Tag Archives: Merredin

Sermon: Jacob – Wrestling with God (E100 #004)

Genesis 32:1-32

Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.

3 Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my master Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. 5 I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’ ”

6 When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

7 In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. 8 He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

9 Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’ ”

13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”

17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’ ”

19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’ ” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.

 

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

 

 

Today we turn our attention to Jacob, Abraham’s grandson and the son of Isaac.

Jacob had two meetings with God – one at Bethel where he had a vision of the ladder. In Gen 28:11 we see that when Jacob arrived at Bethel the sun set … this might well have been a simple observation of the time of day but it might also have a poignant significance, as we shall see.

The other meeting that Jacob had with God was at Peniel, where he wrestled with God until daybreak. As he left Peniel, we read in Gen 32:31 that “the sun rose above him.” Again this might simply tell us the time of day or it might tell of an incredible restoration that took place in Jacob’s life.

 

The word “Jacob” means grabber or deceiver and you will remember from the biblical accounts of his life that Jacob was indeed a grabber. He was the second born of twins and at his birth he came out grabbing his brother Esau’s heel. He was, by nature, also a bargainer, he bargained with Esau for the birthright – gaining it for a bowl of stew, he bargained with Laban for his wife Rachel, he even bargained with God at Bethel. He was also a deceiver. He deceived his blind father by covering his arms and neck with goatskin in order to receive the blessing that actually belonged to his older brother.

Jacob, before his encounter with God at Peniel, was not a nice man. He was pretty much like anyone of us before God entered into our lives bringing us new birth into eternal life, and leading us on a new journey through this world.

 

At Bethel, the sun sets on Jacob’s life. He is on the run from his brother Esau who had threatened to kill him because he had stolen the birthright and blessing that legitimately belonged to him.

Even though the sun is metaphorically setting on his life Jacob has this wonderful dream in which God reveals to him the great and glorious purpose that he has for him. “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go … I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

But Jacob is not interested in spiritual blessings – only in God’s protection against his enemies – primarily his brother Esau.

He bargains with God … “Just protect me from danger, give me food and clothes and I’ll be happy – then I’ll acknowledge you and give you a tenth of all that I have.”

In his spiritual darkness Jacob seeks only material help.

He could have the vastness of God’s purpose for his life but he was satisfied with toys.

 

Why is it that we always seem so much more interested in physical things than God’s gifts?

And its not just possessions; its also our status, our pride, our prospects.

What are your priorities? What do you think about most? Where does most of your money go? How do you spend your time?

 

God had to wait 20 years before Jacob was prepared to take his mind away from the things of the world and set it on the things above.

We saw a similar thing with Abraham, where in his hurry to have God’s promise he frustrated God’s purpose. We also, like them, often frustrate God’s glorious purpose for our lives because of the narrowness of our vision – when we like Abraham and Jacob, get taken up with things lesser than God’s highest.

 

In order to fulfil His promises to Jacob, God had to discipline him: severely … and this filled the next 20 years of his life.

In Abraham, God was absent for 13 years so that Abraham’s self-dependence was emptied … God waited for Abraham to become impotent.

For Jacob, God put him alongside another shrewd schemer – Laban.He tricks Jacob into marrying Leah when he thought he marrying Rachel. After having committed to another 7 years of work he eventually gets to marry Rachel only to find that she is barren.

Next he uses all the tricks of the trade – sophisticated selective breeding techniques – to get the best of Laban’s flocks and herds, and as Laban’s sons see how Jacob’s scheming has robbed them of their inheritance they plot to kill him. And as he had to run from his brother, now he has to run from his cousins.

 

But as he heads back to Canaan he finds himself hemmed in – Laban is chasing him from the rear and Esau is coming from the front. He makes a peace covenant with Laban at Mizpah promising that they will not enter again into each others territory. But now he faces 20 years of built-up wrath in his brother and he seeks to appease it with trickery and bribes.

 

Have you ever tried to bargain with God?

In your life’s struggles, have you made promises to God about how you will behave or what you will do if God would only come to your assistance. And when He has, have you?

 

Jacob sends abundant gifts in waves ahead of him and divides his possessions into groups so that Esau might perhaps turn away appeased without taking everything from Jacob, he even sends his wives and children ahead of him. Jacob waits on the other side of the river; Jacob is looking after No 1!

 

But that night he wrestled with God. We learn four things from that night that Jacob spent with God.

First he was alone. We need to spend time alone with God that He might speak into our soul.

Second he was broken by God. For twenty years God had struggled gently with Jacob, but that night God struck his hip so that his thigh was dislocated. The thigh is the strongest part of the body and it was that part that God struck. God will often strike us in the strong-points of our life because these are the dependencies that keep us from total yielding to God.

