June - October 2016

John 1 v14-18

The sermon was about God's grace and mercy.  The definition of grace is God giving us what we do not deserve, and mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve.  God is a just God and must punish sin.  The Bible tells us that "the wages of sin is death", so God, in His great mercy, sent His only Son Jesus to die on the cross and take the punishment for our sins, thus visiting on Jesus the consequences of the world's sins.  Because of this, God gives us His grace, and gives us all the good things that we do not deserve because of our sins, but because of Jesus dying in our place, we can enter into the goodness of God.  An acronym of GRACE is God's Riches At Christ's Expense.

2Kings 5v1-15 & John 6v5-13

The first reading tells the story of the healing of Naaman, which came about because an unnamed Israelite girl, who had been captured by the Arameans and given to Naaman as a slave, told Naaman's wife, to whom she was a maid, that Elisha, God's prophet in Israel could heal Naaman of the leprosy that he had contracted.  She was only a slave, but is one of the "little people", who are mostly unnamed, in the Bible without whom some of the stories would never have happened.  She had compassion and passed on her faith in God's power to heal Naaman.

The second reading is the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with the five loaves and two small fish which a little boy had brought for his lunch.  Once again, we are not told the boy's name, but without his lunch being brought to Jesus by Andrew, the miracle would not have happened.  Another "little person" in the Bible.

This is like our lives.  We may say that we are too old, or not fit enough, or any number of other reasons why God would not be able to use us, but the Bible reminds us that it is through the "little people" that God works.  Our word of sympathy or encouragement to someone might be just what they need at the time, and may be used by God as a small seed of faith planted that comes to fruition years later in that person's life.

This reminds us of the church, which is made up of "little people" who have committed their lives to the Lord and want to serve Him where he has placed them.  We received two new members into membership at the service.  As Baptists, we know that church membership is important because we believe that it is through the prayers and discussions at a meeting of Church Members that God reveals His will for that church.  Each Baptist Church is independent, although being members of the Baptist Union (BU) and the South Eastern Baptist Association (SEBA) we can obtain advice and guidance.  We are financially independent of both these bodies.  Church membership is a covenant relationship of each member to the other and to the church.  Members declare that they agree with and accept the beliefs and principles of that church and that they will play their part in the mission and work of the church. They also declare that they will live their lives in accordance with the beliefs of the church and seek to witness to their faith.  It is a great privilege of church membership that you are used by God as a channel for God to reveal His will for that church, and one which we should not take lightly.

Psalm 103 & Mark 4v1-20, 35-41

Jesus starts off the day by telling the parable of the sower.  This is about how the word of God is received by those who hear it.  Are they stony ground and reject it, receive it eagerly and then weeds in the form of distractions make them forget it or are they those who are good soil and the gospel grows and bears fruit within their lives?  We need to ask ourselves which type of soil we are for the gospel.

 

After this busy day of teaching and probably healing, Jesus suggests that he and his disciples cross the lake to find somewhere quiet by themselves.  The Sea of Galilee is surrounded by hills which send currents of air across it that quite often create storms and rough seas.  The disciples were experienced fishermen, used to such storms, but they feared they would drown when a storm blew up.  Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat.  This shows us his humanity, in that he got tired after a long day.  The disciples asked him "do you not care that we might drown?"

We all experience storms in our lives and we can be honest with God and cry out asking if he cares for our situation.  Of course we should know that he always cares about us and is with us in our troubles.  Even when it feels as though God is not there and doesn't care, he is close to us and cares very much about us.  Call out to Jesus when you need him - he will respond.

 

Psalm 103 & Mark 4v1-20, 35-41

Jesus starts off the day by telling the parable of the sower.  This is about how the word of God is received by those who hear it.  Are they stony ground and reject it, receive it eagerly and then weeds in the form of distractions make them forget it or are they those who are good soil and the gospel grows and bears fruit within their lives?  We need to ask ourselves which type of soil we are for the gospel.

 

After this busy day of teaching and probably healing, Jesus suggests that he and his disciples cross the lake to find somewhere quiet by themselves.  The Sea of Galilee is surrounded by hills which send currents of air across it that quite often create storms and rough seas.  The disciples were experienced fishermen, used to such storms, but they feared they would drown when a storm blew up.  Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat.  This shows us his humanity, in that he got tired after a long day.  The disciples asked him "do you not care that we might drown?"

