Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, May 30, 2014

Easter 7: What is the Church and Where is Heaven

Acts 1:6-14
On Ascension Day we looked at and celebrated the fact that we have a King.  A King whose authority over all powers on earth and in the spiritual realm has been shown by His being raised from death and then raised to the very right hand of God in Heaven, the God who has now given to Him, to Jesus, all authority in Heaven and on Earth.  That was our Ascension Celebration – we have a King.

Our reading today reminds us of Thursday’s Ascension and then says: “They went back to Jerusalem where they gathered frequently as a group.”  Then there’s a list of that little group which makes interesting reading:
first, there are the apostles, but of course there’s one missing – we just have 11 names;

secondly we are told they gathered “with the women.”  This is a group of women who supported Jesus’ ministry financially and in Luke 8 verse 1 we are told… After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means ;

thirdly, we’re told that there is Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers …… the group includes Jesus’ brothers. This is interesting, because in John 7:5 we are told that during Jesus’ ministry, “not even His brothers believed in Him.” and in Mark 3 we're told his family came to "take charge if him because people were saying he was mad" and they seem to agree. Now...they are part of the faithful group of followers at His Ascension. The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus change everything.....maybe even for

So here they all are, in Jerusalem.  Part of this strange group of people.  And what are they doing …… they are waiting.  Jesus said to them before His Ascension – go and wait in Jerusalem.
They weren’t really sure what they were waiting for –Yes, Jesus had said, and last week we looked at His saying, “I will send the Parakletos, the Comforter, the Intercessor, the Helper, the Advocate” – but they didn’t really know what they were waiting for. You feel that way as well sometimes, don't you, waiting....but not sure what for.

We know in retrospect that what they were waiting for was the birth of the Church.  That is what happened at Pentecost.  The Church was born – that is what we will celebrate next Sunday, Pentecost.  It is the birthday of the Church.  But in preparation for Pentecost, as part of our waiting, in a sense, I want to ask – what is the Church, what do you understand by “The Church”, what is this "thing" whose birthday we celebrate next week? I've touched on some of these ideas over the Easter season, but it's time now to draw them all together.

For many people, the church is something they “go to.”  So……many of us and many children today grow up with this idea, that Church is somewhere you go to in the same way you go to the shops.  Let me ask you again: “What is the Church?”  Some of us have children and grandchildren....they might ask: “What is the church Grandpa/ma?” How would you answer? For many, the church has become defined as a place where certain things happen, like preaching and communion, and Bible you might answer that it's a place where certain things happen.  Let me ask you again: “What is the Church?”

Again, in many people’s thinking, it is something you attend or belong to, much as you would a service club like Rotary or Lions with its programmes and activities.

What is the Church?  For too many, it is a “Place where……we go....or a place where certain things happen....or an organisation we belong to” 

But the Church for whose birth that little group was waiting in Jerusalem, the Church whose birthday we celebrate next week at Pentecost, the Church as it is described in the New Testament, was never a “place where” but rather it is a “people who are.”  
Not a “place where” but a “people who are…”

You and I sometimes “go to the doctor” don’t we.  But we can’t use the same language for the Church and I want to encourage you to never again say, “I’m going to church” (and children and grandchildren.)  You see, we go to the doctor, which is fine, but we are not the doctor, are we?  We all know that.  Now the problem with “going to church” is that we in fact ARE the Church.  It is not possible for you to go to it because you are it.  Yes, we go to worship, but we cannot with integrity “Go” to Church.

The Church is not “a place where” but a “people who are” and on Thursday we celebrated that we are a people who are the place where heaven and earth come together, where heaven and earth intersect. The Kingdom of God is now within us, said Jesus. Jesus sees people living the eternal kingdom way now in a fallen, sin-wrecked world that is in desperate need of hope and redemption.

Think of the street where you live – You are the church there.
Think of the place where you work – You are the church there.
Think of the place where you play sport – You are the church there.
Think of the pub or club you go to – You are the church there.
Jesus actually envisions a new kind of humanity (we looked at that on Thursday), a kingdom of God society.

What the disciples, the women, Mary and Jesus’ brothers were waiting for was the birth of a people who would be Christ’s presence and witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Alberton and to the ends of the earth.

