Archive for the ‘Ash Wednesday’ Category

The best pretenders!

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we don’t pretend or ‘show-off’ our faith for our own glory, but instead seek to do our acts of righteousness for your glory, for the sake of the treasure given to us through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We humans are so mixed up and so often get things the wrong way round!

Take for example, our fixation on awards.

One of the most popular and most watched award programs in the world would have to be the Oscars. You know, the Academy Awards for the best film, best actor, and so on. Just try to imagine how much money is spent to hold the event, how much is spent on the spectacular looking clothes all the artists wear, and how much is spent publicizing the event on TV and in magazines. The amount of money would have to be significant to say the least! The size of the audience watching the Oscars, either live, or delayed, or viewing summaries shown in news broadcasts, would be huge.

But, get this…the biggest award show on the earth gives away awards to…the best pretenders!

Have you ever realized this? The awards for best actors in most of these award shows go to those who are best at pretending to be someone else! Just think how many people become famous, or make incredible fortunes by pretending or making out they’re someone else.

Of course, not all people are paid to pretend, but they do seek something for their efforts. We have all, at some stage, put on a show for others in order to get what we want. For instance, have you ever seen children put on those ‘crocodile tears’ in order to get something, and then, once they got what they wanted, they quickly reverted back to ‘normal’? Or, have you seen children ‘show-off’ to get attention?

We adults are much more subtle of course. We’ve learned the art of pretending or ‘showing-off’ over the years and some of us are very good at manipulating people in order to get what we want, be that attention, praise, sympathy, or recognition.

We may even ‘pretend’ with our faith. Our ‘pretending’ or ‘showing-off’ gets even easier in church, because Jesus even tells us how we should act. For instance, in tonight’s reading, Jesus tells us to give to the poor, to pray, and to fast. We can pretend to do that. We can even try to impress each other by showing how generous we are with our giving, how many meetings of church committees we attend, how many times we pray, or what food and drink we are fasting from or how good we are at church cleaning duties and so on.

We might even show-off our faith or spirituality by showing people how long our prayers can be, how committed we are to the Lord by urging others to match our efforts, or how much we’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of Christ and his church. We even compare ourselves to others, criticising them when we don’t think they’re as good a Christian as we are, criticising them when they’re not good enough at ‘pretending’. For this reason Martin Luther insisted our righteousness is more dangerous than our sin because our ‘righteousness’ serves the most self-centred of all human desires – the desire for self-glorification.

You may not think you’re pretending. You may think you’re doing these things because of your genuine faith in Jesus. Yet, as Holden Caulfield, a character in the book ‘Catcher in the Rye’, written by J D Salinger, said: “If you do something good, then, after a while, if you don’t watch it, you start showing off. And then you’re not as good anymore.”

Also, unfortunately, sooner or later we stop pretending and people see us live differently at church compared to our public life during the week. They wonder which one is the “real” us and which is our fake life of pretending or showing off? They even call us names for our pretending, for the way we live a lie, or for the way we show off our faith by making people think we’re better than others. They call us hypocrites.

Jesus tells us how to act but he also tells us to do all these things in secret. How can we gain attention, praise, sympathy or recognition, when we have to do all these things in secret? How are we supposed to win awards if no one sees us? How are we to get the attention we’re craving if no one knows what we’re doing? How are we supposed to show-off or gain glory for ourselves if there’s no one about?

God’s not into pretending or lies: he sees right through our clever charades, our acting and pretending, and he sees the frightened sinful people behind the masks we put on to hide our true selves. He’s the one who sees everything we do, even when we do it in secret.

We don’t need to show off, or do a great song and dance act, or put on crocodile tears, or make huge shows of sacrificing time, talents, or money in order to be noticed by God. God sees us and knows us more intimately and more truthfully than we know ourselves. We don’t have to compete for his attention, because we already have it. Jesus wants to liberate us from the burden and never-ending task of trying to impress anyone- whether it be impressing ourselves, impressing others, or impressing God.

When we silly humans do things in order to impress God, he doesn’t see them. It’s as if our ‘showing off’ blinds him. But, when we do things in private, where no-one else can even see what we’re doing, God sees clearly.

If all our pretending and showing off is for a reward here on earth, then that’s all we’re going to get, and the rewards will remain on earth. The bank account of human admiration we build up for ourselves on earth can’t be transferred to heaven.

But instead, in this season of Lent, our Lord encourages each one of us to take up private acts of faith. For our secret or private faith practices of being charitable, praying and fasting, seen only by God, will be rewarded in heaven. The reward isn’t salvation or righteousness, because these have already been given to us as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. The reward referred to is recognition for our faithful service in heaven.