We all experience storms in our lives and we can be honest with God and cry out asking if he cares for our situation.  Of course we should know that he always cares about us and is with us in our troubles.  Even when it feels as though God is not there and doesn't care, he is close to us and cares very much about us.  Call out to Jesus when you need him - he will respond.

John13v31-38 & Romans 5v1-5

In his letters, Paul frequently refers to the triad of faith, hope and love.  This may have been part of a slogan or a hymn in the early church, to help people to remember the gospel message before the New Testament was written down.  1Thessalonians was, chronologically, the first letter that Paul wrote (around 51AD).  He gave the Thessalonians instructions and encouragement in their new faith.  In this, love and hope are supported by the foundation of faith.  Although Paul taught that salvation comes through faith, by the grace of the Lord and cannot be earned, he did point out that faith will find its expression in work.  As Christians, we are all called to work to further God's kingdom.  It is a labour that is prompted by love.  In the Greek, the word for labour means not just work, but hard toil.  The love that we are called to exercise is "agape" love - love given freely and in a self-sacrificing way; the same kind of love that was and is shown to us by the Lord Jesus.  Our endurance in this work is inspired by hope - the hope we have that ultimately God will be glorified when the Lord Jesus returns to earth.

If Paul were writing about our church today, would he have things to celebrate, and give thanks because of our faithfulness?  Romans 5v2 tells us that it is through Jesus that we have access to God's grace.  God is a holy God and we need someone who will introduce us to him, and it is Jesus who can usher us into God's presence.  We have a sure and certain hope that we are safe in God's hands for eternity.  Our hope in this not an illusion, for the love of  God is sure for eternity.  The well-known chapter in 1Corinthians - chapter 13 ends with the words "and now these three remain: faith hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love." 

1John 4v8 tells us that God is love and he has communicated his love to us by sending the Lord Jesus.  Jesus died for us, while we were still sinners, because of his great love for us.  In John 13, Jesus tells his disciples, and by extension, all Christians, that we should love one another, because that is how people will know that we are Christians.  So love should be a distinguishing feature of all Christians.  Those outside the church can't see our faith or our hope, but they can see our love. 

Psalm 34v1-18 & 2Corinthians 12v1-10

We are used these days to having our wants satisfied immediately.  Some churches give out the message that if you have enough faith, you can have what you want, be successful, healthy and have nothing to fear in life.  That is not what the Bible says. God's primary purpose for us is to make us holy, and experience peace and joy in his presence.  After seeing a vision of paradise in heaven, Paul is given a "thorn in his flesh" to keep him from becoming conceited.  When God did not remove this thorn, despite Paul's prayers, God told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

We all have times in our lives when we feel we are too ill, weak, old or helpless to be of any use to God, but it is at these times that we can be at our strongest by totally depending on God for strength.  God often has a plan for our lives that includes suffering, and it is at these times that he sometimes uses us to help others who are struggling, by passing on the comfort we have been given by Him (2Corinthians 1v3).  At such times we can empathise with others because of our own struggles.  Think of someone like, say Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralysed in a diving accident.  God did not heal her but used her magnificently to found a ministry to disabled people that has helped hundreds.

We have to ask ourselves whether our lives are all about being physically well and sleek, or about being Christ-like. We have to learn that God's love for us and for all people has little or nothing to do with what we are, but who God is, and who we are in relationship to Him. What is important in life is that God's will be done in the circumstances of what we are going through, bearing pain and suffering, so that we serve God in and through it.  Maybe we need to stop and ask ourselves what God is trying to teach us through whatever circumstances we are going through. Dealing with our difficulties with patience and courage and trust can be a very powerful witness to our faith; in fact probably more powerful than living an ordinary life with no struggles.

It can be hard for independent people to have to ask others for help, and to accept it graciously.  It is said that it is more blessed to give than to receive - maybe when we receive help, we are blessing the person who is giving it to us, and that might make us stop and think about our reaction when help is offered.  

We are all totally dependent on Jesus for our salvation.  It is not something that we can earn for ourselves, but only by coming to the Lord humbly and asking for forgiveness.  Having done this, total dependence on Jesus is a continuing thing throughout our lives because of the Holy Spirit indwelling us.  

When you are feeling down and useless, remember the verse in Philippians 4 "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."(v13)  When we look to the Lord Jesus in faith and lean on His strength, we can be used by Him in ways that we might never be able to imagine.