Peter thought that his strong point was his courage. God caused him to lie to protect himself against a servant girl. He thought that he was a good fisherman and so twice he fishes all night but catches nothing – until Jesus points the way. Sometimes God will take our wealth or our talents until our dependence is properly centered on Him.

Third we see that Jacob was finally desperate for God. “I will not let you go,” he says, “unless you bless me.” In Hosea 12:4 we read that Jacob wept and begged with God for a blessing that night at Peniel. This was the point that God had been working towards throughout Jacob’s life. What a different man he was to 20 years earlier. Now he had nothing – he was alone and broken, now God could bless him.

God didn’t bless him because he was defeated. Instead God says to him – You have prevailed, and so you will have power with God and with men. Because you did not give up, because you held on … I will bless you in terms of your relationship with me. You will call upon me and I will hear you.

 

Finally, we see that God blessed Jacob at Peniel because at last he was honest. When he went to his father to steal his brother’s blessing he said that his name was Esau. Now 20 years later God asks him his name again. “I am Jacob” he says. “I am the grabber, the deceiver, I am the bargainer.”

This was a confession – I don’t want to pretend anymore, I am a hypocrite. My life is full of sham and pretense.” It takes real brokenness to be honest to God about ourselves.

 

What is it about these four things – Aloneness, Brokenness, Desperation, Honesty, in terms of our relationship with God?

There seems to be a progression …

When time and circumstances hem us in, we find ourselves alone.

Loneliness and depression have the potential to leave us without hope because we have no-one else to turn to.

We need to recognise, at that point, that God waits. Like the Prodigal Son, it is the recognition of the failure of our own efforts that brings us to the place of brokenness.

It is the critical point of every one’s life – it is God or self.

And when we turn in desperation from ourselves towards God, becoming honest about ourselves and our need for God, then we enter into a brand new relationship with God – the one which He has always wanted, the one for which Jesus died.

 

 

We see that after these things that the sun now ascends on Jacob’s life. He walks in justice and truth. He walks in the way of God and becomes a patriarch of God’s people.

 

Does he keep talking about his experience at Peniel ? No.

His testimony does not hark back to that one experience of God because his life thereafter is filled with the Presence of God.

In Hebrews 1, where we read the great testimonies of the men and women of faith we are told in quite the simplest terms of how Jacob’s life changed.

There is no breaking open of the seas, no pushing down of walls, no raising of the dead but simply, “Jacob worshipped God, leaning on the top of his staff.”

The staff was the symbol of the miracle that God had wrought in his life – with a dislocated hip, Jacob needed a staff to walk but that walking stick was also the symbol of the breaking of his stubborn self-will. Now he worshipped God as a man whose self dependence was broken, and who now depended only on God.

At Peniel, Jacob’s name was changed from “Jacob the deceiver” to “Israel, the one who struggles with God” but God continues to call Himself – “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Our great God of mercy and grace continues to identify with self-seeking sinners. He is with us each day as we struggle to overcome the self life that rules so dominantly in each one of us.

He is the God of grace who so loves us so much that He gave His only Son so that we might have a full life in this world despite our failures; and, when this life is over, be brought into the holy presence of the Almighty, finally cleansed in the redeeming death of Christ our Lord.

Sermon: The baptism of the Holy Spirit

 

Acts 1:4,5,8

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

You 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.”


A. Why is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit important

Jesus had given the apostles the Great Commission – to go into all the world.

With such a great task, one should expect that some kind of strengthening or encouragement would be given.

They had to wait in order to receive the Promise. Its not just a switch on – it needs preparation.

When we try to fulfil the Great Commission or do the work of God without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we will fail because we are not equipped to do the job.

Psalm 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

Time spent seeking the Spirit is NOT time wasted. In fact, we waste time and effort by trying to fulfil the Great Commission without the Holy Spirit!

B. What is the purpose of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is an empowerment to be.

We often think only of the manifestation of gifts, but the main reason for the baptism of the Hoy Spirit is to BE something.

We often use the term “witness” as a verb. “I’m going to witness to someone”. However, here “witness” is a noun – you will BE my witnesses. It’s not something you do, but something you ARE.

Also we are baptised with the Holy Spirit to develop the Fruit of the Spirit not just to demonstrate the Gifts of the Spirit.

C. How can we be baptized with the Holy Spirit?

1. We must wait.

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is the Promise of the Father and it is dependent on God’s timetable.

Example: I was baptised with the Holy Spirit before I even knew there was such a thing but a friend of mine waited for many years.

However, it’s not just passive waiting; it includes prayer and seeking the Holy Spirit. My friend prayed every day and took every opportunity to come forward for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. She never gave up.

The disciples obviously took this command to wait as an active command, because, as we read in Acts 1:14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

And there they were praying when the Holy Spirit came down.

2. We must pray and seek the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.

Those who have already been baptized in the Holy Spirit should pray for us.

