Sunday 31st January 2021

Link to David’s Sunday 31st January video sermon address:

https://youtu.be/_JeRs8q3Q5I

Written text for David's 24th January Sermon

‘testing times’ -

Coping with the trials of life,

Part3: FAVOURITISM 

Welcome to part three of our series -

‘Testing times’ - coping with the trials of life

 

These are the big life testers,

…. that James identified in his letter to early Christians. 

 

We’re taking the James’s themes as framework for this series -

….And then looking at how Jesus coped and dealt with them,

….. from the gospel narrative. 

 

= To see what we can learn from his approach. 

 

First week - Pain,

Last week - Temptation,

Today -favouritism. 

 

Gwyn and Nel -

These are my two Labs -

 

(Show video of the dogs)

 

These are the two lovelies that always give me a rock star welcome when I come home from work!

 

Gwyn, my black lab arrived first -

…, he’d always been a sponge for fuss. 

 

It doesn’t matter how many hugs or strokes you give him-

… he’s always up for a bit more. 

 

Nel, my yellow lab,

…. arrived late June. 

 

She's just as love seeking as Gwyn,

if a little more ‘paws on’ than her brother!

 

The problem I have nowadays is that I can’t show my affection to one dog

(Whether a stroke, hug or even a friendly verbal greeting)

 

 workout eliciting a jealous reaction from the other

 

If I ‘love’ Nel - Gwyn looks heartbroken,

 and rushes over for reassurance

 

If I ‘love’ Gwyn - Nel literally launches herself on me with kisses and doggie embraces!

 

They seem to weigh every ounce of love I give the other,

and look to equalise the deficit as quickly as possible!!

 

Now in contrast,

 we are sophisticated bipeds with advanced cognitive faculties -

 

But are we so very different?

 

I know a grown up brother and sister really well -

..They have a good relationship but both,

 on different occasions, 

 

=have claimed that their parents show partiality towards the other. 

 

I don’t know who’s right,

… or if either of them have a valid grievance -

 

But the point is that the issue of favouritism …matters very much to them. 

 

Like Gwyn and Nel, 

they both notice when the other one is getting the attention or being treated a bit differently!

 

And this dynamic,

….. doesn’t just apply to siblings and nuclear families -

 

= All sorts of collections of people - 

work, leisure etc - and of course Church families …..have this issue. 

 

And it can be a big issue

 

One way or another, 

…..we know playing favourites is wrong. 

…..,,,,,,,,,,It offends our sense of justice.

 

James knew that favouritism was causing big problems in the church families -

….Some people given special treatment ,

…………. because of their high social status. 

 

  • and James pointed out that it was fundamentally unfair and un-Jesus like. 

 

Jesus too had to deal with the issue,

….. among his disciples when they jostled for position.

 

And that's one of the things that makes today's Bible story so weird.

 

Because on the surface, 

(And in complete contrast to all his other teachings)

….this looks like a story in which Jesus did play favorites. 

 

We’re looking at Mark 7:24-30

 

….This story can seem a little off. 

 

So let's look at it carefully, 

and see if we can figure out what's going on here

 

Read Mark 7:24-30

 

********************************************

 

I. Jesus went to the "least of these"

 

Verse 24 says that Jesus was in the region Tyre. This was Gentile (foreign) territory - 

what is now modern day Lebanon. 

 

Most bible commentators point out,

that Jesus probably wasn’t going there,

…..,, to specifically do ministry. 

 

More likely He was there to get away from the constant persecution for a bit, 

 

…..and He knew that the religious leaders who were persecuting Him,

…. wouldn't go into what they considered to be ‘unclean’ Gentile territory. 

 

Nevertheless, 

….it shouldn't have surprised anybody that a Gentile woman would come to Jesus with a need in the middle of a Gentile region. 

 

Jesus certainly wasn't caught off guard.

 

We’ll come to the content of their conversation in a moment -

…. and why Jesus said what he did. 

 

But first it’s worth pointing out that he usually went to the ‘fringes’ of society -

The outcasts. 

 

And this story is typical of that focus -

 

HE HELPED SOMEBODY OUT THAT NO OTHER RELIGIOUS TEACHER IN HIS DAY WOULD HAVE DREAMED OF GOING NEAR.

(Because it would have damaged their reputation) 

 

It’s also worth remembering that in an age when all self respecting rabbis ‘airbrushed’ out ‘unclean or undesirables’ from their published family trees -

…. Jesus kept the foreigners and notorious sinners in his (see beginning of Matthew). 

 

It was like a mission statement. 

 

Q - are you open to helping people who everyone around you considers ‘undesirable’ or ‘undeserving’? -

 

Even if that makes you less popular in the process?

 

Jesus focused on the least-

if were disciples in more than name only then        HE WANTS US TO FOLLOW IN HIS FOOTSTEPS

 

II. There are dogs, and then there are dogs (v. 27-28)

 

So -

His actions are good -

….. but his words still seem weird to our ears

 

 Let's look closely at this conversation between Jesus and the woman.

 

 Did Jesus really just imply that she and her demon-possessed daughter were dogs?!

 

 And what’s all this about letting the children eat first,

 …..and that it isn't right to give the children's bread to the dogs?

 

Notice that Jesus said, "First let the children eat all they want."

 …In this case, 

..….the children are the Jews. 

 

Matthew's account of this same story calls them "the lost sheep of Israel" 

 

Jesus was always aware that God's chosen people, 

the Jews, 

……were His first priority. 

 

Not first in importance or value -

…. but his first mission goal

 

He acknowledged this to another Gentile woman - the woman at the well -  when He said, "Salvation comes from the Jews" (John 4:22). 