The Church is God’s instrument through which the Holy Spirit moves and through which God expresses His love to the world – and the Church is you and me, so let me say that last sentence this way – You and I are God’s instrument through which the Holy Spirit moves and it is through you and me that God wants to express His love for the world, the people around us.  

Jesus’ last words to that little group were a call to be such witnesses after they had waited for and then received the Holy Spirit.  They are His call, His command, the plea of His heart to you and to me …… to be witnesses, filled with the Holy Spirit, who we now don't have to wait for,....witnesses in both word and deed as He has taught and shown.

This is the central task of the church, which is……the people of God, but it can only be accomplished with power from the Holy Spirit which is what they were waiting for, but what you and I just need to ask for, and then use.  
We are the Church……Let us be the Church.

Prayer and Hymn for Ascension Sunday

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son
Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to
strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior
Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Hail the day that sees Him rise, Alleluia!
To His throne above the skies, Alleluia!
Christ, awhile to mortals given, Alleluia!
Reascends His native heaven, Alleluia!

There the glorious triumph waits, Alleluia!
Lift your heads, eternal gates, Alleluia!
Christ hath conquered death and sin, Alleluia!
Take the King of glory in, Alleluia!

Circled round with angel powers, Alleluia!
Their triumphant Lord, and ours, Alleluia!
Conqueror over death and sin, Alleluia!
“Take the King of glory in! Alleluia!”

Him though highest Heav’n receives, Alleluia!
Still He loves the earth He leaves, Alleluia!
Though returning to His throne, Alleluia!
Still He calls mankind His own, Alleluia!

See! He lifts His hands above, Alleluia!
See! He shows the prints of love, Alleluia!
Hark! His gracious lips bestow, Alleluia!
Blessings on His church below, Alleluia!

Still for us His death He pleads, Alleluia!
Prevalent He intercedes, Alleluia!
Near Himself prepares our place, Alleluia!
Harbinger of human race, Alleluia!

Master, (will we ever say), Alleluia!
Taken from our head to day, Alleluia!
See Thy faithful servants, see, Alleluia!
Ever gazing up to Thee, Alleluia!

Grant, though parted from our sight, Alleluia!
Far above yon azure height, Alleluia!
Grant our hearts may thither rise, Alleluia!
Seeking Thee beyond the skies, Alleluia!

Ever upward let us move, Alleluia!
Wafted on the wings of love, Alleluia!
Looking when our Lord shall come, Alleluia!
Longing, gasping after home, Alleluia!

There we shall with Thee remain, Alleluia!
Partners of Thy endless reign, Alleluia!
There Thy face unclouded see, Alleluia!
Find our heaven of heavens in Thee, Alleluia!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wesley's Journal Entries for the days following 24th May

Thursday, May 25. The moment I awaked, ‘Jesus, Master,’ was in my heart and in my mouth; and I found all my strength lay in keeping my eye fixed upon him, and my soul waiting on him continually. Being again in St. Paul’s in the afternoon, I could taste the good word of God in the anthem, which began, ‘My song shall be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord: with my mouth will I ever be showing forth thy truth from one generation to another.’ Yet the enemy injected a fear, ‘If thou dost believe, why is there not a more sensible change?’ I answered (yet not I), ‘That I know not. But this I know, I have now peace with God, and I sin not today, and Jesus my Master has forbid me to take thought for the morrow.’
 ‘But is not any sort of fear’, continued the tempter, ‘a proof that thou dost not believe?’ I desired my Master to answer for me, and opened his book upon those words of St. Paul, ‘Without were fightings, within were fears.’ Then inferred I, well may fears be within me; but I must go on, and tread them under my feet.

Friday, May 26. My soul continued in peace, but yet in heaviness, because of manifold temptations. I asked Mr. Töltschig the Moravian what to do. He said, You must not fight with them as you did before, but flee from them the moment they appear, and take shelter in the wounds of Jesus. The same I learned also from the afternoon anthem, which was, ‘My soul truly waiteth still upon God; for of him cometh my salvation. He verily is my strength and my salvation; he is my defence, so that I shall not greatly fall. [. . .] O put your trust in him always, ye people; pour out your hearts before him, for God is our hope.’