There is nothing in Scripture about coaching people on how to be filled. We simply pray for them to receive!

D. What is the sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit?

The initial physical sign in Scripture is speaking in tongues. Acts 2:4, Acts 10:4, Acts 19:6

1. This was proof enough to Peter to accept Gentile believers into the faith, which until then had been an exclusive Jewish sect.

“For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.

2. There may or may not be other physical signs, like wind and fire.

3. The main sign is a change in life: a new dependence on God, evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace etc) and a witness in word and character which draws people to faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ.

People often put much emphasis on “speaking in tongues” but it is not the end, or even the purpose, of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

E. Speaking In Tongues

This is, and has been, a big issue in the church. Some say it was for times past, others that it was just other human languages and some see it as something more, deeper, in our relationship with God.

I see tongues as an integral part of my faith life; I have never thought that it was not a real and valid experience. By the same token, I know that there are many strong Christians who produce much spiritual fruit in their life but who do not speak in tongues. I have no problem with either and do not see one group as being more important than then other; though I expect that Jesus is likely to be more interested in whether we produced spiritual fruit in our lives than in whether we spoke in tongues. However, if we speak in tongues it should also go without saying that we produce spiritual fruit; this may be the reason for the waiting upon the Holy Spirit.

In considering whether we want to speak in tongues we do probably need to ask ourselves how intimate with Jesus we want to be.

Consider for a moment the wonderful possibility that we can communicate with our Heavenly Father in a way that is totally unlimited by our finite minds. A way that we can receive from Him in fresh, wonderful new ways. If this appeals to you, I encourage you to approach speaking in tongues with an open mind, and an open Bible.

I. So what is speaking in tongues?

First,let’s look at a few things that speaking in tongues is NOT:

1. Tongues are not a status symbol, indicating that one Christian is more spiritual than another. The Corinthian church was a hotbed of tongues speaking, yet the Apostle Paul still chastised them for being carnal (1 Corinthians 3:3.)

2. Tongues are not a shortcut to instant spiritual maturity.

3. Tongues are not a hypnotic, zombie like state in which the person has no control of his faculties.

Speaking in tongues is, to put it simply, Holy Spirit inspired speech in a language unknown to the speaker. It can be spoken in a Christian’s private prayer life, or in a public worship service with interpretation.

People do tend to have a natural hunger for the supernatural. Unfortunately, many turn to the false, satanic supernatural found in psychics, the New Age,and other cultic activity rather than seeking the true supernatural power of God. This is tragic. God is a supernatural God! He can fulfil the deepest longings of our hearts with His love and power. Tongues are one of the avenues that He works through in order to do this.

II. Are tongues still valid today?

Yes, there are more Christians on earth today who speak in tongues than there have been at any other time in history! Although they have always been around in varying degrees throughout church history, there has been a strong revival of tongues in this century.

It is true that the Bible refers to a time when tongues shall cease (1 Corinthians 13:8). However, this same passage also tells us when this will happen: When perfection comes, we see face to face, and we know, even as we are known (verses 10-12.)

We don’t always know how to pray properly. This is why God has made available to us this heavenly prayer language, that takes us beyond our limitations and helps us pray with the Spirit making intercession with us through groanings which cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26.)

We need the Holy Spirit to help us this way just as much, if not more,than the first century church did.

III.How does speaking in tongues operate?

In order to answer this question properly, we must recognise that the Bible describes three different manifestations of speaking in tongues:

  1. Evidential tongues-The initial physical evidence when someone is baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1- 4;10:44-46;19:2-7.)
  2. Intercessory tongues-the ability to pray in other tongues, or “In the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:14- 16; Ephesians 6:18;Jude 20) in order to pray beyond our limited human understanding, speak mysteries to God ( 1 Corinthians 14:2) and edify (build up) ourselves (1 Corinthians 14:4).
  3. The ministry gift of tongues, described in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14, involves giving a message in tongues in a public worship service, which is to be interpreted (12:10).This is a powerful sign to unbelievers ( 14:22).This gift is only given in certain situations, as the Spirit wills. Therefore, not all Christians are used in this gift (12:30.)

IV. Are tongues really all that important?

In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul gives us a basic primer on the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues. Since tongues and interpretation are the last gifts which Paul mentions, some have taken this to mean that tongues are the least important of the gifts, and that we shouldn’t really be concerned with them. However, I would respectfully reply that this argument is based on a very presumptuous and inconsistent approach to Biblical interpretation.

Chronological order of how something is listed is not necessarily an indication of importance. For example, in 1 Corinthians 13:13 , Paul tells us that faith, hope, and love remain, yet the greatest of these is love, despite of the fact that it is listed last. Likewise, in a list of sinful activities recorded in Galatians 5:19-21, murder is named near the end of the list. Does that mean that murder is a less serious sin than the others? Of course not.