Jonah 2

The sermon was about choices and decisions.  Jonah's first choice when God told him to go to Ninevah was whether to obey and go or stay where he was.  In fact, what he actually did was to run away in the opposite direction, thus removing himself (he thought) from the problem.  This is something we often do in our lives when faced with a decision; instead of facing up to the decision, we remove ourselves from the problem, because a lot of the time our emotions drive our decisions.  Jonah was obviously at peace with his decision, because he was asleep in the boat when the storm was raging.

Luke 9v51-62

The words "Follow me" occur 3 times in the passage.  In v57, a man tells Jesus "I will follow you wherever you go."  Jesus' response to him that "foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." is really asking the man if he has considered what following Him would really cost.  We are not told whether the man still followed Jesus.  In v 59, Jesus tells another man to "Follow me", but this man says he wants to bury his father first.  There is no indication that the man's father has just died; rather that he wanted to put off following Jesus until after his father had died.  It seems that Jesus saw some potential in this man, that prompted him to ask him to follow.  Jesus sees the potential in each of us too for serving and following him.

On the last occasion (v61), a man tells Jesus that he will follow him, but that he first wants to go back and say goodbye to his family.  This man's family was coming between him and serving God.  From these examples, it might seem that Jesus was trying to put people off of following Him, but it is really that He wants those who follow Him to be truly committed to Him and to realise exactly what this commitment entails.

Jesus' 12 disciples (the apostles) gave up everything immediately Jesus called them, and followed Him.  This doesn't necessarily mean that everyone who follows Jesus has to give up everything, but that we need to make sure that nothing is coming between us and Jesus.  We need to change our environment and our outlook on life.  We need to show love and understanding to those in society who are worst off.  We need to forgive those who ridicule us for our faith, and not, like the disciples, want to destroy them.

Luke 24v13-19&28-32 & Ephesians 4v22-32

Kindness is a Christian virtue that we should strive hard to attain.  It means going beyond compassion to treat people with respect.  What would our Christian life be like if God thought unkind thoughts about us?  No doubt we would feel it was hard to trust God.  So how do we feel when people are like that to us?  Many Christians and churches seem to forget that kindness is a quality of life that we should show to everyone.

In the passage from Luke 24, Jesus meets the disciples in their need, and instead of berating them for their lack of faith in what He had told them before His crucifixion, he gently explains the Scriptures to them that pointed to His death and resurrection.

Many people think that they are free these days when they follow their own selfish desires, and live their own lives, not caring about others.  But in fact they are slaves to their own desires.  As Christians, we should be guided by the indwelling Holy Spirit, and live our lives accordingly.  We should be prepared to speak the truth to people, but in a loving way.

We need to deal with any issues of anger in our lives, and be careful that our anger does not lead us to sin.  There is a place for righteous anger, when there is injustice and unfairness in the world, but only if it leads to doing something about it.  Jesus was angry when He went into the Temple and found all the money changers and traders there, saying that His Father's house should be a place of worship.  We need to control our tongue.  If used wisely and kindly, our words can bring God's grace and love to others, but if not, they can give the lie to the fact that we have the Holy Spirit in us.

Psalm 95

The Bible contains Psalms covering a wide range of subjects, 73 of which are attributed to David.  The experiences they reflect are those that are common to humanity both when they were written and now.  Verses 1-7 of this Psalm are an invitation to praise and worship God.  Verses 8-11 remind us that God expects obedience from His people. Some of the Psalms were written to be sung as people went in procession to worship God.  They remind us that we should come to God with thanksgiving and joy.  This is not the sort of joy that is the happiness engendered by a party or a holiday, but a deep feeling of peace and contentment that is with us in all circumstances.

This Psalm reminds us that our God is a great God, and we need to reach out and up to God in awe of His majesty, remembering that although He is our loving Heavenly Father, He is also the creator of everything.  Verse 7 uses the imagery of God as the Shepherd of us as His flock.  Both the Lord's Prayer and the most well-known of all the Psalms, Psalm 23  contain this imagery too.  As a shepherd knows his sheep intimately, we need to have a close personal relationship with God our Father and get to know HIm by spending time with Him.

The Psalms also point to Jesus, and have been used over the years by hundreds of writers of hymns as the basis of their hymns.  We remember our Lord Jesus' sacrifice for us on the cross when we gather around the Communion table, and we know that He is right there with us.

Psalm 73v1-17 & Acts 12v1-11

We often want to ask the question when something particularly bad happens - "Where is God in all this?"  The passage in Acts 12 tells us that James was put to death by the sword, and then goes on to tell of the miraculous freeing of Peter from prison by an angel.  Have we ever stopped to think about why the simple statement about James was included in the Bible?  We have to remember that there are times when God is at work in the world and in our lives, but we can't see it.  Romans 8v28 tells us that whatever we are going through, God can use it for His good.  It is however so much easier to believe God is at work when things are going right for us.