Sat. 27. Believing one reason of my want of joy was want of time for prayer, I resolved to do no business till I went to church in the morning, but to continue pouring out my heart before him. And this day my spirit was enlarged; so that though I was now also assaulted by many temptations, I was more than conqueror, gaining more power thereby to trust and to rejoice in God my Saviour.

Sun. 28. I waked in peace, but not in joy. In the same even quiet state I was till the evening, when I was roughly attacked in a large company as an enthusiast, a seducer, and a setter-forth of new doctrines. By the blessing of God I was not moved to anger, but after a calm and short reply went away, though not with so tender a concern as was due to those who were seeking death in the error of their life.
This day I preached in the morning at St. George’s, Bloomsbury, on ‘This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith’, and in the afternoon at the chapel in Long Acre, on God’s justifying the ungodly—the last time (I understand) I am to preach at either. ‘Not as I will, but as thou wilt’!

Mon. 29. I set out for Dummer with Mr. Wolf, one of the first-fruits of Peter Böhler’s ministry in England. I was much strengthened by the grace of God in him: yet was his state so far above mine that I was often tempted to doubt whether we had one faith. But, without much reasoning about it, I held here: ‘Though his be strong and mine weak, yet that God hath given some degree of faith even to me I know by its fruits. For I have constant peace, not one uneasy thought. And I have freedom from sin, not one unholy desire.’
Yet on Wednesday did I grieve the Spirit of God, not only by not ‘watching unto prayer’, but likewise by speaking with sharpness instead of tender love, of one that was not sound in the faith. Immediately God hid his face and I was troubled; and in this heaviness I continued till the next morning, June 1, when it pleased God, while I was exhorting another, to give comfort to my soul, and (after I had spent some time in prayer) to direct me to those gracious words, ‘Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.[. . .] Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for he is faithful that promised), and let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works.’

Saturday, June 3. I was so strongly assaulted by one of my old enemies that I had scarce strength to open my lips, or even to look up for help. But after I had prayed, faintly, as I could, the temptation vanished away.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ascension Day: He Ascended into Heaven

It is forty days since we met here early, early in the morning, or perhaps at 08:30am or at 06:30pm and celebrated Easter 2014.  And that was 47 days after we met here on the 5th March on Ash Wednesday.  We’ve journeyed through 40 days of Lent, 7 days of Holy Week and 40 days of Easter.

The Ascension is explicitly described only in Luke, but is hinted at in Mark and John, and Matthew draws out its meaning in another way.  All of them of course, describe the Resurrection, again each in their own unique way. Just as we can't discuss Resurrection without Good Friday, so too we can't discuss Ascension without Resurrection.

The Resurrection, in short, is presented by the evangelists not as a “happy ending” after an increasingly sad and gloomy tale, but rather as the event that demonstrated that Jesus’ execution really had dealt the death blow to the dark forces that had stood in the way of God’s new world, God’s Kingdom of powerful creative and restorative love, arriving “on Earth as in Heaven.”

The Resurrection declared that the cross was a victory, not a defeat.  It therefore announces that God has indeed become King on Earth as in Heaven. 

To understand the Ascension requires that we recall what I said a few weeks ago about Israel’s Temple theology.  The Temple was the intersection between Heaven and Earth.  To meet with God, you went to the Temple.

Now, however, the place where Heaven and Earth meet is a person, Jesus Himself, who is equally at home in either or both of the twin halves of God’s good creation....heaven and earth.

Luke’s Ascension story is that Heaven and Earth are now joined in the person – in the risen body- of Jesus Himself.

The One who sits in Heaven is the One who rules on earth. With the authority of a king, He therefore sends out His followers, equipped by His own Spirit. (On Ascension Sunday we will notice that if Ascension locates a part of “Earth” in “Heaven”, Pentecost sends the breath of Heaven to Earth.)  But, as I was saying, the one who sits in heaven sends us out to celebrate His sovereignty over the world and to make it a reality through the founding of communities rescued by His love, renewed by His power and loyal to His Name.

Jesus’ followers, equipped with His Spirit, are to become in themselves, individually and together, little walking temples, rescued ourselves from sin through Jesus’ death, and with the living presence of God going with us and in us.

With His Ascension, Jesus has come to His rightful place, at the right hand of the Father, our Father, claiming the allegiance of every creature in Heaven, on Earth and under the Earth.  But He has come to that place and maintains it by, and only by, His humility and self-giving love.