Paul definitely did not view tongues as being unimportant. In fact, he devotes an entire chapter in the Bible to teaching on the subject (1 Corinthians 14). In this chapter, he tells the Corinthian believers that he desires that they all speak in tongues (verse 5), and thanks God that he speaks in tongues more than all of them! (verse 18) Three times in Scripture we are exhorted to covet (Pursue with passion) the gifts of the Holy Spirit-including tongues (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1, 39, the same Greek word is used in all of these Scriptures.) Note that this is worded as a commandment, not an option.

V. Why are we afraid, or nervous of this gift?

Tongues are a wonderful tool God has given His people to enjoy His presence more fully and intimately, and to make us more effective in our service for Him.

Being a supernatural phenomenon, speaking in tongues is approached somewhat hesitantly by many Christians. However, this is nothing new. In the Bible, when God’s presence showed up in a tangible manner, it was not unusual for onlookers to respond with fear. We see this in events like the angelic vision the shepherds had when Jesus was born (Luke 2:8-12,) when the disciples saw Jesus walk on water (Mark 6:45-50,) and when John had his vision of the risen Jesus (Revelation 1:4-17.) Notice that each time,the first reaction of the people who witnessed these supernatural occurrences was to be afraid. However, in each of these cases, these people were assured to “Fear not,” or “Be not afraid.”

In Luke 11:9-13, Jesus makes the solemn promise that if you ask God for bread, He isn’t going to give you a stone. According to verse 13,the context of this verse is asking the Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life is something to be cherished, not feared.

F. What happens after the baptism with the Holy Spirit?

Remember that a baptism is an initiation.

Your water baptism is not the fullness of your Christian walk. It merely marks the beginning of your Christian walk.

You still must take advantage of that initiation every day, by continuing in the Christian life.

Likewise, the baptism in the Holy Spirit is not the end-all to your experience of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it marks the beginning of your living in the fullness of the Spirit.

 

Sermon: Taking God at His word (E100 #003)

 

Acts 1:4-5

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost – a Jewish celebration of the giving of the Law, and a harvest festival. It is also the significant Christian celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church.

I will speak tonight at the SNAC service about why it is important for the church – you and I – to be baptised with the Holy Spirit, and  I will speak also about the Biblical view on tongues.

This morning though, I want to speak about Abraham and his son Isaac. Is there a connection between this and the celebration of Pentecost? Yes there is! Its all about taking God at His word. And it is equally relevant for us in this day and age.

First the background … The number of early Christian believers had dwindled to about 120 following the death of Jesus, despite His resurrection appearances over a period of forty days to more than 500 others, and the thousands who had followed Him as spectators to the miracles.

Shortly before the Ascension, the return of the Risen Christ to heaven, Jesus gave His disciples specific instructions to wait until they received the gift which the Father had promised. And this they did … they waited in the Upper Room, fasting and praying for 10 days … and then the Holy Spirit came upon them and the Church was empowered for the mission which continues until this day.

They took God at His word! How unlike the first bumbling efforts of Father Abraham …

Abram had been called out of Ur and from Haran. God had made some incredible promises to him – he would have land, he would have a family, and through him all nations would be blessed.

The most impossible of these promises – that he would have offspring was repeated several times throughout his life, but his wife Sarai, was barren, and this barrenness is noted several times in the account of Abram’s life.

How could he have offspring “as many as the stars in the sky, and the sand on the shore” if the starting point was blocked by the barrenness of his wife?

We have to give him credit though; they waited until he was 85 years old before they came to the human conclusion that God needed some help to fulfil this promise.

Genesis 16:1-4

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.

But this was not God’s plan. God’s promise was that Abraham would have a son through his wife Sarah: even though she was barren and they were both quite elderly.

How often are we not tempted to “help God out” with a plan of our own? God had made the promise to them and nothing was happening, logic seemed to dictate that they should do something about it – so Abram slept with his wife’s maidservant Hagar, she fell pregnant and Ishmael was born.

In our own lives, we are often given some direction by God – perhaps to change jobs, or move to another place – and when our patience, rather than God’s, wears out, we make our own plans. I have heard many stories of disasters that have ensued from those decisions. Too often, our stubborn-mindedness will not even let us wipe our feet and walk away, we just “stick it out” until God eventually forces us, through circumstance, to finally give up.

Praise God that He does not simply leave us in the crisis.

Just think what might have happened if the early Church got tired of “tarrying a while” in Jerusalem, and instead just went out to try to fulfil Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all men” without the empowering of the Holy Spirit. It would have been like any of the so-called Messianic movements of that time (or ours, to think of it) which rise up in a great cloud of glory, only to fizzle out.

But they did wait, and they prayed – 24 hours a day for 10 days.

Would you have the patience to do that?

The disciples didn’t have too much of a track record. On the night of His arrest they couldn’t even pray for one hour in the Garden of Gethsemane. But now they were convicted to take God at His word.