 

It’s not a value judgement -

….just a stated fact. 

 

Why does salvation come from the Jews? 

 

God's plan required that God Himself would take on flesh and blood. 

 

So Jesus had to be born somewhere. 

….He had to have a nationality. 

 

1000’s years before,

 In Genesis 12:3,

….we see that God chose to set apart one nation - Israel - 

 

To reveal himself TO and THROUGH

 

…..through ISRAEL all nations would be blessed. 

 

The Genesis account of their choosing makes it clear they were not ‘better’ than the rest of humanity -

They didn’t ‘earn it’. 

 

That makes them representative -

 

God ‘chose’ the Israelites to make himself known through them . 

 

Their job from the first was to pass his blessing on to others’

 

So Jesus wasn't showing favouritism when He said, "First let the children eat all they want."

=  He was simply reflecting God's great redemptive plan.

 

Now, about that dog thing: 

 

Well firstly -

It was a slang term the Jews used for all gentiles (foreigners)

 

One of my New Testament Commentaries on Mark points out that there were two kinds of dogs in Jesus' day:

  • There were the near-rabid scavenger dogs that roamed the streets that no one would get anywhere near, much less invite into their homes. 

  • But notice that Jesus said "throw it to their dogs." These weren't dogs without a master. Jesus used a diminutive form of the noun that would have referred to a household pet. And the woman was sharp enough(and humble enough) to pick up on this. See her reply? "Even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

 

These were dogs that enjoyed a place in the Master's household. 

 

Before we get all hung up on whether or not Jesus was insulting this woman, 

 

….realize that nobody  -  Jew or Gentile  -  

….ever gets to come to Jesus believing there is anything special about themselves. 

 

James 4:6 reminds us that "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

 

HE BRINGS DOWN THE PROUD BUT ELEVATES THE HUMBLE -

 this woman was called a dog by the Jews,

…….but Jesus was transforming her status With his actions. 

 

Am I humble enough to let god elevate me?

 

or am I so insecure that I have to keep blowing my own trumpet?

offended at every slight, real or imagined?

 

How about you?

Is pride getting in your way?

…. do you find yourself looking down on others?

 

III. It's faith that God favours, not people (verse 28-29)

 

Did you know that verse 28 is the only time in the Gospel of Mark that anyone calls Jesus "Lord?" 

 

This Gentile woman did something that no chosen Jew or even close follower of Jesus does in Mark's story of Jesus:  

=she acknowledges Him as Lord. 

 

That is the kind of faith that Jesus recognizes and rewards -

He is not concerned with our status, 

our background, or our family tree. 

 

He is interested in our faith. 

 

In Matthew's account of this same story, Jesus tells this woman that she has "great faith" (Mt. 15:28). 

 

Here's another "only" we ought to pay attention to: 

 

= the only times Jesus ever called anyone's faith "great" in any of the Gospels were here and in Matthew 8:5-13. 

 

Anyone want to guess who was recognized for their great faith the other time?

 

Another ‘Dog’ - a Centurion. 

…..A Roman, Gentile, outsider Centurion.

 

Conclusion

 

Maybe God intended for this story to seem offensive to us at first. 

 

Maybe we are supposed to be forced to look more intently into it,

 to understand what God is really saying. 

 

Because we know that -

showing partiality on the basis of someone's race or gender or social standing is wrong. 

 

The truth is, 

…..this story probably doesn't offend us enough. 

 

  • How often do Christians exhibit the attitude that the gospel is really just for a chosen few? 

  • How often do some Christians actions communicate an "us and them" approach?

 

Some of us need to need to hear that we are of equal importance to god -

The kind of love filled importance that caused him to die for each of us

 

Some of us need to hear it for ourselves so we can recognise how precious we are to him -

 

Some of us need to hear it for others  so that we can recognise how precious they are to him

 

Because the gospel is for all, 

….because God doesn't play favourites. 

……. And Neither should we.

 

Amen

Sunday 24th January 2021

Link to David’s Sunday 24th January video sermon address:

https://youtu.be/tqHqFHz7t08

Written text for David's 24th January Sermon

‘testing times’ -

Coping with the trials of life,

Part 2: TEMPTATION

WELCOME to part 2 in it ‘testing times, coping with the trials of life series’. 

 

We are basing this series on 6 of the big testers that James identifies in his letter -

 

Last week we started by looking at PAIN,

... this week we are looking at TEMPTATION. 

 

B4 we start talking about how to deal with TEMPTATION,

 

It’s worth clarifying what we mean,

... when we talk about the things we are supposed to be avoiding. 

 

Some religious people have got very legalistic here,

….and started trotting out huge lists of ‘don’t do’s’ 

 

Cold, harsh and oppressive lists -

 

And people who haven’t read the gospels properly for themselves are left with the impression that JESUS is like this too -

 

Actually if you read the life stories of Jesus,

…. you’ll see that these very same ‘legalistic religious people’ opposed Jesus -

 

Because he offended them,

...and stood against their joyless brand of religion

 

The Jesus of the bible enjoyed a glass of wine (we read he was a rather good brewer according to John’s Gospel!!), 

 

he went to parties, enjoyed meals and social events-

 

He had an eclectic range of male and female friends -

 

It wasn’t the so called sinners who gave him a wide birth -

= It was the overly precious religious types -

 

The types who claim to represent him today,

……. and give him a bad name. 

 

So if he wasn’t a legalist,

... what was he?

... what were the temptations he was warning us about?