So when the disciples, at the start of Acts, ask Jesus whether this  is the time for Him to “restore the Kingdom to Israel” His answer is not, as we might think as we read it, a “no”……it is a “Yes”…but as so often with Jesus and His Kingdom it is a “yes but.”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But 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.”

And that witness, is not a matter of “telling people about your new religious experience” of or informing them that there is now a new possibility of a much better outer-worldly destiny (Heaven) than anything our bleak world has to offer…but you just have to wait until you die before you can get there.  No!  The “witness” of Jesus’ followers is the message that there is now another King, Jesus (Acts 17:7   "They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”), and He is the true Temple (John 2:19    Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”) .  He is ruling the world as the one who was crucified.  His subjects, servants, followers (in other words, us) are the fuller version of the same thing, so that the dwelling of the living God is now spreading increasingly across and around the world.

In Luke 17:21, Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God and said people won't say, “Here it is” or “There it is” because the Kingdom of God is within you.

And so at His Ascension the disciples ask, “Are you going to restore the Kingdom” and His answer seems to say no, but it actually says, “Yes, I am……but that Kingdom is now in you.  Where you are……there the Kingdom is.” And He says that to you and to me.

This was really nothing new to the disciples, because Jesus had often said to them – when you go somewhere tell people that the Kingdom of God has come near.  In Luke 10 when Jesus sent out 72 of the disciples, He said to them if you are welcomed there, eat and drink and teach and heal.  But if you are not welcomed, go into the streets and say “even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you.  Yet be sure of this: The Kingdom of God has come near.  It will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”

The disciples (remember there were at least 500 of them) had heard it before, but still on Ascension Day they were hoping for something else.........
Are you going to restore the Kingdom – and Jesus, on his day of Ascension, leaves them and you and me with this answer from the gospels: The Kingdom of God is in you.  You will be my witnesses to the presence of this Kingdom, and it will spread from Jerusalem across and around the world. And this Kingdom will spread and grow, not by coercive or violent power, the way of the Caesars/rulers of the world, but by the rule of love, the way of Jesus and his disciples. That was the message of the first Ascension Day....that is the message of this Ascension Day. And just as the disciples discovered that they were the means by which the LORD was restoring the Kingdom that they longed to see restored, so on this Ascension day hopefully we see that we are the means by which the LORD is restoring the Kingdom that we longed to see restored, that we pray for whenever we pray Your kingdom come.

With the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, He has shown us a new way to be human.

The ascended and enthroned Jesus invites/commands us to be fully human as He was, to be the place where Heaven and Earth meet in Alberton (or wherever we are) and therefore to be the place where God’s Kingdom comes and God’s will is done.

Let us pray
This sermon was inspired
by  Tom Wright's
How God became King

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Prayer for Ascension Day

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.[from Book of Common Prayer]

Prayer for Sixth Week of Easter

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ Our Passover: A prayer for each day of the Easter Season
based on 1 Cor. 5:7-8; Rom. 6:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:20-22

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; *
therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, *
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; *
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; *
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin, *
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead, *
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since by a man came death, *
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, *
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Prayers for Synod

Our theme for Synod is:
Being One : Practising Movement.

From our Bishop, Jonathan Anderson: [This theme] reflects the conviction that, both personally and collectively, we become by being and doing. This theme also links with the Presiding Bishop’s call to the Connexion through which we are called to be: “Together a Transforming Discipleship Movement”. In preparation for Synod representatives are encouraged to reflect on their identity as Disciples of Christ (your being), and where and how we should be moving. Come prepared to receive and give that we may go back to our people more ready and equipped to lead them in Godly ways.

Synod Prayers

Lord, we ask You to inspire all members of the Highveld and Swaziland District to participate in our Synod with passion, imagination and love.
Grant us the knowledge to identify the issues which will enliven our faith, the tolerance to hear and embrace different views, the wisdom to resolve issues and formulate actions in accordance with Your Holy Will and the courage to accept the changes which will enrich our lives.
Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us as we joyfully involve ourselves in this unique opportunity to lay the foundations of the future direction for our District.
May the sharing of the skills and experiences of our people inspire the creation of plans which will support our congregations, ignite our enthusiasm and strengthen our faith.
We ask this through Christ, our Lord.