An example of this might be God boasting to the heavenly council of Job’s faithfulness, proudly pointing to him and how trustworthy he is. In this sense, the reward is a bit like a parent who is proud of their child and boasts to their friends and relatives. Even though we simply act how God expects us, the reward could simply be God saying to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

We don’t have to impress God. We already have his attention. Nothing we do could make him love us more or less, yet he does reward his faithful servants in heaven. The reward isn’t silver or gold or an Oscar, but it might simply be God’s approval and pride in you, his precious child.

We don’t need to show off our faith in order to be noticed and awarded by others, but we do need to practice our faith – in private. God sees what you do and his lasting reward is waiting for you.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The time is now..

Thursday, February 19th, 2015


The following stories all appeared one under the other in a city paper:

Islamic State burns 45 people to deathPastor Steve

ISLAMIC State militants are using a new tactic to shock the world as they move closer to a US stronghold in Iraq.

Muscle Barbie: ‘The guys are just jealous’

JULIA Vins is just 18, but the ‘muscle barbie’ has gained thousands of fans because of her unusual blend of wide-eyed pretty looks and muscular physique.

Welcome to the randiest suburb in Australia

THEY’RE single and ready to mingle. With over a hundred times more lonely hearts in this suburb than any of its nearest neighbors, we bet you won’t guess what’s made this area so hot to trot.


Maybe a lot of men wearing Budgie smugglers.

It would seem we live in a world where one person might chain themselves to a tree in a forest to protect it, while another lives with the constant dangers of rape, beheadings and now being burned alive for no other reason than they’re not of the same variance of the ideology of the perpetrators.

We have the great Western power seemingly making friends with countries that openly desire that the nation of Israel be wiped off the map.

Church’s not just welcoming those who live who live in opposition to God’s law-AS WE SHOULD ALL WELCOME, but  some Church’s not just welcoming but seemingly condoning it.

If we were in the heavens looking down and seeing all these jigsaw pieces come together in the one picture I would think we would feel like busting it up and starting a new one and the statements concerning the last days of:

As in the time of Noah

And leaders talking of peace but looking to war certainly come to mind.

This could be where I go down the street with my soapbox bellowing “repent for the end is near.”

Who knows, maybe it is or maybe it’s not because we remember that the apostles were all but certain it would happen in their time.

Martin Luther when asked what he would do if he knew it was his last day before death answered, that he would plant a tree which echoes to me the sign on the out the front of the plant nursery on the way to Gil. That says:

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, and the next best is now.”

Since ancient times Lent has been a time of preparation for the celebration of Easter, a season of spiritual spring-cleaning. During the 40 days of Lent, Christians battled against the powers of darkness and their sinful self by the practice of fasting and self-examination, meditation and prayer. Since it was a time of repentance, they often wore sackcloth and covered themselves with ashes.
Hence Ash Wednesday.

Problem for me is that a bit like New Year’s Eve’s resolutions, in my failed attempts at repentance it’s tempting to repent of repenting.
And there’s the trick that the dark side wants to push on us. See you’re still as bad as before, just give up on it.
Words with a bit of truth but like to Adam and Eve in the garden, used out of context and meaning.

Repentance is not becoming some great never to sin again person. Yes it is most surely striving too, but at the top is in repenting to see the error of our ways and turn back to God-seek and receive forgiveness and start afresh like a cricket batsmen who gets out early from a stupid shot must put it behind them, get back to basics and start a fresh in their next innings.

I mentioned once before that King David, the King mentioned as a man after God’s own heart was mentioned as such not because he was perfect, but because as soon as he was shown the error of his ways, he would turn to God and seek forgiveness.

These are turbulent times in our world and how they will play out we do not know, but like with our own thing that we are each dealing with, God seems to makes a habit of bringing deliverance from a crisis and if you planted that tree twenty years ago, though there has been droughts, floods, fire and famine-there it still is, stronger than ever providing shade in the heat and cover in the rain.

In the Garden of Eden God said there would be consequences if that apple was eaten, and then as there is now that is case the. Not from God getting in some payback, but from the sin that we brought on ourselves,

And yet when God looks down on all those jigsaw pieces of our world and sees the results of our sin, he also sees His Son on a cross in each of the physical and spiritual battles taking place, in every piece does Christ walk as he has in every piece of your own journey and that He knows that sin will still be in play until the last day, He asks not the impossible, He asks what would seem improbable in such a time in our world, that all would turn back to God and be freed from themselves to be free in Christ.

For those in fare away lands and in parts of our own where we have none or little influence, we can and should always pray that be the case.