 

In short - they are anything that opposes LOVE. 

 

At Christmas my address was called 

= ‘Light shines in the darkness’

 

We asked what this ‘light’ of Jesus represented

= Love (‘God is love’ - 1 John)

 

We putting that bible statement on our bicentenary banner this year outside church

 

So - Jesus - wasn’t a legalist,

...or a ‘don’t do this or that’ list writer -

 

= his main goal was to promote love-

 

He basically told us that we didn’t need photographic memories to keep and recall 1000’s of little laws -

….JUST one law needed keeping/remembering  -

 

and if this was kept then all other worth laws would automatically be kept too

= LOVE (God and your fellow person)

 

So ‘avoiding temptation’ isn’t

=  ‘avoiding the naughty but nice things in lifes’ -

 

It isn’t eradicating joy 

 

It’s avoiding those things that reduce the quality and experience of love in the life of the tempted person and those around him/her 

 

Sex is a classic eg -

... one classic misrepresentation is that God Is like some fierce maiden aunt I once saw in a sitcom,

who felt scandalised when she encountered a copy of the joy of sex in her nieces book shelf

 

Gods not depicted as a prude in scripture (although some of his followers do a great job of presenting him as such!)

 

- It’s not the ‘pleasure of sex’ that God stands against (read Song of Songs!) - 

but rather the harm that comes to folks when sex is separated from-

 love, kindness, compassion, respect. 

 

There’s the online porn industry for eg - 

....a religious legalist would say:

Don’t watch it because it’s rude, or sensual -

‘You might go blind!’

 

The genuine disciple of Jesus would say ‘nonsense’ -

The reason the porn industry is wrong is because-

 

There is a proven and significant link to Modern slavery,  coercement, 

Poverty (biggest reasons), objectifying of people - women in particular. 

 

I read recently that one of the most popular search terms for people accessing internet porn includes the word  ‘humiliation’

 

So Jesus ripped up the ‘lists’ of things to avoid’ when he came-

….the naughty list,

 

And replaced it with a brilliant rule of thumb -

 

Does it (the thing you are considering doing or saying or attitude holding etc) enhance or reduce love?’

 

-Does it promote respect?

-Does it encourage and nurture all involved?

-Is it selfless or selfish?

 

Jesus went on to explain that if you keep this law (the LAW IF LOVE),

….then you automatically keep all the others


 

Ok - so that laid The Foundation - 

 

...Temptation relates to the things we might feel compelled to do,

…. that do not conform to Gods ‘law of love’ -

 

Let’s move onto the topic proper -

Part 2 in our 

Testing times - coping with trials of life series:

 

TEMPTATION

 

And this is the point where you may with to press pause to read or text -

 Matthew 4:1-12

 

*******************************

 

I’m sure you’ve all seen the cartoons where the character has the little devil on one shoulder and angel on the other -

 

In the ones I watched,

…. the devil usually got his way as the poor sap was powerless to resist,

 

and the Angel would put their hands on their hips …..and turn away in a huff. 

 

IS THAT HOW TEMPTATION WORKS..

 

There was a huge headline in the DAILY MAIL a number of years ago,

…. About The former disgraced South African batsman Hansie Cronje -

 

A man who was found guilty of match fixing and corruption in cricket -

 

The headline read:

‘The devil made me do it’

 

It was sensationalist and - once I’d read the story, ..realised that it wasn’t really what he’d said at all 

 

He admitted that he’d been tempted and -

Taking his eyes off Jesus,

... listened to the wrong voice and ended up hurting an awful lot of people. 

 

He blamed himself for LISTENING to the voice of temptation rather than being MADE to do it-

 

But I’ve met people who HAVE actually blamed the devil for their actions

(As though they had no say in the matter).  . 

 

As one commentator wrote on the Matthew 4 passage:

 

“The truth is, the devil doesn't have any power over us that we don't let him have”.

 

But he can be persuasive. 

 

In Matthew 4, 

Jesus was coming off a spiritual high point in His life. 

 

He had just been baptized. 

...He saw the Holy Spirit descend on Him. 

 

He heard His Heavenly Father say, 

"This is my beloved Son; with Him I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). 

 

= And that's when the devil started in on Him.

 

We know from Hebrews 4:15 that Jesus experienced every temptation we face, 

….yet He never sinned 

 

How did He do it? 

...What can we learn from Him? 

 

Let's look specifically at howJesus handled it when the devil tempted Him.

 

I. God doesn't tempt, but He allows the test (Matt 4:1)

 

Firstly - we get this thing called free will -

Great for the individual but often a pain for everybody else!

 

But it seems that it is a necessary element in our ‘humanity’ -

 

this choice capacity is fundamental in our ability to love fully

 (because love isn’t passive, it's intentional). 

 

But Jesus wasn’t just sought out by the tempter -  ...he was actively led "by the Spirit"into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 

 

James 1:13 tells us that God doesn't tempt anyone - 

….So why would the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness,

…. specifically so He could be tempted? 

 

Well James talks a lot about "the testing of our faith produces perseverance." (James 1:2). 

 

Perseverance isn't just a desired quality for  the mature Christian; 

…….it's an essential one. 

 

James goes on to say that

 "Perseverance must finish its work in a Christ follower so that he or she can be "mature and complete, not lacking anything." 

 

= So we can conclude that God is going to do what it takes,

…... to produce that quality in us.

 

Q - Don’t the best teachers test us to reinforce what they want to teach us? -

..Produce in us?

 

Some rubbishy teachers try to trip their students up...