Gathered in Your Name, O God, we ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit on the Highveld and Swaziland District.
United by the death and resurrection of Your Son, You call us to be your people; to be a sign and witness to the world.
Bless our Synod.  May we be evangelisers of Word and Sacrament co-operating with Your Grace to fulfill the longings of the human heart.

Eternal Father, we gather as Your people, thankful that You have planted us in the Highveld and Swaziland District.  Please renew us all in Your Holy Spirit that we may become more diligent disciples of Your Son, Jesus and more zealous witnesses to Your love.
Make us aware of the gifts and talents You have given, and how You desire them to be used to build Your Kingdom.  We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

These beautiful prayers were sourced from here and adapted by Cedric, DentalMethodist.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Prayer for Fifth Week of Easter

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ Our Passover: A prayer for each day of the Easter Season
based on 1 Cor. 5:7-8; Rom. 6:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:20-22

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; *
therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, *
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; *
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; *
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin, *
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead, *
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since by a man came death, *
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, *
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Easter 5: REALLY...Ask for anything in Your name and You'll do it?

The fifth Sunday of Easter has us looking at John 14:1–14 which is a whole gold mine full of precious nuggets from the very lips of Jesus.

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” 

Here we have one of the 365 times that this “command” appears in the Scriptures.  Some translations have, “Do not be afraid”, others, “Fear not.”  Someone (Philip Yancey) has said it appears one time for each day of the year, because each day we are faced with the temptation to fear.

And Jesus here seems to give an antidote to fear, which is believe in God and believe also in Jesus – belief/faith can drive out all fear.

But..... I don’t want to focus on that nugget today. 

My Father’s house has many rooms 

Older translations have, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.
There are not many verses in Scripture where I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard the verse.  This is one of was about 2pm on a Friday afternoon in May 1971, I was 11 years old and we were at our family cemetery on Bethany Farm on the banks of the Tugela River at my Grandmother’s funeral.
The minister read this reading and, standing at the graveside, I heard the words, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” and it just blew my mind – a house......with mansions in fact with many mansions in it.  That was my first real taste of the mystery that is our God and, as you can see, I remember it vividly.

But .....I don’t want to focus on that nugget today. 

…..if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 

It was only years later that I really began to understand what Jesus was really saying with these words.  They are part of the engagement liturgy in Judaism at the time of Jesus.  Once the two fathers had negotiated the marriage contract, the son (groom) would say to his bride-to-be: “Now I’m going back to my father’s house.  My father’s house has many rooms, and I’m going to prepare a place for you, I’m going to add a few more rooms to our already extended family home, and when I've got it ready I will come back and get you, so that where I am, you can be also.”  And he would go back to his father’s house, and earn money (it could take until after the harvest or a few harvests) and build and when it was ready he would go to the bride’s village, and the marriage would take place and then he would take her to be with him.

It’s a beautiful picture of the relationship between you ...... and Jesus, but...... I don’t want to focus on that nugget today. 

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life." 

There are at least 3 full sermons in these few words.  Last week, we looked a little at “the life” that Jesus is, in us and for might remember “cup runneth over life, abundant life, life to the full” is the life that is ours in Christ.

But.....I don’t want to mine these nuggets today either. 

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. just amazing.  Believers (you and I) will do the works I have been doing says Jesus!!!???  Perhaps we need to stop right here and confess and repent......and we would, but I don’t want to mine this nugget either today. 
In fact, Jesus goes on: “They (you and I) will do even greater things than the things I have done.”  Really? you think Jesus meant this?

But,as I’ve said, I don’t want to mine this particular part of the gold mine which is John 14......but I encourage you to do some mining at home this week.’s my text for this Sunday, here’s the nugget I do want to lift up and hold before you in all its raw beauty today: 

 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

That is......pure gold.

That is ......perfect diamond.

That is......the pearl of great value that Jesus says you’ll sell everything for just to possess it.

After Jesus has gone to the Father (and that is the age we now live in) those who have faith in Him will be able to ask for anything from Jesus and in His Name.  Not only will believers receive what they ask for, they will also be able to do the same or even greater things than Jesus did, so that the Father will be glorified by what believers do.