For those here in our midst to whom which come before us, we pray this be the case and ask our Lord to guide us in mind and actions that they see His light.

And for us here, pray we, as we run our race continue to be blest to know the truth, that in Christ when we turn to God in asking forgiveness in the name of His Son and our Saviour Jesus the Christ, that we know from His Word and promise that is stronger than any mineral and greater than any condition we find ourselves:

That truly, Christ died on that cross for you, and through Christ and in the name of the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit your sins are washed away and forgiven. Praise be to God. Amen.

Popper Prayers

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Ash Wednesday Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21  Prayer

I have with me the perfect example of prayer:  (pop a popper)  Can you tell me why it seems to us a popper represents our prayers?  Well, here are some reasons why poppers are our prayers:

  • We only use prayer on special occasions
  • We imagine our prayers need to be impacting, like the bang, in order to gain God’s attention.
  • Our thoughts are all bottled up in our minds and we let a barrage of requests shoot up to heaven, like the streamers.
  • Most importantly, just as the streamers came pouring down almost immediately after they were fired up, we want our prayers to be answered immediately and we want the answers from God to stream down upon us and shower us with goodness.


The popper prayer most accurately describes our prayer practices and expectations, and if we were honest to ourselves, the popper prayer is really the only way we know how to pray.  Perhaps this is why we struggle with prayer, struggle to pray each day.  The popper prayer may not be how God intended prayer to be.  Perhaps popper prayer is more closely aligned with our plans and expectations of prayer than God’s.  And as you are well aware, anything centred in us, is sinful and against God’s plans and is destined to failure.  When prayer is human centred, prayer is hard.  Its hard because we keep getting the same results, a perception that God is not listening and is not answering our prayers.


We try harder, more fervent prayer, or to use my example, we put more gun powder into prayer, hoping God will be awakened by the big commotion and rain down answers.  Jesus likens this sort of practice to the prayers of hypocrites.  Hypocritical prayers are designed to be seen not heard; to be showed off as a perfect word sculpture.  They are prayers that are to be seen by everyone in the church, bible group, or street corner and especially to be seen God…but not heard.  No wonder there is no answer to the popper prayer.  Like the popper, its self serving and designed to be a display, not a way of communicating.


Michael Foss, the author of many discipleship books says we are creatures of habit.  We constantly do things exactly the same, yet, for some unknown reason, expect different results.  Not so, the results will remain the same.  Human centred prayer will always return the same results, a sense of rejection by God because he didn’t answer the way we expected. 


The feeling of not being heard is the result of sin which is most evident in the difficulty we have with prayer. You would think as a Christian, prayer would come naturally, as natural as breathing, yet we all know this is not so.  Let me quote from John Kleinig’s book ‘Grace upon grace’, in which he gives us some insight into why God allows us to fail in prayer. ‘We know that we should pray.  We would like to pray more regularly, ardently, and spontaneously.  The harder we try, the more we seem to fail.  But that’s how its meant to be.  Christ lets us fail when we pray by ourselves so we rely on his intercession for us.  Oddly, our success in prayer comes from our personal failure and our willingness to carry on as he works for us and in us.’


Jesus allows us to fail in prayer, not to make us put more powder into our prayer, but to make us realize our inadequacies and hopelessness without him.  The power of prayer lay not in our success, but in our failures.  Answer to our prayer comes in and through failure and disappointment. 


This is why Jesus encourages us to drop the outward displays, let go of the popper prayer, and retreat to a quiet place, a lonely place and let him take over your prayer; let him use our prayer and make it acceptable to God.  I have a picture of what this sort of prayer looks like. (picture of Peter holding onto Jesus after walking on water: ask what Peter was doing just before this)


Here we have the perfect prayer.  Peter represents us, sinking into the sea of despair and rejection after failing in prayer, but then Jesus takes over where we fail and takes our hand as a brother and leads our prayers right into the heavenly Father’s ears.  And after lifting us and our prayers into the presence of the Father, Jesus then brings us back into the boat, back into his word, his gospel where we rely on his promises ‘I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.


This Lenten season, I am encouraging you to be involved in this Lenten study on prayer.  It has been compiled by some of our members.  It is a nightly devotional series on prayer and it is designed to help you to discover new ways to pray.  We have taken snippets of advice from Jesus and the prayer he taught us.  From Luther, Hallesby, and others.  Can I commend this to you as a tool to assist you in your pray life over the next forty days of Lent.  To encourage you in prayer and to help you realize prayer is not about us, its about God and how he does indeed hear our prayer.