Perhaps through some petty power trip 

 

But good teachers do it to improve their students -

 

...stretching them but not setting diligent students up to fail. 

 

Q - What is an area of your life in which you are being tempted right now? 

 

Q -?Is it better to ask God to remove the temptation, or to ask God to help you pass the test?

 

I'm not saying that if you are tempted to binge on ice cream  that you should go work in Cow Pots,

...But we have to realize that not every temptation can be easily removed. 

 

However -

God does provide a way of escape for every temptation (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). 

 

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

 

= So you may be praying for the wrong thing.

... If the temptation isn't removed, 

……..then pray that you can pass the test.

 

II. The main defence against temptation is the Word of God (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10)

 

I’m not a religious legalist -

...But I do think that it’s worth trying to read the Bible for yourself. 

 

-I read somewhere that less than 5% of Christians read the Bible more than occasionally. 

 

I think this is one of the reasons why so many whacky and false ideas about Jesus and Christianity,

…. manage to go unchallenged in the churches they are expounded in. 

 

One internet church with massive TV reach ...promotes for example a very greedy, ...self-centred version of Christianity-

 

through the rather hostile and unloving messages,

…. from its super-rich pastor and CEO. 

 

In my humble opinion it’s not just a distortion of the gospels,

…..  but an utter fabrication -

 

But if his followers aren’t reading the Bible for themselves

 (other than the tiny bits he takes out of context and shoots at them),

….Then how can they know differently?

 

If you never read the Bible,

…. then you’ll have no way of knowing if I’m talking a crock of poop or not!

 

Why take the risk of believing me when you can go to the source?!

 

Most people find that reading a ‘little and often’ is the easiest way -

….And their are lots of simple daily reading guides to help you and unpack the basics. 

 

Anyway, getting back to dealing with temptation -

... JESUS used the bible to deal with the temptations thrown at him - 

 

The three temptations Matthew recorded for us,

…. fall into broad categories that can be 

…..applied to temptations we face today.

 

First, 

there was an appeal to physical needs. 

=Jesus was hungry, 

and the devil tempted Him to make the stones become bread.

 

Second, 

there was the temptation to take a short cut. =Jesus knew what He needed to do to fulfill the Father's plan.

 

 He had to go to Jerusalem, suffer, and be killed (see Matthew16:21). 

 

The devil tempted Jesus to bypass all of that DIFFICULTY 

….with a dramatic display of God's power,

….. that would firmly establish Jesus as the Son of God.

 

Finally, the devil tempted Jesus with power: 

"I will give you the kingdoms of the world if you will worship me." 

 

= Jesus responded to all three of the devil's temptations with Scripture.

 

I suggested a moment ago that you’ll only be able to discern the truth of what other people are saying,

….. by reading the Bible for yourself..,

 

=Well it goes for the word of the tempter too -

 

Most temptations sound reasonable -

...Despite the deep down sense that it is wrong (unloving at some level) -

 

=‘You can let yourself be convinced. 

 

You’ll only be able to see through the lies,

….. if you actually meet the Jesus of scripture yourself,

 

and not just take other peoples words for it!

 

III. When we resist, the devil flees and the Spirit strengthens us (Matt. 4:11)

 

Verse 11 says that the Devil left Jesus, 

….and angels came and attended Him. 

 

When you compare Luke’s account of the temptation (Luke 4:13), 

….,you see the phrase "The devil left Him until an opportune time." 

 

We know that the devil will never leave us alone for long. 

 

But the promise we have from Scripture is that when we "resist the devil, He will flee from" us (James 4:7). 

 

When we’re weak we’re especially open to the voice of temptation -

 

... but try sincerely praying that little one word prayer I advocated in last weeks talk -‘help ‘ 

….and you’ll find that you’ll get the help you need. 

 

The promise of God in Romans 8:26,

... is that His Spirit will help us in our weakness. 

 

Conclusion

 

Firstly - KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DEALING WITH -

 

I’ve met plenty of people who are swallowed up with needless guilt because of tradition or having experienced a rather severe brand of religion - 

 

remember the law of love -

Is it (the desire) right or wrong?

 

Am I committing an unloving act or just being bogged down with religiosity. 

 

Eg - I am free to have a glass of whisky before I go to bed,

I am convinced that is ok even though I have met teetotal Christians who would disagree. 

I am convinced because the Jesus I read in scripture drank responsibly and enjoyably!

 

But if my teetotal friend came round for a meal then I’d consider it wrong to drink -

Why?  Because I know it would cause offence and that would be unloving. 

In the same way it would be unloving if I drank in front of my former alcoholic friend - it would be unloving because it might be undermining their sobriety. 

 

An eg of how legalistic ‘lists’ of dos and don’t aren’t always helpful,

…. but the law of love is much more helpful and applicable   

 

And one you’ve decided an object of your temptation is wrong (unloving) 

…..you Need to get practical. 

 

How do you resist temptation? 

 

We've already looked at the most crucial element: 

knowing God's Word and hiding it in your heart.

 

Don’t have to be a bible scholar - 

Or have loads of time. 

 

How about  5 or 10 mins per day?

I’d start in the gospels-

If you’d like to borrow a simple and accessible study guide then let me and I’d be happy to pass on. 

 

The second way to resist temptation is to ask for help -

 

I’ve spoken a lot recently about the importance of talking to God,

...I know from my own experience that ‘resisting temptations’ is easier when I’m in regular conversation with him.

 

I find it easier to discern what is wrong and right. 

 

And lastly -

God gave us a brain -

(It’s possible to become so super-spiritual that we forget to use one of the best gifts he gave us!)