 

Isaiah 55v8&9 tells us that God is at work on a different level from us, so much so that we would not understand.  Proverbs 3v5 tells us to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."  There are times in our lives, and in what is happening in the world, when things just don't make sense to us, but in Psalm 46v1, we are told that "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble."  God guarantees that He will be with us; it is one of the many promises made in His word, the Bible, that we can absolutely rely on.  The Psalmist in Psalm 73 saw that the wicked were prospering, and he envied them, but then he said, "Surely God is good....to those who are pure in heart." (v1).

Hebrews 11 sets out many people in the Bible who were known for their faith.  Some of them were rescued, and some of them perished, but they all held on to their faith in God.  God wants us to hold on tight to Him and trust Him, because He sees the bigger picture and knows what is best for us.  We are reminded in Ephesians 6v12 that our struggle is against the dark forces of the Devil who wants to tempt us away from trusting in God.  But Hebrews 10v35-36 tells us "So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised."  God has promised us eternal life with Him if we hold onto this promise and trust our whole lives to Him.  He is there with us even through the darkest times in our lives.

Matthew 6v5-14 & 7v7-12

Prayer is seen as a good thing to do.  Prayer is responding to God, and you do not always have to use words. (Romans 8 v26 & 27). You can pray at any time, anywhere and know that God is always listening.  It does not depend on using long words or elaborate language.  It should be as simple as breathing, but there has to be an element of faith.

But there are some questions that need answering.  What if there is unconfessed sin in our lives?  We need to be in a right relationship with God and this means that we need to confess our sins to God.  (Psalm 51 is an example of David's prayer for forgiveness.)  We should not pray like the tax collector in Luke 18v10-14, "I thank Thee that I am not like other sinners", but like the tax collector - "God be merciful to me a sinner."

What if someone prays a prayer that we disagree with?  The simple answer is that we do not say Amen at the end, as Amen signifies us saying "so be it" or that we agree with what was said.

Some people ask why we need to pray if God already knows everything about us and knows what we are going to pray for?  God knows what is best for us, but He likes us to ask Him to supply our needs.  It is a good thing to humble ourselves before the Lord as we ask.

What do we do about unanswered prayer?  What we call unanswered prayer is a prayer that we have prayed to which God has answered "wait".  We must remember that God will answer our prayers in His own way and in His own time.  Sometimes the answer is "yes", sometimes "no", and sometimes "wait".  We must be faithful in prayer.

John 4 v4-38

The sermon took the form of a reflection on the story of Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, written from the woman's point of view.  A summary would not be appropriate here.  For the full text of the reflection, click here.

Ephesians 6v10-20

 

The most important strength we have as Christians is to be strong in the Lord.  We are fighting a spiritual battle against Satan and all his powers in the world.  When we give into temptation, it is because the Devil has weakened us.  Solomon was the wisest man ever; Samson was the strongest man and David was gifted with devotion to God, but despite their strengths, all these three men fell prey to temptation.  Solomon married many foreign women who brought their gods with them; Samson couldn't resist Delilah and lost his strength and David gave in to lust, adultery and murder to get Bathsheba.

In order for us to fight against the wiles of the Devil, we need to put on the full armour of God. This consists of the belt of truth - revelation from God through His word; the breastplate of righteousness; our feet are shod with the Gospel of Peace, which is the power of God unto salvation; the shield of faith - without which it is impossible to please God; the helmet of salvation, which is protection for the mind and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  These pieces of the armour of God are always being tested, but God will never let us down.

We have protection - the armour of God, position - we stand firm (standing is mentioned 4 times in the passage), through prayer we can depend on God - we are exhorted to pray in the Spirit on all occasions, all kinds of prayers, and we proclaim the Gospel with clarity and courage given to us by God.

Luke 1v5-13

We do not always appreciate what a privilege it is to be able to pray; this is often because we don't necessarily get an instant answer.  We forget that the answer is either 'yes', 'no' or 'wait'.  Ephesians 6v12 tells us that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."  For this struggle, we need to put on the full armour of God and 'pray in the Spirit on all occasions'.  We need to remember that God knows our prayers before we even utter them, because He is always there with us, ready to hear us when we pray.