But we must notice that our privilege of asking for anything is limited by the twice repeated qualification: “in my name.”  Asking for something in another person’s name assumes that there is a close relationship between the one asking and the one in whose name it is asked.  It also assumes that the thing asked for will be used to further the interests of the one whose name is used to get it.

Jesus’ words “I will do it” are a promise that believers will receive whatever they ask in this way.

This is the truth of the matter regarding our prayers in Jesus name, spoken by the One who a little earlier has said: “I am the way, THE TRUTH and the life.

Friends, this truth can only change the way we pray, which in turn can only change the way we feel when we have prayed in this way.

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

I want to close with a story that highlights this truth.

In that cemetery where I first heard, “In my father’s house are many mansions” is buried my great, great grandmother, Caroline Nielson, with her husband Daniel.  They left Norway and arrived in Durban in 1860 to work in the Norwegian Mission in Zululand.  Their first child, a daughter, they named Sofia.  Their second......Katrine.
Caroline records in her diary that they longed for a son, for no reason other than, in an age where only men could become ministers or missionaries, they longed to have a son to carry on the work of preaching the Gospel.  And she prayed, and she prayed, no doubt in Jesus’ name and clinging to the promise in our text verse for today.  
And their third child arrived, and they called her Dina Paulina.
And she prayed and she prayed in Jesus' name for a son and their fourth child arrived and they named her Lina (she became my great grandmother.)
And she prayed and she prayed in Jesus' name for a son and their fifth child arrived and they named her Jacobina.
And she prayed and she prayed in Jesus' name for a son and their sixth child arrived and they named her Ingeborg.
And she prayed and she prayed in Jesus' name for a son  and their seventh child arrived and they named her Joakima.
And she prayed and she prayed in Jesus' name for a son and their eighth child arrived and they named her Malla.
And she prayed and she prayed in Jesus' name for a son and their ninth child arrived and they named her Keta.
And she prayed and she prayed  in Jesus' name for a son and their tenth child arrived and they named her Karen.

No sons to carry on the mission work of preaching the gospel!

On their tombstone is written the faith by which they lived and died:
God is alive
    Jesus is my all
 I am nothing

Were her prayers in Jesus' name answered?

Her desire was for sons who would preach the Gospel and mission the world.......but no sons were given here......10 daughters, 7 of whom survived childhood and were married.  7 very fertile daughters who married either farmers or missionaries.

This is what her family tree looked like in 1960, 100 years after their arrival as missionaries in Africa......I was the last twig to be added as this tree was drawn just after my birth.  And in that tree were 17 ordained ministers and missionaries and several more local preachers, just among her grandchildren.  Now, 54 years on, the number of ordained men and, praise God, women, in her direct line numbers over 70 – and how many local  preachers (like my grandfather Sam and my own son Stuart) – nobody knows.

Was her faithful prayer in the name of Jesus answered? Did God give her sons to carry on the work?
Does any prayer, properly prayed in Jesus' name go unanswered?

Take heart and hear the Good News today:

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Easter 4: Life in the Flock of the Good Shepherd

The fourth Sunday of Easter this year is Mother’s Day and also Good Shepherd Sunday.  The Psalm for this Sunday is Psalm 23 and the Gospel reading is John 10 where Jesus tells us He is the Good Shepherd.

All of us have a mother (there is no other way to be born into this world) and all of us have a Good Shepherd (there is no other way to be born again, into the new world that God is creating right now).  I was blessed to have a Mom who was also a good shepherd......but I know that many don’t have “good shepherd” Moms.  I would hope that all Moms (Dads, it’s our turn next month)……in fact that all parents long to be “good shepherd” parents.  But it’s Mom’s Day, so I'm focusing on Moms, and I am going to read Psalm 23 but I’ll substitute “My Mom” (and invite you to substitute your Mom) for “the Lord” and with some poetic license encourage us to let this be our Prayer of Thanksgiving today for our Moms, our Prayer of Intercession for ourselves as parents, perhaps even let it lead us to confession if convicted by the Spirit that we haven’t been the Moms (parents) we should be:

My Mom is (perhaps was, or tried to be) my Shepherd, she tries her best to provide for me so that I have everything I need.
She makes me lie down and tucks me in, in green pastures.
She leads me beside quiet waters.
She refreshes my soul.
She guides me along the right paths, for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I need not be afraid,
Because she is (somehow always) with me;
Her presence……comforts me.
She prepares a feast for me, especially when I've had a hard time from my enemies;
She anoints my head with the oil of her love.
Her goodness and love follow me (in the form of her hopes and prayers for me) all the days of my life
And I will dwell in her heart forever.