 

Are there steps we can take to reduce access to regular temptations?

 

One chap I met moved his pc from his study to a family room to remove the temptation of accessing sites that knew he shouldn’t be visiting. 

 

I know one lady who cut up her credit cards and reduced her overdraft limit to avoid going back into debt. 

 

Sometimes sharing your weakness with somebody you trust can also Help you deal with temptation. 

 

Finally -

Don’t give up hope -

We’re all in this together. 

 

God is a patient and graceful Friend -

He won’t give up on you,

... so don’t give up on yourself. 

 

Amen

Sunday 17th January 2021

Link to David’s Sunday 17th January video sermon address:

https://youtu.be/s0bIOoCqy8k

Written text for David's 17th January Sermon

‘testing times’ -

Coping with the trials of life,

Part 1: PAIN

 

Some ministers/churches follow the prescribed church readings for each Sunday across a 3 year cycle - the ‘lectionary’’

 

Others prefer to choose their own readings and follow thematic or books of the bible series’

 

I like to have my cake and eat it,

... so tend loosely to follow the lectionary but head off into a series from time to time when I feel led. 

 

I have had a shortish new year series in the back of my mind for a while now -

 

So many of us have been talking about what an awful year 2020 was,

...And while excited about the prospect of an easing later in the year,

Most of us feel intimidated by a forecasted worsening in the situation first. 

 

I’ve nicked the words of one chap I spoke to recently -

‘These are really testing times’

...as inspiration for a mini series on, well -

Testing times

 

Testing times -

Coping with the pressures of life. 

 

It’s not a narrow theme based on illness or COVID,

...but hopefully a broader look at the things that test us in life. 

 

James - believed to be the brother of Jesus,

,,,, wrote a really helpful letter about dealing with the things that test us -

 

And while this isn’t a series on James,

...I’m borrowing 6 of his BIG TESTING CHALLENGES,

 

To frame these talks around -

 

Today’s testing life pressure is PAIN,

….The following 5 talks are;

-Temptation

-Favouritism

-The problem of the tongue 

-Conflict 

-Desire for revenge

 

No easy answers -

Or simplistic formulas

….just food for reflection. 

 

*****

 

Ones of the best bits of being a Dad is getting to read stories -

...one of the most fun ones to read aloud were the ones about Mr Gum. 

 

These were popular in the Gooding household when we lived at the Stores -

 

Here’s the opening to ‘you’re a bad man Mr Gum’ 

...by Andy Stornton. 

 

Mr gum was a fierce old man with a red beard and two bloodshot eyes that stared out at you like an octopus curled up in a bad cave.

He was a complete horror who hated children, animals, fun and corn on the cob. What he liked was snoozing in bed all day, being lonely and scowling at things.

He slept and Snored and picked his nose and ate it – most of the townsfolk of Lamonic Bibber avoided him. 

 

The opening pages go on to describe how horrendously, humongously disgusting  his house is -

BUT:

 

He was always extremely careful to keep his garden tidy. In fact, Mr gum kept his garden so tidy that it was the prettiest, greeniest, floweriest, gardieniest garden in the whole of Lamonic Bibber…

 

Until it received a visit from Jake, the huge local dog who graced the garden with one of his famous lucky poo’s and played a bit in Mr Gum’s awesome garden -

 

The first he knew about it was when he was woken up by an angry fairy..

 

WHACK!

‘Ow!!!’ yelled mr Gum, Rubbing his head and looking around in terror. ‘Oh no’, he rasped.  The angry fairy was hovering over him, frying pan at the ready.

‘Sort out your garden, you lazy snorer!’

Yelled the fairy, and down came the frying pan.

 

Mr gum legged it out of the bedroom and went hurtling down the stairs. He stepped on an old slice of pizza lying in the hall and skidded into the kitchen, riding it’s like a cheese and tomato surfboard. He could hear the fairy right behind him, shrieking with fury.

‘I ‘aven’t done nothin’ wrong! - I KEPT THE FLIPPIN’ GARDEN TIDY!’ Shouted Mr gum as he flung open the back door and ran outside.

He started to say something else but when he saw the garden the words got stuck in his throat. They tasted horrible. The garden was not tidy. The garden was a total wreck. The lawn was tufted up and torn. The flower beds were trampled and chewed. Rose petals and sunflower heads were scattered all over the place.

 

And in the centre of the wreckage played the most monstrous dog Mr gum had ever seen.

It was Jake, of course. The beast was rolling around for his own fun, his golden brown fur matted with grass, his happy eyes squinting in the sunshine. Before Mr gums disbelieving eyes, nine moles popped out of their holes and joined the party.  The two smallest ones began bouncing up and down on Jakes furry belly and doing somersaults. The rest of them chased each other in circles or had races. 

WHACK!!

The pain came down on Mr gum is head faster than superman

SPLAP!!

The pan whipped him on the bottom. 

BOING!!

A fat one to the Belly. 

Mr gum doubled up in pain and tripled up in fear as the fairy raged.

‘It ain’t my fault!‘ he yelled, ‘I ain’t never seen that Dog before!’  

 

Mr Gum was having a REALLY BAD DAY!

 

My kids loved it and cheered at every BASH and BOINK he received-

 

But I couldn’t help feeling for Mr Gum. 

 

There are days - and seasons,

When everything seems to go wrong,

 

Life is full of proverbial slippery pizzas and lucky poo’s -

Except nobody's laughing. 

 

It could be health, finance, family, work or, yes, even COVID related. 

