Philippians – Paul’s letter of Joy Part 5 Sermon October 28, 2018

Philippians 1:19-30

The Gift of Suffering

The greatest threat facing the Western church is not persecution or opposition, rather the greatest threat to the church is comfort. Our culture resists anything that is inconvenient and produces discomfort and as a result, when our Christian walk becomes uncomfortable, we shy away and look for an easy road. But that is not what the Christian life that we are called to.

If comfort is our goal and our pursuit, we will never attain to the full measure of the calling of God on our lives.

In Philippians 3:27-30, we see three characteristics of the New Testament church that applies to us today.

1. The Unity of the church (Verse 27).

Paul was writing to another Roman city, the Philippians were part of the Roman Empire, and as such, they had to live and abide by the rules of the Roman authorities, but more primarily they were citizens of Heaven, and ought to be living according to the laws of that Kingdom (Philippians 3:20).

When we become followers of Jesus Christ, we take on a new citizenship and we commit to living a life that abides by the principles and laws of that citizenship. Whether we like it or not, the world is watching our walk to see if we behave as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It has been said that the most powerful influence on an unbeliever is not a book or a video presentation, but rather it is the consistent life of a believer.

Verse 27, continues, “…so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,”

Paul is writing about church unity; the alternative is disunity which results in a church that is unable to accomplish that which God has called them to. Church unity is everyone’s responsibility, unity comes about as we serve, pray and worship together, uniting around the mission of the church.

In this verse, Paul writes something that seems to go against our 21st century church culture, “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”. Striving together is a term that speaks of an athletic contest or a sports team standing shoulder to shoulder defending their goal line. This is the picture of the church that is standing firm and close, protecting each other and working together. In the church, there can be no passengers, we are together in a spiritual war, without unity there is a weakness that the enemy will use to his full advantage. Gossip, slander and apathy are weaknesses that will prevent unity and prevent us from taking the ground that the Lord has called us to take. Are you all in? Are you prepared to sacrifice your personal preferences for the purposes of Jesus in His church?

2. Opposition to the church (verse 28).

This is another one of those comforts that we wrestle with in the western church. We have grown accustomed to the church being a respected part of society. However, you may have noticed that this is not the case in the twenty-first century. The Bible is full of warnings to us that we will be hated by the world, Jesus himself spoke about this in Matthew 24:9.

Does this mean that we must live in fear, cowering in the corner? Absolutely not, as we stand firm, courageous and united, those who oppose us and what we stand for, will be convicted by the Holy Spirit of their own spiritual condition.

In Acts 16, we read about Paul and Silas being in prison in the Philippian jail. After the earthquake struck and their chains had fallen off the jailer was about to kill himself because he thought his prisoners had all fled. However, Paul called out to him and saved his life, resulting in the jailer and his whole family becoming followers of Jesus. Why did Paul and Silas not escape? Because they were not afraid, they had no fear of their opposition and they were proclaiming the Good News of Jesus during their suffering.

As Christians we don’t need to be afraid of those who oppose us because we are Christians. As we live our lives as Christs ambassadors, expect to encounter opposition.

3. The suffering of the church (Verses 29 and 30).

We know that salvation is a free gift from God, we cannot earn it, we simply receive it. But along with the gift of salvation, Paul says that we get the gift of suffering. Have you ever received a gift you didn’t want?

Suffering is when things we desire, love and enjoy, are taken away from us. We suffer when we lose a loved one, our health, our career or we lose our home in a tragedy such as a storm or natural disaster. Suffering comes because of situations that are out of our control. We don’t ask for suffering, but suffering is a very real part of life, even the life of a Christian. But how can suffering be a gift?

Suffering becomes a gift when seeing and treasuring Christ above all else is your goal.

David Platt said, “when we pursue Christ in a world of sin and suffering, then we will experience sin and suffering. And the more that suffering takes things away from our lives, the more we’ll be drawn to Christ.”

Paul wrote this letter from prison, he was suffering and yet during his suffering he saw the purpose of God to spread the Gospel. There is a connection between suffering and the spread of the Good news of Jesus. If you profess to be a Christian and everything goes well in your life, the world does not notice that. However, if God allows you to experience suffering and you go through that loss with joy and peace and hope in Christ, the World will take notice of that because it speaks of a supernatural power in your life, the power of God.

