

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable ~Luke 15:1-3a (NIV)

Jesus was attracting the wrong crowd, He was welcoming the scrap heap into the kingdom and the religious leaders were not happy, they want to shut heaven’s door in people’s faces. They were so different from God.

When the Shepherd in the first parable knows he has lost one

sheep, he doesn’t say 99 out of 100 is not bad. He seeks it out and then he calls his friends to rejoice with him. The point of the story is that

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. ~Luke 15:5-7 (NIV)

While Heaven rejoices the Pharisees resent, notice how the one lost soul matters to Jesus. As we seek to make 1000 new disciples, remember behind every number is a person and every person has a story. When the women loses an expensive coin she makes a careful search for it until she finds it and then she calls her friends together to rejoice with her.

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” ~Luke 15:10 (NIV)

God is on about seeking, finding, saving and rejoicing. God is not all that interested in sheep and coins, He is interested in people like us who have wandered from God.

What makes big news in heaven is not a fantastic grand final win, its when a sinner repents, we must celebrate it because if we don’t then who will? The world’s response to you becoming a Christian can be patronizing “As long as it makes you happy” or it can be Pity “I guess you need a crutch”

But the Pharisees will not rejoice because like all religion it’s built on merit and not the mercy of God. Do you share the heart of God for sinners?

So we turn to the most famous story Jesus ever told, the story of 2 lost sons. The younger son couldn’t wait for his dad to die, as the younger son he technically was not entitled to the Inheritance, that was the privilege of the firstborn male and certainly not before Dad died. I joked about the inheritance to my Dad but he knew and I knew that it was a joke. To be serious is to wish your Father was as good as dead.

Then begins the downward slide of this son. His bags are packed, the tickets for New York are booked, he goes to a far country. He could have spent it in a nearby town, but he didn’t want his Mum to find a prostitute in his Porsche. So it’s off to a far off country!!

The son eventually finds himself flat broke as a foreigner in a foreign land in the midst of a famine. As a Jew you know he has hit rock bottom, he finds himself envying the menu of a pig. All he has now are the memories of the good life. But memories cant fill your stomach when it cries out for food.

In his brokenness, he remembers, not what he had as a son but what his Dads workers had. He remembered that his Dad, even as a boss, was generous.

‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ ~Luke 15:17-19 (NIV)

You notice, the thought never crosses his mind that his father would take him back as a son, but maybe just maybe he would give him a job!! He obviously felt he had crossed over the line where forgiveness is not an option. He had exhausted the grace of a good father. I don’t blame him. Had he gone too far?

When we look into our hearts and into our past there are things that are better left unsaid. Things done that reminds us that we to have gone to a far country away from our Father. An affair; an abortion; abuse or betrayal. And if we are honest, it’s just the tip of an iceberg. We know we are lost, we too need Jesus who came to seek and save us.

Let me tell you the true story of Maria and Christine. Maria lived in a small village on the outskirts of a South American city. Her husband died soon after her daughter Christine was born. Maria worked long hours to provide for her daughter and her one fear was that her daughter would end up as a prostitute.

Eventually, Christine secretly left for the big city and Maria caught a bus to the city and she took countless photos of herself and wrote the same message on the back of each one. Maria planted the photos everywhere through the city, bars-hotels -night clubs. Maria eventually ran out of money and returned home to wait.

Christine ended up in prostitution and one day she walked down the stairs of a hotel and noticed a photo of her mum. She took it, turned it over and read these words “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become it doesn’t matter, please come home”

God is saying to you “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become it doesn’t matter please come home.”

The younger son comes home to a father with open arms.

So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. ~Luke 15:20 (NIV)

We are told that when the God-like father saw his son coming home, his first instinct was his heart was filled with compassion. He then does what a man in that culture never does, he runs (old Middle Eastern men don’t run), he doesn’t wait for the son to come to him, he strides with all his might to a son that wanted him dead then he holds him in his arms and kisses him. The father doesn’t even wait for the boy to finish his confession, the father has treated the son as royalty with food, robes, rings.

There is a Buddhist version of the prodigal son: where the son comes back and has to work for every cent. We might have expected the father to say “…you’re telling me you’re not worthy, now cop this and get the hell out of here…” We might have even expected “…sorry are you? well you can come back but don’t expect things to be same.”

And things were not the same they are better!!! Now is the time to party!!!! He was as good as dead and now he is alive. This is the heart of God that loves to welcome sinners. Whenever the lost are found, whenever a sinner repents there is rejoicing in heaven. But not everybody wants to rejoice. 

Then enters the older son with the sweat running from his brow, he hears the sounds of a party taking place. He hears, the one who had cheated the family of half of the inheritance was back and his foolish gullible father has given him the party and he was angry.

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ~Luke 15:28-30 (NIV)

Now it was his turn to reject the father. He might have kept his father’s commands but not the one to come inside and celebrate. He despised his Father generosity, in a way both sons had misunderstood what it meant to be a son. They both thought sonship was by merit. 

The younger son thought you earned it and so assumed that he lost all chances of having it. The older son thought you earned the right to be a son and so he saw his whole work for his father as slavery. Look all these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.

For too many Christians, they only see their walk with God in terms of law not love, with God as their Judge not their Dad, with Jesus as their Lord not their Saviour.

Both sons have missed the point, you become a child of God by relying on the Love of the Father. God has run out to meet us in the words of John 3:16 God so loved you and this world/you that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes may not perish but have everlasting life.

Whoever believes, come turn and trust, confess and come back to the Father, whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter!!! Just come home

The older son does not want to celebrate his brother coming home. The older son was outside the door but he could have been in a far country, either way, he was not rejoicing with the father over a brother who was lost.

Hear the heart of Jesus who came to seek and save, not just rebels but the self-righteous who repent. Whether you have taken the high road of rebellion or the low road of rebellion, Come home!

The father is not angry with the older son he is pleading with the self-righteous brother.

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” ~Luke 15:31-32 (NIV)

For this younger brother was not just lost, he was dead and he was his brother. Sinners who don’t repent are dead in their sins! Facing the second death. But we had to celebrate and be glad because he is alive and found. 

Do you know what is worse than a Christian committing murder or adultery? It is that same Christian not repenting. And do you know what is just as bad as committing murder or adultery? It is withholding joy when they repent.

Yes, it feels like they have gotten away with it.

The point is clear. “we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Remember the Lord’s prayer? “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Question: What are we to do on earth that is being done in heaven.
Answer: Rejoicing over sinners who turn back to God

Have you thought of having a born again party? My two children made decisions for Christ, on July 27th and each year we had a born again party, Pizza hut, Lone star, they can pick. We would go and celebrate because the day they became born again was the day heaven unleashed in a never-ending shout of joy.

Some people don’t celebrate because they are cynical that those who say yes to Jesus today will say no a month later. Jesus knows people fall away but it doesn’t stop him from wanting you to celebrate.

If you are still lost know this, the angels are waiting to celebrate and so are we, because whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter, please come home.

Of course it matters. It matters so much that God gave his one and only Son, who made full the payment for your sins. The price has been paid, the father’s arms are open wide. So whatever you have done please come home.

Dear Father,

I admit that I have run away from you and I am so sorry Father for breaking your heart. Thank you, Father, that you loved me so much that you gave your one and only Son that I may not perish but have eternal life.

I am home now and I want to follow you, Jesus, as my precious Lord and loving Saviour.

Please help to always to have the heart of God to seek out

others who are lost and rejoice when they are found in Jesus name.

Amen

If there’s one thing that COVID19 has made us realise, it’s that we DEFINITELY do NOT control the future. COVID19 has been the great equaliser, hasn’t it? Whether you’re in charge of a country or whether you’re living paycheck to paycheck, or whether you’re studying for the HSC. Tomorrow is guaranteed to none of us. 

At best, we can make our plans, but those plans can change at the drop of a hat. Let me see, I’ve had a holiday, a SPARTAN obstacle race, a birthday party and a work conference all cancelled because of COVID. 

And it’s not as if there’s a whole lot of certainty as you look ahead either. As we brace ourselves for this so-called “second spike” we ponder, when will we be back in the church building? What will it look like? As we ask (with or without Jobkeeper) what’s going to happen to my job? 

During times like this, it may feel like the God of the Bible is absent or that’s he’s silent.  Well, Genesis 12 today, is going to assure us that God is anything but that. We have a God who not only makes promises. He keeps them too. That’s just who he is.  

The same God who spoke a certain word during the uncertain times of Abram is the same God who speaks a certain word in the uncertain days of COVID. 

I don’t know about you, but in light of the past few months, that sounds like exactly what I need. To know there is LIFE in the face of death that there is HOPE in the face of fear that we CAN have certainty in the face of uncertainty. 

Because what God promises, God delivers on. Genesis 3-11 has had the same recurring pattern. The pattern of human’s sin, God judges but then follows it up with grace. 

Last week, in Genesis 11 we definitely had the sin, humans trying to make a name for themselves and uniting together to overthrow God.

God handed out an appropriate judgment by confusing their language and therefore scattering them. But where was the grace? In Genesis 12, where God speaks to one man, an Iraqi pensioner named Abram. 

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. ~Genesis 12:1 (NIV)

God tells Abram to pack up his bags and go. 

When my parents left Hong Kong for Australia, it was for a better place. They already knew people here, siblings and friends. They’d come here before. 

Abram, he leaves, not even knowing where he was going! You can imagine Abram travelling day by day, pitching his tent, packing it up and asking himself: “Are we there yet God? Are we there yet? But God doesn’t issue this command without a promise. Look at verse 2.  

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” ~Genesis 12:2-3 (NIV)

In 3 verses God makes 3 breath-taking promises: 

  1. Land. God wants Abram to get up and go from Haran to a place called Canaan. What we know as Iraq to Israel. 
  2. Offspring. At face value, this seems like a ridiculous promise because Abram we’re told is 75 and his wife, Sarai is 65. 

Elderly people DO NOT give birth! and there’s just one other thing, you know one small, minor obstacle we’re told in Genesis 11.

Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive. ~Genesis 11:30 (NIV)

If God’s going to deliver on this promise, it’ll be God and God alone. 

  1. Blessing. In other words, God will do good by Abram and not just him but through Abram, God will do good to ALL people. All nations. All tribes. 

3 promises, 3 majestic promises.

This week, over breakfast, I did something very brave, I asked my family to tell me when I have kept my promise and when have I broken my promise. 

One of my kids piped up straight away said ‘Dad you’ve kept your promise by marriage to Mum!’ Then that same child reminded me: ‘But Dad, you broke your promise because you said you were going to do some drawing with me on Tuesday.’ 

Teresa then dropped in a promise that she remembers me making but that I had no recollection making, about a trip to America! You see, all her family, her sister and her younger brother, have all been and I’ve been. In fact, she’s still bitter about the time her parents went to Disneyland and left her behind with her grandparents!  

Anyway, I first heard this story when we were dating and in my attempts to woo her and to impress her, I must have said “I promise I’ll take you to America one day” Well, now I’m on public record that I have to fulfil this promise. 

When it comes to promises, before it’s about us, before it’s about Abraham, it’s about God. Notice how God’s the one doing all the heavy lifting here. 

Seven times we read: I will. I will. I will. He is ALL in. God commits himself to one man, Abram and his family. Whatever happens to Abram and his family, over the next day, over the next generation, the next century. God’s behind it all every step of the way. 

Is this not God’s grace or what?! God didn’t have to do what he’s just done here in Genesis 12. After another pattern of sin and judgment God could have said: Right, enough’s enough, let’s call it a day and have an 11-chapter Bible. 

God could have left humanity to babble on and on stumbling along in confusion. But he doesn’t! Instead of walking away, God says: I will bless, I will bless, I will bless. I will use you, Abram, to make it possible for the entire world to know me. 

God hasn’t cut you off, He welcomes you back into his fold and I don’t know about you, but that provides me with immeasurable comfort. An unbelievable amount of certainty! 

Think about it, the God of this universe, He himself! Is committed to the future, He’s bound to deliver on these promises. 

And so that means, that if you’ve given up on God, whether it’s because you feel you’ve been let down by him or you’ve let him down, again and you’ve got a truckload of guilt and regret by falling short. Well I want to ask you to reconsider the God you’ve stopped worshipping, today is as good a day as any to come home. He will take you back because in the Lord Jesus, he has promised to wipe your slate clean. To give you a fresh start and to not hold your sins against you. 

Well, God’s laid out his promises to Abram on the table. How does Abram respond? 

So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. ~Genesis 12:4 (NIV)  

Abram took God at his word, and set off, his was the model response. In response to God’s extravagant commitment, Abram trusts God. Trusts he’ll come good on his promises and he expresses that trust in obedience. Trust and obedience are not necessarily the same things but are certainly two sides of the same coin. 

Abram picks up his family, packs all his belongings, gets up and goes heading for the land God commanded him to go to. 

BUT [And there’s always a but] come verse 10 and Abram’s obedience soon turns into disobedience.

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. ~Genesis 12:10 (NIV)

On the one hand this seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do, whether it’s food, whether it’s toilet paper. When you run out, you go hunt it down. Only Egypt wasn’t where God wanted Abram to go.

It gets worse. Not only has he gone in the OPPOSITE direction of where God wants him to go. He’s also done the exact OPPOSITE of what every husband should do. He’s also put his own wife in danger. 

As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” ~Genesis 12:11-13 (NIV)

In the space of just 13 verses, Abraham has gone from hero to zero. This hasn’t been the first time we’ve seen this and it won’t be the last. We see it again and again. God will make extraordinary, extravagant promises to someone and then shortly after, they’ll stuff it up.

Remember Noah? God spares him from judgement. First thing he does when he walks out of the ark is he gets drunk and is an embarrassment to his family. 

King David, one minute he’s promised a forever kingdom and next minute he’s in bed with Bathsheba.

In the New Testament, Peter is the first to work out that Jesus is God’s promised king and next minute, he tries to persuade Jesus that death and resurrection is a stupid idea.

Don’t you love how the Bible refuses to do pretend? There’s no photoshopping going on here. 

And that’s good news for you and I because the promises God makes, they don’t ride on the shoulders of you or I or Abram or Noah or David. Oh, thank goodness that what God promises God makes happen. Thank goodness we do NOT control the future, but we know the God who does.

Back when I used to work in Human Resources, part of my job involved interviewing people for jobs and the principle was this:  Past performance is the best indicator of future performance. I had to resist the urge to not be wowed by how well the applicant spoke, by their charming personality, by their impressive resume. Instead, I had to drill down and focus on what exactly they, as an individual, did because past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour.

So, let’s see how God came good on his promises to Abram. 

Take the promise of LAND. Throughout the Old Testament, the focus is on a city, Jerusalem, a country, a geographical place. That’s the place where God lived in his temple. 

But come the New Testament, the promise of land is found in a PERSON. Jesus is the true temple and that in Jesus, the land we will dwell in is in heaven, seated around his throne. 

Then there’s the promise of OFFSPRING. 25 years after Abram is given the promise, at the ripe old age of 90, Sarah checks in to the maternity ward and out pops Isaac. 

Abram’s name is later changed to Abraham, his name literally means: “Father of many” and so the rest of the Old Testament is the story of God turning this nation into a great nation. Not because of anything special in and of themselves but because God set his affection upon them. 

Then you turn over to the very first verse of the New Testament. 

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…~Matthew 1:1 (NIV)

It took over 2,000 years to get there. But Jesus himself is born into the line of Abraham. And so are you. If you’re a follower of Jesus, then Abraham is your spiritual dad. You are living proof that the promise that Abraham would have millions of kids as vast as the stars in the sky and as numerous as the sand on the seashore. You are the fulfilment of that promise. 

And third, that promise of blessing. 

Last Friday, Teresa and I watched a documentary called American Gospel. Do yourself a favour and watch it after church today, you can find it on Youtube. 

It had us both, on the one hand, cheering by hearing stories of how the gospel is changing lives in America. But on the other hand, it had us fuming as well! Fuming because of how there are people who’ve misunderstood this promise of blessing. Who’ve twisted it to make it all about them. Rather than about Jesus. For them, the blessing God promises you is the blessing of a better car, a bigger house, more money and less sickness. 

And that all these blessings are simply yours if you have enough faith. 

It’s this false gospel. It’s the complete OPPOSITE of what Paul says in Galatians, because in Galatians, Paul takes the guess work out of what exactly God means when he promised blessing to Abram. 

Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” ~Galatians 3:8 (NIV)

Notice how Paul says, that the gospel was already being declared ahead of time to Abraham. You see it there in the words: “All nations will be blessed through you” What is this blessing that will come to all people? 

Well, look earlier in the verse. See that phrase: God would justify the Gentiles. The nations. Non-Jews. Let me be clear about the blessing is this. That the God of this universe, the one who you’ve wronged and rebelled against will not count your sins against you. That you are justified. That is, you know today, what God is going to say when you meet him on judgment day …….Not guilty! He’s dropped the charges for your rebellion. 

Now thanks to Jesus, we have EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING! 

That’s better than any physical blessing, that now thanks to Jesus, we have a blessing that goes on to eternity, not just limited to this life. 

That’s worth remembering because Abraham was only working off what we have in the first 11 chapters of the Bible. That’s it! 

Lots of promises. Not much fulfilment

Sure we might feel these are uncertain times but this is what gives us certainty because we’ve seen what Abraham never saw. We’ve seen how God has come good on promise after promise. In many ways, we’ve got even less of an excuse NOT to believe!

Now can I say that if all this seems a bit foreign to you, if the Old Testament seems a bit intimidating then can I encourage you to go deeper, because the Bible’s story it’s also your story. 

Know it. Treasure it. Sink your teeth into it. 

Learn to see your story in light of the Bible story, it is the cure for doubt. It helps you realise your faith. It’s based on more than just John 3:16. That is goes back further than what your parents have passed on.

I love a freebie and until the end of this month, there’s one done by one of my favourite Bible teachers, Mike Raiter, it’s called the Ridley Certificate. I know one couple from our 6pm service have been doing it and it’s really helped them. 

Now let’s just stand back from all this. We’ve seen God not only MAKE promises but also KEEP promises. 

I hope you’re beginning to realise what sort of God we’re dealing with here. Wow! God’s more committed to the future than we are!! God DOES indeed provide a word of certainty in the face of uncertainty. 

And so let me issue you this challenge: When you was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone. When was the last time when you really HAD to trust God?  

I happened to be reflecting this week, I looked back and saw how God’s promises have really kept me hanging in there. In the midst of dark clouds, and rough patches his promises have preserved me. Knowing he is faith-FULL when I am faith-LESS. 

Promises like Romans 8:1: There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. 

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, but gee, what a wonderful promise that was to hear 22 years ago when I took the hand of Jesus. It’s just as wonderful today. Then there was the one 20 years ago when I finished university and was about to begin full-time work. 

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. ~1 Corinthians 15.58 (NIV)

The promise that because Jesus has risen, that my decisions, my choices matter. That what I do in this lifetime, has the potential to have ripple effects into eternity. It’s this promise. That’s what shapes my purpose. It gives meaning to everything I do. 

Then there was June, 10 years ago when my wife Teresa, lost a brother to suicide and a dad to cancer 3 months later, and the promise we knew in our heads, but really sunk down in our hearts at that time was an oldie but a goodie. 

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

And then there’s 2 years ago. This June would’ve been the 2nd birthday of a daughter who we only had for 77 days. One of my children has memorised this wonderful promise because she’s written it next to her bed. 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? ~John 14:1-2 (NIV)

The promise of a room in my daddy’s house. Can’t wait for that. 

And then there’s June last year, road tripping with Ben from our church up to Uluru. Only to have it cut short because I managed to flip both HIS car, and HIS caravan, then to be able to able to turn off the engine, walk out without even a scratch. 

God got my attention with 

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. ~Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

As I look back and see how God’s words and God’s promises have kept me going. That’s what inspires me to keep looking ahead. To keep trusting him no matter how uncertain things get. To see how he’s been faithful even though I’ve often been faith-less. And despite all that, knowing God’s got my back, that’s what inspires me to take risks. To have a posture of expectancy. In everything. 

Whether it’s sharing Jesus with those who don’t know him when it comes to serving him. 

When it comes to finances, being generous. 

When it comes to relationships. 

When it comes to decisions about the future. 

All because of this simple truth: That what God promises, God delivers on.

We have seen the policeman in Minneapolis placing his knee on the neck of 46 year old George Floyd, for 9 minutes George cried out “I cant breath…” and eventually he breathed his last breath. It sparked an avalanche of protests and riots across the US, because that death cried out for justice, just like Abel’s death cried out for justice

1. The Sin of Cain

In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve refused to take God at his word, they both ate of the tree of good and evil. Once naked with no shame but now they hide from God and from each other and are removed from paradise.

But God in his kindness allows Eve to give birth to 2 sons, her first born is Cain, the first man to have a belly button, a farmer by trade. Her second born Abel, a Cowboy-herder of sheep. Both were religious men, both willing to draw near to God but on very different terms

By faith Abel offers his best.

And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering. ~Genesis 4:4 (NIV)

For us fat is bad. In the Jewish sacrificial system, the fat portions and the first born where highly prized. The message is clear, Abel GAVE HIS BEST. Not so Cain. Cain offers some of the fruits of the soil, but not the first fruits as we would have expected from the first born. The result is…

The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. ~Genesis 4:4b-5 (NIV)

Cain’s thankless heart gave God his left overs, God was not pleased.

We in Christ are told that in view of God’s mercies, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God. We give our best because God gave his best in sending his Son.

The downward slide of Cain begins. If you break the first commandment you will end up breaking the rest. Cain begins where Adam left off. Cain’s sin takes the next step as sin often does. Cain’s sin spills into pride, self pity, and jealously. If Envy wants what you’ve got then Jealously hates you for having it. Cain is jealous and very angry that his brother was favoured by God. His face was downcast, here is sin in all its blindness…

Should Cain not have been feeling remorse or guilt? Abel only offered a better sacrifice because it came by faith in God’s gracious promises and that grace unleashed a generous heart.

In the words of one song…“Lord, You have given me everything, What can I do for you…”

Faith in God’s gracious promises unleashed deep thankfulness. It opens the heart to love God, it opens the diary to make time for others, it opens the wallet to bless others. Cain is not the victim of random favouritism.

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” ~Genesis 4:7 (NIV)

God offers Cain both forgiveness and warning. First the loving warning, if Cain does not treat God properly and deal with his jealous anger he will open himself to more sin. Sin is pictured like a wild animal about to pounce on him.

This is how temptation leads to sin and death.

“… but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” ~James 1:14-15 (NIV)

Notice, It begins with our own evil desires.

With Eve the temptation came from outside her by Satan. For Cain and us temptation comes from within us by our own evil desires. Once you admit the problem is with you and not God then you will not waste your time blaming everyone else, including God. Otherwise, like a fish on a hook you are dragged away and before you know it your jealousy becomes anger, becomes murder and full-blown resentfulness to God.

You know the story, you’re wounded in some way and it generates some hurt but you refuse to forgive. Then you avoid the person and you replay the wrongs in your mind and you then think the worst of them and it leads to resentment and rage and revenge.

Like Cain I grew up on a farm growing crops, when I was 6 and my brother was 11 we were pulling out weeds for a couple of hours throwing them onto the back of a trailer. It was hard work and when we were finished, my brother drove the tractor-trailer home without giving me a lift.

I was furious, my hurt led to anger and my anger led to revenge, I ran toward a patch of vegetables near the house that we both grew and I ripped them up. As I was exercising revenge, a shadow fell on me, it was my Dad and he was furious, he pulled out his belt and I ran. I let my hurt become anger and my anger become revenge. I did not master that sin, it mastered me.

Eve let Satan lead her to sin, now sin leads Cain to murder. Cain takes his brother to the field and then takes his life, the first murder happens inside the family. This is the first act of domestic violence and it won’t be the last.

Sin has now spread faster than COVID 19.

When God confronts Adam, it was about his individual sin. Where are you? But when God confronts Cain, the focus was on how it impacted others. Where is your brother? Cain’s answer is defiant, I don’t know and I don’t care.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” ~Genesis 4:9 (NIV)

The answer is, Yes, you are Cain, we all are our brother’s keeper, now more than ever.

There have been 432 black deaths in custody where no charge was laid. We can’t be concerned for justice for ourselves and not for others.

The same attitude that was there in Cain’s offering is in this sarcastic response. I don’t care about God becomes I don’t care about my brother. And all along the promise was there.

If you do what is right will you not be accepted. ~Genesis 4:7 (NIV)

Sin is still crouching at the door, your door, and you must master it.

What the law can’t do God did by sending his Son to forgive and his Spirit to transform. Don’t be like Cain who failed to deal with pride, self pity, jealousy, anger, violence and defiance to God. Don’t delay, deal with that issue, it will not go away, it won’t stay hidden and it will get worse,

2. God’s judgment on Cain

Cain may not do what is right but God will, He is a just God who holds Cain responsible. When Cain offered a pathetic sacrifice and God named it for what is was. When Cain murders his brother God confronts Cain. God demands justice for the blood of Abel.

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. ~Genesis 4:10 (NIV)

The same word is used in Genesis for the screams of a woman who is raped. Abel’s murder screams for justice. Every rape victim screams for justice. Every abused child screams for justice. Every victim of domestic family violence screams for justice. That is what we are hearing from protestors in the US, messy as it is, the cry for justice. Don’t use the looting and violence to ignore the cry for justice for many.

When Israel cried out to God for freedom from oppression of Egypt she was far from perfect in how she behaved. Moses murdered an Egyptian.

Friends, it’s easy to demand justice when we have been mistreated but not so easy when it’s for others. We are our brother’s keeper. We can’t pick and choose which injustice we should speak up for, whether its Abortion or entrenched Racial inequality.

Cain exceeds his father sin and so does the judgment. Adam could till the soil and it would produce food, Cain could sow whatever seed he likes and nothing, he will be forced to wander from the presence of God.

Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth. ~Genesis 4:11-12 (NIV)

Cain will be a fugitive on the run with no place to lay his head and at the mercy of whoever wants to exact revenge on Abel. The ground that drank the blood of Abel will curse him to his dying days.

But where sin increases grace abounds all the more.

3. God’s grace to Cain

You see grace to this rebel in so many ways. Eve thanks God for allowing her to have 2 sons. The bible doesn’t end with Genesis 3. God promises if Cain would do the right thing he will be accepted, God will have Cain back. God’s arms are willing to embrace him.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ~1 John 1:9 (NIV)

No person is beyond forgiveness, no sin has ever created a debt that the Christ of the cross can’t pay. I remember talking a white supremacist, he hated anyone who wasn’t white until he accepted Christ and repented of his racism and loves his Indian pastor.

When Cain kills his brother he should have died. An eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth and a life for a life. But God hears this rebel’s plea and places a mark of protection.

But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. ~Genesis 4:15 (NIV)

Cain had forsaken God but God had not forsaken him. He finds himself beyond God presence, East of Eden, but not beyond the protective hand of God. This is God’s common grace, this is as good as it gets without Christ. But there is much more grace to enjoy.

If you find yourself wondering why God did not kill Cain on the spot then you may missed the point! Have you not forgotten that murder and anger spring from the same heart. Jesus said:

“I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. ~Matthew 5:22 (NIV)

And have you not forgotten, we too stand under the judgment of God and Hell is too much for us to bear. Ones death will never pay for the sins of Cain, the policemen in Minneapolis or any of us “Its appointed that a person die once and afterward face judgment.” That is a punishment unable to bear. There is a death that will provide justice and mercy.