 

I don’t believe that God - OUR GOD -

watches on from the indifferent safety of stain glass windows -

 

GOD AMONGST US - Jesus,

Related to us -

...because he experienced BAD PAINFUL  DAYS himself. 

 

In Matthew 14, 

we read about a day that, other than the day of His crucifixion, 

...may have been the most difficult in Jesus' life. 

 

In one day, 

...He experiences the death of a close family member with the corresponding crushing grief , 

 

…...the sapping demands of ministry as he tries to take some time out but ends up facing having to deal with other people’s needs

 

……...a terrible storm, 

 

………and disappointment in His disciples. 

 

SO - Jesus promised us that "in this world, you will have trouble" (John 16:33)

 

Lets see what we can learn about TESTING TIMES from him.

 

READ -Matthew: 14:13-32

 

I.  GET CLOSE TO GOD

In the first part of the text Jesus receives news of John’s death -

 

Then he retreats to a lonely place to get close to God. 

 

I spoke last week about the importance of feeling connected to God -

Talking, sharing our pain, fears and doubts with him. 

 

The implication in the text when he said he found a solitary place after hearing about John the Baptist’s cruel death,

... was that Jesus needed time to grieve and process. 

 

That solitude was stolen from him when we read that crowds ‘desperate for his help’

...found him. 

 

Jesus cared for them but afterwards we read that he instructed the disciples to send the crowds away so that he could go up the mountain to pray. 

 

I don’t have a MOUNTAIN -

...but I do have a toilet with a lock on it -

 

I too get interrupted regularly with cries of ‘DAD’ -

‘I need the loo - it’s the door - it’s the phone etc..’

 

But I’ll retreat when I can. 

 

In December I felt especially busy and stretched -

I chose to stop listening to my customary radio 4 as I drove the car,

...and instead chat to God. 

 

sometimes I just drove in silence - asking for a sense of his peace and presence. 

 

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU FEEL UNDER PRESSURE AND SORELY TESTED?

 

If Jesus needed a bit of quality time with God -

How much more do we?!

 

He stands at the door and knocks -

...But he won’t break the door down. 

 

= We have to open it -

…..Even if you only have the energy,

……….. to open it a crack

 

2 COMPASSION

 

While Jesus sought some alone time, 

….the crowds still followed Him. 

 

His own difficulties didn't stop Him from feeling compassion for others,

…,,who were sick and hungry. 

 

= There were still needs to be met.

 

Yes - we need time for rest and recovery when we are sorely tested,

 

But there is a danger that we can also get

 self absorbed 

…..to point where we get ‘STUCK’ in our pain

 

When, as a Church,  we looked at the experiences of NORTH KOREAN CHRISTIANS in the Labour camps a few years ago -

...I was struck by how so many of them faced their grief and daily pain,

 

= by serving their fellow prisoners. 

 

This seemed to help many of them feel closer to God and cope better emotionally. 

 

A lady I was speaking to recently

A little closer to home,

….mentioned that she coped with her own life distress by praying for others -

 

...it gave her a more positive perspective,

...and like the Korean prisoners it made her feel closer to God because she was acting as a co-worker with him. 

 

As with all things we need balance though  -

Some people fall into the trap of ‘focussing on other peoples needs’ 

 

= to the detriment of their own

 

Jesus faced his grief by seeking ‘QUALITY ALONE TIME’ and by ‘SHOWING COMPASSION’

 

Not one or the other. 

 

3 Jesus is with us in the midst of our trials

 

Jesus ends his day with a boat trip -

Facing a storm,

… and the doubt of his friends. 

 

An encounter that teaches God’s friends the answer to that age old ‘where is Jesus in the hardest times’ question -

 

=HE’S RIGHT BESIDES US

 

The disciples were having a rough time of their own.

 

they were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do (v. 22), 

=and yet storms still came. 

………....But so did Jesus. 

 

It’s important to remember that the waves did not calm down,

….. when Peter stepped out in faith. 

 

Even though Jesus had invited him to come to Him, 

…..that didn't mean the storm stopped.

 

= That's a crucial lesson for followers of Christ-

 

We don’t get an ‘avoid all pain and trouble’ pass -

...But we do get a STRONG FRIEND,

…..a COMPANION for the stormy trials. 

 

I have shared in the past that I have never felt closer to god than in the biggest trials of my life -

 

-Once at school, 

-once in a Children’s ITU with my oldest son, -and once with the next oldest in a bone marrow bubble -

 

The first time Jesus came unlooked for and frankly miraculously -

 

I don’t believe I would be a Christian today if I hadn’t experienced that first encounter -

 ….and it is a huge part of my testimony

 

BUT -

It was both a ‘I’m here and I love you moment’ -

And a lesson -

 

A lesson that he is with me -

….And I need to ‘trust’ that he will be again -

 

That I need to look for him in the future storms. 

 

...But I have temporarily forgotten on occasions -

 

In a couple of my biggest adult trials,

I have had to scrape the barrel of my emotional coping,

=before realising that I didn’t have to do it alone -

 

And I was also reminded that the shortest prayer in life is also the most powerful when it’s spoken with sincerity and a mustard seed of faith-

= ‘Help’

 

Do you look for him in the midst of YOUR storms and tests?

 

Do you pray that little prayer -

... Do you believe that he answers?

 

CONCLUSION 

 

We started by looking at Mr Gum and his REALLY BAD DAY -

He wasn’t  a particularly nice man and evoked little sympathy from his younger readers -

 

But it’s not just the ‘not so nice’ Mr Gums of this world that face difficulty -

 

If  you are a Christian, you’ll still experience pain. 

