Archive for June, 2018

Tell me something new.

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

1 Samuel 17:45-47

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the I come against you in the name of , the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

 

Sometimes I think, “they’ve heard this all before, should I try and tell them something new?” Jesus loves you is a song we hear from our childhoods, and David and Goliath is too. The same message again and again, but I also know that we forget the same message of God’s grace again and again, so again we need to hear it. There is much to this story of ancient Israel, motivations, family obligations and jealousy, fear and struggles, kingship and leadership, the underdog beating the champion, and some even use it as proof that God makes His people succeed in all their struggles. However, I’m not convinced of that last one, because God has not promised me that He will make all my plans succeed. Rather He has promised me, and you, life eternal, peace and joy, but also suffering in this life.

Back to those verses I just reread, it comes to what we rely on. Goliath came at David with sword and spear, but David at Goliath in the name of the Lord Almighty. Goliath relied on his own strength and tools, David relied on God’s promises to the people of Israel. Goliath died, David was victorious. And now we know, along with all those Philistines and Israelites that The God of the armies of Israel saves His people, but not with sword and spear.

Here He saved the Israelites through a shepherd, but He has saved the whole world through the Good Shepherd (John 10), the great Son of David, Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus, His life, death resurrection and ascension, we are saved from sin, death and the Devil. 1 Corinthians (15:54-57) “Death is swallowed up in victory,” “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God has promised you eternal life, peace, and joy with Him, but now we do not see it.

And that is the struggle, God has told us we have won, but it still doesn’t look like it. We know that Jesus defeated sin and the devil on the cross, but it didn’t look like it. The Israelites had heard that God would give them the Promised Land and be with them, but looking at the Philistine army and their powerful champion Goliath it didn’t look like it. The Israelite army looked at the strength of the Philistines and Goliath and looked at their own strength and knew that they would fail. They would fail because their own abilities and tools were not good enough to get the victory they needed. They Philistines on the other hand could easily rely on their military prowess, particularly in Goliath, to defeat these Israelites. They both saw what they had and relied on that for the struggle against them. How often we rely on our own strength to get us through difficult times, or maybe we turn to rely on something else, to our savings, to alcohol, to family connections, to the medical profession, to any number of other things. But we often turn to these things instead of God. Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make your paths straight.”

That’s not to say don’t go to your friends or the doctor, David did still have his sling, but rather that we first turn to God and trust that He will do what He has promised, and certainly He may work through His creation, the gifts that He has given to all people. But it’s also important to remember what God has promised.

He promised the Israelites their own land, that those who curse them He will curse, that He will be their God, the God of the armies of Israel, and also, as we heard last week, David would be king (Exodus 23:22-31; Genesis 12:3 & Numbers 24:9; Exodus 7:4 & Exodus 29:44-46; 1 Samuel 16:1, 13). This is what David was relying on, not that God said David would kill Goliath. Sometimes we come up to different trials and struggles and turn to God to succeed and to find lazy comfort, but God never promised us that we will always succeed. In fact He has promised that we will struggle in this life (Romans 8;17; 1 Peter 2:20); Paul and John teach us that we will fail and fall into sin; the lives of the early Christians show us that we are not promised cosy lives with Christ here (Romans 7; 1 John 1). But He has promised to be with you, the Holy Spirit alongside you to bring you the peace of God and the assurance of your sins being forgiven and taken away, not just this but also life eternal with God in the new and renewed world after this one.

And so we ask God for help to always rely on Him instead of His gifts, to trust Him and not ourselves.