Prayer is certainly a wonderful gift.  Yet it would be wrong of me to say that after you have studied the booklet, everything would be fine.  Rather, let me finish on a sober warning from one of the desert fathers, a man called Agathon ‘The brethren also asked him ‘Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?’  He answered, ‘Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God.  For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey.  Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest.  But prayer is warfare to the last breath.’


If you would like a copy of this booklet please email Pastor at


Ash Wednesday 2008

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008


Over the past week or so we have had some pretty scary thunderstorms.  You can see them building up in the distance.  You know they are coming.  The rumbles, the flashes of lightening and the growing darkness announce the coming wrath of nature.  We go into hiding, go under cove to protect ourselves from facing the elements and the dangers.  We stay in doors, locked away until the darkness passes.  To illustrate the coming of something to fear, Joel uses the imagery of an Army coming to attack.  The trumpets announce the coming wrath and warn the people to take cover; to go into hiding for fear of being killed.

This imagery of a thunderstorm; the darkness, the flashes of lightening or the imagery of the fierce army coming and the fear it produces in us, is literally how you and I feel when caught in sin.  I don’t mean being actually caught doing something wrong, and the fear and darkness we experience when we know the consequences.  No, I mean the darkness and fear we experience when our guilty conscience is pricked.  Perhaps someone says some thing as innocent as ‘It terrible how people could lie like that’ or ‘fancy Johno being a violent abuser’ and instantly, bang, like a clamp of thunder our conscience darkens, and guilt, like lightening strikes us to the heart.  We ourselves have done just that, or are still doing just that, or similar.

Our feelings of guilt make us act as if a severe storm is coming.  We want to hide to protect ourselves; we want to hide our secret, lock ourselves away with it for fear that if we were to be found out we would be struck down.

To hide means to be a captive, stuck, locked up in one place.  Guilt produces shame and shame holds us in a state of captivity, like we were enduring a storm in a tiny cellar. The only difference is, storms eventually move on, whereas, guilt always remains and so we remain locked up by the shame.  Feelings of unworthiness, or anger at ourselves that we let others down, or even anger that we let ourself down, stop us from coming out of hiding.

So how do we get of this?  Do we find comfort inside ourselves, not daring to mention to anyone our secret?  No, secrets make us prisoners in our own body.  What about lying, could we lie to others or even to ourself?  No, lies also lock us up; Do we act like a doctor and explore ways to cure the pain that is in us?  Drink, medication, sleeping tablets. No, the cause of the pain is not physical, though there are physical symptoms, sudden weight loss or gain, depression, or a weak immune system, but to fix the symptoms is pointless, the pain is originated in our actions.

So how do we get out of our hiding place?  Can we even?

When a thunderstorm comes, we fear, and with good reason; the lightning strikes the ground and the thunder crashes all around. But then, have you noticed what happens next?  After the storm cell has passed, it begins to rain.  Everything we fear has moved on, and we are left with rain; rain that renews, restores and refreshes the earth; rain that is life giving.  We had to face the storm, but after the storm we have the rain.

Guilt and shame over sin is our storm, its the army approaching to attack us, and it’s the thunder bolts of guilt that continue to strike us; it hangs around as long as we remain in hiding; but if we come out and confess our sins, admit our guilt, then the storm goes, and the healing rains come pouring down.  The prophet Joel puts it this way ‘The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? That’s the storm, but then he goes on.  ‘Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.’  That’s the rain after the storm.

To stop hiding is to return to the Lord, to the one who is the storm, but is also the rain; the one who destroys, but also the one who heals.  Return to the Lord is to recognise his wrath and anger against sin; our sin and to admit our guilt and ask to stand in the rain of his grace.  For in him is washing; cleansing and healing; renewal and restoration.  This is the incredible focus and emphasis of the Lenten season, the two actions of God; his anger against sin, which in fear, holds us in hiding, and then his raining grace of forgiveness for the sake of Christ Jesus, which frees us from our hiding places.

So let us take up his offer this Lent.  Let us admit we are under his storm of anger and that in guilt and shame we are hiding from him.  Let us confess our sins and ask for his grace; the grace that rains down upon us from the cross.  Let us cry out to Jesus and receive his forgiveness.

How can we do this?  Well, a good way is to go without something we like, that way, as we crave for it we are reminded of our sinful desires and our need for Christ.  It is an ancient custom to go without something and it is a good spiritual exercise.  When we crave, we can confess our sins by even just saying the Lord’s Prayer. Perhaps this is some thing you could do.

Yes, what an opportunity we have! An opportunity that far too few have or even know about.  So make this lent your time; your time to weather the storm and come out of hiding and into the rain of God’s grace in Jesus.