I hope that none of you have found this blasphemous or disrespectful to the Word of God and if I have offended you by my adaptation of the Word……please forgive me.

Some Moms (parents) are good shepherds of the flocks entrusted to them, some aren't. Thank God if yours was or is...forgive if yours wasn't or isn't.

It was like this in Israel with the shepherds – the prophets, priests and kings – that God called to care for His flock – some were good, some were bad.  It was like this at the time of Jesus; the shepherds – the Temple priests, the scribes, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law – that God called to care for His flock – some were good, some were bad.  It has been like this through the history of the Church up to the present day; the shepherds – popes, priests, bishops, ministers, preachers – some are good, some are bad.

And throughout the Scriptures, but especially Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea; the promise of a Good Shepherd is held before the people, and judgement on bad shepherds is threatened and promised.

Jeremiah 23 gives a good description of bad shepherds – under them the sheep are scattered.
               “Woe to you shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture.”
          “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away……I will
              bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done.”

And later in Ezekiel 34, the promise:
   “I will place over them one shepherd” 
and then …… Jesus speaks (and we don’t have time, but chapter 9 of John tells us why Jesus chose this moment) and says:

“I am the Good Shepherd……and I am also the gate to the sheep pen.  “Whoever enters by me will be saved; they will come in and go out.”

Coming in and going out was a Jewish idiom: to be able to come and go out was the Jewish way of describing a life that is absolutely secure and safe.  When a person can go in and out without fear, it means that the kingdom is at peace; there is safety and security, abundance and blessing.  Now, much as our Moms (and Dads) wish this for us, and try and provide this for us – they can’t, can they?

But hear this: 
Jesus can and does……here and now!

Whoever enters by me will be saved; they will come in and go out.”

            “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”

Some translations say abundant life.  The original word is περισσός “perissos” which means “exceedingly superior.”  
Cup runneth over life is God’s Promise to you when the Lord is your Shepherd.

That’s God’s promise here and now not sometime in the future ......this is Life in the Flock of the Good Shepherd now……not when you’re a better person……not when you die…….but here and now:....Abundant life to the full.

How’s your life?

I've got four glasses here.  One is empty, one is half (you can decide if it’s half full or half empty), one is full to the brim, and there’s this one which I’m pouring into and it’s overflowing.

Which one describes your life today?

“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.”
“I have come that you may have life, life in abundance.”

Sometimes our lives are not abundant/overflowing because we give too much freedom to the thief and we let him kill, steal and destroy.  

Sometimes we kill, steal and destroy ourselves without the help of the thief.  You all know people who..........perhaps stay in destructive relationships, destructive work situations, and rob themselves of the abundance God is pouring onto them, we sometimes stay in places that God has made it clear are killing us, which God wants the to leave – perhaps you’re in such a place – but we stay because we’re afraid of leaving, or, perhaps we feel better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know …… but one thing you do know if you're in such a place is that you’re drained……the situation is sucking you dry, no matter how much God pours.

Sometimes feel undeserving, unworthy and we hear the thief saying, “clean your act up first.”  Friends, this is our God (I will now pour water wastefully into a small glass).  Don't listen to the thief.
Our God lets His rain fall on good and bad alike.  Our God scatters seed NOT just on good soil, cleaned up soil…….NO!  He scatters seed, pours His grace on good and bad, on clean and dirty, on hard soil, on rocks, on shallow soil and on weedy soil.

He pours His grace on your and my hardness of heart, onto the shallowness of our belief, and into the very weediness of our sin.  That is the Gospel and the Gospel promise is, come to me and I will give you life……life in all its fullness.

Now this will mean a 100 different things for a 100 different people – as a symbol that we have or want to have this cup-overflowing life……I am going to stand here and pour, and I invite any who want to, to come forward, take a communion glass, let it overflow as I fill it, let God’s Grace wash over you as you drink it, and hear this, grasp this, believe this:

            “I have come that you may have life in all its fullness……now.”

How's your life?

Draw near in faith and may the cup which is your life overflow.