Something happened to these 120 believers which hadn’t taken place in the lives of the others who had followed Jesus. What was it?

I have often pondered this, and I have come to the conclusion that it was because they were more than spectators – they were involved!

Here were those whom Jesus had called at the very beginning: Andrew, Peter, James, John, Matthew … and here were the women who had become the support behind the ministry: Mary Magdalene, Martha, the other Mary and so on.

These were people who had seen and heard and were engrossed in every aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry. They were not just there for the “show”. They made mistakes, they made wrong guesses, they were often not sure of what they were doing; but they were always there.

And after the Resurrection, they were convicted: they would take God at His word, come hell or high water.

God’s ways may often sometimes seem strange in this age of reason, but we have no better option than to take Him at His word.

Who would think that one could collapse the walls of a city like Jericho by marching around it for seven days?

Who would believe that a man of 100 and his wife of ninety could have a child and thus start a dynasty which has become a nation; the bearers of God’s Law and through whom God’s grace would be revealed? Who would think that ten days of prayer could launch a worldwide revolution and so change the fate of mankind forever?

Our “worldly wisdom” often causes us to take a situation into our own hands, rather than trusting in God’s intention. We will often make mistakes, we frequently get ahead of ourselves but God in His graciousness and with His own firm intention in mind will always cause everything to turn out for the good of those who love Him.

Listen to how God solved the problem of Abraham’s meddling.

Genesis 21:1-7

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. 4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

God accepted Abram and Sarai’s mistake. He accepted Ishmael and He blessed him but that never became “plan b”. God stuck to His word – Abraham would have a son through his wife Sarah.

We can learn from that – if God sticks to His word, we can take Him at His word, for He does not change like the shifting shadows.

A little later, God tested Abraham. Having given him the son of the promise, would he hold fast to God’s word now, or would he go back to a human solution.

Genesis 22:1-18

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

It seems weird that God would give to Abraham and Sarah this son and then, some 13 years later, want to take him away again. How would the promise of descendants ever materialise? Would Abraham now go back to Ishmael as his heir and successor, or would he trust that some how, God would still keep His promise. Its a dilemma, and one that we frequently face in our own testing – God makes a promise and then seems to want to end the potential of that promise.

What do we do?

For example, you change your situation in life, convinced that God is calling you to a new place. All goes well and then it seems that the wheels fall off. Sickness, drought, financial strain seem to come in unending waves … did you hear wrong? Should you make another plan? Just what is going on?

The disciples may have faced the same crisis after the Ascension of Jesus. Their Lord, crucified, dead and buried is risen from the dead … all is well. Now he is gone again, in the clouds of the air. Do they abandon the mission or stick it out?

They did what you must do .. they took God at His word.

They elected a new person to replace Judas; they were carrying on … and they prayed, and they prayed.

And God came, He blessed them, and us with the Holy Spirit, and the Church was launched to fulfil God’s promise to every people in every place – God has saved His people. Trust God for He will always fulfil His word. Amen

 

Alpha Talk – How does God guide us?

All of us have to make decisions about what we do with our lives—our life work, our life partners, children, use of time, where we live, money; as well as the kind of day-to-day decisions we all face. And discerning the will of God in the midst of all the conflicting worldly noise can be quite a tricky business.

But the wonderful news of the Christian faith is that we are not on our own in this life. God promises to help us make the right choices.

John 10:27 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Paul says that God’s purpose for our lives is good and pleasing and perfect. And in order to find out what it is, we need to consult him and we need to listen.

 

So how does God guide us? How does this relationship work? We’ve got five main ways we’re going to look at today—they’re the five CS’s. And in some cases it might be one of these; in major decisions it might be all five.

1. COMMANDING SCRIPTURE

In the Bible the general will of God for all of us is revealed. And there we see what all of us are called to. Our primary calling is not to do something, but to be someone. Our primary calling is to live in a relationship with God, to know Jesus. Our primary calling is to become like Jesus—to become free, to become loving, to become peaceful.

And then we’re called to make a difference to the world, to change the world around us.

In the Bible God has spoken on a whole range of issues. So there’s some things where we really don’t need specific guidance, because it’s absolutely clear from this book what his will is. He’s spoken about marriage and family life and work and money and children and all kinds of things.

We know, for example, that marriage is for life.

We know that we must pay your taxes.

We know about telling the truth. When I first started working I shared a secretary with the Company Secretary. One time there was a call for him and he asked her to tell the person that he was out. So she handed the phone to him and said, `You tell him you’re out!’ The other bloke was furious but she said to him, `Look, if I can lie for you, I can lie to you. And I never will.’

That stuck in my mind and that woman was to play a significant role in my decision to follow Jesus – she was worthy of her word.