In our reading we are told that the Lord had heard the prayers of Elizabeth and Zechariah for a child.  However, God knew when was the right time for John the Bapitst to be born, and that was around the same time that Jesus was born, so that he could point the way to Jesus.

God gives us the urge to pray, as prayer is His secret weapon in the world.  Remember that Jesus never healed people until they approached Him or asked Him directly.  Therefore, God wants us to ask Him for our needs and those of others.

Prayer should have three elements; firstly it should be so that the Father God may be glorified; secondly it should always be in line with the will of God, and last but definitely not least, it should be done in Jesus' name.  Because of what the Lord Jesus has done for us, He intercedes with God on our behalf.  Let us commit ourselves to pray continually.

Luke 6v17-36

As Christians our confident hope and expectation is that one day we will see Jesus face to face.  We are told that God has appointed Jesus to judge both the living and the dead, according to what we have done.  One of the things on which we will be judged is our attitude to the poor among us.  We either have God's heart for the poor or we have no heart.  It is said that those who oppress the poor mock their Maker.

Some people are poor through no fault of their own - because of the amount of injustice in the world; they are victims of an unjust society.  Very few people are poor just because they are lazy.  Leviticus warns not to abuse widows and orphans - who were always the poorest in Jewish society.

How do we respond to the poor?  We are confronted daily with envelopes and adverts asking for donations to a particular charity.  It is said that 2/3 of the world live on less than $1 a day.  A good way of helping the poor to become self-sufficient, is to help them to help themselves, by giving them the means to grow crops to feed themselves and sell the excess.  Charities such as Operation Agri provide tools and seeds and animals to enable this.  

When we face the final judgement, we will be judged on how we have responded to those in need.  Jesus said "Whatever you did for the least of one of my brethren, you did for me."  We need to be faithful in our stewardship of what we have been given.

Isaiah 61v1-3 & Acts 2v1-13

In some ways, the Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity who is the least talked about.  This is probably because people are frightened, upset, or embarrassed by the overt manifestations of the work of the Holy Spirit, particularly in Pentecostal style worship.  But without the work of the Holy Spirit, none of us would have been brought to the point of accepting the Lord Jesus as our Saviour, because the Holy Spirit works upon the heart, to convict people of their sin and their need for a Saviour.  CH Spurgeon said of the work of the Holy Spirit: - “All the hope of our ministry lies in the Spirit of God operating on the hearts of men.”

We might not have had a spectacular, Damascus road type of conversion experience, but however it was that we were brought to that point where we said to the Lord “I believe that You are the Son of God and I ask you to forgive my sins and come into my heart and be my Saviour”, the Holy Spirit had already been at work in our hearts.  And when we have prayed this prayer, the Lord gives us His Holy Spirit to live within us, to help us live our lives for Him.

We see evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit all the way through the Bible, right from the opening verses of Genesis, where it says that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”.  In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came on particular people, at particular times, to equip them for particular tasks.  For example, in Exodus 31 we are told that the Spirit of God filled Bezalel “with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts” and these artistic skills were used to design and make all the items necessary for the tabernacle.  The Spirit of God also filled and equipped people for leadership – for example, Gideon, who felt he was one of the weakest people from the weakest tribe; yet when he was given the Spirit, he became a great leader. 

In another well-known story, the Holy Spirit filled Samson with strength and power.  Judges 15v14 tells us that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon [Samson] in power, and the ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and dropped from his hands.”

Romans 14v9-13 & 1Corinthians 3v10-15

 

The sin of the world was judged at Calvary when Jesus died on the cross and paid the price of sin for everyone.  He was the sinless Saviour.  Therefore wars and disease and difficulties are not a judgement on the people involved.  What causes this is our failure to do what God our Maker told us to do.  The instructions for living as God wants us to are given in the Bible.  

 

Salvation is free, but it is a gift that we need to take for ourselves.  With our salvation, come responsibilities in the Christian life.  Revelation 20v11-15 talks about the Book of LIfe being opened.  If we have accepted Jesus as our Saviour, our name is written therein.  We will all stand before the judgement seat of Christ, and not only our deeds will be judged, but our motives for doing them.  The only true foundation for our faith is Jesus Christ, and that foundation will stand the test of fire.  All other foundations will burn away.  We have to ask ourselves why we are serving God - is it for show or for power, or because we genuinely love God and want to serve Him?