You have come to … Jesus … and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. ~Hebrew 12:23b-24 (NIV)

The blood of Abel rightly demanded death and hell but the blood of Jesus speaks a better word, a word of mercy where justice is not ignored, a word of forgiveness where sins are taken seriously, a word of love where God’s righteous anger is poured out and a word of hope where anyone who calls on the name of this Lord will be saved.

It’s too late to be sinless but it’s not too late to turn and trust in our Lord and it’s not too late to stand with those who do speak of the racial injustices they have experienced.

Why not this week ask permission to listen to the story of those who have come from a different culture to your own. Ask them about experiences of racism inside and outside the church.

Heavenly Father
forgives for our pride, our jealousy, our anger and our defiance against you.
Forgive us for not being our brother’s keeper.
Thank you, Lord Jesus for providing full forgiveness for any who turn and put their trust in you.
Thank you Lord that your blood offers us a word of justice and mercy.
Empower us to listen to, to speak up and stand with those who experience injustice.
In Jesus name.

Talk Manuscript

Brad Thorn tells us about his career as a professional league and union international player. Playing for Queensland, Australia and the All-Blacks. Most importantly he shares with us about his new life in Jesus.

Persecution speeds up evangelism. So far, the story of Acts has focused on Jerusalem and what is interesting is that mission to the nations is not the result of endless praying meetings, or strategic planning sessions, or setting smart goals, its good old fashion persecution. The pressure has been building and it now comes to boiling point where the lid has come off.

And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. ~Acts 8:1-3 (NIV)

The bold preaching has escalated the conflict and the apostles are first arrested, threatened and released. Then arrested again, imprisoned and escaped. Then arrested beaten and released.

In Chapter 7, Stephen is stoned to death with the approval of Saul. We have the first man to be killed for Jesus and the first man to kill Christians. Now its ratchetted up, the attack led by Saul is vicious and violent and the goal is clear: to destroy the church. This time it’s not just apostles but just ordinary men and women, mums and dads are dragged out of their homes and

thrown into jail. The result is that Jewish Christians are dispersed into other nations. Yet again, we see God using evil for good. Persecution becomes the gateway to evangelism.

Tertullian in the 3rd century speaking about the persecution of

Christians wrote “…as often as you mow us down, the more we grow in number. The blood of the Christians is the seed [of the church].” (Apology 50)

Instead of killing off Christianity persecution grows the gospel and builds the church.

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. ~Acts 8:4-8 (NIV)

The apostles are now trying to catch up to what God is doing. The message is outrunning the apostles, one of the 7 chosen to wait on tables is Philip and like Stephen, he was full of the Holy Spirit and like Stephen, he was a Greek-speaking Jew. Persecution has taken Philip to a city in Samaria and this is the next stage in the plan of God. Remember what Jesus said

… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~Acts 1:8b (NIV)

Jerusalem, done. Judea, done. Samaria, now in progress.

When the Communists kicked out the missionaries from China in 1949 everyone feared that it would be the end of Christianity in China but it gave birth to the house church movement, the number of Christians tripled over the next 30 years. In the last 30 years 80 million Chinese became Christians.

Philip is now breaking new ground for Jesus. Samaritans were the hated feral cousins of Jews and they were ethnically impure. They were the result of 10 tribes intermarrying with their Assyrian victors. The venom between a Samaritan and a Jew is like the venom between an Arab and a Jew. The worst thing the Jews could call Jesus

“… you are a Samaritan and demon possessed” ~John 8:48 (NIV)

They were spiritually impure, they opposed the building of the temple and they only held to the first 5 books of the bible. The real clue they were spiritually bankrupt was when they let Simon the sorcerer became so popular.

Now for some time a man named Simon had practised sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery ~Acts 8:9-11 (NIV)

He claimed to be great, he acted like he was great and they believed he was great. He was persuasive and all levels of society followed him. He practised in the dark arts, from sorcery to magic spells.

We had a former white witch come to Christ, she was into wicker, casting spells. I asked about her experiences and she said ‘I had a sense of peace when I did the chants, but the moment it was over the peace would leave me’. Coming to Christ gave her a permanent sense of peace.

God did not leave Samaria in the dark, He had a future for these people

… I will restore the fortunes … of Samaria and her daughters, ~Ezekiel 16:53 (NIV)

They had given up on the true God but God had not given up on them, He sent Philip to preach the good news that Jesus is the Messiah and with it came real signs and wonders, not your mickey mouse counterfeits.

But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women ~Acts 8:12 (NIV)

What Philip offered was not the works of men but works of God, not the words of men but the word of God, believing that Jesus is alive and Lord and King. The Samaritans went from “Simon says” to “Jesus says”. Simon himself repents and believes and is baptised. Simon who amazed others is himself now amazed

Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. ~Acts 8:13 (NIV)

Simon, this self-appointed great one bows before the greatest one – the Lord Jesus. But things are not quite right with his heart.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. ~Acts 8:14-17 (NIV)

Can you see the problem? I hope you can! We have a surprising delay between faith in Jesus and the baptism of Spirit. It did occur again in Acts 10 and 19. Why here and why now? For the first time the gospel has gone to the Samaritans. New barriers were broken down. Could Samaritans become Christian? Would they be equal with Jewish Christians?

In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Samaritan. For that reason, the Spirit is withheld until the Apostles lay hands and pray for them and only then does the Spirit come on them. It was absolutely crucial that the apostles could verify. The delay was not setting a pattern for all Christians. Be careful in turning a description into a prescription and confusing what is and what should be. The delay was to confirm once for all that Samaritans were in the kingdom. What happened to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem now happened to Samaritan Christians in Samaria. To prove it the section ends with Apostles preaching through the cities of Samaria.

This passage has been seriously misread and the real question is this: when and how does a person receive the Spirit of God?

  1. Roman Catholics/Orthodox and some Anglicans say that you are not baptised in Spirit until your Confirmation by a bishop. That is why the hats of a bishop are shaped like flames of fire – Pentecost
  2. Pentecostals say that there is a 2 step process in the Christian life. Step 1 Repent and Believe in Jesus and Step 2 Baptised by the Spirit, confirmed by speaking in tongues.

Only then will you have victory over sin and Satan, and the only proof of that is speaking in tongues.

Can you see why it’s appealing? Which Christians don’t want more power, more joy and more victory in their life? But the bible is clear, speaking in tongues is a gift given to some not all and there is no mention of tongues in this passage. For others, it’s an attempt to find words to describe wonderful experiences that are given by the Spirit.

So, it’s a real experience but the wrong language, God`s Spirit does many works and it may be tied to gifting or godliness or grasping Christ love, but the language of Baptism of Spirit is not the right language. The Bible language is filled with the Spirit, gifts of the Spirit and fruit of the Spirit. Lifelong work of the Spirit in the Christian life.

Traditional Pentecostals see two classes of Christians, those Christians who are baptised with the Spirit and those who are not. Its ironic that the reason why God delays in giving the Spirit to the Samaritan is to affirm that there are no 2 classes of

Christians. Peter already said it on the day of Pentecost ‘Repent and you receive forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit’

Paul is also clear

For we were all baptized by one Spirit …—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. ~1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV)

No Christian has missed out, which is not to say that every person who claims to believe are genuine believers. Time sifts out those who are real and those who are not.

Simon the Sorcerer was one who believed and was baptised but there is something wrong with his faith.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” ~Acts 8:18-19 (NIV)

Simon saw the Spirit come when the Apostles laid hands on them and he thought it was a kind of magic. Simon wanted to have access to that power and be great again. You could say that he wanted a good thing, to give the Spirit to others but Peter is not so kind.

Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” ~Acts 8:20-23 (NIV)

Peter calls on Simon to repent and for Simon to pray for himself. He does not say, you have an evil spirit which needs to be delivered, he wants Simon himself to pray for mercy. Why is Peter so tough? Simon claimed to be on the inside as a believer in Jesus, if unchecked, Simon would do more damage than Persecution.

Simon wanted to buy his way into ministry in a way that Schumacher bought his way into Formula 1. We already saw the clues, he was overly impressed by signs and wonders and he came from a world of power, and self-glory. It still ran deep in his soul that was full of bitterness because the apostles were the focus and not him.

Peter knows what it’s like to be on the end of a stiff rebuke, remember when Jesus rebuked Peter “God behind me Satan you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men”

How do you receive a rebuke? It will determine how your Christian life will go, so many get one small negative comment or correction and they leave church. Don’t judge me!!! not every correction is right and not every right rebuke is done well but its how we grow brothers and sisters.

Simon needed to learn that you can`t buy your blessings from God. If a second baptism of the Spirit is a serious error then those who moved into Prosperity doctrine have reached a new low.

Is it not evil when we are told we can buy blessings from God, you can`t manipulate God to bless because He doesn’t need your money and He knows your heart.

If you have pledged thinking God owes you then take your pledge back or Repent. Give because you’re thankful or don’t give at all, give for God`s glory or don’t give at all, give because you want the lost saved or don’t give it at all.

Today we saw the Samaritans believe, and they were baptised, next time we resume Acts we will see the first Africans come to faith.

“Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow!” Those were the last words of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple before he died at the age of 56. This was from a man who described death as “very likely the single best invention of life”. Whereas most of us fear death and do anything to avoid thinking about it or talking about it, Steve wanted to capture the beauty of death.

Today, we’re going to look at the last words from another man named Steve, these were words that cost him his very own life.
And yet that didn’t stop him at all, he didn’t back down and he didn’t shy away from the truth.

Now before we look at the speech, let’s just remind ourselves of where we’ve been in Acts. Jesus has died. He’s risen. He’s ascended back to heaven. But one of Jesus’ last words which frames the whole of the book

But you [the apostles] will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~Acts 1:8 (NIV)

OK, so come to Chapter 6 and let’s do the status check. The Holy Spirit has well and truly been poured out. Last week we left things at Acts 6:7.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. ~Acts 6:7 (NIV)

There’s plenty of witnessing going on in Jerusalem. Priests are turning to Jesus.

Judea? Not yet.
Samaria? Not yet.
Ends of the earth?

The mission’s got a long way to go, there’s work to be done and Stephen takes it upon himself to get the ball rolling.

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. ~Acts 6:8-9 (NIV)

We saw last week that Stephen was 1 of only 7 deacons who were chosen to serve food to the widows, but that’s not the reason why he’s copping some opposition in verse 9. You don’t offend anyone by doing good deeds or performing miracles, do you?

Christianity’s not called NICE-ianity. No – it’s called CHRIST-ianity because the main game is Jesus. It’s all about him!
And Stephen can’t stop talking about Jesus.

See, being a Christian, and if you’re here today and you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, we are so glad you’re with us.
In fact, let me speak to you for a moment: to call yourself a Christian is more than being nice and friendly. Sure, that might be one of the things that’s attracted you to check out Christianity in the first place! Maybe you’ve had a friend or a family member, who just seems different, they don’t gossip, they don’t badmouth and they seem secure.

Christianity is that but it’s way more than that. Because to be a Christian it’s to look at the world in a totally different way. The things we chase after, how you spend your time, your money, your attitude to relationships, sex, work and sometimes (often) that kind of counter-cultural thinking results in butting heads. Because deep down what’s happened is there’s been a massive switch, a swap, a change of allegiance. No longer are you living for yourself. Instead, you’re living for the one who rescued you, Jesus, God’s one and only way out of the mess we’ve brought upon ourselves. This is more than doing good. This is good news! It’s this message coming out of Stephen’s mouth, that was landing him in hot water!

That’s why I thank God for those of you who’ve stuck your neck out for Jesus. Those who’ve opened your mouths for Jesus. Even if that’s meant opposition. I think of the grandparent who faithfully, sensitively, drops Jesus into the conversation even though her daughter and son-in-law doesn’t want a bar of Jesus. I think of the uni-student who gently disagrees when her classmate pays out on Jesus and then later has a personal conversation to hear how she came up with that view, because chances are there’s some previous hurt. I think of the guy who at a mate’s bucks party, calls it a night when everyone else is heading to the strip club.

You can see that following Jesus comes with a cost, it does today and it did back then. For Stephen in Acts 6, that opposition came in three stages. This was an all-out smear campaign against Stephen, what began with arguing quickly escalates to spreading lies.

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” ~Acts 6:11 (NIV)

That then moves to stage 3: seizing Stephen and dragging him before the authorities and for good measure, let’s throw in some false witnesses as well. Come verse 13 we hear the accusation being levelled at Stephen is this.

“This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” ~Acts 6:13-14 (NIV)

You have to understand that for a Jew there’s nothing more sacred, nothing more precious, than the temple and their law. These were prized possessions in Jewish culture. The temple was where God had promised to ‘put his name’. It was the place where he would meet his people. The physical building represented security and God’s protection. The law, otherwise known as the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible. These were the precious words given by God to Moses. It constituted, it defined Israel as God’s chosen people, it was their history and how they were to related to their God.

The law and the temple, these were cultural icons. It’s what made you Jewish. They were like, say the Aboriginal flag to Australians or the Statue of Liberty to Americans or what Nelson Mandela is to South Africa. Well Stephen, by attacking these Jewish fixtures, it’d almost be like him burning the national flag. That’s how serious it was.

Now before we dive into Stephen’s response it’s worth noting this verse:

All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. ~Acts 6:15 (NIV)

Let’s just pause for a sec there. Can you imagine being there in the audience? Stephen’s in the dock and all eyes are on this prisoner, only you have to do a double-take, hang on a sec there’s a different Stephen and he looks like an angel!

This is a throwback to what happened to Moses as he walked down from Mount Sinai. That just as God caused the people back in that day to see that Moses had God’s tick of approval, so too He does the same with Stephen now. Stephen’s not an apostle, one of God’s appointed eyewitnesses. But he sure seems like he’s the total package, he’s full of God’s grace and power, he’s got Spirit-given wisdom and now he has the shining face to go with it. Stephen is without a doubt God’s anointed and appointed for what’s about to happen. God wants those listening to what Stephen’s about to say, to know that these words come with the authority of God himself.

Come Chapter 7. We now get Stephen’s speech! Its the longest speech recorded for us in the book of Acts. Some people joke it’s so long because that was Stephen’s way of buying time, so he could live longer! But more than self-defence in the face of death, more than being an outstanding summary of the entire Old Testament, which it is. More than Stephen just talking through the family tree, more than this being simply a history lesson, Acts 7 is a rousing wake up call!!!

Get with the Program. If you had to sum up what Stephen’s said then that’s what I’d say: get with the program; listen up! Don’t follow in the footsteps and don’t make the same mistakes your ancestors did. God has come good on the promises he’s made all along to our ancestors and Jesus is better! The old has gone and the new is here.

Now you break down the details of Stephen’s speech, and he really takes those two accusations that have been levelled at him, the temple and the law, and what he masterfully does is give the back story of what God intended with those two cultural icons.

So first the temple. Stephen’s point here is – you can’t box God in! The God of glory can’t be contained to one building or in one city. Stephen says to look at Abraham! God appeared to him in Mesopotamia, in modern-day Iraq and God blessed Joseph where? In Egypt! Second half of Verse 9:

….But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace. ~Acts 7:9-10 (NIV)

God’s always been a God on the move. Next stop, Midian in Saudi Arabia as Moses leads his people out of slavery.

In fact, you guys are here today living in the Promised Land but Abraham, Joseph and Moses didn’t even make it in alive! Their dead skeletons had to be carried in! and yet God was just as much with them, present with them, speaking to them, God spoke to Moses from a burning bush and He was no less committed to blessing them, temple or no temple.

In fact, the physical temple building itself that didn’t even turn up on the scene till WAY down the track, after David because it was Solomon who built it. Stephen says ‘you Jews, you’ve known this is the way God’s been working all along. In fact, don’t you remember Isaiah, one of our very own saying these words:

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?’ ~Acts 7:48-50 (NIV)

God can go wherever he pleases, He’s not tied down to one location! God is on the move and on the march, accompanying, directing, guiding, calling his people from here, there and everywhere!

And now, thanks to Jesus, the temple’s been upgraded to a person. We meet God in the person of Jesus, He’s the new temple. You and I, we don’t make pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Why? Because we can meet God right here, here in the Scriptures. That’s why we, as a church, have been on about 1 thing and 1 thing only since the very beginning, introducing people to Jesus, from the Scriptures and in the context of loving relationships.

So in response to charge Number 1: That Jesus will destroy the temple. The verdict is in and Stephen is guilty as charged.

What about Charge number 2: Changing the customs of Moses. Well here the tables have turned, the accused becomes the accuser. Stephen points the finger at Israel’s track record of treating Moses. For me, verse 35 pretty much captures it, in the second half we read that:

…he (Moses) was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself’ ~Acts 7:35c (NIV)

But in the first half, Stephen says this:

“This is the same Moses they had rejected… ~Acts 7:35a (NIV)

And how did they reject Moses? by saying:

…‘Who made you ruler and judge?’… ~Acts 7:35b (NIV)

In verse 39 Stephen mentions again how Moses was treated:

“But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. ~Acts 7:39 (NIV)

Stephen says: You want to accuse me of getting Moses wrong? Well look yourselves in the eye, look at what our ancestors have done. When God sent Moses for our good, to make himself known, what did we do? We rejected him, we refused him, we would much rather worship a golden calf, some dead, worthless, pretend god who was puny and powerless. The history of the Jews again and again and again, it’s God moving towards his people and them pushing HIM away.

Essentially Stephen is saying, the problem isn’t God, it’s you! You’re the ones that are missing what’s there right in front of your eyeballs! you’re too busy being caught up in your traditions and customs. In a word, the problem is this: Idolatry. They turned good things, good, God-given things, like the temple. like the law of Moses and they turned those good things into God things.

What’s going on here is a refusal to let go, a refusal to see the bigger picture because all along the Jews have been fixated on pursuing their agenda rather than God’s, of keeping their customs and preserving their way of life instead of getting with God’s program.

Today, in church life, it’s no different. Rob helpfully alluded to some of these things last week. I was in one of those churches where it felt like we spent an excessive amount of time deciding what chairs we were going to buy. At another church, we were forever doing the delicate dance of being mindful of existing customs and traditions and not offending the original people who started the church and were still alive. Changes needed to be made for the sake of the gospel and there were cultural sensitivities involved. Both things were valid, but both, in my opinion, distracted us from getting on with the mission of Jesus.

Come verse 51. Stephen after putting the temple and the law in their proper context now gets stuck right into his audience. And I mean stuck in.

“You stiff-necked people… ~Acts 7:51 (NIV)

I remember a few years ago I woke up with a locked neck, I couldn’t turn and I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t check the blindspots. It carries that idea – you’re stuck in your ways, you’re stubborn, you won’t budge.

Stephen’s not done yet, he moves further down the body.

… with uncircumcised hearts and ears… ~Acts 7:51 (NIV)

Essentially Stephen’s saying this: The problem isn’t God, it’s you! Sure, you might be circumcised to mark you out as a Jew, but in terms of being circumcised where it matters, in your hearts and in your ears, the foreskin’s still on! It’s a graphic as that!!

Stephen’s not done yet, he’s still turning the screws.

…you are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him ~Acts 7:51-52 (NIV)

Instead of like father, like son, here it’s like ancestor, like you. Time and time again, they’ve failed to get with the program. The one thing Israel’s leaders have been good at is this, Rejecting God’s messengers, dragging them over the coals and they’ve even put some of them to death!

If you’re someone here today and you’re not yet a follower of Jesus, let me ask you, What’s stopping you? The thing about saying No to Jesus, again and again, is that you get very good at it. Perhaps the take-home for you today is what Peter was driving home: Get with the program.

Maybe you’ve been hanging around church for a while and you’re not happy with the way things are done, you want church to fit in around you. You know – why hasn’t church given me a best friend? Why hasn’t anyone from church reached while I’m doing it tough? Why is my kid not following Jesus? Well, the take-home for you is exactly the same: Get with the program.

See the bigger picture of what God has done, is doing and will do. He’s in the business of putting all things under the rule and authority of Jesus and that includes us!

Over the course of this week, I’ve developed a litmus test for myself. A self-check to see how on board with the program I really am. I’ve found myself asking again and again: Do I have that same fire in the belly as Stephen? What things do I get upset about? What things do make me want to speak up? To not back down. What things make my blood boil? What I’ve realised is this that for me, there’s been plenty of times when it’s been things other than the gospel.

Maybe like me, you need to ask God to put that burden on your heart, to make the mission of Jesus the forefront of your mind, your ambitions and your heart. To let that be at the centre and let everything else fall into place around that.

I want to be upset at the fact I spend more time pursuing small, tiny, limited dreams, things that revolve around me. Or limited to just this lifetime when God has given me a much bigger, a much better, a much bolder vision of the future. I want to feel the weight and the burden of the people around me, failing to treat Jesus rightly, the way he deserves.

That was the weight that Stephen felt. That’s what compelled him to do what he does in verse 54 when the heat is being turned up. When things are about to come to a head, Stephen looks up to heaven and what does he see?

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” ~Acts 7:55-56 (NIV)

The layers of heaven are peeled back as much for Stephen as it is for the Sandhedrin.

For the Sanhedrin it’s a sign, your authority is being stripped away, the Son of Man, God himself is calling the shots now. The Jesus you’ve rejected, that you’ve killed, He is the one standing in all authority. He will judge and deliver his verdict because he carries the authority of God himself. Your rejection of Jesus, that’s rejecting God.

For Stephen, it provides great comfort and great confidence. That what he’s been saying all along has got God’s tick of approval. He has well and truly got with God’s program. Whereas at the start of his speech, he had the face of an angel now he is able to set his gaze directly at the glory of God. He’s able to see God in all his splendour and majesty. You can understand how Stephen, having laid eyes on the glory of God, how he can face what happens next.

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. ~Acts 7:57-58 (NIV)

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. ~Acts 7:59-60 (NIV)

Notice here two very different responses, one use their position to kill, to silence and to engage in violence. The other uses their power to forgive.

For Stephen what a way to die! He’s seen the glory of God, he’s seen the bigger picture, there’s no fear in death at all for him. He can echo the words of the Lord Jesus himself who cried out to his Father on that cross: “Receive my spirit” and he can pray like Jesus too! Pray an other-person centred prayer, for his enemies, that they would be forgiven for the very thing they’re doing as they’re getting stuck into Stephen. Murdering another one of God’s messengers, just like their ancestors did. Following in the footsteps of their family.

Right to his dying breath Stephen is other person centred! Stephen speaks as one who knows what it’s like to not have his sin held against him.

I said at the start Steve Jobs’ last words were: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” Well, I want to say about Stephen: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

Stephen is the first martyr but he’s definitely not the last. In fact, Stephen is part of our story today because it’s the death of Stephen that blows things up. It’s this event that kickstarts the global expansion of Christianity. The disciples become scattered as we’ll see next week and God’s word will continue to spread. Things won’t be the same after today, what was once a localised affair, will go gangbusters, reaching all the way to you and I, here 2,000 years later.

Thanks to the boldness of Stephen, he is part of our story, he played a part in you and I being able to hear this wonderful news of Jesus. The challenge is this, who’s story are you seeking to be part of? Is that something that’s on your mind?
Is that something you’re asking God for?

For me, this past week, the person who God’s put me in regular contact is a lady who stands outside my house every weekday morning and every weekday afternoon, she’s the “School Crossing Supervisor”. It’s still very early days and I don’t even know her name but we’ve had a couple of conversations over the past few weeks. This week I got to say that I work at church and next week, the last week of school, I’m praying for an opportunity to invite her to Christmas.

Now what happens God only knows but we have a tremendous opportunity coming up to Christmas to be part of someone’s story don’t we. It’s why we’re committed to sending a launch team to Parramatta next year, so that they too can be part of someone’s story. A story that may involve them saying Yes to Jesus.

Let me ask you, the challenge is this, who’s story are you going to be part of?

In the history of the church, there have been some massive controversies that have split the church.

The divinity of Jesus. How is a person saved, by faith or by works. Baptism to the Lord’s supper. From Scripture to the Holy Spirit, there have been some serious church splits over these issues. And some were needed!

But there have also been some big fights over things that aren’t anywhere near as important… Some of these things still cause some of the biggest divisions in church today!

Here’s a few:

  • The colour of the carpet or when it’s time for replacing.
  • The choice of the chairs, pews or single chairs? Which way should they face and what colour should they be.
  • Music choice, hymns or modern songs, more heartfelt, more truth. In a church I visited in Africa, there were 3 separate choirs because they couldn’t agree on what songs they wanted to sing, so the service went for 20 minutes longer for each choir to do their round of songs.
  • The air-conditioning temperature! It’s always too warm for Ray but I’d have it on freezing summer and winter if I could because I’m such a sweater!
  • Dress code, especially on stage, shoes off? I heard of a church petitioning for all their pastors to be clean-shaven, therefore I’m out!
  • People have left churches over decisions about what coffee beans to use in their coffee ministry.
  • One of the biggest troubles I had in a previous church was over how we set up the Church Facebook groups.
  • In COVID times, to sing or not to sing…

Well we see here in this passage one of the first church quarrels, up until now the heat’s been coming from the outside but now it’s getting heated on the inside and rather than being about trivial things, it’s a serious issue, let’s check it out. Presenting Issue:

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. ~Acts 6:1 (NIV)

So, we have a problem! It’s important to note that it’s a good problem! The number of disciples was increasing, Praise God! after being heavily persecuted. But with more people comes more complexity and these widows are missing out on support.

Now, remember, back in chapter 4 people were sharing their stuff, selling fields, and bringing money to the Apostles to distribute to whoever was in need.

Up to this point, the Apostles have been overseeing everything, the teaching and the organising of the church and also the social needs of people in their community, that’s 12 guys for thousands of people! Seems like, they’ve got their hands full, they’ve got a load of work to do and something’s falling off the table. We’ve all been there before, too much to do and something’s got to fall, what or who will it be? How do we make the decision?

Something important to note here is that this ministry to the widows was a service to those inside the church. These widows are Christian and possibly relatives of other Christians who were a part of the new community of believers. This daily distribution is a ministry to those in need within the Christian community. It’s not an example of the early Church’s endeavour to relieve Jerusalem of poverty and hunger. These weren’t just hungry widows needing food. This isn’t your downtown food shelter where anyone can roll up and grab a warm meal. This ministry is not a wider social justice endeavour.

Now that’s not to say that that kind of thing isn’t important, needed, good and right. It has its place in the Christian life and the witness of the Church, it’s just not what was going on here. What’s going on here is a demonstration of the body of Christians, the community of Jesus believers serving and caring for one another in the church. It’s a continuation of the beautiful picture at the end of chapter 4. That is, doing the Christian life together well. But at this point, they weren’t doing it so well. So, what do they do?

So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. ~Acts 6:2 (NIV)

What could they not let fall off the table? The ministry of the word! Why? Because the Church’s mission is accomplished through the ministry of the word. The Gospel is a message and if it stops going out, the Church ceases to exist. The Church is not merely a social club, it is a spirit-filled community, brought into existence by people putting their faith in the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The church exists, grows and continues, by the ministry of the Word of God! And these Apostles have been specifically entrusted with that ministry by Jesus himself! If they let that slip then they’ve failed.

But, there’s a whole lot more that needs to happen within the community, and a commitment to the word doesn’t make everything else unimportant! The word must go out, but the church also needs to function. People need to be loved.

I think we can often create this unhelpful priority to the two things, and make them opposed to one another so that serving one another’s needs and organising church can be seen as an enemy of the word ministry. But that’s not the way the bible speaks about them. The bible holds them together much more tightly. This passage is saying, and this is the point here… Both things are extremely important but both accomplish different things.

