There is much in the world that we cannot understand or explain, and some people turn away from God because they can't reconcile this with a loving God. In the story of Job, Satan contends with God that Job only worships Him because God is good to Him and he asks what would happen if everything were taken away from Job. God allows Satan to take away Job's possessions and family, but even after that Job still worships God. God allows Satan to afflict Job with sores all over his body, but still Job refuses to curse God. He says "We take the good days from God, should we not also take the bad?"
Job's friends sit with him in silence at first, but then they become his accusers, and say that he must have sinned against God for all this to have happened to him. In the Old Testament thinking, there was a direct link between prosperity and God's blessing and sin and affliction. Job would not curse God, but he was bitter and angry and asked why all these things had happened to him. Even then though, Job found a higher hope as he said "Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high." (Job 16v19) and he says the words immortalised in Handel's Messiah - "I know that my redeemer lives." (Job 19v25). Job had followed God's ways and had "treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread." (Job 23v12).
When we go through difficult times, we too have a God who is there with us. In the words of the "Footprints" poem - "Where you see only one set of footprints, it was there that I carried you". Do you know the God who is your friend? Does your God live? We have a redeemer in Jesus. A redeemer is someone who mediates for another, and Jesus has been the ultimate mediator in dying on the cross on our behalf. For those who have accepted Jesus as their Saviour and Lord, there is an assurance that He is always with us through the bad times and the good and one day we will share His resurrected life and see Him directly face to face and not just with the eyes of faith. If you are going through a difficult time, commit it to God and trust God to go through it with you and strengthen you by it. He will hold you close and never let you go.
The message centred around the phrase "but God". When God had sent a flood on the world, having told Noah to build the ark, after the flood it says (Genesis 8 v1) "But God remembered Noah". Maybe during the flood, Noah and his family might have felt that God had forgotten them, and maybe that is how we feel sometimes when things seem to be always against us. But God does know what we are going through and He remembers us. This remembering was accompanied by action in the Bible. God sent the wind to dry up the waters, and when Noah came out of the ark onto dry ground, he remembered God and built an altar and made a sacrifice to God, to remember and give thanks to God for saving him and his family.
Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers because they were jealous of him. After much trouble and hardship, he eventually ended up being put in charge of the whole land of Egypt by Pharoah. When Joseph's brothers came to him to buy food when there was a famine, after he had made himself known to them, he told them that they had intended to harm him, "but God" had sent him ahead of them to save lives. God had a plan to bring good out of a bad situation. If we lean on God in our difficult situations, He can bring good out of them. As God says in Jeremiah 29v11, "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Noah and Joseph were individuals that God worked through, but he has done something for us as a group of His people. 1Corinthians 12 describes the members of the Church as like parts of the body. We are individuals, "but God" has combined the members of the body together (1 Corinthians 12v24), as a part of the body of Christ (the Church). We each have a different gift that we are to use for the benefit of the Church, to help declare Christ to the people around us.
In Psalm 73 the Psalmist was envying the people around him who seemed to prosper. However when he entered the sanctuary of God, he understood that their final destiny was ruin. He understood that God was holding his hand and helping him all the way. As he said (v26) "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever." Our life may seem like a puzzle to us, but God has all the pieces and brings them all together for the good of those that love Him (Romans 8v28). We know that we can trust God; let us use our gifts and tell others of His saving grace. Let us say with the Psalmist, "But as for me, it is good to be near God."
Luke 18 v 1-8
Women have played a prominent role in history and still do in our life today. Jesus used a story about a lonely widow to give us guidance about how we pray. The story gives us three pointers to help us in our prayers. Firstly we need perseverance. This is actually the main point of the story. We cannot get far in life if we give up at the first difficulty, and when we look back over our lives we can say that we are glad that at various times we have persevered. As Paul says in 2Corinthians 4 v1, "Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart." We need to persevere in the things that God has given us to do and we need to "pray continually" (1Thessalonians 5v17). It may sometimes seem that we pray for something or someone for years, perhaps for them to accept Christ, and nothing happens, but we should not give up praying. Sometimes we do not even see the results of our prayers, but nevertheless, God is at work through them.
In our prayers, we need to be pertinent. We need to speak to God directly about what we need. It is not necessary for us to use long, posh words; only to be to the point. Our simple prayers reach the Majesty on high. We are not praying to impress others with our eloquence, but to ask God to hear and answer our prayers. At times, it seems to us that we just do not have the words to express to God what we want to say in our prayers, but God knows our intentions when we come before Him and can understand the anguish we sometimes have in our hearts when we pray to Him.
We also need to be personal in our prayers. It is not being selfish to pray for ourself, our family or our fellowship. When we do this we are being honest with God when we tell Him exactly what we are asking Him to do. We are being earnest in our prayers then. The more that we ask God to bless us in what we do, the more He is likely to bless others through us. In being personal in our prayers, the most personal prayer we can pray is to ask God to forgive us and save us, and ask Jesus to be our Lord and Saviour. This is a prayer that will certainly be answered.
1Corinthians 13 v 1-13
The sermon was based around our text for the year - "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." (1Corinthians 13v13) As we reflect on a year past and plan for the year ahead, we know that God's love is available to each one of us to sustain, support and guide us through everything that is ahead. The whole of this chapter of 1Corinthians is a hymn to love. It tells us how we should live and work with one another. If we want to know how we should act, we can put our own name in the relevant places in verses 4-8, for example "John is patient, John is kind, John does not envy etc". At the start of a new year, we can commit ourselves to loving one another more. This can be hard to do, especially in a world that is hard, and does not value this kind of love highly.
As we look back over the previous year, we should thank God for the work He is doing in our lives, for the successes we have had , and also for the times we have failed, because we know that God was with us in those failures, has helped us through them and forgiven us for them, and will help us to learn from them. He has forgiven and forgotten our sins, so we should "eagerly desire the greater gift".
Love is choosing to be patient, kind, not envious or boastful, or any of the other qualities mentioned in this passage, and doing the things that God is asking us to do. But we must do this in God's strength and not rely on our own strength. We need to try to live a life of increasing obedience to God. This could mean learning to love those people that we don't like or get on with, to do things that we would rather not have to do. Walking in this way of love will lead us towards the day when we are finally conformed to His image, when we will see everything clearly as we see God face to face, for we know that God is love.