 

 

1Thessalonians 5v16-24

 

We can find joy in a strong relationship with God.  The dictionary definition of joy is "a deep sense of contentment".  We develop that strong relationship by making our prayer time a two-way time with Him.  We speak to God, but we also need to be still before Him and listen.  Jesus said "My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name."  Sometimes God doesn't seem to answer prayer, but we have to remember that His answer can be yes, no or wait.  It is when we don't get an answer that we want that we think that God is not answering.  We must not then be tempted to stop praying.  We need to bring our cares to the One that cares for us.  God's love for us is constant - the same yesterday, today and for ever.  Our reading reminds us, in verses 16 and 17, always to be thankful to God.   

 

Another way of knowing joy is through the knowledge and experience of His presence with us.  This doesn't have to be at a special service, or a great gathering of God's people.  It can be in our own quiet time when we are listening to God.  We can have a continuing experience of God's presence even in our times of trouble.  The apostle Paul is a good example of this, when he was under house arrest in Rome.  He was chained to a guard, and as such knew he had a captive audience to tell about Jesus.  He still had joy, even in these circumstances.  Like Paul, we can use our circumstances to serve the Lord.  We have a life in Christ with Christian friends, church fellowship and family.

 

Because Jesus suffered for us on the cross, he can empathise with our sufferings, and understand all our emotions.  But because of His suffering, we can have hope through His resurrection.  We should not keep the joy of this hope to ourselves, but should be good ambassadors for Christ in our daily lives.  The Psalms were originally sung as great songs of joy and worship, and are just some of the many examples of outward expressions of joy in the Bible.

 

 

Genesis 26v19-35

 

The focus of the sermon was to encourage us not to be afraid, but to trust God.  The words "do not be afraid" or similar phrases appear 49 times in the Old Testament and 16 in the New Testament.  How do we deal with fear in our lives?  God tells us not to worry or be afraid, because our lives are under His control.  God blessed those in the Bible who trusted Him, and still does today.

 

In the passage, there was a scarcity of water.  Isaac dug two wells which the Philistines claimed belonged to them.  Instead of fighting with the Philistines, Isaac moved away from them and dug another well.  This time the Philistines left him alone.  The way that Isaac conducted himself showed his trust in God.  Do we want to confront people who oppose us, or do we walk away from a fight and trust God for the answer?  Are we therefore a good witness for the God who loves us?

 

In 1Kings 17, Elijah predicted that here would be no rain.  God sent him to Zarephath, where he asked a widow to give him a drink and a piece of bread.  The woman used the last of the water and flour and oil that she had, because Elijah told her not to be afraid, because the Lord had said that her flour and oil would not be used up before there was rain, so she and her son would not die.  She trusted what God told her through Elijah, gave him the food and drink, and her flour and oil were not used up.  She trusted enough not to keep even the very last of her food for herself.  Are we running out of the realisation that God loves us and provides for us, so that we keep what we have for ourselves?  God's storeroom is never empty and always has enough for our needs.  We need to share not only our physical possessions, but also what God has done for us, so that others can be blessed by Him.

 

Do we sometimes feel very alone and afraid?  When Elisha and his servant were surrounded in Dothan by the armies of the king of Aram, he told his servant (2Kings 6v16)  "Do not be afraid.  Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."  Elisha prayed to God to open his servant's eyes to see that God's forces, that were invisible to everyone else, far outnumbered the enemy.  We need to remember that we are not alone.  God is with us in more ways than we can imagine.

 

 

Psalm 67 & Mark 1v1-13

 

The first three verses of Mark are trying to grab our attention, to tell us about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  God's prophetic voice had been silent for over 430 years, and now John the Baptist's voice was calling out to people, and referring to the prophecy by Isaiah, that there would be a messenger sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord to earth in human form.  As Christians, we are preparing the way for the second coming of Christ.  The gospel is only the beginning of the Good News of salvation; the end is yet to come with the second coming of our Lord.

 

God has a very specific plan and a purpose for each and every one of us.  Age is no barrier to working for the Lord.  In all of our, sometimes seemingly hopeless, human situations God still has a plan to use us.

 

Verse 4 tells us that John was calling out his message about the Messiah.  His message was so important and full of hope that he had to shout about it - he couldn't contain himself.  Is our faith still burning brightly, or do we need to ask God to rekindle it?  Do we have a burning desire to tell others about Jesus?

 

No one is born a Christian; we need to be born again as a Christian.  John baptised with water, but Jesus said that He baptised with the Holy Spirit.  John encouraged people to be baptised by him as a repentance for their sins.  At that time, baptism took place in a public place, and could have cost people their lives.