 

So God’s general will is revealed in this book. But it won’t tell us which job we should do, or who we should marry. But sometimes as we read the Bible it will bring to light a particular verse which will give us direction.

 

Some people have been guided by kind of opening the Bible at random and pointing to a particular verse. But it wouldn’t be good to make a habit of it, because it could expose us sooner or later to unhappy consequences.

 

I heard of one man who tried this. He said, `Lord, what shall I do?’ And he opened his Bible at random, and he happened to land on Matthew 27:5, which says: Then Judas went and hanged himself. So he thought, `Oh dear, I’d better try this again,’ and he went to Luke 10:37: Go and do thou likewise. He thought, `Oh dear!’ So he went to John 13:27, which says: What you’re about to do, do quickly.

 

So that’s not really a great idea in the long term. But if we have a regular, methodical reading of the Bible each day, it’s always amazing to me how appropriate each day’s reading is. God feeds us, and he also speaks to us and guides us.

So that’s the first thing: Commanding Scripture—in other words, the Bible.

 

2. COMPELLING SPIRIT

Acts 20:22

Paul speaking says this: “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I’m going to Jerusalem…”

For the apostle Paul to be led by the Spirit was almost a definition of a Christian.

The writer of the book of Acts is of course Luke who also wrote Luke’s Gospel. And in his Gospel you see that Jesus is, throughout His life, led by the Holy Spirit. And it’s almost as if he writes the book of Acts to show that the same Holy Spirit who led Jesus through His life now leads the church, and thus every person who’s invited him to come and be part of their lives.

And as Jesus said in John, chapter 10, which we looked at earlier, my sheep recognise my voice. We recognise the voice of the Holy Spirit; at least we begin to—it takes time. It’s like any relationship. If we know somebody well, we recognise their voice, for example on the telephone.

 

I rang a minister in Wagin this week, and I got through I said, `Hi Alan, this is David, David de Kock.’ And he said, `Oh, I would recognise that voice anywhere.’ When we know someone well, we begin to recognise their voice. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. As we develop this relationship, we begin to recognise the voice of the Holy Spirit.

And the Holy Spirit leads us in a number of different ways. First of all, God speaks to us when we pray.

God also sometimes speaks through giving us a strong desire to do something. In Philippians 2:13 Paul says that God works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. In other words, if God calls you to do something, he will also give you the desire to do that if you yield yourself to him.

 

Sometimes he guides us in more unusual ways—through a prophecy, or visions, or pictures, or angels, some people hear an audible voice, or even dreams. Now, obviously, in this whole area of being led by the Spirit we can make mistakes because it’s not as simple as that. Guidance is a very difficult thing and sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we get it wrong.

John says: Test the spirits to see whether they’re from God. Is it in line with the Bible? Does it promote love? If it’s not a loving idea, then it won’t come from God.

According to 1 Corinthians 14 we might test it by saying: is it strengthening, encouraging, comforting?  Another test is: do we sense God’s peace about the decision?  Paul writes: Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart.

So the Bible is one way—Commanding Scripture; also the Holy Spirit—Compelling Spirit.

 

3. COMMON SENSE

God has given us minds, to think and to reason. And God’s promises of guidance are not given to save us the problem of thinking. In fact, thinking and God guiding us often go together.

2 Timothy 2:7 says, effectively, this: Think over what I’m saying, and the Lord will give you understanding.

John Wesley said that the most common way God guided him was by presenting to his mind reasons for acting in a particular way.

And I would say that’s the main way God guides us in the ordinary sort of day-to-day aspects of life.

But also in the big decisions, our common sense is very important. For example, the Bible tells us that marriage is the norm. But what this book won’t tell you is whom you should marry.

I heard of one Cockney from the East End of London, who was not a churchgoer. And he had a real dilemma because he was in love with two very beautiful women. And he couldn’t decide. One was called Sharon, and she was blonde and very beautiful, and the other was called Maria, and she was a brunette and also very beautiful. He wasn’t a churchgoer, but not knowing whether it was Sharon or Maria, Sharon or Maria, he thought, `Well, I’ll go into a church and pray.’

So he went into a local Catholic church and he knelt down by the altar and he said to the Lord—’oom shall I ‘ave?’ And he looked up, and he looked at the stained-glass window and he saw in gold letters: Ave Maria!

 

That’s not the best way to go about it! But common sense tells us we should ask these questions: are we spiritually compatible? Paul warns us of the danger of marrying somebody who’s not a Christian, for example, because inevitably we’re going in different directions spiritually, and that can cause tension. So that if we’re a Christian we should look to marry someone whose faith we respect.

Secondly, are we personally compatible?  Are we good friends?  Then are we physically compatible? Does the chemistry work? God is not going to ask you to marry someone to whom you are not physically attracted. That may come as a relief to some of you!