 

Your not singled out by your AVOIDANCE of trials -

…. Instead, you are known by your response to them. 

 

That is one of the defining differences between a Christ follower,

... and someone who doesn't knowJesus. .

 

Jesus faced the hardest day -

 

He retreated (chatted) to God

 

He showed compassion, even in the midst of grief

 

He taught his disciples that no matter how powerful the storms of life -

…..They will not have to face it alone. 

 

AMEN

Sunday 10th January 2021

Link to David’s Sunday 10th January Reflection video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=113GMT5E0jc&feature=youtu.be

‘Route 1’Sunday 10th January 

Mark 1: 4-11

 

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

 

It’s hard to appreciate how controversial and upsetting (to many) John’s ‘baptising’ people in the Jordan was in his time -

 

It sounds so right and religiously acceptable to modern Christians. 

 

But - as bible historians like to point out -

It was incredibly subversive and unorthodox in its time…

 

A practice that earnt John both scorn and disapproval in equal measure

 

The kind of reaction perhaps that we might have ….say, to a decision by Costa coffee to better engage its Christian customers by suddenly offering holy communion with every skinny latte or cinnamon sliced flat white. 

 

It would be met with derision first of all -

‘How crass and gimicky’ -

‘It won’t last of course’

 

Perhaps we’d be a bit offended at their blatant attempt to Bypass the usual accepted routes of faith -

Churches, chapels or even informal house group fellowships -

By offering a precious part of our faith

….. away from the recognised religious channels. 

 

We ministers, pastors, home church leaders, evangelists, missioners and lay preachers,

=  would scoff at how ‘naff’ and undignified  that is -

 

Disrespectful of the sacrament even,

A fad that will never catch on -

 

But that derisive, dismissive attitude would soon switch to genuine concern if it became really really popular - 

 

.... if the lure of easy access to God and better coffee left us out of the loop. 

 

Ok- odd illustration. -

But something a bit like at least WAS happening according to Mark -

(without the commercial profiteering aspect) -

 

Faith - and relating to god, was something that was done through the temple or synagogue -

The religious system. 

 

If John had advertised what he was going to do months in advance,

Then I’m sure folks would have concluded-

‘It would be silly and preposterous to go along to the local river and get baptised by an amateur’ -

 

And I suspect there may have been an element of this in many people's initial response to John as he first came tramping out of the wilderness in his unpriestly wild and striking attire,

….splashing into the middle of the Jordan,

…….and offering a baptism of repentance. 

 

‘It isn’t sanctioned and it will never catch on’ -

‘You need the hallowed surroundings’

‘The traditions and the atmosphere’. 

‘Properly trained and attired men’

 

I WONDER HOW MANY ASSUMED IT WAS SIMPLY A RATHER CRASS FAD?-

‘People will soon stop going to the Jordan and will return to the temple’ 

 

And yet it did (catch on) -

John The prophet who had himself been prophesied and foreseen  by Isaiah 700 years b4

... was full of the spirit of god,

 

his words weren’t taught or developed through formal training -

... they came from God-

 

he clearly had the air of authenticity around him

 

The idea of an unknown lay person baptising in the Jordan may have sounded naff -

 

But once they came (out of curiosity probably for most),

They were struck by how right it was -

...how ‘godly’

 

= people came. 

= and the religious professionals switched from scornful scoffers,

….. to very concerned observers.  

 

So - what was the ‘proper’ was of dealing with all the spiritual dirty washing B4 John set up his pop up baptism shop in the middle of the local river?

 

They had ways of dealing with sin. Explicit ways. Biblical ways.

 

The exact treatment for sin differed by who did the sinning,

 what the sinning was, 

…..and whether or not the sin was intentional.

 

But, the basics were the same: 

you went to the Temple and made a sacrifice. …..You just followed the laws as written in Leviticus, and that was that.

 

And dealing with sin wasn’t just about sacrifices -

... people ‘washed themselves’ symbolically in real water long b4 John splashed his way into the Jordan. 

 

There were perfectly laid out laws on ritual baths. When approaching the Temple, 

…..for festival or sacrifice, 

 

you first washed in the pool of Siloam. 

….Then, properly cleansed,

……. you made the journey, uphill, 

…………….to the Temple Mount.

 

John the Baptist, as well meaning as he was, ...began his public ministry by directly circumventing the Temple. 

 

He invited people from all over to come,

... and be cleansed from their sins, 

……..and repent.

 

This guy wearing camel hair and eating bugs = was claiming to offer that

…. which the Temple claimed exclusively (and biblically)

 

If God can in person what would he say? -

 

As Christians we believe he did -

 

...we have just celebrated the Christmas season of Emmanuel, god with us,

 

That baby born - as was fortold,

In Bethlehem to the virgin,

 

Grew up and appears in our text today

(Mark misses out the whole Christmas narrative and cuts straight to Jesus the man,

…. ready to begin his ministry)

 

Out marched God in person - Jesus,

….to receive that baptism. 

 

Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, 

…..at the hand of John the Baptist,

 

was in part a statement that in Jesus’ world,

... sin would be handled differently. 

 

A day was coming when you wouldn’t need a Temple, 

…..because Jesus was the new Temple.

 

 You don’t need to get lost in a confusing maze of religiosity -

…. you can go straight to God. 

 

Hooray !!

 

So here we are today -

Aren’t we blessed -

….no more religiosity to get in the way of our relationship with god -

….no more religious barriers 

 

As a result all of us on such intimate terms with God…

 

Hmmmmm

 

We’re still people -

... the foibles and pitfalls of our hearts haven’t gone away

 

For some people -

Perhaps all of us at some point,

 

our religion has become the object of our worship ….rather than the person it should point us towards..