Pastor. Joseph Graham

“Faith Fencing “

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

 2 Corinthians 5:6-8,16-17 

A farmer goes to buy supplies to build a fence — three kilometres long! He has saved up all his money and estimates how much of everything he will need.He buys rolls and rolls of tie wire and netting wire, apparently to stop the sheep getting out and the wallabies getting in. He buys roles and roles of plain wire and barbed wire as well as insulators to electrify these top wires to stop his bulls fighting with the next door neighbour’s bulls. He loads onto his vehicle bundles of star pickets, or steel posts. Then he goes off to the forestry. For days he works to cut out strainer posts, split posts and stay rails. He eventually arrives back at home with loads of Ironbark timber. The work has been hard and his hands are stained from sap from cutting and barking trees.
Now the farmer is ready to build his fence. He trusts he has everything he needs to complete the task of constructing the fence. For the next couple of days he digs holes for the fence posts and flogs the star pickets into the ground; two steel posts to every split post. He believes this fence is going to be the straightest, tightest, neatest and newest fence in the district. He has great faith it’s going to stop everything from lambs to bulls.
He attaches wire to the posts, section by section, until he gets to the last one-hundred metres. But tragically as he unrolls the barbed wire, the spindle whirls to a stop — he’s run out of wire. He unrolls the plain wire — the same thing happens. And likewise the netting runs out too. The wire is too short, some of it by ten metres, some of it by seventy metres, and some of it by just three metres. None of it makes the distance to the final strainer post and so the fence stands unfinished.
How many people there have been and are today, who on approaching Christ, apparently come so near to him, yet never truly touch him! Unless the final contact of faith is achieved, all is lost. Like the newly constructed fence standing as the neatest, straightest, and tightest, stops nothing, so too faith that is not bound to Christ, stops and saves no one.
St Paul tells us, [W]e are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8,16-17)
We live by faith, not by sight! Unless faith is connected to Christ what really is the faith we possess. True faith makes us one with Christ; it takes us out of ourselves, it takes us from the familiar homes of our bodies. Therefore, faith takes us away from trusting our feelings, faith leads us from our limited understanding so we might trust him alone, and faith puts no trust in the greatest works we might accomplish. We live by faith not by sight. Unlike sight, or touch, or feelings, or understanding, or physical strength, faith is not a faculty of our bodies. Faith is not at home in us but it always seeks to lead us home.
Faith comes to us from God. In fact it is sent from the Father and the Son, to you and to me, when the Holy Spirit comes to us in God’s word. Just like a removalist moving house, the Holy Spirit comes to us and is in the process of relocating us to be with God. But unlike a furniture removalist this shift is taking a lifetime. We might become frustrated with this move God is making within us. We would be frustrated if a furniture removalist took a lifetime to move our furniture from one house to another. However, God calls us to trust this lifelong shift, rather than try to understanding it and become frustrated with it. As Martin Luther once described faith as glue, we are called to let our hearts be stuck fast to the promises of God.
God moves us to be with him throughout this life, naturally we are called to be less and less reliant on the things with which our bodies are furnished.God’s will is that we look more and more to him; to live by faith and live less and less by sight and the other things we once relied on in the home of our person — the temporary home of our bodies.
The farmer’s fence was faulty, he built it by sight and his own understanding, and it came up short. He was lacking in judgement, discrimination, and discernment. However, a fence built by faith is tied to God; it protects a person from the smallest errors hopping into the heart, just as the farmer’s fence would have stopped wallabies if finished. Faith also guards us from the greatest of evils bellowing at us and barrelling us; just like a finished fence would have saved the farmer’s bull from the neighbour’s bull looking over the fence for a fight.
As people who live by faith, we are called to be discerning and make judgements over what is right and what is wrong, or what is truth and what is filled with error, so that the faith fence is not untied from Christ and the move from the home of our bodies to the home of heaven is not severed through confusion and deception.
In an age of political correctness, we are tempted to fall into line with the thinking that we must see every view as an alternative truth. We are tempted to see that “It’s all good” without stopping and discriminating false belief for what it is — deception.
It often comes as a surprise and shock to the person who thinks they are doing the right thing when they find out they have in fact been deceived — but that’s why it’s called deception. And the deception many Christians fall into is a quasi-faith that leads away from God, back into trusting personal traits and emotions as faith, and therefore leaving the fence of faith disconnected from God in a haze of confusion and chaos.
So if we are called to use sight, or feelings, or human understanding, less and less, to make sense of things, what should we use? If we are called to discern and judge without the use of our bodily faculties, then what do we use? How are we to view ourselves if sight and the other senses are things of the past? And should we discern and judge the fence building of others, or how the moving from the body to the home of heaven is going with others?
As we have already heard, faith allows us to be glued to the promises of God. To discern with faith, we don’t turn back to our human faculties, rather we view all things with, in, and through, the word of God. The word of God becomes our eyes and ears, and through it our hearts and minds are moulded toward the will of God. We hold all things up against the word of God; what others say to us, or seek to teach us, even our own Lutheran confessions can only stand under the authority of God’s word.
Through his word we are being made new creations in Christ, the old is gone, the new creation has come. In fact our re-creation is still coming to completion, and our re-creation will be finished and perfected in the future as God continues to move us from our old house into his new heavenly home.
So too we are called to see and hear each other through the lens and voice of God’s word. We are called to use the same divine word through which God has saved us and first given us faith, to judge and discern what others are doing.
Why must we do this? Not to knock each other down, but to help one another be freed from error, so we might all be built up in our saviour Jesus Christ through his word and the promise of his presence through his gifts to his church.
Why is this so important? Because through his word, the water and the word, and the body and blood, the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of faith and faith leads us out from ourselves and into the heavenly home of God the Father forever.
Live by faith not by sight! Seek the house of the Lord, and his home in eternity, over against the security we once found in ourselves. We have been baptised into Christ, so view each other in faith—with the eyes and ears of his word—and encourage each other into repentance and forgiveness, as does faith continue to encourage each of us. The ways of the world and the faculties of our bodies are doomed to death, so allow these things to be pruned off forever and be tied to Christ with the fence of faith forever. Amen.