The poor and struggling won’t be fed or cared for if no one helps feed and care for them. It doesn’t happen if we don’t do it. Likewise, the lost will not be saved, if no one preaches the gospel to them. Food won’t save someone from sin to eternal life. In the same way, the gospel doesn’t magically make clothes and food appear on a kitchen table. Both need to happen but both aren’t the same thing.

Let’s have a think about each of them. Jesus said the Church will be known by the way we love and care for one another. In the Old Testament law, God was always concerned for his people to be looking out for those in need. I’ve been reading Jeremiah and it’s striking how when God judges his people, it’s often because of their lack of care for widows, for orphans, for the poor and needy among them. They overlooked them.

The New Testament’s also flooded with calls to care for the weak, support the poor and practice hospitality, to share with one another. Use the things we have to ensure others are getting on ok to live sacrificial lives of love for one another in the church, that’s what Jesus calls us to do.

We are a body, and we function well together as we all care equally for one another, it’s like trying to walk when you’ve got a sore toe. But God also says the Church is built on the foundation of the Scriptures; the prophets and Apostles. And the way it grows and functions well is by being fed with God’s word. So, we’re called to teach the word, guard the word, obey the word and be transformed by the word.

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. ~Matthew 4:4 (NIV)

A well-functioning Church makes sure both things are happening. So, what was their solution to keep both going?

Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” ~Acts 6:3 (NIV)

Now notice here what kind of people were raised up, not just people with the right skills but the right convictions and character. These men are well known among the community, tested and approved and they’re full of 2 things, The Spirit & Wisdom.

Now being full of the Holy Spirit means firstly that they’re believers! United but also they’re following the Spirit’s lead in all areas of life. To have the Spirit and not be filled by Him is to be at war with him as he seeks to work in you. These men are working to align their whole life with his will. They’re also full of wisdom and wisdom according to the bible is usually in regards to having a right view of God and being able to make good decisions about things in life because of that. These men are mature Christians, they listen to the word and do what it says.

There’s a challenge there for each of us, would you have been chosen as one of these people to take up this ministry? If not then why? What things in your Christian life are lacking or getting in the way of you giving yourself to God’s work in this way? This particular role of theirs is later described as being a Deacon a word you might have heard before, especially as we’ve been talking about pledging at this time of year.

In 1 Timothy 3 Paul describes the differing roles of Elders or pastors (overseers), and deacons. The word Deacon literally means a servant, it’s the Greek word that we get the word ministry from. It’s the act of doing a service of taking one thing and passing it on. This passage contrasts 2 ministries, serving/distributing food for the widows and serving/distributing the word. So, the Apostles call on the church here to gather a group of people to take up and oversee this ministry of serving the widows, so the word ministry doesn’t have to stop.

Our deacons here at MBM essentially do the same service for us pastors. They work at a higher level, overseeing things like the finances, building and property things, a lot of the behind the scenes managing. They do those things so that the pastors don’t get completely bogged down with those important things and then can’t continue to commit ourselves to teaching and praying, pastoring. And we thank God for them! and so should you.

I just want to publicly honour them now actually. If you didn’t know, our deacons are: Steve Pieri, Jono Anderson, Ed Johnson, Aron Calfas, you have to know that most of these guys have been growth group leaders or done other various word ministries in the past, some are still heavily involved in word stuff. I asked one of them this week what he loves about being a deacon at MBM: He said “The deacons meeting is honestly the one meeting I’ve never dreaded going to, it’s such a joy to work with some amazingly skilled guys to take care of a range of things so our pastors can focus on the main game – people and Jesus” and he said “it’s also good being able to be behind the scenes and not have to be upfront.”

I also need to mention Bruce Winters and Leanne Shepherd who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make so much ministry happen and function! There’s plenty more along with them!

It was beautiful to see on Monday, while we were having our staff meeting and had just spent time praying, to look outside and see our brother Warren Kuschert spraying weeds and fixing up the gardens and Frank Spiteri and his team working on the maintenance around the place.

It’s not only the official Deacons who are involved in organising and overseeing things to ensure the word isn’t neglected. Everyone who helps out in any way around the place to free-others up, who have been equipped for word ministries, (kids ministry and youth, and Growth Group leaders), you are ensuring that the ministry of the word continues! You’re ensuring Christian growth can happen, ensuring lives are saved, ensuring the mission of Lord Jesus doesn’t come to a screeching halt in our generation, in our Church. So thank you!
Keep praying for those who teach, that we’d stay faithful in our devotion to it.

OK, So how does the church respond?

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. ~Acts 6:5-6 (NIV)

If you know anything about the origin of names, you’ll notice the men they chose have Greek names. They choose Greek men to care for their own Greek widows, those who had the issue have become solutions to the issue. As you know those who know their culture serve their culture best.

And if you know anything about the next few chapters in Acts… 2 of these guys end up out there preaching the word in massive ways. Next week we’ll meet Stephen, who gives a powerful speech to the Sanhedrin and ends up stoned for testifying about Jesus, he’s the first Christian Martyr. Then Philip goes out evangelising a bunch of villages along with the Ethiopian Eunuch! It’s not about doing one or the other.

in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord, always be ready to give a reason for the hope you have. ~1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Whether you make coffee or set up seats, serve morning tea or help people into the car park, if you’re a Christian, we all play our part in the ministry of the word and the growth of the Church! Amen?

Honestly, those Christians who say talking about Jesus just isn’t my thing, I just stick to helping people, I know it feels safer but as someone once said: “How much do you have to hate someone to have the life-saving message of Jesus and not try to share it with them, knowing they’re on their way to hell” Love does both right, it helps them in their need and holds out the gospel.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. ~Acts 6:7 (NIV)

A transformed community transforms communities! Remember in the chapter before this, the priests were the ones persecuting the Apostles and now with the Apostles freed up to focus on prayer and the word, they’re turning to Jesus.

Let me say a few things in reflection on MBM and this passage. At MBM we’re committed to the word and prayer that’s why we open the bible and preach every week. It’s why we run kids church and youth group and why we have prayer meetings. Its why we pray together in our staff meetings all through the week. It’s why we’re also committed to seeing all our members gathering around the word in smaller communities in our growth groups, which is also where a lot of prayer happens.

We’re also committed to training leaders to handle the word better, so we can all grow. If you’re keen to grow in the word come and chat with us, we need Leaders. It’s also why we don’t load our church calendar with a bunch of really fun social events, but we do make sure we guard our church gatherings, our small groups meetings and our explaining Christianity courses. We’re committed to people hearing the word and we’re also committed to caring for one another. We see that happening mainly in those small groups through the week, where you can be known and know others so you can know better how to care for them.

But that’s not the only place care happens. I was so encouraged when COVID first hit to see people so willing to offer assistance to anyone in need. So, we set up our [email protected] email address for anyone needing assistance. If that is you at the moment, please don’t do what these Greek Jews did and just grumble, get in touch so we can help you. We’re also committed to seeing every member doing their part so we can all function better together. You have gifts that God has given to only you and what a blessing we can be to each other and the gospel as we put those gifts into practice.

If you haven’t found your place in a serving team or role yet, please come and speak to us. But mainly we want to keep asking the honest question about what we might be doing that’s getting in the way of the word continuing to go out. And I ask you all to keep helping us clear those blockages so we can see a western Sydney who know and love the Lord Jesus, who have a secure place in heaven, and who’s lives now are being transformed by His Spirit.

If you’re thinking about becoming a Christian, think again!

Jesus was very clear “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”

In the 1960s we Christians were viewed as irrelevant, by the 1970s we were a joke and by the 1980s we were viewed as narrow-minded and stupid. In the last 5 years Christianity is viewed as dangerous and the bible as hate speech. Covid has taken some of the heat out the debate but it’s coming back and it will never stop! So friends, be prepared.

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, ~2 Timothy 3:12 (NIV)

Today’s passage is round 2 of persecution in the early church. God’s message won’t be stopped, God is behind the mission of the Lord Jesus. The apostles asked for signs and wonders and they got it

Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. ~Acts 5:16 (NIV)

All who came were healed, God was confirming that Jesus is the living Lord, by the sheer number of miracles, the extradentary nature of the miracles and now drawing from people outside Jerusalem. God is truly at work. They were giving the Jewish leaders every reason to repent.

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.” At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. ~Acts 5:17-21 (NIV)

The Sadducees taught that there was no life after death and the apostles taught that Jesus is risen. You can see why people were shifting loyalties. If your worldview can’t answer the problem of death then it’s time to change your worldview. Its everyone’s felt need, there is lots of false hope.

You can now send a hologram of someone who has died to speak a message to a loved one from the grave. Kanye West did one for Kim Kardashian of her dead father. False hope!

My brother in law Greg was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer a week ago. It was his trust in the living Lord Jesus that made him face life threatening surgery with confidence.

If the Christians are filled with the Spirit then these Sadducees are now filled with jealousy. Out of jealousy they arrest the apostles for the 2nd time and put them in jail overnight. But when you oppose God it will come to nothing, so God sends an angel, which by the way the Sadducees don’t believe in. The angel opens the prison doors and directs the apostles to preach at the temple.

The next day the council convenes and everyone has turned up except the apostles and they are nowhere to be found. Then the leaders hear that the jail doors were locked tight, the prisons guards did not leave their post and the jail is as empty as Jesus tomb. And they are bemused, they go from jealousy to puzzled, people say “I will believe if I can see” well the evidence is mounting but they cannot see.

I remember asking an Atheist Relative “if Jesus were to appear today would you believe.?” “No!” it was never about the evidence. All the leaders can see is that their orders to be silent have been disobeyed, so they arrested the 12 now for the 3rd time.

“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” ~Acts 5:28 (NIV)

They are upset at getting blamed for Jesus death, this is so ironic.

All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” ~Matthew 27:25 (NIV)

They got exactly what they asked for and yet the message of the cross is that their guilt does not have to fall on them. Their guilt, your guilt can fall on Christ in our place. The apostles were not about to apologise for pointing people to the risen Jesus.

Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! ~Acts 5:29 (NIV)

We are forever faced with this choice, God or human. Its not often obey God v obey humans, Jesus said the reason why people do not go public with their faith

for they loved human praise more than praise from God. ~John 12:43 (NIV)

I was talking to someone last week, a self-confessed people pleaser, they decided to draw different stick figures with the name of every significant person in their life. They then systematically crossed over each person, they were trying to live for the applause of one.

Notice the 12 apostles are so bold for Jesus, but Boldness is just Bravado when it’s not based on truth

The apostles make the same case as before:

  1. They crucified Jesus
  2. God they both claimed to worship
  3. He raised him from the dead and placed at his right hand as Prince and saviour
  4. Both the apostles and the Spirit himself testify to this truth, if that is all that was said you can see why they are furious.
  5. But listen to what is said.

God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. ~Acts 5:31 (NIV)

There is a way out – with repentance comes the promise of forgiveness. This was their chance to lead God’s people into repentance. I often wonder, what stops them and us from taking up the call to repent.

Is it pride?

  • That I have to admit to my sins;
  • That I have to concede that: Jesus is right and I am wrong

Is it shame?

  • Owning publicly they murdered the Messiah
  • Can’t come to Christ without confession on their lips

Is it fear?

  • Fear of upsetting people whose love and respect you
  • Fear of being an outcast in a tight community
  • Fear of being accused of cultural disloyal

It has never been cool to come to Christ. Is it too good to be true? Sometimes people never get passed the bad news and
so miss out on the good news. Or is it the cost of commitment, for if Jesus is Prince then they would need to obey him. If Jesus is saviour then they would need to trust him. It means that I have to get out of the drivers seat and let Jesus take control.

So, which is holding you back and is it worth it? Fear, Shame, Pride, or Cost of commitment. That is why the Spirit has to witness to your Spirit that Jesus is Lord. But who is interrogating who? It may look like the apostles are on trial but it’s the ruling council who are on trial

When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. ~Acts 5:33 (NIV)

Watch the emotional words in this passage. Jealousy becomes Fear and Fear leads to Rage. Every instinct in me wants to say to the apostles tread lightly boys and don’t cause trouble. That is what I feel like saying to our Prime Minister when he talks tough on China on the inquiry into COVID. I’m thinking ScoMo tread lightly you’re going to ruin our trade and our farmers are going to pay a heavy price. Sometimes you say the right thing regardless of the cost.

There is a real place for being winsome, it’s never right to be rude and cruel but sometimes the truth needs to be said loud and clear.

They can’t be forgiven unless they repent, they can’t repent unless they confess their sin and they won’t confess their sin unless they confess Jesus to be their Lord and Saviour. In the face of death threats God provides an unlikely rescue.

But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. ~Acts 5:34-35 (NIV)

Gamaliel cites two cases to make his point. Two men, Theudas and Judas of Galilee, both led a rebellion and both were killed and their followers were scattered and both movements came to nothing.

Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” ~Acts 5:38-39 (NIV)

Leave them alone and let them go, don’t kill them and he gives 2 reasons. If its just another human ideology then it won’t last.
That is why when I see Christians push another human ideology learnt at the university of Facebook or Google I think, friends remember the words of Jesus “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.” Only Jesus words stand the test of time and nothing else.

At one level success is not the only criteria if something is from God otherwise Macdonald’s and Islam are from God. I put it this way “Not all success is from God but if it is God-given it will succeed”

Part of the reason why I believe in Jesus is that what Jesus promised in Acts 1:8 has taken place. The Good news as spread from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the ends of the world. “Christianity is believed by people from over 2000 different language groups in the world. More people pray and worship in more languages than in any other religion in the world.”

Its why we have a God-given optimism toward growth and that is why we seek to plant 5 congregations in 10 years and ask God for a 1000 new disciples and that is why I don’t apologise in calling for every person who makes MBM home to financially partner in Gods work.

But more than that you stand against the cause of Christ, you stand against God himself and that is not just Wrong its Dumb. Its why the Jewish leaders are so frustrated, you can’t take on God and win and it’s why some of you are so exhausted, you’re warring against God. The word is to surrender and let Jesus set you free! If God is for us who can be against us. If God is against you then heaven help you, because there is no hope.

But this is no Disneyland Christianity.

His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. ~Acts 5:40 (NIV)

The God who raised Jesus from dead, who sent an angel to set the apostles free, the God who provided Gamaliel to protect the apostles from death. Still allowed them be flogged, 39 lashes to be exact on the back of each of the 12. So brutal it has caused some to bleed to death.

There is no force field protecting Christians, in fact, when the angel who set them free sent them back into the firing lines they asked for boldness that would get them into more trouble. Their boldness is escalating the conflict and its bringing further suffering on them. Eventually, the 12 apostles will be killed for their witness to risen Jesus.

Peter himself will be crucified in Rome upside down and none of it makes sense if they lied about seeing Jesus alive.

I love their response to the flogging.

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. ~Acts 5:41 (NIV)

They saw the 39 lashes on their backs opening up their skin as a privilege. To walk in the footsteps of Jesus who for the joy set before him endured the shame of the cross-honour. The honour of suffering shame for his glorious Name, the only name by which we can be saved. A joy that refused to be silenced.

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah ~Acts 5:41 (NIV)

I’ve put on the top of my list of impossible prayer points, “Lord give me spiritual courage to speak boldly about the good news of the Lord Jesus”. I invite you to do likewise.

At bible study this week we talked of what persecution looks like for them: accused of believing in fairy tales, of being left out and sidelined. One young man, who works on building sites, mentioned he was a Christian at work, the site manager made sure every person could hear him say “I have more hope in believing in werewolves and zombies” The rumour spread around the building site, opening up for more ridicule. I asked him what did he do “I prayed: Father forgive them for they know not what they do” Then I asked how did you feel? I wished he could have spoken better but so glad I could speak, the bible verse on his app that day was:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. ~Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)

Don’t be rude but don’t be ashamed or intimidated brother and sister. We are the only ones who have the answer to death. We have a living faith because we have a living Lord who has made us alive.

So far it’s been a great ride in the book of Acts. These new Spirit filled Christians are so grateful for being forgiven. There is bold preaching in the face of opposition.

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. ~Acts 4:33 (NIV)

The church keeps growing from 12-120 from 3,000-5000. How encouraging?!

Sometimes in life everything falls into place, there are moments in life where everything is just right. It’s true in Church where everything is humming:

  • Season of fruitfulness, where the word is preached and lots of people are saved.
  • Season of faithfulness, where people are servant-hearted and generous and love is the norm.

In Acts 4 we have a second picture of a beautifully transformed community

1. Radical unity

All the believers were one in heart and mind. ~Acts 4:32 (NIV)

When there is a deep unity to Christ there is a deep unity to each other. As John Piper said “When you become united to Jesus by faith, you become united to people by love.”

2. Radical view to their own possessions

Faith in Christ creates a love for people.

No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. ~Acts 4:32b (NIV)

A love for God cuts us loose from a love for things. They still had private ownership, they meet in their homes but no one claimed their possession as their own:

  • My house is yours to use
  • My food is your food to eat
  • My time is your time to enjoy

God has been so generous to us it is only right that we are generous to each other. If you sit tight with Jesus you will sit loose with your possessions.

3. Sacrificial generosity

It wasn’t just you can borrow my car and sleep in the spare room.

For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. ~Acts 4:34b-35 (NIV)

Remember this is on top of their normal giving, that is what makes it sacrificial. Some sold property and gave the money to the apostles to distribute it to the poor. It was sporadic, from time to time. It didn’t happen every day and not everyone owns land to sell. The land I am standing on is the result of one Mr. Lamb who gave it to the parish of Rooty Hill 130 years ago, its the gift that keeps giving.

The land on which Oakhurst Anglican and Richard Johnson is built on was given by a former member of this church. In fact, people leaving properties in wills has resulted in lots of churches being built.

As a rule, everything we have belongs to God and is to be used to bless others. Whatever your source of income we are called to give our first portion to God purposes, if you earn a wage or if you make a profit from a land sale or gain an inheritance. Don’t just keep it all for yourself and family, give the first portion for God`s work and the needs of others, there is no greater need than to be saved from sins. At present 40% has been pledged to cover our next budget. I call on you play your part and partner with us, fill out a pledge card and drop it in today.

4. Grace driven Generosity

And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. ~Acts 4:33-34a (NIV)

Inspired not by the law of God but the grace of God, it was not forced but joyfully given from the heart. It was willing not under compulsion. The Lord loves a cheerful giver.

5. Distributed according to need

There were checks and balances in Old Testament law-making, sure, widows and orphans were taken care of. The goal was for there to be no poor person.

However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, ~Deuteronomy 15:4 (NIV)

Now that dream is realised in this Spirit-filled community.

In 1987 the then prime minister Bob Hawke said “By 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty,” He did admit to regret that promise.

And yet we have much to be thankful for in Australia, we may not appreciate the early church but we have an economy that is a delicate blend of free enterprise and a welfare state. We got here because of Christian introduced biblical principles into parliament. We have a free-market economy with a welfare net, free Education, and Medicare, Pensions and Benefits for pensioners, the sick, the unemployed and the disabled. We have Financial assistance for those in need. Most recently the job keeper and job starter allowance represents 36% of government expenditure. Not perfect but a lot to be thankful for.

Unlike the Australian welfare system, the early church did not feed its poor by taxes imposed by apostles. Unlike Communism
there was no bloody revolution in Jerusalem to make it happen.

Unlike legalistic religion, there were no guilt trips. Just the grace of God moving in the hearts of thankful, forgiven sinners.
The Spirit loosens our relationship to things and tightens our
relationship to people.

One case study was the man Barnabas.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”),sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. ~Acts 4:36-37 (NIV)

Barnabas is mentioned because he will play a big role in the book of Acts, he is the full package, generous with his money, he preaches Jesus, he loves God`s people, he is reaching the lost and he is a man to imitate.

We know him by his nickname, Barnabas means son of encouragement. What is your nickname? Growing up mine was Pitt Galea, I was a bottomless pit and I could eat anything and everything.

Barnabas, son of Encouragement was not attached to things which freed him to love people.

After 30 years I have so many stories to tell of acts of generosity, I remember one family giving me an envelope to pass on to a single parent who was doing it tough, it had a thousand dollars in it.

When you’re free from the love of things you will be free to love people. When I read this I`m both inspired to be more generous and I`m convicted by how much more I need to grow. One thing I know! Barnabas is not regretting selling that property. For all eternity he is enjoying the glory he gave God in this single act of generosity

In chapter 5 we read of a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, doing exactly what Barnabas did, they sold their property and they both gave the sale of the property to the Apostles.

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” ~Acts 5:1-4 (NIV)

The problem was not that Barnabas gave all of the money and Ananias and Saphira gave part of it. Peter is so clear, the land and the money was theirs to do with what they liked, no one had a gun to their head making them sell it. The problem was the lie and the hypocrisy, they claimed to have given it all when in fact they only gave part of it.

At that point it became a form of theft, they wanted the applause from the leaders not from God, they wanted to feed the ego not the poor and they wanted a reputation for being sacrificial without the cost.

Why is this recorded?

  1. Bible is committed to truth. It will not pretend about the failures of the church. It’s written because it happened as much when as when a miraculous sign happens.
  2. It reminds us that the early church is not a perfect church, for those of us wanting to use the early church to judge the present church. Remember it too had its quota of sins and struggles.

Notice how the sin is understood by Peter.

Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit ~Acts 5:3 (NIV)

Not just lies and hypocrisy. A spirit was at work in Ananias but it was not the holy Spirit. It is viewed as an assault by Satan, lying to the church was nothing less than a lie to the Holy Spirit. It is a form of testing God.

Notice that the Spirit of God is not just a power but a person “He” not “it.” You can’t lie to a power but you can lie to a person. The Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Godhead, the long-awaited blessing of the new covenant.

And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. ~Ezekiel 36:27 (NIV)

To lie to church is to lie to the Spirit who dwells among and within each of us. I thank God for how people not only pledge but keep their pledges. We don’t bind people`s consciences, if circumstances change, we understand that giving is impacted.
The problem here is that they claimed to give all when they didn’t.

As you read this story you’re not expecting what happens next

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. ~Acts 5:5-6 (NIV)

Judgment was both swift and severe. It’s not as if there was no time to repent, when Sapphira comes to the house 3 hrs later Peter gives her the chance to tell the truth. She maintains the lie and falls down dead. We all long to see more miracles of healing and not miracles of judgment. We want to see the power to heal, and to amaze but not the power of judgment to create fear. Twice we are told:

And great fear seized all who heard what had happened… Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. ~Acts 5:5,11 (NIV)

Fear took place inside the church of God and fear took place outside the church of God.

Friends: God will not be mocked! It is a warning to all! How is your conscience friends?

  • Greed held back what they promised to give
  • Ego fuelled their lies
  • Pride made them refuse to admit their sin.

How is your conscience?

I knew a man who paid back years of giving. He knew he benefitted from a ministry at MBM that he never supported. I said “I didn’t think he needed to”- start fresh but his conscience would not let it go.

How is your conscience?

What do we make of this judgment? It served as a warning to every generation of Christians, it was the ultimate form of church discipline. It’s rare but it’s also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11, where some have fallen sick and died due to unrepentant sin but this is not the norm. We see godly Christians dying and ungodly believers living long.

But I did hear of one young pastor who served in the outback. The church was riddled with sin from the top down and there was no point of church discipline because you would have had to expel everyone. After 18 months of opposition in the church
He said “God I can`t do it. You have to do it.” In the next 12 months, 18 people in that church died for various unconnected reasons and then 1 year later 200 people were baptised, the Lord cleaned out that church.

At MBM we do believe in church discipline, after a lengthy process we say to those who carry the name Christian, and want fellowship but who justify their sin ‘One of those will have to go, either stop calling yourself a Christian, stop attending our growth group or stop justifying your sin.’ We do it for the sake of the person’s salvation and the holiness of the church.

But I`m also reminded of the grace shown to the rest of us, no conscience is perfectly clean, we each have uttered some lie and we say one thing and do another.

I`m aware of the grace shown to us and I wonder what will you do with this grace? Trample over his mercy and patience?

Remember Friends: God is no fool, God has shot a warning blow, so don’t presume on God`s kindness calling for us to take heed.

Christians have a high view of government, not because the government is always good but because it’s given by God. Submitting to government is how we submit to God, that is, we don’t sing at church and are socially distanced. But sometimes and very rarely you have to make a choice between God and Government. Today’s passage is one of those examples.

We saw last week a beggar who was lame for 40 years, he was instantly, completely, and permanently healed by the apostles in the power of Jesus name. The healed man proved that Jesus is very much Alive and Lord. Peter then called on them all to repent and their sins would be wiped out and over 5000 believed.

As Peter is preaching to large crowds in the temple area the Jewish leaders are upset and come to arrest him. They didn’t like what was happening because the power base was shifting,

This Jewish council was the Sanhedrin. They came from rich high priestly families and they belonged to a group called the Sadducees. They sentenced Jesus to death and they were known for not believing in the resurrection. Peter is now preaching that the same Jesus is alive and the resurrection of the dead had begun. Peter and John are stopped in their tracks.

They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” ~Acts 4:7 (NIV)

That was a gift question, it’s up there with “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” With that question, they go straight to Jesus

It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. ~Acts 4:10b (NIV)

Peter has come a long way in 2 months, he is no longer denying Jesus and he is now filled with the Holy Spirit and he gives bold witness to his Saviour, he does not hold back. The same Jesus you crucified, God raised to life and this mans healing is proof.

Its one thing confronting the crowd with courage but now Peter is confronting the leaders themselves. He quotes a psalm they would say as they went to Jerusalem.

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; ~Psalm 118:22 (NIV)

The stone they discarded on the cross, He became the most precious – who holds together all of Gods purposes and promises.

I once bought a second-hand surfboard at a garage sale in Mt Druitt for $20, it stayed in my garage for 8 years until I got rid of it by giving it to my nephew. He then sold it on eBay for $800.

The rock that was discarded proved to be most precious. So precious is Jesus that salvation is only found in him.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. ~Acts 4:12 (NIV)

That is a verse worth memorizing. The name of Jesus healed this man and saves our souls:

  1. Why the name of Jesus and not Jesus, because he is not physically with us, the name represents the person.
  2. This is an exclusive statement. Two negatives make a positive, salvation found, no one else, no other name given
  3. It’s exclusive because Jesus is unique, Jesus alone bore our sins in his body on the cross. He alone rose from the dead, Jesus alone offers full forgiveness, He alone is coming back to restore the universe.
  4. It’s the only name given by God. You can’t come up with your own name, well you can but it won’t do you any good. No other name, not the name of Allah, Buddha, or Krishna, not the name of God or even Jehovah anymore but only the name of Jesus.

I knew a man who came to Christ at MBM, he use to be a Taoist (Ying/Yang). He used the name of Tao as his secret password to access his bank account and after becoming a Christian he replaced that name with Jesus. Of all the possible names there was only one name that could access his account. Of all the possible names there is only one name, Jesus, that gives us access to God’s salvation.

  1. You complain “why is there only one way” or you can be thankful that there is a way
  2. Which means you can relax, your search for salvation has ended.
  3. That is why Christianity is the first world religion that was committed to persuading others. If you believe Jesus is the only way and you love people then the logic tells you to share the good news. Such boldness surprised the authorities.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. ~Acts 4:13-14 (NIV)

Shocked: not by the miracles but by the boldness of Peter and John. They were amazed that these guys were ordinary and untrained. But they were trained, these men had been with Jesus.

I am Ray Galea BTH, I would prefer Simon Peter BwJ (Been With Jesus). In Jesus, they saw it perfectly taught and then perfectly lived out. The leaders that once terrified Peter are now intimidated by him.