Job knew this, he experienced unimaginable pain and yet could say what he did in Job 19:25-26.

(See also 1 Peter 4:12-13)

God doesn’t waste suffering; will you allow Him to use your pain to bring glory to the name of Jesus?

Sermon August 26, 2018 Re-Up Part 2 – Prayer

Re-Up –  Prayer – James 5:13-20

What is the one thing you could do that would have the greatest impact on your life?

The answer is Prayer. There is nothing more important, more strategic or more rewarding than prayer.

James 5 verse 13 has a header that says, “the prayer of faith”. This is what prayer is all about. And when we lack the desire to pray it is because we lack faith. If we could even glimpse the majesty and omnipotence of Who we are praying to, we would never be lacking in our zeal and our time for prayer.

Verse 13 begins with two categories of people; anyone suffering and anyone cheerful. The person going through troubles in life is told to pray, and the cheerful person, who has peace and joy is encouraged to sing praises to God.  But then in the next verse James addresses another category of people, the sick person.

Over the next few verses it seems like James is giving a prescription, a way to pray for the sick that will work every time. James instructs to gather the elders, anoint with oil, pray in the name of Jesus and to pray in faith. The result would seem to be that healing is to be expected. So why do we not see instant healing with every prayer offered for healing?

As we look at each of these “conditions” we see firstly that the sick person is obviously unable to come to the meeting place and calls the elder, this person is possibly bedridden, and in a place of humility and dependence. The sick person takes the initiative and calls out for help. We must never let our culture of self-sufficiency, get in the way of our healing. Our independent culture is actually a form of pride and we need to humble ourselves and reach out to others when we are in need.

Secondly, the elder is another name for a pastor or a shepherd. This does not mean that only pastors are allowed to pray for the sick, according to 1 Peter 2, we believe in the priesthood of all believers. The key here is praying in obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and praying in faith.

Thirdly, James says that one must anoint the person with oil, is this the key that we are missing? Scholars have different ideas on this and the word for anointing oil here could mean a medicinal balm, so that could indicate using some medicine along with the prayer. I have seen miracles happen with or without oil.

Next, James instructs that the prayer be offered in the name of the Lord, this is always a good reminder that human beings cannot do miracles, we can pray for them, but God is the sovereign worker of miracles. To pray in the name of the Lord is to indicate our willingness to permit our prayers to be acted on under the sovereign will and purposes of God.

And finally, in verse 15 we read, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” So, what is this prayer of faith? The answer is in 1 John 5:14–15, The “prayer of faith” is a prayer offered when you know the will of God. The prayer of faith is twofold; firstly, we pray with faith in the all-powerful God we serve because we believe that He is able and secondly, we pray trusting in the outcome. Trusting in the outcome is faith that God is working all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

We are so focused on the temporary physical need that we miss the eternal and far more important need of every human being.

As you read different translations of verse 15, some read that “the prayer of faith will make the sick person well”. But the ESV translates it; “the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick”, the Greek word SOZO, means to heal or to save, so it could be either. However, in the 20th verse of our text, where James is talking about the backslider who returns to the faith, he uses the exact same Greek word.

In fact, if we carefully note the overarching theme of the text from verse 13 to 20, this passage is more about the need for righteousness and salvation than it is about physical healing. We get so wrapped up in the first four verses that we miss the big picture. The theme of this text is holiness and righteousness, or a right standing before God. We are so focused on our temporal physical needs that we can forget that we are eternal beings and we all have a fatal sin condition. We are all sinners who are desperately in need of saving. We all need saving power of the blood of Jesus to save us from an eternity separated from the presence of God.

Verse 16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Who is a righteous person? It is a person who is in right standing with God. Someone who has repented of their sins and has trusted in the promises of God’s Word (see 1 John 1:9). Personal holiness is not just being a good person, it flows from a powerful and intimate relationship with God through prayer. Let us be a people who pray with power, because our hearts are in tune with the Holy Spirit.

In verse 17, we read that Elijah prayed fervently. James notes that Elijah was a man just like us, although God used him incredibly (see 1 Kings 17 and 18), but the key was Elijah was a man of fervent prayer.

The Oxford Dictionary describers fervent as, “having or displaying a passionate intensity”.

I pray that we would be a people of fervent prayer.

We can never overemphasize the importance of prayer and the power of prayer. It is the life blood of every true believer. Prayer is so much more than we could possibly imagine as we get to communicate with the creator of the universe!