And then our jobs and careers. Again, it’s common sense. Sometimes people say, `Look, I’ve become a Christian. Should I leave my job?’ The answer is given by 1 Corinthians 7. Each of you should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to you and to which God has called you.  Each of you should remain in the situation which you were in when you were called.

In other words, don’t just automatically leave your job, unless of course what you’re doing is immoral or illegal—assuming it’s not, we should stay where we are until God calls us into something different. God doesn’t call us out of things, he calls us into things.

And if we’re asking the question `Well, what is God calling us into?’ the questions to ask are: `Well, what’s my temperament, what’s my personality, what’s my education, what are my skills, what am I good at, what do I like doing, what are my gifts?’ God hasn’t given us gifts in order that they should be wasted but, as John Stott writes, `to be discerned, cultivated and exercised, so that rather than being frustrated we should be fulfilled.’

And it’s never too late. I read recently of a woman in her nineties who now runs ten-kilometre races. She didn’t discover that she enjoyed running until she was 78. So it’s never too late!

 

4. COUNSEL OF SAINTS

The word `saints’ is used in the New Testament to mean `all Christians’—in other words, the church. The Holy Spirit, for example in Revelation 2, we read of the Holy Spirit speaking to the churches. God has been speaking to His people for hundreds of years.

So, for example, there’s no point in sort of thinking, `Well, I wonder what the doctrine of the Trinity is. Shall I try and work it out for myself?’ without looking at the fact that the early Christians spent 400 years working out the doctrine of the Trinity. And the creeds have come to the church out of that work.

The same with anything, any kind of decision we’re making, we make it in a community. And that’s one of the wonderful things, to be part of a community of other Christians, where we can help one another, we can seek advice from fellow Christians. Proverbs 12:15 says The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.

And Proverbs 15:22 says: Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed

Proverbs 20, verse 18: Make plans by seeking advice.

 

5. CIRCUMSTANTIAL SIGNS

Proverbs 16:9 says `In his heart a person plans their course, but the Lord determines their steps.

Psalm 37:5. Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in him, and he will act—

If we’re faced with a difficult decision, as all of us are from time to time, or sometimes very often, we can go to the Lord and say, `Lord, I don’t know which direction to go. I don’t know whether this is right or whether that’s right. I don’t know whether this relationship is right or whether it’s not. I don’t know whether this job is right or whether it’s not. I don’t know whether this decision is right or whether it’s not.’

Commit your way to the Lord —that’s the first thing. Secondly, trust in him, and then his promise is this: he will act. And God can shut doors or he can open doors.

But we have to be willing to say, `I trust you with this.’

We need to watch the circumstances of our lives, how is God directing us through the present situation.

 

Each of these way of discerning the guidance of God can stand alone, but they work best when they work together. In ancient times, when a ship was coming into a harbour, they would set up three fires – the captain had to ensure that all three fires were lined up and then he knew that it was the right way in. So also with these five ways … line up at least three of them and you will have a good idea of what the Lord wants you to do.

 

Finally, in conclusion: don’t be in a hurry to make a decision about anything. The writer of Hebrews says that after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. He spent most of his life waiting for God to fulfil a promise he’d given him when he was a young man and wasn’t fulfilled until he was an old man.

And we all make mistakes, all of us do.

There are many things in my life that I wish that I’d done, and as I get older I’m wondering if its now too late, but then I remember the words of Oscar Wilde: `Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.’

 

Sermon: Abraham’s Faith (E100 #002)

Genesis 12:1-9

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

“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.”

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 Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

 

Abram the man from Ur of the Chaldeans. The man whom God singles out to signify a new chapter in His dealings with mankind.

On what basis does God choose Abram?

Its really hard to find any particular reasons. He was the son of Terah, a desert wanderer. He had a barren wife and hence, no children. He was a stranger in a strange land. Abram had nothing going for him, but God called him out to be the father of the Jewish nation, a small tribe which God chose to be the bearers of His message: who were made responsible and accountable for both God’s law and God’s grace in this world. Through them came Moses, David and the prophets. Into their community was born the Christ with the message of salvation for the whole world.

But when God called Abram, he had nothing going for him. And when God calls you, it will not be dependent on your success nor abilities. God can use and will use anyone – He may well be calling you today! We are only to respond in faith, trusting God.

 

The account of the life of Abram is more than just an historical narrative. It is an outstanding example of faith in God. Jesus speaks of his faith. Stephen reviews the life of Abram extensively in defence of his own faith before the Sanhedrin.

Acts 7:2-8

The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Abram, “was looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”.

Hebrews 11:8-19

Abram was an Aramean and descendant of Shem who lived around 2000BC. He belonged to a rootless, unsettled and semi-nomadic tribe who wandered among the more settled people in search of food and water for their flocks. This tribe were known as the “Habiru” hence they are called Hebrews. In Genesis 14:13, Abram is called “Abram the Hebrew.