So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” ~Acts 4:15-17 (NIV)

If you not committed to truth, you suppress the evidence or explain it away, the healed man was irrefutable proof that Jesus is alive and Lord. The rulers lived in fear that this thing we call Christianity would spread faster than the COVID virus, so they issued orders to shut up about Jesus.

Now it came to just one question – Who do you obey? God or Government

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” ~Acts 4:18-20 (NIV)

Too many Christians use any excuse to justify civil disobedience. Like the church I heard in our area which kept meeting through the lockdown and with no social distancing, they believed the government was trying to suppress Christianity with COVID.

That makes sense… Governments around the world have trashed their own economies to destroy Christians who only make 5% of Australia’s population. That is a false choice between government and God.

But here is a real choice, when given a choice to obey God or man they chose to obey God. They could have been silent, they could deny Jesus and get out of trouble but Peter knew what that was like. We all know what that is like, we have all seen God open doors that we have closed. We did it by our silence.

What an enormous change has come upon these fear-ridden men. Listen again. “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

It was only 7 weeks ago when Peter denied he knew Jesus three times “I don’t know him…” now he’s confronting Israel’s leadership. Notice how these Christians operate under pressure? Their first instinct to is pray, oh that we would learn to pray under pressure.

When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. ~Acts 4:24 (NIV)

It begins with Sovereign Lord – If God is not in total control then I should panic because God is useless and so is prayer.

The ones who are making the threats are just creatures created by God. They say if you’re nervous giving a speech then imagine everyone naked. I would suggest imagining that each person is created by God, just like you and you will be less intimidated. God controls the universe and He controls the future.

Peter then quotes Psalm 2 that predicts the cross, in this psalm God laughs at the stupidity of rulers of the world who think they can take on his Messiah. It’s like standing in front of a semi-trailer barreling down the highway at 120 km per hour thinking the truck is going to come off second best.

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. ~Acts 4:27 (NIV)

Everyone shares the guilt, the Jews and the Gentiles, the governors and the King. Together they planned out Jesus execution.

They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. ~Acts 4:28 (NIV)

From one vantage point the cross is humans at their worst, that when we had the chance to meet God in the flesh, we killed him.

From another vantage point the cross is God at his best, bringing about the salvation of the world. They did what Gods will decided beforehand should happen.

Learn this lesson, humans are responsible and God is sovereign, like twin train tracks running through the bible. If you get this you are more likely to pray about anything and less likely to be frightened about everything. That is what Peter does.

Now, Lord, consider their threats ~Acts 4:29a (NIV)

They don’t tell God what to do! We leave it in your hands, God. There is plenty of stuff in your life you need to leave in Gods hands. Then they prayed for boldness.

…and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. ~Acts 4:29b (NIV)

The apostles are more worried about wimping out then being wiped out, the persecution is going to escalate. What was worse than being arrested, beaten, imprisoned and killed for Jesus, it’s denying him, Peter does not want to go back there.
The apostles prayed for boldness which would cause more trouble.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. ~Acts 4:31 (NIV)

God answered their prayers and he will answer yours as well. It’s not a boldness that comes by believing in yourself or feeding your mind with positive thoughts. It’s a boldness empowered by two things, first the Spirit of God. You don’t need another miracle to give you that confidence, you don’t need another sign to speak up for Jesus, but you do need the power of the Holy Spirit.

Seriously, have you ever prayed for spiritual courage? This courage is supernatural, its not limited to extraverts. Let the God-given evidence speak to your doubts.

I was given a box for a belated 60th birthday gift, it’s an urn – awkward, I have a box that will one day hold my ashes and it’s a touch unnerving because it made my own death that much more real. So I asked myself is this the end of me?

No! Why not? And then I recalled the evidence.

  • The eye witness report of the apostles
  • God appointed eye witness to Jesus
  • They testified to the many miraculous signs of Jesus
  • They pointed to the many Old Testament prophecies that predicted Jesus life, death and resurrection
  • They were there to see the empty tomb of Jesus.
  • They saw the risen Jesus appear many times after he died over 40 days
  • They saw him, touched him and ate with him
  • The apostles then saw Jesus ascend into heaven with the promise he is coming back.
  • 10 days later as promised Jesus poured out the Spirit enabling them to speak in languages of other people.

And now this lame beggar is completely and instantly healed in the name of Jesus which no one can refute. What proves they are telling the truth? These witnesses just 2 months before had denied Christ, so convinced that what they saw is true they will defy authorities and be willing to be arrested, imprisoned and die, proving that Jesus is alive and Lord and that salvation is
found in only him.

No, this urn won’t carry me or you, for Jesus is alive and the resurrection from among the dead has begun. So pray for courage to speak in the name of the Living Lord, Jesus.

Partner with us at MBM. Today is Commitment Sunday and the last day for pledges, if you believe Jesus is alive and there is no other name for salvation, then prove it. Put your money where your mouth is, so that others may know that Jesus is alive and salvation is found in only him.

Pray for boldness, pledge generously and ponder the evidence.

In my younger days, I was desperate to see the power of God, I longed for more. I probably claimed miracles that I fear had more to do with wishful thinking. I was in search of not just signs and wonder but for assurance and proof that what I believed is real and true and that what I gave up was worth giving up. That the Jesus I trusted was indeed alive.

Today we will the find the assurance we are all looking for and why don`t have to pretend. The story begins in the temple.

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. ~Acts 3:1 (NIV)

These new Jewish Christians followed the pattern of prayer of the Jews and 3 times of the day they spent in prayer at the temple. At the temple we find one desperate man:

Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. ~Acts 3:2 (NIV)

He was disabled from birth for over 40 years, so powerless he had to be carried and so desperate he was forced to beg. He was placed near the gate called “Beautiful” that was marked with an enormous bronze artwork, hoping visitors would stop and also notice this man. This gate was as close as he could get to the temple and he hoped that people who came to love God would love him. While the Spirit-filled Jewish Christians had no needy person, the same could not be said of the rest.

Jesus would have walked past him for 3 years, he never asked Jesus for healing, even now he only asks for money.

When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. ~Acts 3:3-5 (NIV)

Hoping he could have a piece of Christian generosity Peter and John look straight at him, Peter wants this man to give him his full attention, this was not going to be another shekel in the hat. Then the man focused his attention, could this be the day he was going to get the $100 note?

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have… ~Acts 3:6 (NIV)

The apostles were the opposite to the prosperity gospel preachers because the prosperity preachers are rich and these apostles were poor, prosperity preachers do fake miracles and the apostles actually do real miracles. We are about to see one.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. ~Acts 3:6-8 (NIV)

Dr Luke gives the specific details, the 2 words often used to describe a miracle. First, he was healed straight away

“…instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” ~Acts 3:7b (NIV)

He did not slowly get better over the next 6 months.

Second, he was completely healed. Notice the man didn’t go from a wheelchair to a walking frame and then 2 years of intensive physio, he went from being totally disabled to totally healed in an instant.

He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. ~Acts 3:8 (NIV)

With Jesus they don’t limp out, they don’t walk out, they go walking and leaping and praising God.

It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see. ~Acts 3:16b (NIV)

Third, this miracle was on public record, it didn`t happen to some anonymous stranger. When faith healers fly into town in their private jets raking in $100,000s of dollars claiming to heal people, you don’t know the person on stage, you can’t verify anything, I commend the documentary on American Gospel.

Everyone knew the man who was lame from birth now walking and leaping.

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. ~Acts 3:9-10 (NIV)

Don’t every apologise to ask questions when people claim miracles.

Ray Galea quote: “God is never glorified when you praise Him for a miracle that did not take place.” It only harms the gospel!!!

Everyone knew this man was the beggar at the temple gate. No one at the time of Jesus and the apostles doubted the miracles. They may say they did it in Satan`s power, but it did happen. It`s not lack of faith to test the genuineness of a miracle. This was a miracle. The reaction to this miracle is the same reaction done by Jesus, filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him, and the man was filled with praise, he could not just walk but he could now join Peter in the temple to pray, at last he could enter that which had been off limits.

Now we have the explanation.

While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? ~Acts 3:11-12 (NIV)

When a miracle happens, the temptation is to think that the healer has some magic touch, or he must be especially holy or have special powers. If you don’t have the right explanation then you end up with the wrong conclusion.

This miracle is a sign and signs point away from itself to the living Jesus. Peter makes it clear…its not his power but the power of the living Jesus and that was both the good news and bad news.

Why bad news? Because he was healed in the name of the one they killed and this healing meant one thing, Jesus is alive and he is Lord and they were in serious trouble.

Notice: Peter will not let them off the hook, he tells them, you handed Jesus over to be killed and what made it worse was when the Roman Governor declared him to be innocent, you cried out “crucify him”. You disowned the Holy and Righteous one and what made it worse was when given a chance to set him free you chose a terrorist to be released instead of Jesus.

You killed the author of life, who gave you life. Like the ice addict who was choking on his own vomit and then stabs the paramedic who saved his life.

They killed the author of life. What`s really surprising is that they are deemed fully responsibility and yet ignorant. Their sin is not excused and it’s not covered up but it was done in ignorance.

“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. ~Acts 3:17 (NIV)

You killed him not knowing that he was the Christ. The sin of ignorance not the sin of presumption, both responsible and ignorant. That is what Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”

That is what Paul said of his own rejection of Christ. Paul says:

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. ~1 Tim 1:13 (NIV)

We probably need to remember this, don’t we? When non-Christians attack us and who blaspheme the name of Jesus and who sin without shame… responsible but ignorant.

But as Christians it is the one thing that we are not, you may have been ignorant but you are not now, so no more excuses. That is why it is a greater judgment on those who have come to Jesus and then walk away. That is why it’s said of Judas, it would have been better if he were never born.

For those who are thinking of walking from Christ, I plead with you, there lies a greater judgment on you. The word for those who killed Jesus is the word for you and me

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, ~Acts 3:19 (NIV)

Three Words beginning with ‘R’.

Repent: Do that you do what everybody has to do, everyone needs to acknowledge that they were born heading the wrong direction. Turn from your sin and turn to God.

And the promise is that your sins will be wiped out, completely obliterated, just as if you have never sinned, not one left to condemn.

That is why we are promised to be

Refreshed: If you repent you don’t have to carry fear or guilt or shame any more. If that is not grace then I don`t know what grace is. Grace is not just getting what we don’t deserve, grace is getting the opposite to what we deserve

Jerry Bridges “Grace is God’s free and unmerited favour shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment.”

If I give $1000 to a person who lost their job then its mercy but if I give $1000 to a person who stole and trashed my car then its grace.

That grace comes only through Jesus–the promised prophet.

For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. ~Acts 3:22 (NIV)

There is just one you must listen to. This is the KISS principle and it cuts through the complexity where you’re bombarded by never-ending options.

We live in world cursed by so many choices. Go shopping and you go nuts because there are 20 different types of milk and 30 different types of cereal. In the public square, there are 100 world views, options range from no gods to a million gods.

But there is but one Lord, one Christ, one author of life, only one whom the prophets pointed to, only one whom the Apostles witness to, only one whom God raised to life and only one who we have listen to.

Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people. ~Acts 3:23 (NIV)

I remember one woman saying, “I’m not interested in Jesus, whether he is Son of God or not, Jesus is irrelevant to me, I’m interested in God”

But its that God who said “This is my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased, listen to him or you have no place among my people”

Jesus will not be ignored. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people. For now, we receive the refreshment of sins wiped out.

When Jesus returns it will be a time of restoration.

Restoration

Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, ~Acts 3:21 (NIV)

They killed the agent of blessing but they did not kill off the blessing. In Christ we live in the time of refreshment now we end up in the time of restoration.

There are only 2 stories to believe in:

Story one: you are the result of a billion random accidents and will live a miserably short life marked with pain and then die a meaningless death and you will soon be forgotten.

Or, story two, you repent and take hold of Jesus, who refreshes your soul now and restores this universe when he returns. What Jesus did to this crippled man he will do to this crippled world. The picture of this man walking and leaping and praising God is a picture of new creation restored and released from its enslavement to death and decay.

We have such good news to enjoy, we have such good news to share, and oh, how the world needs to hear it. The west of Sydney is lost in its ignorance yet still responsible for its rebellion.

Pray that at MBM we bring the name of Jesus to our suburbs and our city and that they ache to hear that God refreshes their soul and restores this universe and that they long to know that there is a better world and a better future. The one who wiped out sins will wipe away our tears…and who will never wipe our names from the Book of Life. That is the assurance we need to hear.

Have you ever received a summons to appear in court? In my 60 years I’ve never been called for jury duty, others I know have been asked 2 or 3 times. I’m feeling rejected!

Did you know that each of you received a summons today? A summons to gather and praise our great God with joy; called to listen to His word and heed His warnings. Did you hear the summons from God today? Of course, you did and that is why you are here.

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. ~Psalm 95:1-2 (NIV)

This summons is from God but comes through his people, here are God’s people calling on each other to come ‘let us’ sing, come ‘let us’ bow down and worship.

A man once complained to his minister, he said “I don’t like the songs you chose today” The minister said “That’s ok, we weren’t singing them for you.” That is not quite true, we sing to God and we also sing to each other about God. When I sing “Amazing Grace” I’m telling you that I am a wretch of a sinner saved by God’s grace and you’re telling me the same thing.

But Praise is not just saying praise you Jesus 50 times like some mindless mantra, it should never be praise for praise sake.

I once went to a Christian conference and the first 8 songs we sang had me telling God that I loved him but I was not given one clear reason why. God had done so much but the writer of the songs couldn’t give me one reason. Listen to the reasons in verses 3-5.

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. ~Psalm 95:3 (NIV)

We shout and sing because He is a Majestic God. He is El supremo in the heavens and He has no rivals and He will not share His glory with another. Unlike the credits in a movie God will not share the billing, He will not co-star with other gods, He is the great King above all gods, He is supreme in the heavens and He is supreme on earth.

In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. ~Psalm 95:4-5 (NIV)

Like a potter with his clay, He gets his hands dirty in creation. Picture God at work as our maker, I will put Australia there at the bottom end because last shall be first and first last. For kicks I’ll make Italy look like a foot and since I know that they will love football why don’t I give them a ball to kick and I’ll call it Sicily. Look, a little bit of mud on the ball, I just give it a flick and there we have the Island of Malta. Isn’t that more interesting than plate tectonics?

In His hands are the depths of the earth, remember the song “He’s got the whole world in his hands”. It was a sad day when that song was used to advertise Mastercard. With Mastercard, you can pretend to be a god until you can’t pay your credit card bill of $10,000.

But God is no man’s debtor, the sea is His, for He made it, as are the peaks of the mountains, the simple rule is, you make it then you own it and it belongs to you. That’s the rule of copyright, you create something and it’s yours.

Friends, you do not belong to yourself you belong to God and that is why Joyful Praise is the right response to a great God. He is not only a great God he is our God.

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. ~Psalm 95:6-7a (NIV)

He is both powerful and personal, He is Majestic and He is mine. A Great God has made us his own. He is not just creator, and judge, He is our covenantal Lord, our loving Saviour, our Father in heaven, and our Good Shepherd. We kneel before the Lord our maker, he is our God.

The bulk of the earth’s population neither know Him nor are known by Him. The reason why mission happens is because worship doesn’t.

The hands that hold the earth, the hands that formed the dry land, the hands that rescued his people, they are the same hands where our names are written. We are kept safe in those hands, hands that were stretched out on the cross, that same hand that will raise you up on the last day. These are the same hands that are held out to you today.

In one way worship is the same in the Old Covenant and New, it’s about responding to God on his terms. But the terms are redefined between old to new, worship for Jews was temple centred and you approached God through a human priest, with an animal sacrifice and at a physical temple.

The reality for the new covenant people is that we trust Jesus Christ who is the perfect High Priest who offered the perfect sacrifice, his life, to the perfect God at the perfect temple in heaven to make us perfect and that is what we are. It’s on that basis that we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, wholly and pleasing to God.

Worship language in the New Testament is for all of life, 24/7. You worship God not just with a song from your mouth but with the whole of your life. To reduce worship to 10 mins of singing on a Sunday is like breathing for 10 mins a day, you’re not going to get very far, BUT part of our worship is to gather and sing with joy. Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; we have a reason to be joyful.

John Wesley was a missionary before he was a Christian. On his way back to England, Wesley was on a ship that was sinking and he was petrified. He noticed that a group of people on the boat were singing songs of joy as they faced their death. He was shocked and wondered, had they done more than he to be so confident? They shared with him how through Jesus our great God has saved us, so when this boat goes down we will go up to be with the Lord. That is why its Christians alone who sing songs of praise, marked with joy, for our God not only wants to save us he wants us to know we are saved.

1. A God of wrath

But almost as an intrusion to this joy-filled sound comes a second summons, to hear God’s word and heed its warning.

Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” ~Psalm 95:7b-11 (NIV)

Amidst the singing comes the warning, when we gather we not only sing we also listen and are warned.

Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts. It’s a living word with a real warning for this moment in time… This is a warning for TODAY! The warning is – Do not follow the pattern of Israel in the past.

Two places became the benchmarks for Israel’s hard heart: Meribah and Massah. The names of the places tell the story in Exodus 17:7. Meribah means quarrelling and Massah means testing and that is what Israel did again and again.

Instead of trusting God, they decided to test God, even though they had seen his works. Within a month after God rescued them from the Egyptians, after seeing God unleash his power in the 10 plagues, after seeing the parting of the sea with them walking through it and after seeing the same sea closed in on their enemies.

On their way to a land flowing with milk and honey and being fed daily for 40 years, Israel complained against God about not having water and they wanted to go back to Egypt and they paid the price. A whole generation failed to access the promised land, God’s warnings are his means of grace to keep his people fearing and worshipping him.

I remember when I had been a Christian for about a year, I started wishing I came to Christ a few years later because I had more sinning to do. I wanted to go back to my old life, forgetting why I left it in the first place, my heart was beginning to harden. Then one day I walked into the home of a Christian and there in the lounge room was the record cover of a Christian singer, Keith Green, the title “So you wanna go back to Egypt.” It was like God had hit me on the back of my head and I repented.

The warning is clear and the warning is for you. This is God’s voice and it is for you today and he is saying ‘Do not harden your hearts or you will miss out of the heavenly promised land.’

The warning to Israel is the warning to us, for forty years I was angry with that generation.

“So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” ~Psalm 95:11 (NIV)

This was not simply an emotional reaction, a whole generation died in the desert and they never made it to the promised land.

As a rule humans don’t like warnings, when they revised the American Anglican Prayer Book they left out the last 4 verses of Psalm 95 with God’s warning of God’s anger. The negative for our age is the church is so often ashamed of God’s anger which flows from God’s holiness. We must not change God’s nature to suit our cultural preferences otherwise we end up worshipping ourselves.

But to show how different the church is from the Bible when the book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 95 in the New Testament a 1000 years later, it only quotes the last 4 verses of this Psalm about Gods anger. After the psalm is quoted we then read

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. ~Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)

The word is the same, do not harden your hearts to Gods word. Specifically, they were tempted to not gather because the pressure of persecution made them withdraw.

We need each other and we need to encourage one another daily. What is your heart like toward this warning? Is it a HEART that is soft that melts like butter in the sun or is it a HEART hardened like butter in the freezer? The church is God’s great declaration that you can’t do it on your own.

This is how it often works: you slowly begin to isolate yourself from God’s gathering and for some its for the pleasures of life like sport and leisure or perhaps an addiction that everyone can see except you, the freedom of a new car or a first job or a new relationship or the distractions of a hobby. For others it’s worrying: worries of money or job or business or over mortgaging or relationships.For many they get stuck in one of the phases of life: going to Uni/Work/Tafe, getting married, having a baby, buying a house, starting a business or having a sense of failure in a Midlife Crisis or an aimless Retirement.
For others it, not pleasure but pain: a person you refuse to forgive leaving you with bitter heart, an ongoing sickness that makes you disappointed with God, a persecution that feels that following Christ is not worth it.

Through it all your heart hardens and you begin to isolate yourself from Christians and your attendance moves from weekly to monthly to Christmas and Easter. You tell yourself ‘I can be a Christian and not go to church’ with no congregation to encourage you and no sermon to warn you, you slowly die a slow spiritual death.

Then when someone follows you up you get defensive and blame others for judging you, at which, ask God for mercy because the hardening is almost complete.

Our corporate worship is a subversive act and no matter what mood you’re in when you gather, the gathering does not leave you focused on you. It turns you away from your anxiety to a God who is in charge and worthy of our worship, it turns you away from your guilt and shame to a saviour who forgives and inspire us to joyful praise.

The Singing, the Bible read and preached, Prayers, Fellowship, these are getting you to live for a greater cause, Gods glory. To look away beyond your small world and to look to Jesus whom we both worship and who leads us in worship to our great God and Father. Since you’re listening to this sermon, I am confident that you’re on the right track.

Dear Father
We come before you in praise and worship
With joyful singing and thankful hearts
You are our great God and saviour
You are both powerful and personal
There is none that compares to you
Your hands which made this earth, were the same hands that were stretched out on that cross
Thank you for offering each of us a fresh start
Today we have heard your voice.
We beg you to deliver us from a hard heart
Help us to heed the warnings of your Word
Stop us from the urge to isolate
Help us to encourage each other daily that we may be found faithful till the end.
In Jesus name we pray.

Monopoly has been a worldwide favorite board game, everyone in the game is given the same money – $1500. But as we know we all don’t start life with the same opportunities, some are born into poor families and some into rich but the one thing it does get right is that whether you make a lot or a little, whether you have hotels on Mayfair or not, at the end of the game it all goes into the box.

The challenge for every preacher is showing the relevance of a passage. The thing about death is that it’s the one experience that every human shares, it becomes an important lens to understand the rest of life.

This Psalm begins with it a shout out to everyone to listen.

Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike: ~Psalm 49:1-2 (NIV)

This is a Psalm that speaks to all people, not just people who believe, its addressed to all nations, not just God’s people. What is said makes sense, whether your inside or outside the circle of faith, because it speaks of death. Its for all demographics, rich or poor, the powerful and the powerless, whether you live in Darling Point or Doonside.

It’s not a lament, or a confession or a praise, it’s a wisdom psalm and it promises understanding.

My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding. I will turn my ear to a proverb; with the harp I will expound my riddle: ~Psalm 49:3-4 (NIV)

This is the very thing the world is so short on, we have lots of information but not much wisdom, we have lots of knowledge but no discernment, we have lots of Google me this but not much understanding. It begs the question, who is worth listening? With my bible closed I really have nothing worth saying. Lets open this psalm and gain some wisdom.

Why should I fear when evil days come, ~Psalm 49:5 (NIV)

The bible is realistic, it expects that days of evil will come but this Psalm also promises hope. Why should I fear and be intimidated when evil comes?

Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me—those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches? ~Psalm 49:5 (NIV)

Again, we have the importance of self-talk, why should I be afraid in the face of injustice? In this context the threat comes from evil doers who are deceivers. Liars are bad but deceivers are worse because a liar is easier to spot than a deceiver, a liar tells untruths for their own advantage but a deceiver tells a mixture of lies and truths to deceive and harm others.

Deceivers encircle the Psalmist. They both trust in their riches and boast in their wealth. Wealth is power and they were abusing their power by exploiting the poor. The way to dismantle one’s fear when you’re powerless is to think God thoughts, to understand the absolute false hopes of wealth through the lens of death.

No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—so that they should live on forever and not see decay. ~Psalm 49:7-9 (NIV)

Why not fear?

The price tag for eternity is too expensive for everyone. You can’t buy your way into heaven, you can’t bribe your way out of death. Sadly, you can’t ransom your life or any other, it’s what every grieving person knows, especially if you have lost a loved one, wishing you could take their place but knowing you cant.

When my son James nearly died at birth my theology went out the window, I was bargaining with God to save his life offering
everything I have.

Wealth can do a lot, you can use it to bless others, you can buy your way out of a lot of trouble with an expensive lawyer, you can buy your way out of poverty and move to a nice part of town, you can extend your life by paying for the best private medical treatment, but it cannot stop death.

Either way sooner or later we all owe God a death. As a result, we all die leaving our wealth to others.

For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others. ~Psalms 49:10 (NIV)

Observe how both the rich die with the poor, the wise end up with the fools and the POWERFULL end up the same places as the POWERLESS. Death is the great leveller.

We all leave our accumulated wealth for other others to enjoy. Ecclesiastes makes this point and extends it, you leave it to another and you don’t know whether they will be a fool or wise. Sooner or later either your kids, grandkids or their spouses will blow it away by gambling, or a divorce or a bad investment.

Train yourself not to be easily impressed

Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. ~Psalm 49:16-17 (NIV)

We all leave this earth in exactly the same way as we enter, naked and with nothing. On any given day you can have a homeless man and a wealthy man both lying on a slab next to each other at the Morgue, the exact same outcome. Bottom line is, don’t be overawed by the rich who take advantage of you, they can’t take it with them.

There is the story of the wealthy man who organized to be buried in his gold plated car, as the car rolled into the ditch, one worker asked to the other “how much did he leave behind?” The answer is always the same “All of it.”

Egyptian Pharaoh’s tried to take it with them but the grave robbers were the only ones who benefitted. You never see a removalist truck following the hearse to the cemetery, which is why it’s tragic when Christians sell their souls for some get rich schemes. The only house that we will live in is our tomb.

In that sense, we are no different from the animals

Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves. People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish. ~Psalm 49:11-12 (NIV)

When my kids were impressed by someone who was both famous and foolish I said “Don’t forget they will die like a dog like everybody else” now that is good parenting.

The only house you own and benefit from is your coffin. I find Mausoleums very interesting, they are impressive buildings that house a tomb of a loved one, the most famous would be the Taj Mahal. They are attempts to honour the dead and soften the reality of death, they look somewhere between a temple and a hotel, the only difference is that no one gets to walk out.

The Psalmist says, while you managed to leave your name on some piece of real estate or monument, you wont be around to enjoy it. Bill Bryon notes that if you’re buried in a sealed coffin you will deteriorate somewhere from 5-40 years. “The average grave is visited only for about fifteen years, so most of us take a lot longer to vanish from the Earth than from others memories”

This is the destiny of humanity, well not quite…

This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning). Their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. ~Psalm 49:13-14 (NIV)

The call is to be wise as to who and what you put your trust in. If you put your trust in yourself and in your wealth than death wins every time. While the mansion you built will carry your name, your corpse is rotting away. If you trust yourself then, death becomes your shepherd and it leads you to destruction. If Jesus is your good shepherd he will restore your soul and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

For one reason, while we can’t ransom our lives, while we cant take the place of another, God can and did.

But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself. ~Psalm 49:15 (NIV)

Jesus alone is able to ransom us from death. He is the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.

We have already heard that no one can ransom themselves or another, that is unless they satisfy 3 criteria.

  • They have to be human, for only a human can take the place of a human
  • They have to be sinless, otherwise they will have to die for their own sin
  • They have to be God for only God can endure the horror of hell

In Jesus alone we have all three, He was truly human, He was totally sinless and He was fully God. That is why Jesus can say…

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~Mark 10:45 (NIV)

It’s why He can say:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?

The psalmist is pleading, don’t be in awe, don’t be afraid of those who exploit you with their wealth. You’re not the one to live in fear, they are! Their blessings are short lived.

Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life. ~Psalm 49:18-19 (NIV)

Right now we are seeing many lose their jobs while others are getting a promotion, we are seeing some businesses die a slow or quick death while others are bursting with success. If things are going well the temptation is to trust yourself, take care what conversation you’re having with yourself. When other say “Wow, you have made it!” take care how you interpret the praise of others.