Don’t worry – be happy

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

 

2 Corinthians 4:15-5:1

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

I don’t know how many times you’ve noticed, but there seems to be connections everywhere. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working on sermons. Maybe you find out how most of your church community is related in some way, or maybe the same idea just keeps coming up. That’s what happened for me this week in bible study, ladies guild and elsewhere, and that idea, that thought was to cling to God and let Him be in charge, and not to cling to the things in this life. To know and keep in mind that, for us Christians, what is coming, eternal life with God and participation in Christ’s glory at the end of this age, is so much more than the struggles and suffering we experience and put ourselves through in our lives here.

God is telling you through Paul that even though you may be wasting away, maybe because of stress and worry, or the weight of work and expectations, or even as our bodies grow old and fall apart, despite this you have eternal life waiting for you with God, a life that will never decay. Paul has just been telling the Corinthians of his afflictions, his perplextion, persecution and beatings (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). He knew what it meant to suffer in this life, but also to live for the glory of God and to increase the thanksgiving sent God’s way (2 Corinthians 4:15). He knew how to cling to God and not to this world. Do you?

Do you live as if the things in this life are nothing compared to life with God? Do you worry about what you will eat or what you will wear (Matthew 6:25-34)? Do you focus your time and effort to please yourself, eating rich food, drinking much wine/beer, exercising, reading, meeting with others, all these for your benefit, or theirs, but not God’s (1 Peter 4:3-6)? Do you waste this life that God has given you, spending it in front of the T.V. or the computer, or even at work, busying yourself with the tasks and cares of this world, and forgetting to brilliant Good News that God has given you? I know you suffer in this world, but do you hurt because of your sin, or because you live for God (1 Peter 2:19-20)?

Paul too knew he struggled with sin, we have his words that the good he wants to do, he does not do, but the evil he does not want to do he does (Romans 7:15-25). For many of us this is fairly relatable, but sometimes we do want to sin and we don’t want to live this life to the glory of God (1 Peter 4:11). We want to be in charge of our lives and keep the glory for ourselves when we really don’t have much power to change anything, just look at the rain as an example. We want to be the masters of our own little world, to build it up and to be in control. We worry about all the little things of this world, not that we shouldn’t clean our cars, or take care of ourselves and those God has given to us, but instead of clinging to God, relying on Him and letting Him be in charge, we put all the responsibility on ourselves. And then when we fail, not if, but when, we take God’s role as judge and condemn ourselves or others. Does this show God’s glory, or increase thanksgiving toward Him? No.