 

Whether our religion is informal and modern -

….or high and ancient,

 

……..we can all get side tracked from Jesus by our very efforts to get close to him -

 

DISTRACTED BY THE MIDDLE MAN -

And our own religious preferences 

 

The temple was the middleman in Marks time-

….but are we any more free of them?

 

(I’ll come back to this point in a moment)

 

John was pointing to a straight path to God that circumvented all the middle men -

SO PEOPLE COULD FIND FREEDOM IN GOD

 

let’s look at that term ‘freedom’ a moment -

...a term that is described as REPENTANCE here

 

What is repentance?

 

Like so many terms it’s been used as a stick and become rather negative to many people's ears,

 

ITS NOT JUST SIMPLY BEING ‘good boys and girls’ -

Repenting (literally meaning ‘turning aside

from the old ways’) 

….is also about feeling free of the emotional lead weight that crushes the joy from your heart -

………..Saps the peace...

 

‘Turn aside ‘from the fears and anxiety -

The old guilt and shame -

And the gnawing emptiness...

 

Getting right with Jesus 

(Another well worn term)-

Is letting him help you ‘feel alright’ in yourself at long last

 

The system (as represented by the temple and its religious systems) were getting in the way of people actually getting close enough to god to ‘get right’

-

PEOPLE were getting in the way -

Over complicated and politicised -

 

Middlemen (be they systems of individuals) -

Can’t ‘free’ people 

..., they can only point to the ‘free-er’

 

John modelled a direct route to being set free and made ‘alright’ -

A ‘straight highway’ to god ( as Isaiah described it hundreds years before) -

 

No more religious detours that go round in ever decreasing circles

 

And Jesus ENDORSED IT -

(This direct path)

By identifying with us by being baptised -

 

‘Follow me -

Come DIRECTLY to me...’

 

We don’t have a temple -

.   Jesus destroyers it b4 the Romans -

 

But what gets in our way -

Do we ‘come directly’ as Jesus invites??

 

Do we daily enjoy the peace and freedom from all our emotional and spiritual rubbish?

 

Here’s the thing -

I think many of us don’t. 

I THINK THAT LOTS OF US STILL GET TRIPPED UP BY RELIGIOUS SYSTEMS -

And fall short of reaching intimate relationship with god in the same way some of those folks did 2000 years b4

(Or at least as intimate as we deep down desire)

 

I have spoken to troubled people who invest hours of their time going to church, listening to sermons or taking part in great worship. 

Reading any number of spiritual guidance books by celebrated pastors and teachers,

Read their daily reading books or Oswald chambers listened to the 5 minute church across Pembs reflections,

Tuned into premier radio or stared squared eyed at their favourite god tv programmes. 

Perhaps went to retreat days in idyllic locations or visited the holy land on organised tours -

Become preoccupied by our favourite preacher,

Specific Theological position,

Style of church…

Or church debate. 

 

= but still feel disconnected (to varying degrees) with God


 

Much, although not all, of that is great -

Great aids and encouragement -

 

But here’s the thing -

The preachers/worship leaders/books/theological standpoints

 

= ‘They’re signposts -

Not the destination’. 

 

We don’t have a temple any more -

But I fear we can make these things into substitutes. 

 

Long time ago - lady (drop in)

 

“I feel so far away from god but I can’t tell my minister - he’d be disappointed and might take it personally, I’d hate to hurt his feelings so I thought I’d see a neutral”

 

One it became clear that I couldn’t persuade her to speak to her minister after (even though I sensed this would have been best),

...I agreed to speak to her about her issue. 

 

“Ok - so you feel distant from God”

“Yes”

“Do you speak to him?”

“My minister?”

“no god!”

“Hmmmm - I probably speak to my minister much more” 

“How often do you pray?”

 

She confessed that she only prayed in fleeting ‘help me’ or please ‘do this or that prayers’ 

= her ‘faith life’ took up quite a lot of her time (going to church, reading spiritual books etc)

 

….But she calculated that about 1-2% of it involved any meaningful conversation with God. (And even half of that was ‘led’ prayers in church or house group meetings . )

 

= I assured her that I want judging (I’d be a whipping hypocrite)

….Or trying to put her on a guilt trip -

 

But I concluded by saying-

 

“do you see a connection between the time you spend DIRECTLY with god -

And your sense of (lacking) closeness?”

 

She did. 

She agreed that there was a direct correlation.

 

I gave her the old marriage illustration that I’ve used here lots of times before -

If I only spoke to or interacted in some way with my wife Emma 1% of the time I was in her company how close would I feel to her? -

Would it be reasonable to predict that I’d feel lonely in my marriage. 

 

GOD IS USING JOHN TO DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM OF DISCONNECTION

 

John bypassed the ‘system’ -

THE SPIRITUAL SIGNPOSTS HAD BECOME DESTINATIONS IN THEIR OWN RIGHT -

...people weren’t encountering God. 

 

And God used John to launch the foundations for a straight path (highway)

 

Jesus endorsed this ‘route one’ approach -

 

And after revealing himself as god in person,

He said -

‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened...,..’

 

Turn from your futile efforts -

Your despair , Your sin burdens -

, your loneliness.. 

 

Repent (in the positive sense of the word) —->>> And turn to Jesus

 

And talk. 

Listen 

 

Follow the signposts of our faith by all means -

But don’t stop at them. 

 

Don’t stop until you come to Jesus. 

Because he really wants to get closer to you -

 

28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

Amen