“Satan dreads nothing but prayer. His one concern is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.”
Samuel Chadwick

Sermon Sunday April 22, 2018 – The Reality of Hell

Luke 16:19-31

There was a day when all one seemed to hear was “fire and brimstone” sermons, we’ve now gone to the opposite extreme. There is so much preaching on love, grace, and forgiveness, but little or nothing is said about hell. The undeniable truth is that no one in the Bible places more stress on hell as the final consequence of God’s judgment of condemnation than Jesus. Jesus compared hell to the burning trash dump outside of Jerusalem called the valley of Hinnom or Gehenna, he also compared hell to a prison and outer darkness. Jesus likened hell to “a fire” at least twenty separate times.

In Luke 16 we read that Jesus told the Pharisees a story of a poor man called Lazarus and an unnamed rich man. Jesus doesn’t say that this was a parable. It may have been a true account of which only Jesus knew the truth. Or it was a parable that Jesus used to teach the Pharisees the truth of their own lostness.

The rich man was extravagant in his lifestyle, dressing in fine linen, Jesus even said that he feasted every day. And then as if a divinely arranged contrast, we have Lazarus, a poor beggar sitting at his gate, who was possibly a cripple. The name Lazarus means “God is my help”, in contrast, the rich man trusts in his wealth.

Both these men died, and Lazarus taken by the angels to Abraham’s side. He was given special treatment for a man who was never treated well in this life. In contrast, the rich man, “died and was buried”, no angels, no special treatment. His friends probably began fighting over his estate and soon forgot that he even existed.

The rich man may have had a prestigious funeral with many dignitaries, in contrast the poor Lazarus, probably didn’t have a funeral at all, in fact the body of Lazarus might have been thrown on the burning rubbish dump, Gehenna, the place where unclaimed bodies would have been disposed. But even though his body was burned and discarded, he was taken by angels to Abraham’s side.

The rich man is sent to Hades, a place of torment and utter loneliness, where he begins to cry out for mercy. First, he asks that Abraham sends Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water to cool his tongue. The rich man was experiencing torment and real flames, it was a very genuine experience, so much so, that a little cool water on his tongue would bring some relief. Abraham responds and explains to the rich man that he has already received his good things in his life, but by rejecting God, he is never going to experience anything good ever again.

But aside from that, Abraham says it is impossible for Lazarus to come to him, there is a great divide between heaven and hell.

Jesus taught that Hell is a real place of eternal suffering, but the worst part of hell is not the physical pain, it is the absence of the presence of God. We have all heard someone say, “Well, I don’t mind if I go to hell. I’ll have a lot of company!” But there is no friendship or “company” in hell! Hell is a place of total loneliness and abandonment.

So how can a loving God permit such a place to exist, let alone send people there?” In asking that question, we reveal that we don’t understand the love of God or the wickedness of sin. God’s love is a perfect holy love, not a shallow sentiment, and sin is rebellion against an all holy and loving God (1 John 1:5).

God does not send people to hell, they send themselves there by refusing to believe on His Son. Hell, ultimately is the absence of God and sin is what separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). Hell is the natural response of the all-holy God to the wickedness of sin, and unbelief in Jesus as the son of God is the primary source of that wickedness.

God hates sin and evil so much, that he sent his only son Jesus to suffer and die on the cross as the perfect sacrifice, atoning for our sins. Jesus went to the cross as our substitute because he does not want anyone to go to Hell (2 Peter 3:8-10).

The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers about their eternal destination. But Abraham tells him that they have the words of Moses and the prophets, the Old Testament Scriptures, the word of God. But the rich man argues that this is not enough, they need miracle. We are no different, we struggle to believe in the power of the word of God to transform lives. We must never underestimate the power of the word of God, under the direction and conviction of the Holy Spirit to transform lives (Romans 1:16).

Jesus loved us so much that he spoke about hell a lot. He did not hold back in describing the consequences of sin.

Do we believe in Hell enough to care for our friends and neighbors? If we really believed in Hell, we would not hesitate to share the Gospel, we would give our lives to praying for the lost. We would re-organize our lives in such a way that we would maximize our time on this earth to be able to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.

Sadly, the way our churches operate, the way we struggle to pray for our neighbors, the way our evangelism and mission efforts are so weak and small, we give evidence to the fact that we do not believe in hell.