 

John might not have been everyone's choice as a messenger of God.  He was rather a nobody in the world's eyes - he lived in the desert, dressed in camel's hair and ate locusts and wild honey.  We should be encouraged that God does not care what the world, with its values, thinks of us.  He looks upon our heart, and uses us according to his will.  And God chooses us to live with him in eternity.

 

Jesus was the only person who was born without sin and remained sinless, so therefore he did not need John's baptism, but he was baptised by John as a sign for us to follow, and to identify himself with us.  At that time, heaven was opened and God the Father identified Jesus as His Son.  After that great experience, Jesus went into the desert and was tempted by Satan to carry out His ministry in a spectacular human way, but Jesus overcame this temptation and committed himself to his ministry in the way that God wanted him to do it.

 

Acts 1v12-26

 

The passage tells us what we should do as a fellowship during a period of waiting.  Jesus had said to the disciples "do not leave Jerusalem, but wait...."  The message is that we should not waste our waiting time.  We can learn from what Jesus' disciples did while they were waiting.They learned how to pray together.  This was quite radical, since Jewish men and women did not pray together.  There were separate parts of the Temple for men and women.  It was not about whether they found prayer easy.  Some well-known people like Martin Luther admitted that they found prayer difficult.  But we can learn to encourage one another by meeting for prayer.  Prayer meetings are important for everyone.  When a church prays together, God moves.

They also learned about fellowship (v14).  We are "all one in Christ Jesus" and therefore all equal before God.  We all inherit spiritually in Jesus, so there is a unity between men and women.  We need to find ways to bring people together in fellowship.They made sure that they were true to Scripture.  We need to ensure that the Bible is central to everything that is done and preached in our church, and to understand everything in the light of what the BIble says.  We worship the God of the Bible.

The waiting developed leaders - look at how the disciples grew in their faith and ability to communicate it.  The ministry of God's people belongs to everyone in the fellowship, and for a church a time without a pastor can develop leaders from among them, as the Lord's work is carried on.  The Holy Spirit energised the early church, by taking what was there and building on it and this is the way that it still works today.The essential core of today's message was "Don't waste your wait; germinate."  Look for the seeds that can be planted now and that may grow into flourishing ministries in the future.

Psalm 119v1-18 & Ephesians 6v10-18

 

Paul was writing to the Ephesians when in prison in Rome, and would have been well acquainted with what a Roman soldier looked like.  Both then and now, Christians have to contend with the wiles of the Devil, because he is the primary enemy of the gospel.  But as Christians, we have the spiritual armour that God provides us with.

 

Firstly, there is the belt of truth.  If we ourselves are not truthful, how can we fight lies?  The Devil uses lies and half truths that can sound so convincing that we can be led to believe them.  The Roman soldier wore a thick wide belt that held all their equipment.  And in much the same way, truth is the essential centrepiece of the Christian life.  At the core of truth is integrity.  Truth does not change over time or according to the whims of political correctness.  What is true and right according to God's standards will always be true and right.

 

The breastplate of righteousness comes next, to protect the vital organs, including the heart.  Proverbs 4v23 tells us "Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."  If we have acknowledged Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, we are given God's righteousness.  The Devil would try to tell us that we can earn righteousness, but our righteousness was gained by Jesus' death on the cross and is given to us as a free gift.

 

The protection for our feet is the Gospel of peace.  Satan wants to convince us that trying to take the gospel to the whole world is a useless task that we can never accomplish by ourselves.  But the world desperately needs the Gospel now.  We cannot ourselves hope to take it to the whole world, but we can help others who are carrying out this task by our gifts and prayers.  God's peace is a powerful force, that many repressive regimes have sought to stamp out over the years, but it has been shown that persecution makes Christians and the Gospel stronger.

 

The Shield of Faith protects us from Satan's arrows attacking us, in the form of setbacks and temptations.   Hebrews 11v1 tells us that "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."  If we look back over our lives with the benefit of hindsight and through the eyes of faith, we can see so many ways in which God has guided and shielded us.  We are sure of our eternal destiny in God.

 

The helmet of salvation protects the head and thus the brain from injury.  This controls all of our body and is the part that Satan most wants to control.  If he can convince us that our salvation is worthless, he has won, because then we start doubting God.

 

The Word of God - the Bible is what we use to attack Satan. Colossians 3v16 says "Let the word of God dwell in you richly".  Apparently the Bible is still the world's best seller, but the least-read book.  How sad this is.  How well-used is your Bible?  Is it well-worn and loved? 