Paul knew this about himself, but he also knew what Jesus Christ had done for him, and he trusted in that. Certainly he would’ve slipt up, again and again we too know that we have failed, but this doesn’t mean that we cannot be saved. God’s grace is so much more powerful and greater than our sin. If you think your sin in this world is greater than God’s grace then you’re not listening to God, but have been deceived by the father of lie, the devil of this world. We see the struggles in this world, the injustice and evil, we see our own sins, but we do not see what is coming, the great and glorious thing that God does.

These things we see are temporary, here today gone tomorrow, or it might take 1000yrs I don’t know. But we do not see here what God has given us, eternal life with Him. He certainly doesn’t fall apart or waste away, and His promises don’t either. He has promised us that our bodies will be changed into eternal ones just as Jesus Christ was, that we will live together with Him and share in His immense and fantastic glory, more than we could imagine. He tells us here that this comparatively short time of suffering and struggle will end, and God will draw you, His people, to be with Him forever.

Joseph Grahm

“Treasures in Jars of Clay”

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

 

It happened in the Gold Country of Northern California in February of 2013. A man and his wife were walking their dog on their property when they saw the cover of a small, rusty tin canister beneath an oak tree. They dug it up and then opened it at home. It was filled with gold coins minted in the 1800’s. They went back and found more canisters under the tree, 1400 gold coins in all, worth over ten million dollars. Why would someone hide valuable gold coins in tin canisters under an oak tree?

Do you want to hear something even more strange to our human way of thinking? God in his love and mercy entrusts the greatest treasure in the world, his love for us in Jesus his Son, to people like you and me. The Apostle Paul calls us jars of clay. My dear Christian friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are broken people, people broken by sin, broken by troubles in life, broken by our anguish over not living the lives the Lord has called us to life. Yet, even though we are broken and cracked jars of clay that should be cast aside, we possess the greatest treasure in the world. We have Jesus. Yes, we are jars of clay, but special jars of clay because the treasure of Christ has come to us and the treasure of Christ is passed on through us.

Usually people find treasure, but the treasure you have in Christ Jesus your Saviour is different. This treasure finds you! Paul says, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Paul did not preach and brag and boast about himself. He did not try to thrill the crowds with how he had found the greatest treasure in the world by accepting Jesus into his heart. It was all about Jesus Christ being his Lord and God who came to him and found him. In a previous letter to the Corinthians he said, “For I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” In one of our hymns, we sing,

“Oh the height of Jesus’ love,

Higher than the heavens above,

Deeper than the depths of sea,

Lasting as eternity,

Love that found me-wondrous thought!

Found me when I sought him not.”

Paul was certainly not boasting about himself when he says in verse 7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Jars of clay! That’s how Paul saw himself and that is how we see ourselves. We cannot boast about being some beautiful Ming Dynasty vase that deserves to put up on the shelf and admired by other people and even by our God. Our lives are broken by sin just as a hammer can easily break any clay plot.

Oh, to be sure, there was a time when Paul thought he was a beautiful vase highly admired by his God because he followed rules and regulations of Jewish law meticulously. But then Jesus came to him and showed him how shattered and broken he was and how far short he fell of God’s glory. We read in Romans chapter 7 where Paul confessed that he did not know what sin was or how broken he was until he realized that coveting or even the desire to do something wrong made him unacceptable to God.

What do you do with a piece of pottery that is broken and cracked? You throw it away. What does the Lord our God do with jars of clay that are broken and cracked by sin? He gives them the greatest treasure in the world. He gives us his Son, Jesus, so we can be beautiful – not because of who we are, but because of the treasure that has been given to us.

How did this treasure come to you? Listen to what Paul says, “For God who said: ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Remember the first day of creation. First God created the heavens and the earth, but it was formless and empty and dark. Then miraculously he said, “Let there be light” and there was light. Something similar has happened in your life and mine. Into this world of darkness into which we were born, totally clueless to the greatest treasure in the world, God brings light and shows us his glory in the face of Christ.

We were born into this world looking inside of ourselves for some ray of light and some ray of goodness by which we could make ourselves acceptable to God. There was no hope in that darkness as Ephesians says, “We were without God and without hope.” Isaiah tells us, “Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like those without eyes.”