In the 21st century in the western culture has become a source of unending distractions and entertainment. We focus on our careers, movies, food, sport or hobbies, while all the time our perspective of eternity is being whittled away and we seldom think of the fact that our lives are so very brief.

Live your life in the light of eternity. Every pleasure you could have here on earth ultimately passes away, it is fleeting, but if we live for eternity, storing up for ourselves treasures in heaven, we will experience pleasure that is lasting.

“The safest road to hell, is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” C.S Lewis.

Sermon November 05, 2017 – International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

November 05, 2017

In his book, “The Global War on Christians”, John Allen calls the worldwide persecution of Christians, “the most dramatic religion story of the early twenty-first century, yet one that most people in the West have little idea is even happening.”

Christian persecution is any hostility, experienced from the world, because of one’s identification with Jesus Christ. In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus said that persecution is a blessing! For those who have not undergone persecution, it is difficult to understand why persecution is a blessing. But it is a known fact that the church grows quicker in nations where it is persecuted.

John 15:18-25 is a passage that does not preach well in our western “Prosperity Gospel” mindset, where our culture, upbringing and education all teach us that we have rights.  It is expected that Christians are respected members of society and by living out our Christian values and principles people will give us honor. But this is so far from the reality of what Jesus taught.

We have the mindset that persecution is something that happens somewhere else, in third world countries, where people are less educated perhaps. We also tend to think that persecution of Christians was something that only happened in history.

However, persecution is right on our doorstep, Jesus taught that this world is not our home (see John 15:19), and Jesus continues in verse 20 to say that a servant is no greater than his master, this is the normal Christian life. We have recently completed the series on the normal Christian life, noting that the foundation for the normal Christian life is applying the cross of Jesus Christ to our lives, daily dying to ourselves, being willing to lay aside our preferences, our rights and our desires for the sake of the Gospel.

It is almost predictable that when I teach in any setting on dying to our rights, people get angry. It just proves how conditioned we are to expect that this Christian life is a life of leisure and prosperity and peace. Jesus taught the opposite and he was persecuted more than any other man in history. In 1 John 3:13 we read, “Do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.”  This is the normal Christian life.

For millions of Christians around the world, persecution is their daily reality. From intimidation to isolation, beatings, imprisonment and even death, they live with the ongoing threat of persecution, and yet they choose to faithfully follow Jesus.

Faithfully being a follower of Jesus is the cause of persecution. Remember we saw that the life of the Christian is not found in simply becoming a better person, but rather we are “in Christ”. Being in Christ is the reason for and the target of persecution in our world.

In Romans 8:17, the apostle Paul tells us, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” So, when we share in Jesus’ sufferings we become heirs who will also share in his glory. Suffering is part of it the process that leads to us sharing in the glory of our resurrected Lord.

Persecution isn’t something we think about often, but it is incredibly real for believers all over the globe. The Pew Research Center estimates that 75% of the world’s population lives in regions with severe religious restrictions—with many of those being Christians. And according to the United States Department of State, Christians face persecution from their neighbors or government in as many as 60 different countries, simply because they claim Jesus as Lord.

Todd Johnson of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary documents that one hundred thousand Christians, eleven per hour, have been killed on average every year of the past decade. And it is estimated that more Christians died for their faith in the last century than in the previous nineteen centuries combined. Unfortunately, many Christians today, operate under the assumption that persecution is a part of the Church’s past.

Jesus told His followers to expect persecution, John 15:20 reads,“…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” So this is expected but what is our response to be? How are we to respond as we sit here in comfort and ease without the threat of violence for our belief in Jesus.

It’s easy to hear about Christian persecution and feel afraid, but God did not give us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).

It’s also natural to want to put an end to the suffering of persecuted Christians. But the persecuted Church isn’t asking for an end to their hardships, for them, persecution is normal. In fact, many of our Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted are praying for you and I, that we would remain strong in the face of an increasingly godless society. Instead, they pray for the strength to withstand persecution. These hardships produce believers with genuine faith, who truly understand the cost involved in being “In Christ”, and they ask for our prayers for strength to withstand.

Christian persecution is overwhelming, and we can all too easily become desensitized by the statistics.

But I want to challenge you to spend some time today praying on your own or as a family for the persecuted church. Let us pray with them rather than for them, that the word of God will move swiftly across the whole earth.