 

Paul tells us to "put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground."  As in a fight, the victor is the last one standing, with the full armour of God at our disposal, we can "fight the good fight and finish the race."  The armour of God is not something to be put on like our clothes; it should be an integral part of our daily life.  Are you ready for the fight?

 

 

Psalm 65

 

This was our Harvest service - an opportunity to give thanks to God for His generosity to us. Hebrews 13v15 tells us - "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise."  Our worship week by week as a fellowship and daily as individuals should be a thank offering in praise of what God has done for us through Jesus.

 

The first 4 verses of Psalm 65 celebrate the grace of God.  The very first line says "Praise awaits you, O God".  In the original language of the Psalms, the word 'awaits' has a link to silence.  We often find silence difficult to deal with, surrounded as we are daily by noise.  But we should spend time in silence waiting on God for His word to us.  God hears our prayers, forgives our sins and welcomes us into His presence.

 

Verses 5to8 celebrate the greatness of God.  Hope (v5) is our anchor; a living hope and faith in God, the creator of everything.  God stills the roaring of the seas and the turmoil of the nations.  Revelation tells us that ultimately God will reign in peace for the healing of the nations.  Verse 8 tells us that the wonders of God should call forth songs of joy from us.  Is there an inner shout of joy in our heart?

 

Verses 9to13 are a celebration of the goodness of God in His provision for us.  He is a God of abundance who seeks to bless us and provide for us; as it says in verse 11, "You crown the year with your bounty."   Everything in nature points to God's great and generous provision for us.  He provides not only for our physical needs, but also for our spiritual needs.  At Harvest time let us come to God with our hearts full of gratitude.

 

 

This week's sermon took the form of a presentation about the work of the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) who fly planes to many otherwise inaccessible places and bring help, healing and hope to many people.  For more information on their work, click here
 

 

Ephesians 2 v4-10 & Psalm 145 v8-21

 

The theme was God's grace.  It is said that grace is "God giving us what we do not deserve", and mercy is "God not giving us what we do deserve".  Grace is mentioned 155 in the New Testament.  It is at the heart of God and is the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Grace was obtained for each one of us through the obedience and death on the cross of the Son of God.  It is not something that we can earn for ourselves, or indeed something that we have any right to.  It is God's free gift to us when we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

 

Grace is not just clemency for us, it is the power given to us to do the work of God.  It is God's enabling of our ministries for Him through the gifts that He has given each one of us.  It is given to us in response to our faith in Him.  The effect that it has on our lives is to enable us to live our lives for Him.  Paul says "By the grace of God, I am what I am."

 

Through His mercy, God helps those of us in need or in trouble, and he holds back the punishment that would otherwise be due to us because of our sins.  In the greatest ever act of mercy, Jesus Christ took the punishment on the cross for the sins of the whole world, so that all who come to Him in repentance can be forgiven and start a new life with Him.  God's grace and boundless mercy are freely available to anyone who will come to Him humbly and ask for forgiveness.  Have you asked God for forgiveness; if not, will you do so today and experience God's grace and mercy for yourself?

John 1v35-42, John 6v1-13 & John 12v20-22

 

Andrew is not mentioned very often in the Gospels, and is often referred to as "Simon Peter's brother", but on the occasions when we see him, he is bringing people to Jesus.

 

Firstly he brought his brother to Jesus.  (John 1v41&42)  We owe a great debt to Andrew for doing this, so that we have all the work that was then done by Simon Peter.  Far from just feeling sidelined, we should remember that in God's sight we are important to God for ourselves and the gifts that we can use in His service.  This reminds us that "mission" begins at home.  Do our family see in us a consistent character, a prayer life and the love of God?  On our Home MIssion Sunday, this also reminds us of the work of the Home Mission of the Baptist Union in supporting church plants.  This is Baptists supporting one another in carrying out God's work.

 

Secondly, Andrew brought a boy to Jesus with his lunch so that Jesus could perform the miracle of feeding the five thousand.  Jesus multiplied the gift, which reminds us that mission is for God to multiply.  It is said that winning a child for Christ is winning a whole life to serve God. We need to be intentional in our mission to children.  Jesus said "Let the children come to me".  We need to ask ourselves - "Where are the children in our church?"  We need to invest in the young people today.

 

Lastly, Andrew brought foreigners to Jesus (John 12v20-22).  This tells us that mission extends to all people.  There are many people in the world who are lost, but only God can supply their needs and fill the empty spac in their hearts.  Many missions are trying to "bring foreigners to Jesus".