As one T shirt said, “The one with the most toys doesn’t win he just dies like everything else.” Not true, there is a different destiny between those who trust in themselves and their wealth and those who don’t.

People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish. ~Psalm 49:20 (NIV)

So, the issue is not just wealth, its not about those who have wealth but those who have wealth without understanding.

  • Don’t fear that person who cling to wealth and not Jesus.
  • Don’t envy a person on their way to hell.
  • Pity yes but not envy

How do I know that I am not putting my trust in myself and in what possessions I have, Jesus will urge us:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ~Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

So you can take it with you! if you use what you have great or small as if it belongs to God. You own absolutely nothing!
Death is proof of that. You are but a steward entrusted by God with much or little and as stewards we will give an account.

I was talking to one of our overseas ministry partners, they said “I want to live life like I’m playing Uno not Monopoly” “What do you mean?” “In Monopoly you win by ending up with the most things, in Uno you win by giving all your cards away.” I thought it was a helpful image.

I want to commend those who have kept their jobs but have not panicked, you are still generous and supporting the work of the gospel and care for the poor.

As Psalm 90 ends, Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Or as Luther put it, “Teach us that we must die…”

Dear Father,
Teach us to not be afraid.
To not be intimidated.
To not be overwhelmed with those who take advantage of us.
Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Teach us to not put our confidence in ourselves and in what we have.
But to trust in our Jesus for he alone can ransom us from death.
And set us free that we may store our treasures in heaven.
In Jesus name Amen.

Happy Father’s day. All Fatherhood stems from God the Father, which means our Dads were either stepping stones or stumbling blocks to knowing the one true God. They either hindered or they helped or a bit of both.

One of the most decisive moments in my life was when I went to hear Larry Crabb, renown Psychologist, speak at a week-long conference. He shared stories about his two boys and I didn’t realise, but I was being drawn to him as a father, in Larry Crabb, I found a man who both loved God and loved people. It awoke something inside of me and at the end of the conference as he drove away I started crying and I don’t cry all that much, I didn’t stop crying for the next 3 hours and they were the most beautiful tears I have ever shed. It exposed a grief I carried about my own dad.

At age 22 I started a journey that led me to know the love of my Father in heaven, which freed me to both face my Dad’s failures and yet be grateful for his love. Too many people spend their life desperate for their fathers. Approval or seeking to prove their father wrong. Psalm 103 speaks of the Fatherhood of God in all his glory, He is the Father you never had.

Yes, the Bible is patriarchal. Third-wave feminism wants to solve a real problem the wrong way, the aim is not to deconstruct patriarchy and dismantle fatherhood. We think the answer to bad fatherhood is no fatherhood but the answer to bad fatherhood is to imitate their heavenly Father.

Our Father in heaven deserves our praise. The Psalm is an extended call to oneself to praise God our Father.

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. ~Psalm 103:1-2 (NIV)

David is speaking to himself for most of this psalm, let all of me praise all of you Father. We can’t really sing “all of me loves all of you” because we don’t love the sin in the other person. But with our Holy Father, all of me can truly love all of Him.

The modern vision of Fatherhood is not a Christian one, in it, we Dads become the heroes and not God our Father. I think there are lots of fathers who love their kids, they take them to sport, they make time and have fun but you hear no God-talk on their lips and they share no joy in Christ.

John Piper is right when he says “Dads, your kids greatest need is to see you praise God”

Either by talking singing or sharing some truth about who God is and what he has done, whether at church, at home or in the car or camping. Psalm 103 is one long self talk.

Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits ~Psalm 103:2 (NIV)

Learn the art of preaching to your soul and don’t forget what God has done, don’t steal his glory and don’t be overwhelmed with life’s pressures. The way to remember is to keep urging yourself to praise God for HIS many blessings.

There are so many benefits in this Psalm, let’s break them down into 3 areas.

1. We praise our Father for he is in total control 

The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. ~Psalm 103:19 (NIV)

God rules! Praise God that he rules over every corner of this universe, from Angels to Atoms to Ants, He lovingly rules over the big picture and the small details of life.

In the fury of the moment
I can see the masters hand
In every leaf that trembles and
In every grain of sand
~Bob Dylan

Do you have a moment by moment awareness of Gods total control? God rules over the present and the future.

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ ~Isaiah 46:9-10 (NIV)

His total authority is clearly seen in his Son who had absolute control over sin, sickness, suffering, satan, and the surf. Let our children hear us say, I praise you, Lord, that you rule over all 7 billion humans in all 195 nations, that you rule over every world leader however they got into power, that you rule over every corner of this massive system and over a rouge virus.

Learn to give yourself a good talking to. For example:

Q: Raymond is God Lord of the universe? Yes!
A: Then why do you live with so much fear?

Q: Will God supply all my needs? Yes!
A: Then why O Ray, why are you so anxious

Praise your Father in heaven for he alone rules! We praise our Father who seeks justice for the powerless.

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. ~Psalm 103:6 (NIV)

God jealously defends those who can’t speak up for themselves. Think with me for a moment, the bible is honest about the sins of Israel. Why are we so afraid to admit the sins of Australia?

If like me you or your parents chose to make Australia your home then we must own its history both the good and bad. If we benefit from the past sins, we must assume responsibility of the past, not to mention the present. It’s a history that has oppressed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. We had a white Australian policy when the original custodians were not white. We only gave them citizenship in 1967 when I was 7. It’s shameful that my Maltese Father who came to Australia in 1939 got his citizenship before Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders who lived in this land for over 40,000 years. They fought in wars defending a country that would not let them vote, they were not paid a proper wage and at times were limited to who they could marry. Their children were taken from the mothers. We have systematically dismantled a culture over centuries and it took as late as February 2008 before a Prime Minister finally apologized, then wonder why or come up with cheap answers to why they have high mortality rate, unemployment and incarceration and shorter lifespans.

When you see injustice know the God of the bible hates it, so Praise him for being a God of justice

  • When wrongs are righted – Praise God
  • When sins are exposed – Praise God
  • When rights are trampled – Plead with God

Let your children hear you praise the Lord for his justice and plead for his protection of the powerless. Never forget, no one is more powerless than the unborn. Praise God that his cross is the ultimate evidence that he is a just God.

We praise our Father for his extravagant love

who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. ~Psalm 103:3-5 (NIV)

God never does a job that is half baked, He lavishes us with his love and His blessings are so complete that He

  • Cancels all of our sins (past, present and future)
  • Heals all our sickness (some in this age and all in the next)
  • Every good thing you long for will be satisfied

When God entered into a covenant with Israel He revealed his glory by revealing his character

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. ~Psalm 103:8-10 (NIV)

That is your Father in heaven. I don’t know what your Dad was like. Was he quick to anger and quick to blame, who constantly brought up your failures and shamed you in public? When you think of the word “Father” what words spring to mind? Harsh or Gentle. Mean or Gracious. Critical or Encouraging. Absent or Present. Abusive or Safe. Like me, my Dad was a mixed bag, that is why at times we Fathers must apologise to our children. If we don’t then we are liars and hypocrites, most kids can live with imperfect Dads if we genuinely own our failures.

God does not hold our sins against us and he is perfect SO why do we hold our children’s sins against them and why do we hold our Dad’s sins against them?

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us. ~Psalm 103:11-12 (NIV)

God wants us to grasp the full extent of his love that just can’t be measured. Sometimes God says When I forgive, it’s like I take all your sins and I plunge them in the deepest part of the ocean. Never to be used against you. Praise you Lord. When I forgive you its like I put your sins behind my back. So that when I look at you I see perfection. Praise you Lord God. Or, I create so much distance between you and your sin that its the distance between East and West. In a full moon, you can’t see the moon and sun at the same time.

The point is that God is saying I cant see you and your sin, He treats us as we don’t deserve.

But our sins are not placed at the bottom of the ocean or behind Gods back they are all stapled to the body of his Son
who took our blame, they were left at the cross never ever to be brought up against us again.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. ~1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)

But of course, this is only for those who FEAR GOD, three times we are told it’s for those who fear God, specifically, who put their trust in God’s Son. Do you joyfully praise God for his forgiveness or are you like Trump? When asked if he had ever sought God’s forgiveness and he replied, “I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness. I don’t bring God into that picture.”

Days later when asked to clarify if, “asking for forgiveness” is a central tenet in his faith life. Trump answered “I try not to make mistakes where I have to ask forgiveness,” Friends I’ll stay out of politics when politicians stay out of bad theology. You don’t want your kids, let alone your nation, ever to hear that. Remember it’s critical we point our kids to our heavenly Father
because we won’t be around forever and they won’t be around forever.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. ~Psalm 103:13-16 (NIV)

Here today and gone tomorrow. We are not preparing the next generation for our death if we make ourselves the heroes of the story.

I said to my Maddy, who has a sensitive conscience, if by chance I catch COVID from you and die please remember that God my Father numbered my days not you.

Don’t waste your life feeling guilty for God sovereignty.

Finally, as the psalm begins so it ends, but now he wants everything and everyone everywhere to praise our Father for his many benefits.

Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. ~Psalm 103:20-22 (NIV)

It’s a call to you angels who stand in the presence of God day and night, yes even you archangels Gabriel and Michael that includes Cherubim’s and Seraphim. Don’t hold back, give God the praise he deserves. To You who died in Christ and are gathered in heaven around the throne, you believers gathered in homes or around this screen or around the world. What is stopping you!!! Pump up the volume and let your neighbours hear praise coming from out of your mouth and out of your windows

And as for the rest of creation from Mt Everest to Mt Druitt from Buffalos to Bees, let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
You may not be able to sing at church but you can sing at home and in the car. You can praise God in words before the world and before the saints.

Here is one idea: Why not write a Father Day card to God your Father. My son gave me a Fathers day card and the cover said… Best Dad in Sydney …I was hoping for the World. He wrote “I am so thankful to God to have you as my Dad”

How about we all write God a Fathers day card telling him why we love him, then share what you wrote with your friends or family, here is mine.

Heavenly Father, Bless you for you choosing me before the creation of the world and adopting me into your forever family.
Precious Father I praise you for providing me with full forgiveness for all my sins, past present and future.
You have gifted me with your Son who died in my place.
You have gifted me with your Spirit who dwells in my body.
You have gifted me with your forever family where I have found a home.
Praise you for being the Father I never had and I could never have.
Praise you for being a God who is slow to anger and abounding in love.
Praise you for being in absolute control of this universe and my personal world.
Thank you for siding with the oppressed and for hating injustice.
And today I want to thank you so much for loving me through my earthly Dad
In Jesus precious name Amen.

On Monday this week, our family remembered that 2 years ago on the 24th August, our daughter, our little sister, Evie beat the rest of our family to the grave. We want to thank a number of you who messaged and sent flowers. One, in particular, helped us put our grief in context. “As hard as anniversaries are, that Evie hasn’t been with you for 2 years. Take comfort that she’s been with Jesus for 2 years”

24 August 2018 is one of those days that’s just etched in my memory. Teresa & I rushed to Mount Druitt Hospital in the wee hours of the morning. Evie’s breathing had become very faint, our hearts were fearing the worst. Shortly after, with all 5 of us around her bed, we said goodbye as she breathed her last.

Then tears, lots of them from all of us. Hugs, tight hugs, hugs with each other, hugs with Evie. In God’s kindness, we were able to take Evie with us to Bear Cottage, a children’s hospice. We got to spend more time with her saying our goodbyes in such a supportive environment. I still remember the drive there, Evie was in her car seat and apart from the sound of tears and sniffles God would have it that the CD that was playing in the background was a song from our very own MBM album. “Father’s Hands”

For each of the 77 days Evie was alive, we read a Psalm to her and with her. On Day 42 we would have read the Psalm we’re looking at today, verse 3 of this psalm pretty much described those next few days.

My tears have been my food day and night, ~Psalm 42:3 (NIV)

The day after Evie died, I remember from the moment I woke up just bawling my eyes out.

Now maybe it’s because of this pandemic, but is it just me? Or have these Psalms ministered to me, in a fresh way. As it effortlessly puts the full range of human emotions and feelings into words for me. Psalm 42 has connected with me off the back of major grief. But for you, it doesn’t have to be major grief.

  • If you’ve ever felt down in the dumps or felt deep disappointment (which is pretty much every single human being), then Psalm 42 is for you.
  • If you’ve felt as if life’s getting the better of you. If you felt dejected, depressed, whether it’s diagnosed or not, Psalm 42 is for you.
  • If you’ve felt as though God’s distant. If the joy of the Lord is no longer there. If you’ve ever felt dry in your walk with God.
    Then Psalm 42 is for you.

 

Psalm 42 is that go-to Psalm when you’re feeling lonely. When you’re under pressure. This week alone, I’ve heard how Psalm 42 comforts a parent whose adult child has turned their back on God. I’ve heard how Psalm 42 got someone through their battle with cancer. I’ve suggested it to someone picking up the pieces from a toxic relationship. I’ve shared it with someone who’s marriage has gotten stagnant.

Now what we’re going to do today is first look at the situation our writer finds themselves in. Then we’re going to see 3 lessons the Psalmist teaches us. These are super helpful for not just what we’re all going through now. But for all of life.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. ~Psalm 42:1 (NIV)

Picture a deer. What pops into your mind? This is my picture – there they are prancing around, frolicking with not a worry in the world. Now I didn’t know this about deer but they drink constantly, that’s because they’re creatures of instinct, see water, drink water. Well, not this deer, this deer, he’s not just thirsty, he’s beyond thirsty, he’s panting, he’s parched. Notice what he thirsts for.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? ~Psalm 42.2 (NIV)

He wants not water but God. He wants his entire being, his whole person, to taste and to see, to think and to feel, to enjoy and experience… God.

ALL of him wants ALL of God. I’ll say that again. All of him wants ALL of God. And yet, our writer is a long way from that. Three times we see the word “downcast” that’s what’s going on deep down inside of him. Verse 3 gives us more of a window into his situation.

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” ~Psalm 42:3 (NIV)

It’s there again in verse 10

My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” ~Psalm 42:10 (NIV)

Our writer is sick of being on the back foot with his back against the wall. It’s no different to our post-Christian world today, many of us have been ridiculed, by the workmate, at school, on campus, on social media, sometimes by another family member, all because we side with Jesus.

In my experience as a pastor, the number one question I get asked is this and maybe it’s your question too if you’re someone who’s still checking out Jesus: “Where is God when there’s suffering? Why doesn’t God stop COVID? Because if there really is a God who’s powerful, a God who’s loving then he’d put an end to all that. I mean that’s what I’d do if I were God. But you and I, we’re not God, my ways are not his ways. He knows what’s best.

To make matters worse, our writer’s not just feeling spiritually distant he’s physically distant too!

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. ~Psalm 42:4 (NIV)

The psalmist longs for the good old days when he used to enter the temple. From what we know about the writer, he most likely had a key role in temple life, leading the music and singing. Yet, here he is yearning to be back in Jerusalem praising God with others.

Do you notice the similarities with our Psalm here and our current situation? Sure, the writer may not have a pandemic on his hands but still, he’s unable to gather. That’s why, if you’re not meaningfully gathering with your church family, maybe now’s the time to do that. Why not have someone over? Why not reach out and call someone?

It’s been beautiful to see some of you out there in Youtube land, back in the flesh again! One person, when they came for a live service recently got emotional. They didn’t realise just how much they missed seeing brothers and sisters. How much being here felt like home.

Now, of course, you may not be up for meeting in person either with your small group or here at church. But can I say, if you ARE in a position to do so, I beg you, don’t let excuses get in the way. Yes, I know a good number of you are doing the Christian thing and allowing others who need or want to gather go first. I admire that, but the rest of your church family want to see you too! Here’s a suggestion – why not book in every second or third week? And yes, there’ll be a re-adjustment. There’ll be new habits to form, rather than just rolling out of bed and flicking on the TV, you’ll need to get changed and drive the 10, 20, 30 minutes, but boy is it worth it.

There are really good reasons NOT to come back. I remember when I was starting out as a Christian it would often get to Sunday night where I didn’t FEEL like going to church, a finale of a TV show was on, I needed to finish off that assignment or a family dinner. But I tell you what, the times I was there I remember walking back to the car thinking: “So glad I was at church tonight” Whether it was because I was ministered to by a song, whether it was an encouraging conversation or whether it was being able to Amen to a prayer that was prayed.

Our writer’s not done yet, he’s not going to let his feelings or his emotions get the better of him, no way. I love how this guy, we can tell God’s personal for him, calls God “My God, my Saviour, my Rock, my living God” right throughout the Psalm.
That’s why these next three lessons are so, so helpful.

LESSON 1: POUR OUT YOUR SOUL

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: ~Psalm 42:4a (NIV)

Pouring out your soul, that’s like the ancient version of what today we’d call: ‘getting in touch with your feelings’. This was his way of paying attention to what’s going on. Whereas at the start of the Psalm he was dry. Now, he’s drowning.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. ~Psalm 42:7 (NIV)

Picture two waterfalls plunging into a valley with you at the bottom. Can you imagine that roar, the noise would be off the charts. Now picture you out in the ocean being pummelled by wave after wave. I’ve had that feeling before and I nearly drowned. That’s what our writer is feeling here. It’s just relentless, it’s all around him.

…why God have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning?… ~Psalm 42:9 (NIV)

I mean it’s not as if there’s a sin that’s weighing him down. He doesn’t feel the need to come clean. He doesn’t feel burdened by guilt. No heavy conscience. He just feels God’s left him in the dark. If this were you and I, we’d run away from these feelings. Instead, we might be tempted to indulge in a bit of escapism. Maybe raid the pantry, binge some screentime or social media. But not our guy. No – He runs head-on into the issue. Or maybe we’d numb these feelings. Maybe self-medicate by hitting the bottle, watching porn. Not this guy – instead of numbing, he NAMES those feelings.

And look to be honest, in times of spiritual dryness when we feel forgotten by God we can feel like talking to anyone BUT God. But not this guy. Talk about putting it ALL out on the table. Our writer is not afraid one bit to take those real questions, those real hurts and to present them to God who’s REAL to him.

2. TALK TO YOURSELF

Not only does our writer talk to God, the second thing he does is this: he talks to himself.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? ~Psalm 42:5 (NIV)

Why so disturbed within me? ~Psalm 42:11 (NIV)

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who wrote a book called Spiritual Depression, explains this idea of self-talk better than I can:

The first thing we have to learn is what the Psalmist learned — we must learn to take ourselves in hand. …He is talking to himself, he is addressing himself….  [In] spiritual depression… we allow our self to talk to us… instead of talking to our self.
Listen to what he says next: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

Wow! What a profound statement.

Lloyd Jones goes on to say: [The Psalmist has realised his] soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: “Self, listen for a moment.”

There’s been plenty of talk about self-care during this pandemic, about exercise, eating well, managing screentime, giving yourself permission to feel all the feels. Well, I want to say that self-talk is a key part of self-care! See when we listen to our heart, that’s when the anxiety sky-rockets. “Oh no, what if this happens. This might happen. You better not do that.”

We end up being controlled by lies. “Dan – What will people think of you if you preach a dud sermon. Dan – you can’t do that task, you failed the last time you tried it”

But when we talk to our self like the Psalmist does here. When I reflect on who God is and what he’s done. When I say to myself: This is the sort of God I’m dealing with here. A God who’s slow to anger. A God who is all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful.

As I speak back to myself about what God’s done in the past. He’s a faithful God who’s kept every single one of his promises. He’s never let me down. He’s only inclination is to do good to me. He’s chosen me before the beginning of time.

This idea of self-talk – it’s the key to unlocking the whole Psalm!

Over the last two years, a good portion of my self-talk has revolved around the fact that God is good even though I might not feel it, even though I might not see it. Plenty of us have, or will face times where we’ll question God’s goodness, where we’ll doubt God’s goodness, but it doesn’t mean that God is NOT good.

As a dad, I’ve been doing self-talk about God’s goodness with my kids too with the help of a book called THE MOON IS ALWAYS ROUND. Together, we’ve been reading it a lot this week so I thought I might read a bit of it to you too. Just like the moon is always round, God indeed is good.

3: RE-DIRECT YOUR HOPE

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5b (NIV)

Our writer has had a lightbulb moment. One minute he asks “Soul – why are you downcast?” In the next sentence. “Put your hope in God” In the same verse, he’s answered his own question. His hope was in the wrong object, the wrong person. It was in something OTHER than God, something SMALLER than God.

It’s as if he’s realised that in the process of talking to himself, he says: “Hang on a sec, the only thing that’ll satisfy my soul is God himself! Notice how it’s personal for him. He calls God MY saviour, MY God. For this is the God who’s been with him through thick and thin.

By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. ~Psalm 42:8 (NIV)

Through morning, noon and night, 24/7, round the clock, day in day out. Like the sun shining on his back, he feels the Lord’s love is with him every step he takes. God’s never failed him, no wonder he can talk to the God of HIS life.

Is it just me, or has the word “hope” been thrown around plenty of times in this pandemic. Hope for a vaccine. Hope for the depression, the anxiety, the loneliness, the social distancing, the fear will come to an end. Hope we’ll be able to travel again.
Hope we still have jobs. I even came across this headline in the newspaper this week. It was in relation to those finishing school this year. It read: “Give students hope amid coronavirus mental health crisis, experts urge”

Well, the writer of our Psalm would say this in response. Hope isn’t an object you just dish out. No, Hope is someone you turn to. And in this case, notice who the Psalmist places his hope in:

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. ~Psalm 42:2 (NIV)

He has a living hope because he has a living God. This is a hope that is more than wishful thinking its a hope that will be there post-COVID and on and on into eternity!

Now of course, we can only re-direct our hope because Jesus himself walked in the same shoes of our writer. Think about it. Jesus himself said similar words when troubled by anxious thoughts when having a downcast spirit.

The night before Jesus was nailed to that cross, Jesus says:

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. ~Matthew 26:38 (NIV)

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. ~John 12:27 (NIV)

Now THAT is self-talk.

  • Just as the Psalmist cries out “God why have you forgotten me”. Jesus cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
  • Just as the Psalmist hears the taunts of his enemies, Jesus heard the mocking of his scoffers.
  • Just as the Psalmist’s bones suffer mortal agony, Jesus has nails driven through his hands and his feet.

If anyone felt abandoned, forgotten, crushed or downcast, in the Lord Jesus, surely we have one who has tasted it on our behalf.

Jesus has walked in our pain. He has felt the feelings and emotions we have gone through.

I love the way Hebrews puts it better than I can. It’s a version of redirecting our hope in the midst of deep darkness is this:

For the joy set before him what did Jesus do? He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. ~Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)

Now that’s what it means to put your hope in God. Fix our eyes on Jesus who willingly got up on that cross. Who fully and finally paid the price and is now sitting down at God’s right hand. That’s what gives us every reason to NOT grow weary and to not lose heart.

This past week, someone suggested that I go away and spend some time, just me and Psalm 42. Initially, I thought, that’ll take 10 minutes tops, I’ll run of out things to do. But how wrong was I, I had to stop after 2 hours but could have easily gone for more! I didn’t intend on doing this, but one of the things I ended up doing was to re-write Psalm 42 in my own words. I effectively poured out my soul as I made this Psalm my own.

Let me share some of what I wrote:
“Like one thirsty deer aching for a tonne of water
Same too with my entire being.
I, Dan – every part of me, wants you, every part of you God.
My entire being is thirsty for God. The God who’s alive.
God – when can we see each other? When can we do business God?
I’m living on a diet of tears around the clock.
Meanwhile people all day long are having a go at me saying: Dan – so much for this God you’ve been telling me about? He seems pretty powerless.
As I’m doing this detox of my soul, here’s some things I remember:
The good ol’ days of meeting in the church building.
Where I could gather with brothers and sisters.
With plenty of singing. Plenty of people. Plenty of testimonies about your goodness.
Now that was a spiritual high!
But why Dan? Why do I feel down in the dumps? What’s troubling me?
God is object and source of my delight. Of goodness.
For yes – I will tell God how good he is. And how he continues to be to me.
You God are my rescuer. My God”

Let me encourage you to find time this coming week to pour out your to a God who is more than ready to listen. To talk the truths of the gospel to yourself and to not grow weary or lose heart as you redirect your hope towards the risen, the resurrected, the ruling and the returning Jesus.

When I was a Personal trainer, people would often say to me, “Let me get fit first, then I’ll come and see you for a few sessions.” and I used to say, “But that’s my job. To get you fit, you’ll never be fit enough to see me, because my job is to take you from where you’re at, and get you fit and fitter”

It was backwards thinking and we can often think the same way about God. “Let me get good enough myself and then I’ll bring myself to you.” The problem is, we can never be good enough for God–that’s his job–to make us good. He takes us from where we’re at and transforms us from there.

We often get it the wrong way round, thinking we’ll sort our lives out first. But it’s impossible, David’s thinking in a very similar way in this Psalm, when he asks…

LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? ~Psalm 15:1 (NIV)

God’s sacred tent and His Holy mountain refer to the place God decided to dwell among his people – in David’s day it was a large tent, in Jerusalem, soon to become a massive temple built by his son, Solomon.

There were a few rooms in the tent and only the High Priest could enter the inside room where the presence of God was and only after offering a bunch of sacrifices.

God’s people would come year after year, offering sacrifices and gifts, being reminded of their inability to stand in God’s presence, because of their sin. David’s essentially asking — who gets to see you – what does it take to go in that room where you are – and stay with you?

When Jesus was speaking with his disciples one day about who he is, he was telling them that he’s going away to His father, and he’s going to prepare a place for them in God’s house, a special room for them, and then he said “you know how to get there” and Thomas, in classic doubting Thomas style said:

“Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. ~John 14:5-6 (NIV)

Jesus is God’s way in, His death and resurrection is the only way we get access to God’s heavenly home. He is the perfect sacrifice for our sin, he is the door into God’s house.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. ~Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV)

By faith in him – He takes us in and allows us to stay and stand. Too many Christians stop there, they put faith in Jesus, and then think that’s it, I’ve arrived, but it doesn’t stop there, that’s only the beginning!

It’s true, God does accept us as we are, whatever we’ve done, however we come, he accepts us and because of Jesus he forgives us BUT just like a personal trainer — He refuses to leave us there… He loves us too much to leave us there — he wants to transform us to be just like Jesus, that’s the great privilege and joy of being Christian. Learning to have a heart like God for others. We must never think we’ve arrived at the end of our Christian life until we’re actually in the presence of God. Until that day, as the Apostle Peter put it:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. ~2 Peter 1:10-11 (NIV)

So, what does it look like to share the heart of God for others? David spells it out in these next 4 verses. They’re packed full of goodness.

It looks like.

1. Being holy because God is holy.

The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, ~Psalm 15:2a (NIV)

Blameless here doesn’t mean sinless, it can’t mean sinless, otherwise, Jesus would have died for nothing. No, it’s someone who’s done all that’s required before God. It’s the idea of being complete, dotting the “I’s” and crossing the “T’s” and filling in all the cracks.

Being blameless is having NO inconsistencies between your faith and your practice. Having nothing that God or others could hold against you. That doesn’t mean never doing anything wrong, but always seeking to do right. And, when you’ve done wrong, acknowledging it, confessing it, bringing it to God and seeking to change according to his word. Continual cycle…

I wonder if I asked everyone you know and come into contact with this week, to give an account of your life – If we downloaded a report from your mobile phone and computer and kept a recording of everything you said this week, if we had a full report of every aspect of your life, what it would reveal about you? How consistent or inconsistent would it be with your faith? Now, of course, we’re all a work in progress, and some areas are always going to be stronger than others, but the question is – how seriously are we taking those inconsistent areas… God tells us – Be blameless – because I am blameless.