 “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Tertullian

Run the Race part 1 February 14, 2016

Run The Race 1 Title.2

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Running is such a great analogy for Christianity, and this is a race that we can all run in and are all called to be running in. Being a Christian is hard work, it is a challenge it requires discipline, it must consume you as you give your whole life over to the Lordship of Christ.

The early church in Corinth had a large number of wealthy people, as a result their personal Christian life was characterized by lack of commitment and ease. Something very much like the modern Western church. We don’t like to hear about discipline and sacrifice.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul says that he is a slave to the Gospel. Paul is consumed with telling people about Jesus.

Why? Because he encountered the living God – Saul was on the road to Damascus to persecute the church when Jesus interrupted his life and transformed him from a persecutor of the faith to a proclaimer of the Gospel message. When Ananias is called to go and pray for Saul, the angel of the Lord says in Acts 9:16: “for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” And what follows in the ministry of Paul is a theme of suffering, challenge, persecution and trials. He doesn’t run from them, in fact he encourages other believers to embrace the way of suffering and trials (2 Timothy 2:1-10; Philippians 3:13-14; Galatians 2:2; Colossians 2:1; 2 Timothy 4:7).

When we are saved, we turn away from our life before Christ. As Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, we have been crucified with Christ and no longer live, but we have been born again. In many ways, becoming a Christian is easy, Jesus paid the price; all we have to do is to die. Die to our old way of life and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us and change our worldview. Seeing things and living according to the Word of God. The problem with dying to our old self is that we struggle to stay dead. Our old temptations come back, we are frequently reminded by Satan of our past failures and we are tempted to go back to our old ways. The hard work of being a Christian is staying dead!

Paul is calling Christians to a life of discipline. It is hard work, it requires sacrifice. We have to constantly be focused on the goal. The Goal is the prize that Paul talks about, eternal life and the reward that we will receive when we are all judged by Jesus when he comes again, but more about that in two weeks’ time.

We need to notice is that the Christian life is a race not a stroll, it is a hard fought battle not a meandering in the forest. Using the analogy of a race, there is so much that we can look at that applies to the Christian life. In any walk of life, in any sphere of society, nothing is achieved without dedication and discipline, and being a Christian, the stakes are much much higher, we are focused on eternity. The eternal destiny of our own selves and that of those around us.

Running a marathon takes weeks of training and preparation and carefully watching your diet. When an athlete is preparing for the Olympics he/she will go into seclusion and prepare when no one is watching. As a Christian, you don’t have the luxury of stopping the world when it gets crazy and taking a time out. You have to train as you go, prepare as you go. But that place of seclusion, that place of being alone is absolutely vital to our Christian lives. We cannot survive without a regular daily time spent with the Lord in prayer.

Which leads to the next aspect of the marathon race, it would be impossible to run a marathon without Nutrition. As a Christian our refueling is the Word of God, we need a regular daily intake of the word of God. Read the Bible itself, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us. Paul writing to the Ephesians says the Bible is the sword of the spirit, it is our only weapon to be used against Satan and his schemes. We need to know where our nutrition comes from and we need to feed on that daily.

Another wonderful part of running a marathon is the people you run with. There is a comradery that develops with others as you encourage one another through tough times and push one another to achieve what we would normally not be able to do. It is much the same in any Christian’s life, we need one another. It is essential and healthy to have time alone with God, but it is also essential to have time together, in community, as we run the race together.

And then finally, some of you may be thinking that this message does not apply to you. You may be elderly and not able to get around as freely as when you were young. You might not have as much energy as the younger folk. But this message is for you too. Everyone’s race is different, your pace may be different, but our destination is the same. Your race may be that of a bedridden intercessor, praying daily for our missionaries, for the lost, for our evangelism efforts. Older folk are not cheering from the sidelines, you are in the race with us all until Jesus calls us home or comes again.

Where are you on that race today?

Maybe you began the race many years ago, but you stalled out and started meandering? Maybe someone or something cut in on you (Galatians 5:7), some challenge, some tragedy, some loss. But Jesus is calling you to get back up and continue to run the race, pressing on to the finish line.

The Christian life is filled with unexplainable joy and peace, and we get to experience the miracles of God on a daily basis. But, at times it is also hard, but we must never take our eyes off of the prize – the day when we get to see Jesus face to face.