With his father Terah, and all his family, Abram was called by God, to leave Ur and to move about 500 kms westwards and to settle in Haran. Later God calls him to move further into Canaan and he establishes bases and places of worship at Shechem, Bethel (the place of God) and Mamre.

After a life of frequent encounters with and challenges from God, both Abraham (as he is later called) and his wife Sarah are buried in the cave of Machpelah (present day Hebron). Although God had promised him land “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates”, the only land he ever owned was the cave at Machpelah where he, his wife and his offspring were buried.

And yet, he is acclaimed as the true man of faith. He saw the promises of God as not being limited to time or space but having an eternal significance. And while this promise never materialised in his own lifetime he never had doubt that it was God’s word and that it would ultimately come to pass. And, as the writer to the Hebrews suggests … the promise is of a city and a place that is even beyond this life. It is the new heaven and the new earth. The new Jerusalem.

What does “faith” mean to you?

So often “faith” is a stumbling block for us. We “believe” so far, but then we have doubts because we don’t see any proof or justification about what we have believed.

The writer to the Hebrews however, in Hebrews 11:1, defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”.

Faith must take us beyond the realm of this present reality. If I only believe what I know to be real then it is not faith at all but a calculation of probabilities.

Faith must take me into the unknown, where I am convinced of the words, character and integrity of the Promise-maker and am totally prepared to let Him lead me through the dark places where I cannot even see where to place my feet, let alone the light at the end of the tunnel.

Faith is trusting the unseen God, who is everywhere to be seen; hearing Him in the deafening silence, and following Him along unknown paths to the destination which has been clearly presented to us.

This faith cannot be worked up, or bought. We cannot train ourselves to believe. It is a matter of choice alone. I must make a decision to believe and to follow. I must yield to the Creator’s purpose. And if you haven’t yet made that decision, or need a renewed confidence in the God of infinite grace, then make the choice today to trust Him with all your heart and mind and body.

When God entered into a relationship with Abram He was taking another step to bring mankind back into relationship with Himself. And how often have we not already seen this in the reading of the Scriptures so far – the Flood, the Tower of Babel. And we will see God’s continuing work until the promised end of time.

The significant new step that God took with Abram was that He entered into a covenant with him. A covenant is a metaphysical kind of contract in which each party commits everything they have to the other without reservation and without condition. It also has no time limit. Kings entered into limited covenants with each other, tribal leaders did also. David and Jonathan entered into a covenant. Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman.

God’s covenant with Abram had no conditions. In fact, when the covenant was entered into, God put Abram to sleep  so that he couldn’t dilute the covenant through the contribution of his human weakness.

The process of the Covenant in Genesis 15:9-21

One of the steps of covenant making is the incorporation of the covenanting partners names into each other. It is at this point that Abram’s name becomes Abr-ah-am as he incorporates the “ah” from Y-ah-weh. And God from this point on is called “the God of Abraham”.

God’s blessing in the covenant is sevenfold :

He says in Genesis 12:2,3

1. I will make you a great nation

2. I will bless you

3. I will make your name great

4. You will be a blessing

5. I will bless those who bless you

6. Whoever curses you I will curse

  1. All peoples on earth will be blessed by you.

 

It is, in slightly different words, a repeat of God’s original blessing on Adam, where God says, in Genesis 1:28-30

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

The covenant is significant because we still live under that covenant today – indeed God has not changed His mind from the very beginning of time. He has taken different steps and different approaches to an often negligent, often rebellious people but ultimately His desire is to make us His people and to bless us.

We are called to be a people of faith as Abraham was a man of faith. A man who heard God’s call and responded. He was not special nor was he necessarily a particularly good choice, but God called and Abraham responded. And he believed throughout his life, even though there was very little physical evidence to support his faith.

Do you think that God has made covenant with you in any way?

Indeed, the very fact that you have life, is a sign of His covenant with you. But there is more, He has made covenant with you in Jesus Christ. And still further He might have made covenant with you in a particular way.

I believe that God made covenant with me in our marriage. He has blessed us together and He has given us children. And I believe that I have a responsibility to this family to draw them into this faith which I have; by my life, my love, my integrity and my provision.

I also believe that God made covenant with me in my ordination. He has called me into a life of faith and leadership in which I am daily challenged to be in His Presence and to know His guidance. He has appointed me a shepherd of His flock and I will be accountable to Him at the last. I am a servant under orders, which is the original meaning of ordination.

Indeed God has made covenant with you, and He has a promise of salvation and a blessing of hope for you – grasp it by faith and put your whole trust in God.

Faith is a growing experience. We also are called to grow in our faith – to look and see God at work, to learn to trust and to know Jesus as our Saviour. And just as the Abrahamic covenant has continued through the generations so we are called to ensure that our own faith and hope will continue in our children and our children’s children.