Secondly – Having a heart like God means,

2. Speaking like God speaks

who speaks the truth from their heart; ~Psalm 15:2b (NIV)

This isn’t talking about that brutally honest person, you know the one, if there’s something that needs saying, you don’t have to ask them. That’s often me.

No, this is truth spoken with love. It’s the person who doesn’t just know the truth here in their head, just able to repeat it, but they’ve let the truth sink deep down into their heart. So, you know when they speak, they’re sharing themselves with you…

Jesus says

out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. ~Matt 12:34b (NIV)

Our words reveal our heart. Now it must be said, in James 3 he tells us – no human being can fully tame the tongue – he says – if anyone is able to control their tongue – they’re a perfect person. But we know that’s not us… And Jeremiah gives us the reason in 17:9-10 – The human heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure – who can understand it.

Our hearts are stained and our words are affected but thanks be to God, he’s working on that heart. So this is the person who speaks truth from a heart seeking to be consistent with God’s character. The person who’s been meditating on God’s heart from his word and values those words like the writer of Psalm 19 who says – they are more precious than gold, they are sweeter than honey.

Right speech comes from a right heart, so keep praying as you get to the word, that God would help those words sink deep down into your heart, not just stop at your head.

whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbour, and casts no slur on others; ~Psalm 15:3 (NIV)

Finish this phrase – “Sticks and stones will break my bones…” “but words will never hurt me.” Nice idea, but words are powerful, aren’t they? Words are so strange, they’re just vibrations spoken into the air, but they have the power to sever a marriage, to rule a country, to start a war, to mend a broken heart, to save a life. Words are fundamental to all relationships, especially God’s with us.

God is a speaking God. He shares himself with us by His word, that word eventually showed up in Jesus Christ who demonstrated what real love for others is and then left us his words that we might continue showing his love to others.

A wise friend of mine recently said: “Jesus is the reason for all words”. Words exist for his sake and it’s so true! The word himself gave us, words that we would use for His glory.

A person whose tongue utters no slander, does no wrong to a neighbour and casts no slur on others, is someone who seeks to honour and protect the value and dignity of others in the way they talk to them and about them. It’s really the opposite of gossip and flattery. What’s the goal of gossip? – self-serving – and flattery is always about me before it’s about others..

I’ve realised recently I’ve got a tendency to complain about others and point out their faults. Sally’s been trying to get me to see it for years but I’ve only just come to realise. For years I’ve justified it as “venting” or “clarifying information” but in the end, my heart doesn’t naturally honour others. I was even pulled up on it twice in the last few weeks, by 2 different people. I’ll share one example –

Our youth pastor, Rehan was catching up with someone I’d met before and he remembered me and shared in front of Rehan how we connected at an event. When Rehan came back after the meeting I said to Rehan “he’s a funny character hey…” I shared with Rehan that I didn’t think we connected but I chatted to him because I felt we had a disconnection… but after I said that Rehan asked me “Oh did I need to know that…?” And as I searched my heart I had no response, but that I for some reason sought to dishonour him, and honour myself. Rehan’s comment was so helpful and has stayed with me since then and helped me reflect on how I speak about people when I’m not with them.

I wonder, how do you go with honouring others with your words? If words are a big challenge for you then read the book of proverbs, every time I do, I get to the end and say to myself, I think I want to speak less…

Thirdly, having a heart like God’s is

Viewing people the way God views them

who despises a vile person but honours those who fear the LORD; ~Psalm 15:4a (NIV)

This one jars doesn’t it?! The Psalms are often talking about hating God’s enemies and loving those who love him but in the New Testament, the gospel and love is offered to all. Here are we hating the vile person, or hating the actions of the person that we wouldn’t align ourselves with.

Now, If we despised all vile people, we wouldn’t share the gospel with anyone. Sometimes I think we like to tell God who he hates, based on what we think about what they’ve done. If God’s will seems to line up with yours too often, you’ve got to ask some questions.

Ultimately God’s enemies are all those who reject him to the end to the last day, never repenting, but until then we don’t know who those enemies are, that person WE think is vile may hear the gospel and repent just like we did, who were his enemies.

But there’s a special word here to those inside the church who claim to be Christian but are living in sin in a way that is vile before God. The apostle Paul tells us to have nothing to do with the person who’s claiming Jesus’ name and living in unrepentant sin. Not the one struggling with it, the one who’s given up struggling and are now justifying it as ok. Paul says don’t even eat with that person, but again that’s not the final situation. We’re to break fellowship with those people so that they would see how much that life of sin isn’t worth it and how much they need God! It’s always with the goal of restoring the person.

I’m continually asking God to break my heart for what breaks his, and to teach me to love what he loves, but Honour those who fear the Lord

Let me tell you about a couple of guys I think are worthy of honour. A close friend of mine, Richie, topped his year at university and was offered a high paying role in a software development company. He turned down that role and kept his part-time job at JB-HI-FI so that he could keep giving his quality time to his church and serving on Christian youth camps. He’s been doing that for almost 10 years now. He’s a model of servant-hearted-ness.

Another guy from our Church named Nick. Nick just spent 4 weeks of his long service leave in our church offices helping out with some of our online training. Nick could have been skiing the slopes of Perisher, but chose to serve our church with his break. He even put on a BBQ for the staff team on his last day with us. Thanks Nick!

4. Faithfulness to our word

who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; ~Psalm 15:4b (NIV)

They say the measure of a person is their commitment to their word. Reflecting on the power of our words, if others can’t trust our word, what else do we have?

Our God is all-powerful, but there are some things he can’t do, He can’t do evil, because he is only good, He can’t be false/he can’t lie because he is the truth and he can’t break a promise he’s made! He is bound to his word. His word reflects himself and he is 100% faithful. If he says something – he does it!

“He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” ~1 Samuel 15:29 (NIV)

We on the other hand, often only keep our word as far as it benefits us, if things look like I’m going to lose out I’ll work out a way to get out of it. Did you know that 1 in 3 marriages in Australia ends in divorce? That’s 1/3 of all marriages, that’s 1/3 of people who vowed for better or worse, I will commit to you forever have a broken promise.

Sally and I have more than once acknowledged that if it wasn’t for God, and our commitment to him, we’d probably be divorced by now. We’re committed to our word to one another, because we’re committed to being like God in his faithfulness to His word. He’s the one keeping us committed! That doesn’t mean it’s an easy ride, but being a Christian means no matter the cost, no matter how hard reconciling is, and however long it takes, our oath to one another isn’t up for change.

But this doesn’t just apply to oaths and vows, Jesus tells us we don’t need to make promises to be consistent with our words. He challenges us to make our yes a yes and our no a no.

A friend of mine was recently challenged when he told his workmate he was going to do something, his workmate said, ‘is this another one of those things you just say you’re going to do but don’t do it?’ That was a window into his life.

Hear the Apostle John’s encouragement this is how we know what love is, Jesus Christ said he loved us… NO… He laid down his life for us, then he says – dear children let us not love with words and speech, but with actions and in truth! Imagine if Jesus showed up and said he was going to save the world and never did.

We have an opportunity to represent Jesus’ faithfulness to His word as we hold ours to others. When we say we’ll do something let’s do it.

5. Having a generous heart like God

who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. ~Psalm 15:5a (NIV)

This is about not taking advantage of those who can’t defend or protect themselves. Instead, just like God did with us, we show generosity to those in need, without expecting to make something out of it.

You might not know but we have a big freezer at church full of frozen meals that generous people have prepared and donated for those among us who are in need. Could you use that? Could you prepare a meal? Get in touch.

But this also extends further into our workplaces, the other day a Christian friend of mine was telling me about a deal his work was making with a company who went bankrupt and needed to sell off everything they had and his company seemed to be benefitting a little too much, it all seemed a little dodgy, so he asked, “Is this wrong what we’re doing?” and his work colleague said ‘it’s not illegal, it’s just not ethical.’

As a Christian, I’m not sure we would hold a difference. Do you know how your business affects others? Maybe you could ask some questions this week.

After spelling all that out David concludes with this reality:

Whoever does these things will never be shaken. ~Psalm 15:5b (NIV)

They’ll never fall off the mountain, or out of the tent. This is the hope we have, it’s firm and secure, an anchor for our soul.

Now, remember none of these things on their own secure us a place before God. It’s only by faith in Jesus that we are secured a place in God’s presence. But the one who understands they’ve been given the privilege of living like Jesus will seek to do these things in unending measure.

As the writer of Hebrews says

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be Shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. ~Hebrews 12:28 (NIV)

The truth is God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way, he wants to make you just like Jesus – Just like himself. What a privilege!

Let’s pray reflecting David’s prayer

May the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. ~Psalm 19 (NIV)

The famous English writer, Marghanita Laski, was no friend of Christianity, but before she died in 1988 she said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness. I have nobody to forgive me.” I guess she never fell for the modern therapeutic gospel which is you have to learn to forgive yourself.

The religion of psychology tells us that the one person whose forgiveness you need is not God and not others but you. What most people say, including Christians, is that what I think of me is the most important opinion. But it didn’t satisfy Laski who said “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness. I have nobody to forgive me.”

We know forgiving yourself has limited value because the rise of psychology has not brought about the rise of happiness.

1. The search for true happiness is being completely forgiven by God.

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. ~Psalm 32:1-2 (NIV)

David knew firsthand the need for forgiveness, he had committed adultery with his bodyguard’s wife and then murdered his bodyguard. True happiness was found in being offered a fresh start and a clean slate.

There are 4 different words for what needs forgiveness

  • The word sin itself describes falling short of Gods expectation to love him and others
  • The word Iniquity speaks of our twisted nature, turned in on itself like a knot that you can’t undo.
  • The word transgressions speaks of crossing a line you know is there

David managed to break 4 commandments in a short time.

  • He covets his neighbours wife
  • He steals his neighbour wife
  • He has sex with his neighbours wife
  • Then He kills his neighbour

He could not undo what he had done. He knew that every sin was written in God’s ledger awaiting judgment. David knew that being blessed was not about having a big palace and a 1000 chariots. True happiness is found in having the sin of adultery covered over, in having the sin of murder cancelled.

The 4th word is deceit. Until he confessed he was living a lie. To come clean to God is to become clean before God. By confession, we mean to side with God and agree that what we did was wrong. By forgiveness, we mean God will not count your sins against you.

Without a relationship with Christ, your sins will be counted, just like the odometer on your car counting every kilometre you drive. So, every sin you commit is being recorded and forgiveness means your sin not will be used as evidence against you on the judgment day. That is forgiveness and it is a beautiful gift from God.

A thousand “I’m sorrys” can’t fix the problem. Confession without the cross is empty. Someone has to pay. Happiness is knowing that sins confessed are sins forgiven only because those sins were paid for by Christ at the cross. This is where true joy is found.

We hate it when others keep bringing up our failures

  • “You always…” .
  • Or when people love to say, “I forgive you but I will never forget” with a tone that doesn’t sound like we are forgiven.

When God forgives he will not use our sins against us.

  • Others may judge us
  • Our conscience may convict us
  • Satan may rub our noses in those sins

However, God’s awesome promise is ” I will remember your sin no more.” This is where happiness is found. If you know the joy of being forgiven then you should know the joy of forgiving others. For Love “keeps no record of wrongs.” Why? Because that is exactly what Jesus did for you.

Happiness is knowing you are completely forgiven by God. Laski was so right when she said “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness.”

2. Unconfessed sins lead to profound unhappiness.

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. ~Psalm 32:3-4 (NIV)

This is David’s story: For a whole year, he covered up the sin of adultery and murder
For a whole year, Bathsheba knew part of it and General Joab knew the other part. Only David and God knew all of it and he wasn’t talking to God about it.

David reflects on the experience of unconfessed sin. It damaged him physically, psychologically, and spiritually

  • Physically it cut deep into his bones, and drained his energy.
  • Psychologically he groaned day and night. It never left him.
  • Spiritually the Lord’s hand was heavy upon him. This was the loving and painful discipline of the Lord.

David was silent to God and so had silenced God he was in his own personal hell. If you don’t hand your sins to Christ then guess who has to carry them? YOU!

“He (Christ) himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, ~1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)

Either Christ carries your sins in his body on that cross or you have to carry those sins in your body every day. And you can’t, no wonder you’re so exhausted. Over the years, I’ve spoken to men and women who have carried the guilt and shame of unconfessed sin.

When asked why they said

  • I was too proud to admit it to God.
  • I was too ashamed to talk to anyone
  • I was too afraid to confess
  • I was too guilty to acknowledge it

They say Western culture focuses on Guilt and Innocence. African culture focuses on Fear and Power. Asian culture focuses on Shame and Honour. All are true for every culture, but the cross means: Guilt, Fear and Shame are all gone.

The alternative to confession is

  • Blame
  • Denial
  • Pretend to God, to others and oneself
  • Living a life of distraction – from work to pleasure
  • Self-medicating
  • Living a compartmentalized life.

The result is that it eats into our soul. We become

  • Exhausted
  • Ashamed
  • Tired
  • Afraid
  • Anxious
  • Depressed
  • And Guilt that drives some to self-harm

This week at MBM we almost had a suicide, were it not for that dear brother finally confessing a decade long lie. Let’s hear from that dear brother.

“The weight of sin, which involved lies and deceit to my family over a decade to cover my destructive addiction simply got too much to carry any longer, gradually eating away at me from the inside out.

I knew it would eventually be all laid bare and the scale of destruction and sheer hurt it would cause to my relationships with my wife and children.

I’d reached what I thought was rock bottom but sunk even
lower to the extent I’d planned on more than one occasion in specific detail how I was going to end my life to avoid the shame and disgrace of my actions. I was totally weighed by down by guilt.

This was precisely the outcome Satan seeks for sinners who succumb to temptation but I couldn’t grasp that in those moments.

In desperation and complete and utter despair I reached out to ask for help in a totally distressed state. We talked, then met on several occasions and together we asked Jesus for forgiveness as the hopeless sinner I had become. If not for that intervention I would not be writing these words today.

While I am in early days of recovery and I have significant work to do to repair the untold hurt I caused to the loved ones around me I have Jesus to thank for his all powerful and enduring love that carried me through and for the ultimate sacrifice he paid for me. Nothing I can do will ever repay that. I now count every day as a blessing and praise God and his almighty powerful son Jesus for saving my life.”

Satan wants you to think you are unforgivable and that death is the only way out. Don’t llisten to him, he is a liar and he does not want you to be free or happy.

Did you hear the sadness in Laski quote? “I have nobody to forgive me.” M Laski. But we do friends.

3. The search for happiness begins with confessed sin

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. ~Psalm 32:5 (NIV)

From cover up to confession to cries of joy. Oh, the relief of naming our sin before God and others. David says “When I acknowledged my sin to you Lord, the pretending stopped, the sin is forgiven, the guilt is removed and God’s hand is lifted.

Here is the Paradox. When you try to cover your sin it remains exposed before the Lord. But when you uncover your sin to God, He then covers it by his Blood. If you confess your sin, God will conceal it. If you conceal your sin, God will condemn it.

We live in a culture that has found a thousand sophisticated ways to excuse our sin. Every department at University plays their part:

  • Chemistry will say it’s just the dopamine hit in your head
  • Biology will say its in your DNA
  • Psychology blames your parents
  • Economics points to your unemployment
  • Education will say you didn’t know better
  • No ultimate joy is found in these partial truths. The BIBLE IS full of unqualified confessions that satisfies the soul.

 

David says:

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. ~Psalm 51:2 (NIV)

Isaiah says

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! ~Isaiah 6:5 (NIV)

Peter says

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” ~Luke 5:8 (NIV)

The Tax collector says

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ ~Luke 18:13 (NIV)

Have you owned your sin?
What is holding you back?

It can’t be that God won’t forgive you.

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. ~Psalm 32:5b (NIV)

That is a promise! And its why we share the gospel!

4. Forgiven sinners plead with other sinners to confess and be happy

Therefore, let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble ~Psalm 32:6-7 (NIV)

If God is willing to forgive then don’t delay. He pleads with us to talk to Him while he may be found.

  • Today is the day of salvation. Don’t hesitate.
  • Tomorrow is promised to no one.
  • The thing about saying “no” to God is you get very good at it.

Don’t think God is like you. He never tires of hearing you say “I’m so sorry Lord.” He will never throw your confession back in your face.

God sent the prophet Nathan to David to confess his sin. God has sent me to tell you today to confess your sin.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. ~Psalm 32:8-9 (NIV)

In verse 8 God takes over the Psalm and talks directly to each of us. He says, I have my loving eye on you. I have been teaching you the right path. But if you don’t listen to my tender love, you will listen to my tough love.

Don’t be like a stubborn mule or an unbroken horse who need the bit and bridle. One way or the other you’re coming to me. We can do it the hard way or the easy way, either way you’re coming.

Spurgeon once said:

“If one severe trial does not sanctify you, expect another more rigorous.”

In last few years Sandy and I have both seen how God has used the bit and bridle to disciplined us in our pride…What personal feedback, bible reading and sermons didn’t do God did with the bit and bridle of reality. Painful as it was I’m so glad he did. This is where deep joy is found.

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart! ~Psalm 32:10-11 (NIV)

5. Forgiven souls want to rejoice and sing.

Great sinners are great singers. What joy there is in confession and forgiveness. See the pattern, it never changes:

  • Sin brings Sorrow,
  • Confession brings Forgiveness
  • Forgiveness brings Joy.

Is this not how any relationship works?

Conclusion

You may not be a Christian and so this passage is calling you to confess a life lived in rebellion. Let me give you the ABC of becoming a Christian

  • Admit you’re a sinner
  • Believe Jesus paid for your sins at the cross.
  • Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

You may be a Christian and this passage is saying never stop confessing. Stand with God against your sin and claim your blood-bought forgiveness.

You may be a Christian who has backslidden. Like a brother in Christ I spoke to some time ago, he was married but had slipped into a series of anonymous sexual encounters with other men. He was so overwhelmed by his guilt and shame that he too was very close to suicide. He finally came to me to confess, with tears in his eyes I got him to read David’s confession in Psalm 51. You could see the relief in his eyes and the joy in his soul.

Can I suggest confessing to a trusted brother or sister in Christ, Pastor or Christian counsellor? Having someone know your sins and having them announce that you are forgiven in Christ is a powerful thing. The prophet Nathan did just that to David.

And of course, your relief may be the beginning of someone else’s grief who you have sinned against.

  • Let them grieve.
  • Let them be angry with you.
  • Don’t demand they forgive you because God has
  • And don’t let their reaction deny your comfort that God has washed away all your sin.

What is stopping you? Laski thought she had no one to forgive her but you do friends.

It’s a psalm read at funerals and it will probably be read on your death bed. It speaks of the personal, powerful and protective hand of God. But it’s not a Psalm for the dead but for the living!

It speaks of the journey of life, the God of Israel, who watches over his people as a shepherd, not just in the good times but in the bad. Its wreaks of assurance and confidence because he the good shepherd is my shepherd.

1. I trust that my Shepherd provides all that I need.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. ~Psalm 23:1 (NIV)

This is a very personal psalm, it’s not a ‘we’ psalm but a ‘me’ psalm. He is My shepherd. This God doesn’t just watch every corner of the universe nor does he just watch over his nation, he watches over my life and yours. A Reminder that Christianity is not just a religion but a personal relationship with God.

King David makes the God of his people, the Shepherd of his Soul. So what does he promise?

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. ~Psalm 23:1 (NIV)

This is not a call to deny your desires, like Buddhism, nor is he saying everything you want you get like a prosperity preacher. The logic is: The Lord is my shepherd and because of that I lack nothing, or as one child said ‘the Lord is my Shepherd I’ve got all I want.’

We know Jesus is God for a number of reasons

  • He talks like God
  • He acts like God
  • He accepts worship as God
  • He takes the titles of God and applies them to himself

Twice Jesus says in John 10, I am the good shepherd. The act of saying this psalm and meaning it is itself an act of faith. I’m telling God and I’m telling others and I’m telling myself He is my everything. I have many desires but my deepest desires are fulfilled in him and his dear son. The good Shepherd provides for all that I need.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. ~Psalm 23:2-3 (NIV)

For a sheep this is heaven on a stick; green pastures to satisfy the hunger and, quiet waters to quench thirst. He is the source of life. It’s why Jesus said…“I have come that you may have life and have it to the full”

Do you know sheep find it hard to lay down if they are hungry or sick or afraid or stressed then they will not lie down? This good shepherd has taken care of all that that is why He refreshes my soul. Jesus is that Good Shepherd who provides all that I need. 

To appreciate Psalm 23 let consider the opposite. David Powlison wrote Antipsalm 23

I’m on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need.
Nothing’s quite right.
I’m always restless.
I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It’s a jungle—I feel overwhelmed.
It’s a desert—I’m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck.
I can’t fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.

This is life without a Shepherd. Its not a compliment to be likened to a sheep, they are dumb animals, but oh do they trust their shepherd who knows them.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me ~John 10:14 (NIV)

Sheep stations in Australia can carry 80,000 sheep. But in the Middle East, you may have 10-20 sheep and each one is known by name. The Shepherd is the source of life.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. ~John 10:27-28 (NIV)

There is an unquestioning trust in the Shepherds voice.

Elisabeth Elliot has told the story of a toddler who was very ill but had learned to recite Psalm 23 on her fingers. Starting with her pinkie she would grab a finger as she said each word of The Lord is my Shepherd. As she said the word shepherd she would clasp her thumb in recognition of the care that God has for her. One morning after a long and hard fight against her disease, the little girl was found dead with one hand clasped around the other thumb. The lord is her shepherd, He has made her to lie down in green pastures. He has led her to quiet waters. Surely she will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

That voice takes them down the right roads

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. ~Psalm 23:3 (NIV)

The Good Shepherd guides us down the right paths, down the narrow road where few go but life is found. He leads us away from broad roads where many are on but ends in destruction.

Why does he do it? He does it for his name’s sake. All he does is for His glory.

Friend, it’s clear from this Psalm that you matter to God the Shepherd of your soul, but it’s not about you. We do good to make the good Shepherd look good. We trust our Shepherd when the grass is green and when the valley is dark.

2. I trust my Shepherd to provide full protection.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. ~Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

To get to water and green pastures you sometimes walk through dangerous territory. You walk in the valley of the shadow of death where the predators prowl and the enemy stalks. There is good reason to be afraid but David says I will fear no evil. 

We all live in the land of the shadow of death, He promises to protect us. He comes not only with a staff to guide the sheep but a rod to thump the enemies. We know that David took on the bears and lions who attacked his sheep. As a shepherd, he risked his life for his sheep, as a sheep he knew what God did for him again and again. The Lord is my Shepherd, I will fear no evil.

I took my grandkids to the zoo and we were at the Tiger enclosure. We could barely see the awesome animal and then it walked right round the enclosure till it stopped and stared straight at my 20 month old grandson. With only 30 cms separating them, he let out this amazing roar and it should have been terrifying, were it not for the protective glass. Jesus is the good shepherd who promises to be with us and protect us.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. ~John 10:27-28 (NIV)

Notice, David goes from talking about God to talking to God. He leads me, He restores my soul, He guides…becomes in verse 4, for you are with me, your rod and your staff will comfort me. What we learn friends, is talking about God must become talking to God. Get into the habit of interrupting your talk about God to talking with him.

When does David talk to God? At the point when he walks in the darkest valley, when enemies surround.

3. I trust my Shephard who has the power to save

In verse 5 and verse 6 the image changes. This shepherd king now becomes our host.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. ~Psalm 23:5 (NIV)

You don’t eat a banquet when the enemy is about to eat you up. Picture marauding hordes of Philistines, alla Lord of the Rings. These are about to attack David and his men, the prophet Nathan whisper in David’s ear that God has promised victory. So, David decides to sit down to a banquet with his enemies on the horizon. He is taking his time eating his lamb Kebabs and Tabouli, he then pours himself a fine Israeli red wine and now General Joab is getting nervous “David shouldn’t we get ready for the battle.” Yes, yes Joab but hang on I haven’t tried the Baklava, I love the baklava! He will fear no evil why? Because if ‘God is for us who can be against us’ The victory belongs to God.

Dr. Zahiruddin, a Medical doctor, was abducted by the Taliban in Pakistan 8th Dec 2007. He was chained up in a rat-infested, dark cold room, threatened with beatings and then beheading if he did not convert to Islam. He prayed and fasted each day to his good shepherd to save him. He was eventually released after 25 days. On the last day the Taliban put on a farewell meal for him and as he sat to eat the meal in front of the Taliban he thought of this verse, You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

What was Jesus doing the night before he was betrayed, beaten and brutalised on the cross? He sat and ate the Last supper, eating with his friends in the face of enemies, with the enemy of death he was about to defeat, with the enemy of sin that he would pay for, with enemy of Satan he was about to disarm. 

It’s because of Christ’s victory over the enemies that we read this Psalm to people on their death bed. Confidence in the face of our death; I will fear no evil.

It’s a privilege to come close to a person breathing their last, to lean in and whisper ‘Jesus your good Shepherd says to you. “Today you will be with me in paradise”’ Unlike the atheist doctor whom my friend visited, so afraid to die, he couldn’t let his wife leave the room.

… You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. ~Psalm 23:5b (NIV)

It could mean the anointing of the messiah, but I think it’s the custom of refreshment. God refreshes our souls, that is why our cup is neither half empty nor half full, its not even full. My cup overflows…with the Holy Spirit who has poured out the love of the Good Shepherd into our hearts.

This is not a psalm just for the dying it’s for the living, It’s not for the end of life but for the whole of life…

4. I trust my Shepherd will never stop pursuing me with his love

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. ~Psalm 23:6 (NIV)

Are you feeling like someone is watching? You should!  Literally it reads

Surely your goodness and love will (pursue) me all the days of my life ~Psalm 23:6 

Here is God’s unrelenting love. A love that hunts down its victims. You are being stalked by God’s love. Seeking ultimate intimacy- anywhere else leaves you empty.

Antipsalm 23

I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me—except me.
And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
In contrast this Psalm brims with confidence

The certainty of statements like

  • I lack nothing
  • I will fear no evil
  • I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

5. I trust the Shepherd’s promise of his presence now and forever

The house of the Lord is code for the presence of God. So God has been with him from green pasture to dark valley, from banquet to battles. He is confident in the presence of his enemies. He is confident that he will be in the presence of his God forever. God is not a means to an end it is the end for David.

Assurance

The privilege of being in Christ is the privilege of being safe in the arms of God. He will not abandon you.

  • Your spouse may dump you
  • Your friends may betray you
  • Your children may reject you
  • Your boss may sack you
  • Your health may leave you

But the promise for those who follow Jesus is this, I will never forsake you. Jesus last words are ‘I will be with you always to the end of the age.’ 

You’re not alone even in the darkest valley. How long Lord will I feel this way? I feel nothing, not joy or sorrow – nothing.

I was meeting with someone from church who was doing it tough and I suggested they write a psalm to God about what they are experiencing. Here is what they wrote:

I am tired, I am always tired.
How can I feel completely overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time?
I am engulfed by my own thoughts.
Ohhh guilt. I do feel guilt. Guilt because I know you’re my
Father, I know that you are good.
I know that you love me dearly, much much more than I deserve.
I know that you are reaching your arm down to help me out of this pit but I can ‘t bring my arm up to meet yours.
I can’t be bothered. Who even says that?
I can’t be bothered to get the help from the creator of the world, my one true love.