But then God shined in our hearts. He showed us the light of his glory in the face of Jesus. He lets us see with our ‘eyes of faith’ the face of Jesus and that his promises and work for us is real. Some Sunday school children in their Pentecost Sunday lesson recently, made eyes with tongues of fire inside them to show how the Holy Spirit gives us eyes of faith. 1 Corinthians 2 says, “However, as it is written, ‘No eye has seen, now ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”

The greatest treasure in the world is to have this light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Your eyes see Jesus! You look into a manger in Bethlehem and believe with all your heart that a tiny baby is Lord and God from all eternity. Your eyes see Jesus loving and respecting his parents, showing kindness to people, and loving them in a way you have never been able to love people. Your eyes look at his face as he hangs on the cross and cries out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” You see him suffering and dying for the curse of your sin. You see Jesus with joyful face on the night of resurrection appearing to the disciples and to you and saying, “Peace be to you.” You know that someday when Jesus returns you will see him face to face in all his glory. Even though your physical eyes do not see him, you see him in faith as your Shepherd who holds you in his loving arms. You know that nothing will ever separate you from his life.

There are days when our lives seem so cracked and broken. Yet, we still have this treasure in jars of clay. We can resonate with what Paul describes in our reading today, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” In the most difficult days we ever face in life, the treasure we have in Christ shines brightest. That was sure the case with Job. In the darkest days of life when he lashed out in anger against God, he bursts forth with the triumphant words, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” He wanted to have the words carved in stone so all could see. He wanted people to see him not as “poor Job”, but as the man who possessed the greatest treasure in the world, a Redeemer who lives. During his many low moments of life Martin Luther encouraged himself with the one Latin word “Vivit” which means ‘he lives’.

My friends, there is a huge difference between being a ‘crackpot’ and been a cracked pot. A crackpot is someone who is crazy, loony and eccentric. A cracked pot is a broken piece of pottery. We are cracked pots. We are broken people. But by the miracle of God’s grace we possess the greatest treasure in the world. We have the riches of forgiveness and peace with God and the hope of eternal life found only in Christ. We have this treasure in jars of clay not just to cherish, but pass on to other people.

Listen now to these words of Paul and think of the high honour and privilege that is given to you and me. “We always carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” If I were God I think I would have chosen more beautiful creatures to bring the treasures in Christ to the world. Why limit the angels to just announcing Jesus’ birth or his resurrection from the dead? Why not have an angel stand before you for the sermon this morning and bring you the treasures you have in Christ? Why not have an angel visit your family members or friends who have given up believing these treasures? Let God’s holy angel shake up their world and warn them about the judgment to come and then show them again the glory of God in the face of Jesus, the Jesus they may have once valued so highly?

Why does God use jars of clay to bring the treasures of Christ to our dying world? It is simply because he loves us so much. He loved us by bringing these treasures to us, and he loves us by asking us to pass these treasures on to other people.

Listen further to what Paul says as he speaks about his privilege and the privilege also given to us. “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” You have seen the treasures you have in Jesus and your life has never been the same since. You are alive. Yet at the same time, you are constantly giving yourself over to death. That seems like a contradiction, but it is not. Because you are alive in Christ you want to see sin die in your life. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus shows itself in how you handle sin when it surfaces in your life. You want to see it die, just as you would want some dangerous bacteria to die instead of infecting your body.

And so our daily lives, under Christ, give witness to this new reality and hope that now lives within us.

I am reminded of a young man with cerebral palsy, with a twisted body, sitting in a nursing home, wearing a T-shirt that said, “I love Jesus” and singing songs like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The words that came from his mouth sounded strange but they were not. His twisted body, like an old clay pot, cracked and broken, witnessed boldly to the treasures he had in Jesus.

Jars of clay. Cracked pots. We struggle every day to live for Jesus. As we struggle people watch. If they will look into this jar of clay they will see the greatest treasure in the world. Jars of clay. That is what we are. Jars of clay with greatest treasure in the world!

Amen.