I am my own worst enemy.
I am weary and burdened and feel no rest.
I read the beautiful words you write to me.
I know them and trust them.
They just go in one ear and out the other.
Lord, please clear my head to allow room only for thoughts of you.

I don’t like it here and I want to get out.
You’ve done it before Lord. Please do it again.

George Mueller once said “The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.”

Psalm 1 answers the question, how does one find their soul happy in the Lord? Let’s read Psalm 1 together as Christians have done from the beginning.

We begin a new series in the book of Psalms:

  • It is the most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament and by Jesus.
  • It was the song book of Israel.
  • It is the prayer book of the church.
  • It gives expression to every major emotion and experience a believer has and turns them to prayers
  • It begins as Jesus began his first sermon, Blessed or happy is the person..
  • It ends with a flurry of praise to the Lord. 

The opening verses of Psalm 1 start with “Blessed is the one” “Happy is the one” Not just happy, it’s in the plural, ‘happiness’ is the person who…

The world offers short term pleasure and the word offers lifelong happiness. But this happiness will include praises to God, confession of sin, and lament in our suffering. There are over 60 psalms of lament. There are many types of Psalms. Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm and it answers the question you have been asking all your life. How do I find true and lasting happiness?

Point 1 The happy soul says “No!” to the world’s influence.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, ~Psalm 1:1 (NIV)

The wise one who seeks true happiness has 3 postures. They do not walk, they do not stand with and they do not sit among the wicked, sinner scoffers. There is a descending tragedy. The wise one will not be drawn into ideas and behaviours that silence God or oppose his ways. Happiness puts up a fence, they will not entertain those ideas, they will not engage with those behaviours, they will not embrace those who stand against Christ.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s not like we put our thumbs in our ears and say ‘I’m not listening.’ We are to take every idea prisoner for Christ and run every idea through the lens of the bible.

Those seeking to influence are described in 3 words, Wicked–Sinners–and Scoffers. Those who defy God and have no shame.

A friend of mine, a solid Christian has read a book on how the bible is not against same-sex marriage. It’s written by a person who claims to love Jesus and loves his same-sex partner. My friend has a strong level of empathy and the book is drawing him away from 2000 years of consistent bible teaching on sexuality, to a view that is been agreed to for 30 years, promoted by the world marked by sinners and scoffers. To be fair he is doing the right thing by asking me to read the book and speak to the issue.

So the question is clear Who is influencing you in your life? Who are you opening yourself up to? Who has your ear? Every day is a battle for ideas and we are called to take every thought prisoner for Christ. Don’t let the world set the agenda for your life and faith a favourite singer, lecturer or influencer, a radio or TV personality, a preferred Podcaster or blogger or a friend or parent.

Come back to the question, Who has your ear? Who do you drop your guard with? Who do you find hard to resist? Who is shaping your values? Which set of ideas has your heart and mind? So often Christians take up an ideology that is fashionable and then dip into the bible to find the verses that justify their ..’ism’ Scienceism, Feminism, Chauvinism, Capitalism. Each has a partial truth but treat it as the whole truth. I know it sounds sophisticated. Don’t be seduced.

Remember when you were young and you did something stupid and Mum said, Who told you to do that?…my friends were doing it and she would say ‘Would you jump off a cliff if they were to do it?’ It was good argument then and it’s a good argument now.

The Christian knows that to worship God and by pleasing him we are to no longer conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of the mind. That is how we worship God and please him.

Someone at youth last term asked me a question: What to do with a friendship that is tempting you to sin. My rule is simple, who is influencing who more? If they influence you more than you can influence them then end the friendship. Nothing is more important than your relationship with Christ. “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

Any time I talk to a person with an addiction sooner or later I get to saying “unless you’re prepared to end a certain friendship that’s influencing you to drink, use drugs, gamble, or sexually sin you won’t stay clean”. I tell them, your future you will thank you for saying no to that toxic friendship. We know the studies, the people you hang with shape your decisions. But unless you fill your minds with the truth you will not resist.

Point 2. The happy soul fills their mind with God’s word

If the happy soul does not walk, stand or sit with sinners then verse 2 is his or hers.

… delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. ~Psalm 1:2 (NIV)

The Happy soul finds their joy in the law of the Lord, the law of the Lord refers to God’s instructions, it can refer to the whole of the Old Testament. Finding delight in Law of the Lord is finding delight in every book of the bible including the Psalms. The person marked by happiness in its many forms finds their joy in Gods word. They meditate on Gods word day and night.

To Meditate is to murmur under your breath, to chew over the Word, to think God’s thoughts after him. Christian mediation is not like Eastern meditation it’s not emptying the mind, it’s filling the mind with God’s word. The word for ‘mediate’ is an active word, it’s the same word in Psalm 2 when the nations conspire against the Lord’s Messiah. You’re either conspiring against Christ or for Christ. Happiness is found in learning, loving, and living the word of God, because in that word we don’t find a better version of you and we find the promise of the Messiah as in Psalm 2. Psalm 2 ends as Psalm 1 begins. On the theme of happiness

Kiss the son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all those who take refuge in him. ~Psalm 2:12 (NIV)

Kiss the son or kiss heaven goodbye. Happiness is found in our relationship with the Lord Jesus who we meet in his Word. That is why Happiness is found in meditating day and night. God has so much to say to you and he has said it in his written word.

“Complaining that God is silent when your Bible is closed is like complaining about not getting texts when your phone is turned off.” When we open the Bible, we find more than 750,000 words breathed out by God himself for you. There is a lot to meditate on. Since we are the generation that has never been distracted more and find it hard to concentrate less than switch off the notification on your smartphone. You can’t expect to meditate on the word of God while being reminded every 60 seconds of that text or that great deal. Take charge of your electronic world.

The happy person is one who meditates day and night. Find a time and a place to read slowly and prayerfully. Aim to read through Psalms this year.

I spent a couple of weeks early this year on the biggest psalm. Psalm 119. It is divided into 22 sections which follow the Hebrew alphabet. I found a verse in each section and rewrote it then I carried it with me and sent it to others.

Whether you’re in a Growth Group or not use the study material. Let me encourage you to memorize verses. This term in Growth Groups we are going to spend two weeks on Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd. Our aim to memorize it. Feed off Gods word and you will thrive.

Point 3 The Happy soul will bear fruit.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. ~Psalm 1:3 (NIV)

The wise one is likened to a tree whose roots draw life-giving water, who is fruitful in season and whose leaves stay green. Which means the one who meditates on Gods word doesn’t just survive they thrive.

We have plastic plants in our unit, they always stay green but they are not real. We also have real plants outside and they need to be watered. We chose cactus so that we don’t have to remember all that often. The lavenders are struggling because I’m not consistently watering them. They remind me of me when I starve myself of Gods word.

Did you see the summary? For the person who sinks deep into the word of God, whatever they do prospers. So, yes, there is a prosperity gospel in the bible, of course, there is. If prosperity is furthering God purposes. If prosperity is bearing fruit to the glory of God, bring it on. If prosperity is persevering in suffering with joy, hallelujah! Not the ugly prosperity gospel that names and claims health and wealth. “Come to Jesus so you can satisfy the selfish desires of your soul. As someone rightly said “Prosperity gospel is like marrying someone for their money”

Just read Psalm 73, the writer envies wicked because everything they do turns to gold as they curse God. • He thinks it’s a waste of time to worship God until he realizes that he’s using God.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. ~Psalm 73:25 (NIV)

That is how his soul is happy again in the Lord. He realises that God is enough!

Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. ~Psalm 1:4-5 (NIV)

There is no future for those who oppose God, they are like chaff, the husks that get blown away into oblivion, of no use with no future. The wicked and sinners are now mentioned again, this time the wicked who were so influential will not stand in judgment. This time the sinners whose conversation were persuasive will be absent in the heavenly church. Listen to them and you will be with them, shut out from the presence of the Lord.

We have here 2 ways to live and 2 destinies.

I was at a coffee shop preparing this sermon and two retired men were talking next to me. One of them spoke about hearing of a man who died, he said “when is the funeral?” The friend said it was yesterday but don’t worry it was private, he gave orders to ‘Take me to the crematorium and get rid of me.’ He saw his death as the end, like chaff blown away.

So different from Rapunzel who we heard at the funeral say ‘I’m so looking forward to going on holidays with God forever.’ The closer to face death the greater her happiness, for she knew the Lord watched over her soul. As one pastor put it “Our sin is not that we long to be happy but that we are stupidly and blindly  determined to find it in something or someone other than God and all that he is for us in Jesus.”

Dear Father,

We thank you for wanting us to be happy. Forgive us for seeking that happiness apart from your dear Son. Teach us to find our joy in your Word. Inspire us to meditate on your Word day and night. May we take refuge in your Son and reject the lies of this world. May our happy souls bear much fruit for your glory.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I must admit that watching MBM online has been very convenient, for the first time in 35 years I have got my Saturday nights back. On Sunday I move from my bedroom, shower, kitchen and go to my TV to go on MBM online, youtube. Sandy and I pray and share. I catch up with some of you on zoom. There are no more arguments about getting up, getting ready, getting out, getting in the car and no more car park miracles.

With forced smiles, and awkward conversations at church, are we sure we want to come back?

So, it’s a good time to stop and to see the church of God through Jesus’ eyes again. And in the words of the great Robert Abboud, to let personal preferences surrender to Gods purposes, to retrain ourselves back into the habit of meeting with one another. I so want everyone at MBM to see how precious the church is in Jesus’ eyes.

The word church in the New Testament is almost always the gathering of believers around God’s word, whether that gathering was at Old Testament Mt Sinai, or Mt Druitt or the heavenly Mt Zion. For too long the church has had a target on its back and let’s face it, there is a lot to criticize. But when we declare Jesus to be Lord, we choose to see the church through Jesus’ eyes.

The Bible is clear, God’s great plan is that He is saving a people for his Son. Every person at MBM was in God’s heart from before the creation of the world. We were chosen not just to be forgiven but to be adopted into God’s family – the church.

I want to look at 2 images to understand the church.

Point 1. The Church is Christ’s Bride
When Adam and Eve were placed in the garden, they were not just our first parents and the first couple, they were the first church. When these two were gathered, God was with them in the cool of the day. And each marriage points to the ultimate marriage between Christ and his church. Not surprising when Paul starts talking about marriage he ends up talking about the
church.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. ~Ephesians 5:25-27 (NIV)

From that passage we see Jesus posture toward the church. We are told 5 things about Jesus attitude to his church

  1. Christ really loved his church. Have you ever said I love the church?
  2. Christ loved the church knowing every stain, wrinkle and blemish. The failures of the church don’t stop Jesus loving his bride and they should not stop us.
  3. Christ gave himself up for his church. Jesus loves his bride all the way to the cross. Very few verses speak of Christ dying for me. Only 1, Christ died for his sheep, his church, his people, elect.
  4. Christ cleanses his bride by his word. When we accepted the good news we are washed whiter than snow.
  5. Christ wants a beautiful church not just a forgiven church. Jesus is committed to making the church radiant, we are the apple of his eye. And He rejoices over us in song.

Christ wants us to be with him and one day he will come to live with us. We are his forever people.

Now think about your attitude to the church. Do you have a love for the church like Jesus does? Or do you use the sins of the church as an excuse to ignore his bride? Do you use the sins of the church to judge his people?

Jesus is not naïve. Every letter in the New Testament is a rebuke to the churches then and now. We can see why people say ‘I love Jesus -it’s the church I can’t stand.’

I was talking to a guy, who owns a café, 2 months ago when we were on hard lockdown, he had 5 women not keeping social distance buying take away, he gently warned them that police were around. They stayed for 2 hours in groups of 5 when only 2 were allowed. They complained about the food and demanded a part refund. He said ‘I am going to refund all your meals’ They said, ‘You must be a Christian, so are we’. He said ‘its people like you that give Christianity such a bad name.’

Whatever sins you see in the church, Jesus not only knows them, he died for each one. As the bride of Christ, you can’t love Jesus and not love his church. You can’t love Jesus and not his people at MBM, too many Christian just don’t get this, they think they can love Jesus and not love his people. They are the very people Jesus personally chooses.

As a young Christian, I knew I did not naturally fit in at church, they were not my kind of people, I loved going to hear rock bands play at pubs, the music at church sounded like bad country and western. I didn’t realize that by saying yes to Jesus, I was saying yes to a new family who I didn’t choose.

They were not my kind of people but then it dawned on me as a young Christian, they were Jesus’ people, He loves them, he chose them and died for them, so I needed to love them and serve them. Those who I get on with and those I don’t, those who drain me and those who energize me, those who love me and those who hurt me. I needed to see them through Jesus’ eyes.

That is why when people withdraw from the church of God, they end up hanging with people just like themselves. Jesus said even the pagans love those who love them. You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family and you can’t pick Gods family, that is God choice. The church is Christ’s bride.

Point 2 The church is Christ’s body
With Christ as the head and we are his body. Each of us makes up different members of his one body, the moment you believe you belong.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body— whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. ~1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (NIV)

The moment you are born you belong in a family, the moment you are born again you are reborn into the body of Christ. This beautiful body of Christ crosses cultures, and class, where everyone belongs, flies first class. Just as a human body has different parts, head, fingers, legs, eyes and ears, so the body of Christ has many different people with different gifts all joined by the same Spirit. You belong, whether you feel like you belong or not. You belong even if you have not found a best friend at church that you click with.

There are 2 attitudes that can undermine that unity.

Warning #1 Don’t despise your place in the body.

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. ~1Corinthians 12:15 (NIV)

Telling yourself you don’t belong does not stop you from belonging.

An insecure big toe with low self-esteem does not stop the big toe from being part of the body. Imagine for a moment if the whole body were one big eyeball or imagine a 6-foot nose, no eyes, no legs just a nose. At best you would look like Mr Potato head and worse you would look like a Picasso Painting.

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? ~1 Corinthians 12:17 (NIV)

Try talking to a person who has lost a hand or lost an eye and they will tell you, every part matters. Sometimes we despise our place when we say to ourselves, if only they knew what I did this last week they would not be so nice. Or Everyone is so together at church and my life is such a mess. Relax: all of our lives are a mess. The church is not a gym for the spiritual fit and healthy, it’s a hospital for sick sinners crying out for mercy.

Christ did not pay the price of his life to buy you the most expensive ticket to be part of God’s forever people so that you can’t tell yourself you don’t belong.

Warning #2 Don’t despise the place of others.

As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” ~1Corinthians 12:20-21 (NIV)

This passage forbids that ugly rugged individualism that says I don’t need you. Now, of course, no one is not likely to say it, we just act like it.

So, when you only come to church when you feel like it you are saying ‘I don’t need others or they don’t need me.’ What is worse is when we justify our neglect of His church by saying “God is enough.” The church is God’s body language.

[we] should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. ~1 Corinthians 12:26 (NIV)

Jesus feels the joys and sorrows of his people, He shares our joys and weeps with our tears. The way he shows that is through us, we are his body language. He wants you to express his joy and sorrow over the joy and sorrows of others. You are his hands his feet, his tears and his smile.

Last week we lost our sister Rapunzel. This 27 year old woman who went to be with the Lord and left her loving husband Sam. Sam’s grief must be our grief as it reflects Christ grief.

There is not a person in this church you don’t need and there is not a person in this church who doesn’t need you.

“Satan loves detached believers, unplugged from the life of the Body, isolated from Gods family and unaccountable to spiritual leaders because he knows they are defenceless and powerless.” Rick Warren (p136)

So what helps people feel like they belong? The repeated feedback from people is this. Join a small group and find out how you can serve.

One woman said, ‘I was coming to the church for over a year before I knew anyone, when I made the move to join the morning tea team I began to know the people in my team so, that was a bit better but still mostly I would wander on my own. Then, I finally joined a bible study group, THAT made lots more difference’

MBM online has been the right thing to do during COVID but it’s not church. It’s been an important ministry of the word, but it’s not church. It’s what we do for a season, but it’s not church.

Jesus said ‘I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’ And neither will COVID. Not all of us can gather straight away as we move from 1 to 2 to 3 services. It may be because of limited numbers and services or it may be because you are vulnerable and we fully understand. Just don’t make inconvenience the reason you don’t gather. Personal preferences need to surrender to God’s purposes. I want you to grasp how Jesus sees his church.

Point 3 Judgement day shows the importance of the church

Jesus is seated on his glorious throne with angels. He separates the Sheep from the Goats.

To one group Jesus says

Depart from me ~Matthew 25:41 (NIV)

To the other he says

Come, you who are blessed by my Father ~Matthew 25:34 (NIV)

But what marks out the sheep from the goats?

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ ~Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)

It all turns on your treatment of Jesus.

But they are thinking: “How did we feed, clothe, visit, and care for you Jesus, you were in heaven?”

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. ~Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

Do you see? What you did for my people my bride and my body you did to me. Those “Brothers and Sister of mine…” When you neglected them you neglected me, when you ignored them you ignored me and when you loved them you loved me.

If a finger represents you and a hand represents your small circle of church friends you will not love Jesus until you love his whole body. That is why the place the church has in your heart is one of the great indicators of the place Jesus has in my heart.

Friends, it may be time to trade in those slippers for the privilege of serving the saints.

My Lord Jesus,
We know you saved us not just from hell but to be part of your family, your bride and your body. Help us to grasp that to ignore your people is to ignore you. And to love your people is how we love you. May we rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep in the body of Christ
In Jesus name.
Amen

Dr. Victor Chang was a great heart surgeon based at St.Vincents Hospital. He had the ability to transplant a heart and a lung and he gave people an extra 20 years of life. Things were said of him that will not be said of many of us. 

One Thursday morning while driving to work he was pulled over by 2 gunmen, he refused their request and he was shot dead, there on that footpath at Mosman was the very best and the very worst this country had to offer. His hand devoted to saving lives, the hands of his murderers were devoted to taking his.

The story that Jesus tells also puts two men together side by side in the presence of God. They stood for the very best and the very worst his nation could provide. 

He tells the story for one reason.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ~Luke 18.9 (NIV)

This is a critique on those who trust in their own goodness and as a result, look down on everybody else. What we have here is the Pharisee and the Tax collector. 

The Pharisees were about 1% of the Jewish population, they were hardcore and there were no half measures, these were spiritual heroes of that culture. They fasted 2 days a week and this is not your 5-2 diet where you drop to 600 calories 2 days a week. This was no food for 2 days every week, week in week out. It was all the more impressive given the bible only required 1 day per year, but that is religion for you, it always adds to what God says. 

They also gave 10% of their wage to a greater cause. If anyone had grounds for thinking they had done enough it was them. They had a high standard and a high success rate!

The tax collectors were on the other end of the spectrum, they were contracted by the Romans, who invaded Israel, to tax their own people. They were a nasty piece of work, they betrayed their own people by siding with the enemy. They exploited their own people by overtaxing them. They bled decent people of a decent living. Kids went to bed hungry because of the Tax collectors who lined their own pockets with illegal taxes.

Knowing that, who would you honestly think that Jesus would promise heaven to.

Let’s see how they approach God. The Pharisee comes before God prayerfully confident that he did everything required of him and more.

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ ~Luke 18:11-12 (NIV)

As far as he is concerned, he has kept the 10 commandments. He paid his taxes and he has not slept with another man’s wife. But most of all he is grateful that he is has not turned out like that treacherous tax collector.

He does not sing “Amazing Grace how sweat the sound that saved a wretch like me.” His hymn is “Amazing Grace how sweat the sound that saved a wretch like him.”

The Pharisee thinks he a good person who has done a lot of good and his community would agree, this is why he relies on what he does. You get the feeling that God owes him. What the Pharisee doesn’t do is this; he doesn’t come, wanting to be put right with God, not a hint of confession. 

The religious heart tends to produce one of two outcomes, you’re either proud or petrified. Proud that I’m good enough and you’re not or Petrified that I’m not good enough and I never will be.

The Tax collector, on the other hand, is very much aware of his failure before God

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ ~Luke 18.13 (NIV)

This is not low self-esteem, this is an honest assessment of himself. He knows that he comes before a perfect God as a sinner, there is no offer to try a little harder, there are no new resolutions. He places no hope whatsoever in anything good he may have done, because he may well have been good to his close circle of friends and family but he knows they are but crumbs. All we hear from his lips are “Have mercy on me a sinner’ or literally ‘the sinner.’

What made these two men end up coming to God in such different ways? 

1. Being good is its own temptation. The Pharisee was deceived by his virtues, he was a man who did good things, but he then concluded that he was good enough. The fatal error is, I’m good therefore I’m good enough for God.

So, the warning is clear, the better you are, the more sincere, more compassionate, more spiritual, the more causes you pursue, the more justice you seek on behalf of others, the greater the danger for thinking that these are the grounds of God’s approval. They aren’t.

The Tax Collector has no goodness to be deceived by, that is why he is not pretending. He knows he is a mongrel and so does everybody else.

Friends let me be very clear, Heaven is not for good people, Heaven is for forgiven people. It has to be because Jesus said “No one is good, except God alone.” The Pharisee didn’t come looking for forgiveness, he came to present his CV to get a promotion.

2. The Pharisee does what we are all tempted to do, he made other people the yardstick and not God. He measured his performance with other people like the tax collector instead of measuring his performance with God. Of course, he was better than the tax collector, but so what! People all over the world are pinning their hopes that they are at least statistically average and better than most. Did you know that 80% of Australian men think they are above average in sport? 

We are deluded by comparison, I am 5 ft 6 inches tall, that’s 165 cms which is not all that tall, yet growing up I thought of myself as being tall. My Father was 5 ft or 152 cms and my Mother was 5 ft or 152 cms and my sisters are 150 cms so, by the time I was 12 I towered in my family. As long as I used my family as the comparison, I considered myself to be tall. But by the age of 13, I discovered all my friends grew 5 to 10 cms taller than me and before I knew it I was on the receiving end of short jokes.

So what if you are as good as the average and better than most. So what if you’re the best person who has ever walked this earth, line yourself up to Gods standard and cringe.

What does the Tax Collector do? He doesn’t measure himself to the Pharisee, he measures himself to a God whose standard is nothing less than perfect. Once you know that yardstick you’re only left with one response. “Have mercy on me a sinner!”

The tax collector sees himself in light of God alone, hence the clean confession. No excuses. No, I’m sorry but here are my good points. No, I’m sorry but I support three world vision kids. No, I’m sorry but I fight for the rights of Koalas. Have mercy on Me the sinner. So simple and so profound.

The problem with the human heart is this. It overestimates human nature then comes up with superficial solutions, but Jesus will tell us we are far worse than we can imagine and God is more merciful than we could ever hope for. When the Tax collector asks for mercy he is saying “God I know you’re rightly angry with me, I know I deserve hell. I’m asking you Lord to turn your anger away from me..”

Jesus, who told this parable is on his way to the cross, to take that anger upon himself. We fail to see the seriousness of our situation. 

Imagine if you value your failures in terms of a financial debt toward God and you were told that you have incurred a debt by God for $250,000 and you have one life time to pay it back. What would you think? Serious – but I can solve this problem. You would work out how to pay it back…sell the car, or sell the house or take a loan. You would be optimistic that you could repay the debt. That is a human solution, to think I can pay it back. But Jesus’ message is, your failures are more like a 900 billion dollar debt and you have one life time to pay it. What would be your reaction? You’re not going to offer 3 cents in the dollar, you would give up and cry for mercy.

The Tax Collector has done what God expects everyone to do, Give up! Not give up doing good! Give up trusting that your goodness will justify you before God or qualify you for heaven. Heaven is not for good people because they don’t exist. Heaven is for forgiven people who ask for mercy. Don’t stop doing good but stop relying on the good you do and start relying on God’s mercy.

The Tax collector sees things as God sees them. Now Jesus, who is the one who will judge us all, tells us how he sees them.

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” ~Luke 18.14 (NIV)

What?! Jesus declares that the horrible tax collector now broken before God has his charges dropped. He is justified, and that is as offensive as putting a civil rights activist and a member of the ku klux klan in a church, both hear the same message of grace. The ku klux klan member cries out for mercy and is forgiven but the civil right activist is offended and refuses to ask for forgiveness.

The Pharisee wants from God what he thinks he deserves and he got it, rejection. The Tax Collector asked for what he didn’t deserve, mercy and he got it.

What do you want from God? I promise you, you will get it.

God will give you what you deserve if that is what you want.

Are you really sure you want it!

I remember watching a former minister of immigration talking to a Cambodian refugee in a detention centre. The minister of immigration asked the refugee “What do you want from me? The Cambodian man dropped his head and whispered, “mercy”.

He is saying. “I know I have no right to be accepted but I’m asking for what I don’t deserve” Mercy

Friends God is dying to offer you mercy. No, Gods son Died to provide you with mercy. Jesus lived the life we should have lived, but didn’t and then died the death we deserved to die but don’t have to. The payment is made, we owed a debt we just couldn’t pay and Jesus paid the debt he didn’t owe. And so let me plead with you, ask God for mercy, turn from your sins, turn to Christ. Begin a new personal relationship with this Lord Jesus whose mercy provides full forgiveness.

I preached this sermon once and a man came up and said “I was on that footpath in Mosman when Dr. Victor Chang was shot.” He was a British man working in Sydney, the assassin threatened him and he was too afraid to go home in Mosman.

So, he lived with a family for months who were Christians. They took him to church where he heard that Heaven is not for good people but forgiven people, who own their sin and cry out for mercy to Jesus. Is it not time for you to join the rest of us..

Dear God,

Have mercy on me a sinner. I know that what I deserve is your rejection but what I am asking for is your beautiful mercy. 

Thank you Lord Jesus that through your death on the cross you paid the debt that I could never pay.Thank you that I am now fully forgiven.

I now put my trust in you. I now seek to put you first in my life. Please help me to live for you and never look down on others.

In Jesus name, Amen

Is there anyone you don’t want to see in heaven? Adulterers -Terrorists -Child abusers or someone who has profoundly wronged you or someone you love. And does the idea of sharing heaven make you not want to be there? Or are you ok about them being in heaven but can’t rejoice at them being in heaven?

All of which exposes how our heart is not lined up with God’s heart.

Jesus tells 3 stories about something or someone being lost and then found. A lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son.

We learn 3 things about God’s heart.

  1. God is committed to seeking and saving the lost
  2. God rejoices when they are found
  3. He expects that we too will celebrate with him.

We all know the pain of losing something and the relief and joy of finding it again. If you have ever lost a child in a crowd for 15 minutes you know that sinking feeling and then the relief when you find them, unless they were hiding.

There are 2 kinds of lost, the lost where no one knows you’re missing & the lost where someone is looking for you. Jesus is looking for you, why is Jesus telling the story?

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable ~Luke 15:1-3a (NIV)

Jesus was attracting the wrong crowd, He was welcoming the scrap heap into the kingdom and the religious leaders were not happy, they want to shut heaven’s door in people’s faces. They were so different from God.

When the Shepherd in the first parable knows he has lost one

sheep, he doesn’t say 99 out of 100 is not bad. He seeks it out and then he calls his friends to rejoice with him. The point of the story is that

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. ~Luke 15:5-7 (NIV)

While Heaven rejoices the Pharisees resent, notice how the one lost soul matters to Jesus. As we seek to make 1000 new disciples, remember behind every number is a person and every person has a story. When the women loses an expensive coin she makes a careful search for it until she finds it and then she calls her friends together to rejoice with her.

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” ~Luke 15:10 (NIV)

God is on about seeking, finding, saving and rejoicing. God is not all that interested in sheep and coins, He is interested in people like us who have wandered from God.

What makes big news in heaven is not a fantastic grand final win, its when a sinner repents, we must celebrate it because if we don’t then who will? The world’s response to you becoming a Christian can be patronizing “As long as it makes you happy” or it can be Pity “I guess you need a crutch”

But the Pharisees will not rejoice because like all religion it’s built on merit and not the mercy of God. Do you share the heart of God for sinners?

So we turn to the most famous story Jesus ever told, the story of 2 lost sons. The younger son couldn’t wait for his dad to die, as the younger son he technically was not entitled to the Inheritance, that was the privilege of the firstborn male and certainly not before Dad died. I joked about the inheritance to my Dad but he knew and I knew that it was a joke. To be serious is to wish your Father was as good as dead.

Then begins the downward slide of this son. His bags are packed, the tickets for New York are booked, he goes to a far country. He could have spent it in a nearby town, but he didn’t want his Mum to find a prostitute in his Porsche. So it’s off to a far off country!!

The son eventually finds himself flat broke as a foreigner in a foreign land in the midst of a famine. As a Jew you know he has hit rock bottom, he finds himself envying the menu of a pig. All he has now are the memories of the good life. But memories cant fill your stomach when it cries out for food.

In his brokenness, he remembers, not what he had as a son but what his Dads workers had. He remembered that his Dad, even as a boss, was generous.

‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ ~Luke 15:17-19 (NIV)

You notice, the thought never crosses his mind that his father would take him back as a son, but maybe just maybe he would give him a job!! He obviously felt he had crossed over the line where forgiveness is not an option. He had exhausted the grace of a good father. I don’t blame him. Had he gone too far?

When we look into our hearts and into our past there are things that are better left unsaid. Things done that reminds us that we to have gone to a far country away from our Father. An affair; an abortion; abuse or betrayal. And if we are honest, it’s just the tip of an iceberg. We know we are lost, we too need Jesus who came to seek and save us.

Let me tell you the true story of Maria and Christine. Maria lived in a small village on the outskirts of a South American city. Her husband died soon after her daughter Christine was born. Maria worked long hours to provide for her daughter and her one fear was that her daughter would end up as a prostitute.

Eventually, Christine secretly left for the big city and Maria caught a bus to the city and she took countless photos of herself and wrote the same message on the back of each one. Maria planted the photos everywhere through the city, bars-hotels -night clubs. Maria eventually ran out of money and returned home to wait.

Christine ended up in prostitution and one day she walked down the stairs of a hotel and noticed a photo of her mum. She took it, turned it over and read these words “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become it doesn’t matter, please come home”

God is saying to you “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become it doesn’t matter please come home.”

The younger son comes home to a father with open arms.

So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. ~Luke 15:20 (NIV)

We are told that when the God-like father saw his son coming home, his first instinct was his heart was filled with compassion. He then does what a man in that culture never does, he runs (old Middle Eastern men don’t run), he doesn’t wait for the son to come to him, he strides with all his might to a son that wanted him dead then he holds him in his arms and kisses him. The father doesn’t even wait for the boy to finish his confession, the father has treated the son as royalty with food, robes, rings.

There is a Buddhist version of the prodigal son: where the son comes back and has to work for every cent. We might have expected the father to say “…you’re telling me you’re not worthy, now cop this and get the hell out of here…” We might have even expected “…sorry are you? well you can come back but don’t expect things to be same.”

And things were not the same they are better!!! Now is the time to party!!!! He was as good as dead and now he is alive. This is the heart of God that loves to welcome sinners. Whenever the lost are found, whenever a sinner repents there is rejoicing in heaven. But not everybody wants to rejoice. 

Then enters the older son with the sweat running from his brow, he hears the sounds of a party taking place. He hears, the one who had cheated the family of half of the inheritance was back and his foolish gullible father has given him the party and he was angry.

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ~Luke 15:28-30 (NIV)

Now it was his turn to reject the father. He might have kept his father’s commands but not the one to come inside and celebrate. He despised his Father generosity, in a way both sons had misunderstood what it meant to be a son. They both thought sonship was by merit. 

The younger son thought you earned it and so assumed that he lost all chances of having it. The older son thought you earned the right to be a son and so he saw his whole work for his father as slavery. Look all these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.

For too many Christians, they only see their walk with God in terms of law not love, with God as their Judge not their Dad, with Jesus as their Lord not their Saviour.

Both sons have missed the point, you become a child of God by relying on the Love of the Father. God has run out to meet us in the words of John 3:16 God so loved you and this world/you that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes may not perish but have everlasting life.

Whoever believes, come turn and trust, confess and come back to the Father, whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter!!! Just come home

The older son does not want to celebrate his brother coming home. The older son was outside the door but he could have been in a far country, either way, he was not rejoicing with the father over a brother who was lost.

Hear the heart of Jesus who came to seek and save, not just rebels but the self-righteous who repent. Whether you have taken the high road of rebellion or the low road of rebellion, Come home!

The father is not angry with the older son he is pleading with the self-righteous brother.

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” ~Luke 15:31-32 (NIV)

For this younger brother was not just lost, he was dead and he was his brother. Sinners who don’t repent are dead in their sins! Facing the second death. But we had to celebrate and be glad because he is alive and found. 

Do you know what is worse than a Christian committing murder or adultery? It is that same Christian not repenting. And do you know what is just as bad as committing murder or adultery? It is withholding joy when they repent.

Yes, it feels like they have gotten away with it.

The point is clear. “we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Remember the Lord’s prayer? “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Question: What are we to do on earth that is being done in heaven.
Answer: Rejoicing over sinners who turn back to God

Have you thought of having a born again party? My two children made decisions for Christ, on July 27th and each year we had a born again party, Pizza hut, Lone star, they can pick. We would go and celebrate because the day they became born again was the day heaven unleashed in a never-ending shout of joy.

Some people don’t celebrate because they are cynical that those who say yes to Jesus today will say no a month later. Jesus knows people fall away but it doesn’t stop him from wanting you to celebrate.

If you are still lost know this, the angels are waiting to celebrate and so are we, because whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter, please come home.

Of course it matters. It matters so much that God gave his one and only Son, who made full the payment for your sins. The price has been paid, the father’s arms are open wide. So whatever you have done please come home.

Dear Father,

I admit that I have run away from you and I am so sorry Father for breaking your heart. Thank you, Father, that you loved me so much that you gave your one and only Son that I may not perish but have eternal life.

I am home now and I want to follow you, Jesus, as my precious Lord and loving Saviour.

Please help to always to have the heart of God to seek out

others who are lost and rejoice when they are found in Jesus name.

Amen

If there’s one thing that COVID19 has made us realise, it’s that we DEFINITELY do NOT control the future. COVID19 has been the great equaliser, hasn’t it? Whether you’re in charge of a country or whether you’re living paycheck to paycheck, or whether you’re studying for the HSC. Tomorrow is guaranteed to none of us. 

At best, we can make our plans, but those plans can change at the drop of a hat. Let me see, I’ve had a holiday, a SPARTAN obstacle race, a birthday party and a work conference all cancelled because of COVID. 

And it’s not as if there’s a whole lot of certainty as you look ahead either. As we brace ourselves for this so-called “second spike” we ponder, when will we be back in the church building? What will it look like? As we ask (with or without Jobkeeper) what’s going to happen to my job? 

During times like this, it may feel like the God of the Bible is absent or that’s he’s silent.  Well, Genesis 12 today, is going to assure us that God is anything but that. We have a God who not only makes promises. He keeps them too. That’s just who he is.  

The same God who spoke a certain word during the uncertain times of Abram is the same God who speaks a certain word in the uncertain days of COVID. 

I don’t know about you, but in light of the past few months, that sounds like exactly what I need. To know there is LIFE in the face of death that there is HOPE in the face of fear that we CAN have certainty in the face of uncertainty. 

Because what God promises, God delivers on. Genesis 3-11 has had the same recurring pattern. The pattern of human’s sin, God judges but then follows it up with grace. 

Last week, in Genesis 11 we definitely had the sin, humans trying to make a name for themselves and uniting together to overthrow God.

God handed out an appropriate judgment by confusing their language and therefore scattering them. But where was the grace? In Genesis 12, where God speaks to one man, an Iraqi pensioner named Abram. 

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. ~Genesis 12:1 (NIV)

God tells Abram to pack up his bags and go. 

When my parents left Hong Kong for Australia, it was for a better place. They already knew people here, siblings and friends. They’d come here before. 

Abram, he leaves, not even knowing where he was going! You can imagine Abram travelling day by day, pitching his tent, packing it up and asking himself: “Are we there yet God? Are we there yet? But God doesn’t issue this command without a promise. Look at verse 2.  

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” ~Genesis 12:2-3 (NIV)

In 3 verses God makes 3 breath-taking promises: 

  1. Land. God wants Abram to get up and go from Haran to a place called Canaan. What we know as Iraq to Israel. 
  2. Offspring. At face value, this seems like a ridiculous promise because Abram we’re told is 75 and his wife, Sarai is 65. 

Elderly people DO NOT give birth! and there’s just one other thing, you know one small, minor obstacle we’re told in Genesis 11.

Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive. ~Genesis 11:30 (NIV)

If God’s going to deliver on this promise, it’ll be God and God alone. 

  1. Blessing. In other words, God will do good by Abram and not just him but through Abram, God will do good to ALL people. All nations. All tribes. 

3 promises, 3 majestic promises.

This week, over breakfast, I did something very brave, I asked my family to tell me when I have kept my promise and when have I broken my promise. 

One of my kids piped up straight away said ‘Dad you’ve kept your promise by marriage to Mum!’ Then that same child reminded me: ‘But Dad, you broke your promise because you said you were going to do some drawing with me on Tuesday.’ 

Teresa then dropped in a promise that she remembers me making but that I had no recollection making, about a trip to America! You see, all her family, her sister and her younger brother, have all been and I’ve been. In fact, she’s still bitter about the time her parents went to Disneyland and left her behind with her grandparents!  

Anyway, I first heard this story when we were dating and in my attempts to woo her and to impress her, I must have said “I promise I’ll take you to America one day” Well, now I’m on public record that I have to fulfil this promise. 

When it comes to promises, before it’s about us, before it’s about Abraham, it’s about God. Notice how God’s the one doing all the heavy lifting here. 

Seven times we read: I will. I will. I will. He is ALL in. God commits himself to one man, Abram and his family. Whatever happens to Abram and his family, over the next day, over the next generation, the next century. God’s behind it all every step of the way. 

Is this not God’s grace or what?! God didn’t have to do what he’s just done here in Genesis 12. After another pattern of sin and judgment God could have said: Right, enough’s enough, let’s call it a day and have an 11-chapter Bible. 

God could have left humanity to babble on and on stumbling along in confusion. But he doesn’t! Instead of walking away, God says: I will bless, I will bless, I will bless. I will use you, Abram, to make it possible for the entire world to know me. 

God hasn’t cut you off, He welcomes you back into his fold and I don’t know about you, but that provides me with immeasurable comfort. An unbelievable amount of certainty! 

Think about it, the God of this universe, He himself! Is committed to the future, He’s bound to deliver on these promises. 

And so that means, that if you’ve given up on God, whether it’s because you feel you’ve been let down by him or you’ve let him down, again and you’ve got a truckload of guilt and regret by falling short. Well I want to ask you to reconsider the God you’ve stopped worshipping, today is as good a day as any to come home. He will take you back because in the Lord Jesus, he has promised to wipe your slate clean. To give you a fresh start and to not hold your sins against you. 

Well, God’s laid out his promises to Abram on the table. How does Abram respond? 

So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. ~Genesis 12:4 (NIV)  

Abram took God at his word, and set off, his was the model response. In response to God’s extravagant commitment, Abram trusts God. Trusts he’ll come good on his promises and he expresses that trust in obedience. Trust and obedience are not necessarily the same things but are certainly two sides of the same coin. 

Abram picks up his family, packs all his belongings, gets up and goes heading for the land God commanded him to go to. 

BUT [And there’s always a but] come verse 10 and Abram’s obedience soon turns into disobedience.

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. ~Genesis 12:10 (NIV)

On the one hand this seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do, whether it’s food, whether it’s toilet paper. When you run out, you go hunt it down. Only Egypt wasn’t where God wanted Abram to go.

It gets worse. Not only has he gone in the OPPOSITE direction of where God wants him to go. He’s also done the exact OPPOSITE of what every husband should do. He’s also put his own wife in danger. 

As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” ~Genesis 12:11-13 (NIV)

In the space of just 13 verses, Abraham has gone from hero to zero. This hasn’t been the first time we’ve seen this and it won’t be the last. We see it again and again. God will make extraordinary, extravagant promises to someone and then shortly after, they’ll stuff it up.

Remember Noah? God spares him from judgement. First thing he does when he walks out of the ark is he gets drunk and is an embarrassment to his family. 

King David, one minute he’s promised a forever kingdom and next minute he’s in bed with Bathsheba.

In the New Testament, Peter is the first to work out that Jesus is God’s promised king and next minute, he tries to persuade Jesus that death and resurrection is a stupid idea.

Don’t you love how the Bible refuses to do pretend? There’s no photoshopping going on here. 

And that’s good news for you and I because the promises God makes, they don’t ride on the shoulders of you or I or Abram or Noah or David. Oh, thank goodness that what God promises God makes happen. Thank goodness we do NOT control the future, but we know the God who does.

Back when I used to work in Human Resources, part of my job involved interviewing people for jobs and the principle was this:  Past performance is the best indicator of future performance. I had to resist the urge to not be wowed by how well the applicant spoke, by their charming personality, by their impressive resume. Instead, I had to drill down and focus on what exactly they, as an individual, did because past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour.

So, let’s see how God came good on his promises to Abram. 

Take the promise of LAND. Throughout the Old Testament, the focus is on a city, Jerusalem, a country, a geographical place. That’s the place where God lived in his temple. 

But come the New Testament, the promise of land is found in a PERSON. Jesus is the true temple and that in Jesus, the land we will dwell in is in heaven, seated around his throne. 

Then there’s the promise of OFFSPRING. 25 years after Abram is given the promise, at the ripe old age of 90, Sarah checks in to the maternity ward and out pops Isaac. 

Abram’s name is later changed to Abraham, his name literally means: “Father of many” and so the rest of the Old Testament is the story of God turning this nation into a great nation. Not because of anything special in and of themselves but because God set his affection upon them. 

Then you turn over to the very first verse of the New Testament. 

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…~Matthew 1:1 (NIV)

It took over 2,000 years to get there. But Jesus himself is born into the line of Abraham. And so are you. If you’re a follower of Jesus, then Abraham is your spiritual dad. You are living proof that the promise that Abraham would have millions of kids as vast as the stars in the sky and as numerous as the sand on the seashore. You are the fulfilment of that promise. 

And third, that promise of blessing. 

Last Friday, Teresa and I watched a documentary called American Gospel. Do yourself a favour and watch it after church today, you can find it on Youtube. 

It had us both, on the one hand, cheering by hearing stories of how the gospel is changing lives in America. But on the other hand, it had us fuming as well! Fuming because of how there are people who’ve misunderstood this promise of blessing. Who’ve twisted it to make it all about them. Rather than about Jesus. For them, the blessing God promises you is the blessing of a better car, a bigger house, more money and less sickness. 

And that all these blessings are simply yours if you have enough faith. 

It’s this false gospel. It’s the complete OPPOSITE of what Paul says in Galatians, because in Galatians, Paul takes the guess work out of what exactly God means when he promised blessing to Abram. 

Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” ~Galatians 3:8 (NIV)

Notice how Paul says, that the gospel was already being declared ahead of time to Abraham. You see it there in the words: “All nations will be blessed through you” What is this blessing that will come to all people? 

Well, look earlier in the verse. See that phrase: God would justify the Gentiles. The nations. Non-Jews. Let me be clear about the blessing is this. That the God of this universe, the one who you’ve wronged and rebelled against will not count your sins against you. That you are justified. That is, you know today, what God is going to say when you meet him on judgment day …….Not guilty! He’s dropped the charges for your rebellion. 

Now thanks to Jesus, we have EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING! 

That’s better than any physical blessing, that now thanks to Jesus, we have a blessing that goes on to eternity, not just limited to this life. 

That’s worth remembering because Abraham was only working off what we have in the first 11 chapters of the Bible. That’s it! 

Lots of promises. Not much fulfilment

Sure we might feel these are uncertain times but this is what gives us certainty because we’ve seen what Abraham never saw. We’ve seen how God has come good on promise after promise. In many ways, we’ve got even less of an excuse NOT to believe!

Now can I say that if all this seems a bit foreign to you, if the Old Testament seems a bit intimidating then can I encourage you to go deeper, because the Bible’s story it’s also your story. 

Know it. Treasure it. Sink your teeth into it. 

Learn to see your story in light of the Bible story, it is the cure for doubt. It helps you realise your faith. It’s based on more than just John 3:16. That is goes back further than what your parents have passed on.

I love a freebie and until the end of this month, there’s one done by one of my favourite Bible teachers, Mike Raiter, it’s called the Ridley Certificate. I know one couple from our 6pm service have been doing it and it’s really helped them. 

Now let’s just stand back from all this. We’ve seen God not only MAKE promises but also KEEP promises. 

I hope you’re beginning to realise what sort of God we’re dealing with here. Wow! God’s more committed to the future than we are!! God DOES indeed provide a word of certainty in the face of uncertainty. 

And so let me issue you this challenge: When you was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone. When was the last time when you really HAD to trust God?  

I happened to be reflecting this week, I looked back and saw how God’s promises have really kept me hanging in there. In the midst of dark clouds, and rough patches his promises have preserved me. Knowing he is faith-FULL when I am faith-LESS. 

Promises like Romans 8:1: There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. 

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, but gee, what a wonderful promise that was to hear 22 years ago when I took the hand of Jesus. It’s just as wonderful today. Then there was the one 20 years ago when I finished university and was about to begin full-time work. 

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. ~1 Corinthians 15.58 (NIV)

The promise that because Jesus has risen, that my decisions, my choices matter. That what I do in this lifetime, has the potential to have ripple effects into eternity. It’s this promise. That’s what shapes my purpose. It gives meaning to everything I do. 

Then there was June, 10 years ago when my wife Teresa, lost a brother to suicide and a dad to cancer 3 months later, and the promise we knew in our heads, but really sunk down in our hearts at that time was an oldie but a goodie. 

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

And then there’s 2 years ago. This June would’ve been the 2nd birthday of a daughter who we only had for 77 days. One of my children has memorised this wonderful promise because she’s written it next to her bed. 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? ~John 14:1-2 (NIV)

The promise of a room in my daddy’s house. Can’t wait for that. 

And then there’s June last year, road tripping with Ben from our church up to Uluru. Only to have it cut short because I managed to flip both HIS car, and HIS caravan, then to be able to able to turn off the engine, walk out without even a scratch. 

God got my attention with 

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. ~Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

As I look back and see how God’s words and God’s promises have kept me going. That’s what inspires me to keep looking ahead. To keep trusting him no matter how uncertain things get. To see how he’s been faithful even though I’ve often been faith-less. And despite all that, knowing God’s got my back, that’s what inspires me to take risks. To have a posture of expectancy. In everything. 

Whether it’s sharing Jesus with those who don’t know him when it comes to serving him. 

When it comes to finances, being generous. 

When it comes to relationships. 

When it comes to decisions about the future. 

All because of this simple truth: That what God promises, God delivers on.

We have seen the policeman in Minneapolis placing his knee on the neck of 46 year old George Floyd, for 9 minutes George cried out “I cant breath…” and eventually he breathed his last breath. It sparked an avalanche of protests and riots across the US, because that death cried out for justice, just like Abel’s death cried out for justice

1. The Sin of Cain

In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve refused to take God at his word, they both ate of the tree of good and evil. Once naked with no shame but now they hide from God and from each other and are removed from paradise.

But God in his kindness allows Eve to give birth to 2 sons, her first born is Cain, the first man to have a belly button, a farmer by trade. Her second born Abel, a Cowboy-herder of sheep. Both were religious men, both willing to draw near to God but on very different terms

By faith Abel offers his best.

And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering. ~Genesis 4:4 (NIV)

For us fat is bad. In the Jewish sacrificial system, the fat portions and the first born where highly prized. The message is clear, Abel GAVE HIS BEST. Not so Cain. Cain offers some of the fruits of the soil, but not the first fruits as we would have expected from the first born. The result is…

The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. ~Genesis 4:4b-5 (NIV)

Cain’s thankless heart gave God his left overs, God was not pleased.

We in Christ are told that in view of God’s mercies, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God. We give our best because God gave his best in sending his Son.

The downward slide of Cain begins. If you break the first commandment you will end up breaking the rest. Cain begins where Adam left off. Cain’s sin takes the next step as sin often does. Cain’s sin spills into pride, self pity, and jealously. If Envy wants what you’ve got then Jealously hates you for having it. Cain is jealous and very angry that his brother was favoured by God. His face was downcast, here is sin in all its blindness…

Should Cain not have been feeling remorse or guilt? Abel only offered a better sacrifice because it came by faith in God’s gracious promises and that grace unleashed a generous heart.

In the words of one song…“Lord, You have given me everything, What can I do for you…”

Faith in God’s gracious promises unleashed deep thankfulness. It opens the heart to love God, it opens the diary to make time for others, it opens the wallet to bless others. Cain is not the victim of random favouritism.

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” ~Genesis 4:7 (NIV)

God offers Cain both forgiveness and warning. First the loving warning, if Cain does not treat God properly and deal with his jealous anger he will open himself to more sin. Sin is pictured like a wild animal about to pounce on him.

This is how temptation leads to sin and death.

“… but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” ~James 1:14-15 (NIV)

Notice, It begins with our own evil desires.

With Eve the temptation came from outside her by Satan. For Cain and us temptation comes from within us by our own evil desires. Once you admit the problem is with you and not God then you will not waste your time blaming everyone else, including God. Otherwise, like a fish on a hook you are dragged away and before you know it your jealousy becomes anger, becomes murder and full-blown resentfulness to God.

You know the story, you’re wounded in some way and it generates some hurt but you refuse to forgive. Then you avoid the person and you replay the wrongs in your mind and you then think the worst of them and it leads to resentment and rage and revenge.

Like Cain I grew up on a farm growing crops, when I was 6 and my brother was 11 we were pulling out weeds for a couple of hours throwing them onto the back of a trailer. It was hard work and when we were finished, my brother drove the tractor-trailer home without giving me a lift.

I was furious, my hurt led to anger and my anger led to revenge, I ran toward a patch of vegetables near the house that we both grew and I ripped them up. As I was exercising revenge, a shadow fell on me, it was my Dad and he was furious, he pulled out his belt and I ran. I let my hurt become anger and my anger become revenge. I did not master that sin, it mastered me.

Eve let Satan lead her to sin, now sin leads Cain to murder. Cain takes his brother to the field and then takes his life, the first murder happens inside the family. This is the first act of domestic violence and it won’t be the last.

Sin has now spread faster than COVID 19.

When God confronts Adam, it was about his individual sin. Where are you? But when God confronts Cain, the focus was on how it impacted others. Where is your brother? Cain’s answer is defiant, I don’t know and I don’t care.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” ~Genesis 4:9 (NIV)

The answer is, Yes, you are Cain, we all are our brother’s keeper, now more than ever.

There have been 432 black deaths in custody where no charge was laid. We can’t be concerned for justice for ourselves and not for others.

The same attitude that was there in Cain’s offering is in this sarcastic response. I don’t care about God becomes I don’t care about my brother. And all along the promise was there.

If you do what is right will you not be accepted. ~Genesis 4:7 (NIV)

Sin is still crouching at the door, your door, and you must master it.

What the law can’t do God did by sending his Son to forgive and his Spirit to transform. Don’t be like Cain who failed to deal with pride, self pity, jealousy, anger, violence and defiance to God. Don’t delay, deal with that issue, it will not go away, it won’t stay hidden and it will get worse,

2. God’s judgment on Cain

Cain may not do what is right but God will, He is a just God who holds Cain responsible. When Cain offered a pathetic sacrifice and God named it for what is was. When Cain murders his brother God confronts Cain. God demands justice for the blood of Abel.

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. ~Genesis 4:10 (NIV)

The same word is used in Genesis for the screams of a woman who is raped. Abel’s murder screams for justice. Every rape victim screams for justice. Every abused child screams for justice. Every victim of domestic family violence screams for justice. That is what we are hearing from protestors in the US, messy as it is, the cry for justice. Don’t use the looting and violence to ignore the cry for justice for many.

When Israel cried out to God for freedom from oppression of Egypt she was far from perfect in how she behaved. Moses murdered an Egyptian.

Friends, it’s easy to demand justice when we have been mistreated but not so easy when it’s for others. We are our brother’s keeper. We can’t pick and choose which injustice we should speak up for, whether its Abortion or entrenched Racial inequality.

Cain exceeds his father sin and so does the judgment. Adam could till the soil and it would produce food, Cain could sow whatever seed he likes and nothing, he will be forced to wander from the presence of God.

Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth. ~Genesis 4:11-12 (NIV)

Cain will be a fugitive on the run with no place to lay his head and at the mercy of whoever wants to exact revenge on Abel. The ground that drank the blood of Abel will curse him to his dying days.

But where sin increases grace abounds all the more.

3. God’s grace to Cain

You see grace to this rebel in so many ways. Eve thanks God for allowing her to have 2 sons. The bible doesn’t end with Genesis 3. God promises if Cain would do the right thing he will be accepted, God will have Cain back. God’s arms are willing to embrace him.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ~1 John 1:9 (NIV)

No person is beyond forgiveness, no sin has ever created a debt that the Christ of the cross can’t pay. I remember talking a white supremacist, he hated anyone who wasn’t white until he accepted Christ and repented of his racism and loves his Indian pastor.

When Cain kills his brother he should have died. An eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth and a life for a life. But God hears this rebel’s plea and places a mark of protection.

But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. ~Genesis 4:15 (NIV)

Cain had forsaken God but God had not forsaken him. He finds himself beyond God presence, East of Eden, but not beyond the protective hand of God. This is God’s common grace, this is as good as it gets without Christ. But there is much more grace to enjoy.

If you find yourself wondering why God did not kill Cain on the spot then you may missed the point! Have you not forgotten that murder and anger spring from the same heart. Jesus said:

“I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. ~Matthew 5:22 (NIV)

And have you not forgotten, we too stand under the judgment of God and Hell is too much for us to bear. Ones death will never pay for the sins of Cain, the policemen in Minneapolis or any of us “Its appointed that a person die once and afterward face judgment.” That is a punishment unable to bear. There is a death that will provide justice and mercy.

You have come to … Jesus … and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. ~Hebrew 12:23b-24 (NIV)

The blood of Abel rightly demanded death and hell but the blood of Jesus speaks a better word, a word of mercy where justice is not ignored, a word of forgiveness where sins are taken seriously, a word of love where God’s righteous anger is poured out and a word of hope where anyone who calls on the name of this Lord will be saved.

It’s too late to be sinless but it’s not too late to turn and trust in our Lord and it’s not too late to stand with those who do speak of the racial injustices they have experienced.

Why not this week ask permission to listen to the story of those who have come from a different culture to your own. Ask them about experiences of racism inside and outside the church.

Heavenly Father
forgives for our pride, our jealousy, our anger and our defiance against you.
Forgive us for not being our brother’s keeper.
Thank you, Lord Jesus for providing full forgiveness for any who turn and put their trust in you.
Thank you Lord that your blood offers us a word of justice and mercy.
Empower us to listen to, to speak up and stand with those who experience injustice.
In Jesus name.

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