“More than anything, this truly is the living word.”
How many of you believe everything that you see on TV? What about everything that you read in the newspaper? What about everything that you read online? Because if it’s on the internet, that makes it true doesn’t it? How many of you believe what is written in the Bible?
As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Engaging with God, was given at The Salvation Army Carlton corps on Sunday 3 June, 2012. The Bible reading was John 3:1-21.
Engaging with God
Today, the Church celebrates Trinity Sunday, a day where we look at this concept of the Trinity. The trinity is a vibrant and living concept that is very important to us. In fact, the Salvation Army’s third doctrine is the doctrine on the trinity – which is a nice link, as the Trinity is all about the three persons in the Godhead – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, who are “undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory” to take from the doctrine. There are many different ways of trying to understand the Trinity. One that I like is that of the
Mars Bar – without the Caramel, it’s just a Milky Way; without the Nougat it’s just a caramello, and without the chocolate it’s a great big mess – but none quite get the understanding that the Trinity is both One in Three, and Three in one. One God in Three Persons, and Three Persons in One God.
The reading we heard today contains these three persons in some way, but the basic passage comes down to how Nicodemus – and how we – choose to engage with God – and in doing so, engaging with the Trinity.
When Nicodemus approaches Jesus, when does he do it? Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Why do you think he might do that? There are a few possible reasons. We read that Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Pharisees were teachers, and we read through the Gospels that they were often against the teachings of Jesus. And Jesus was often critical of them – many parables were often directed at them, and in Matthew 23, Jesus declares seven woes on the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. So you could say there was a bit of bad blood between them. By coming at night, Nicodemus is avoiding being seen, so as to avoid the backlash from the rest of the Pharisees.
And he does so with good reason. He comes to Jesus, and says “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Nicodemus knows exactly who Jesus is. He has chosen to come to acknowledge this teacher from God.
Our spiritual lives are full of choices. A lot of the key moments in my life have come from my choosing to engage with God. I was baptised by my dad in the Church of Christ when I was 10 – my choice to engage with God, and to follow him. A few years later, having moved churches, I chose to stay there while my parents took up ministry at a different church – my choice to engage with God, and to grow with him there. Jumping forward 10 years or so, in checking out the Salvation Army where my then Girlfriend went, I heard God’s call to ministry in The Salvation Army, and I chose to accept that call – I chose to engage with God, and to spread his Word.
Coming back to Nicodemus, one of the major themes through John’s writings is the concept of Light and Dark. Basically, believers are said to be in the light, while non-believers are in the Dark. With Nicodemus coming at night, we see that he does not yet believe. I say yet, because Nicodemus appears twice more in John’s Gospel. In chapter 7, Nicodemus stands up to the Pharisees by asking whether there is a law to condemn a man without hearing from him first. Secondly, Nicodemus appears with Joseph of Arimathea to lay Jesus’ body in the tomb. Jesus engages with Nicodemus’ unbelief by saying that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he must be born again. Or born from above… depending on what translation you’re reading from. The word used, Anothen, can be translated quite validly as either option, and here, Jesus specifically used this word, Anothen, because it meant both things. Jesus was saying to Nicodemus that he needed to be Born again AND Born from above.
This of course conjures up all sorts of images for a contemporary audience. We think of the Born Again Christians, such a powerful political power in the United States. Yet, in Jesus’ definition, all who are believers are Born again through the Trinity. It is in fact the whole reason that Jesus came. Verse 17-18 states “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned.” We need to believe in God, in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit, so that we may be “born of water” – and this comes from choosing to engage with God and the Trinity.
But the choice to engage is only the first step in the journey. In specifically choosing the word anothen, Jesus is telling Nicodemus that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, it is both/and that is required – both born again, and born from above. Both born of the water and born of the spirit. Both converted through the Trinity, and fully surrendered through the spirit.
In order to engage with God, we must be willing to surrender the parts of our lives that hold us back from engaging with God. Jesus warned Nicodemus about this: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” These “evil deeds” are what we know of as sin. William Booth, in his tract, A Ladder to Holiness lists the following as sins:
Malice, Hatred, and Bitterness
And more, and he goes on to describe these sins as “evils.” As part of engaging with God, we need to surrender these parts of our lives, and be born from above through the Holy Spirit.
Now you may think that it’s tough. Some may say that it’s impossible. I’m here to say that Nothing is impossible through God. Earlier this year, I was having thoughts that were thoughts I didn’t want to have. I won’t go into them here because it’s not the place, but suffice to say that these were evil thoughts that were preventing me from engaging with God. One night, I decided that I no longer wanted these thoughts. I surrendered myself to God, I prayed for help, to say that I no longer wanted to live like that. It’s still early days, but I can testify to you today that while the temptation of those thoughts still enters my mind, through the grace of God, I no longer entertain those thoughts, and the temptation disappears as quickly as it enters. It is possible to surrender these things to God, to be born from above, and in surrendering these things we engage more fully with God.
Once coming into the light, having surrendered ourselves to God, to the Trinity, we need to then live in the light, for it is by living that we engage with God. Jesus said, “But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” We need to surrender the parts of our lives that prevent us from engaging with God, but in doing so, we need to continue living in the light to engage with God, so that others can see that our deeds have been done in the light.
But, what are those deeds? Well, it all comes down to the overriding principle in the Gospel – Love. In today’s reading, we had the famous line, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God sent Jesus because he loved us. In Matthew, we read that the two greatest commandments are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Or to put it another way, Love God supremely, Love others sacrificially, love yourself sincerely. Love. If everything we do comes out of a heart of Love – for God, for others, and for ourselves – then those deeds are in the light.
We need to live in the world, to be engaging with God. If our deeds are not seen, then how can others see the light that we share? We need to be actively working to bring the love of God into the world. How? Find an issue that you are passionate about, and actively work towards bringing about change in this world. You may feel passionate about caring for God’s world – then get out there and live it! Start living in ways that bring the least harm to God’s earth. Or maybe you feel passionate about human rights and equality? Get out there, and fight for the rights of those who have no voice. Or maybe you want to care for the poor, the hungry, the homeless. Get out there and start doing something! For me, one of the things I’m passionate about is the rights of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. So I’ll be marching in the Welcome to Australia March Together on June 23, to show my support to those that I’m passionate about. So find something that you’re passionate about, and engage with God by living in the light.
General Eva Burrows, talking about holiness – which is effectively what living a life surrendered of your sin – said “God sanctifies us in order to mark out character with the Spirit of Jesus, and then He wants us to take that same character out and mark the world with the Spirit of Jesus. True holiness engenders a compassion that will naturally reach out in ministry, mission and service.” We need to mark the world with the Spirit, With Jesus, with God – the Trinity. We do that through our ministry, our mission and our service. We engage with the Trinity – through choosing to engage, through surrendering our sins, and through living in the world.
Where are you at today? Do you need to choose to engage with God? Do you need to surrender some area of your life that’s preventing you from engaging with God? Or are you ready to engage with God by living in the light? As we sing “This is my desire”, I invite you to, as the song says, to “honour” god. The Mercy seat – a place of prayer with God – is open to all. If you want to engage, feel free to come forward as we sing, or if you’re more comfortable stay seated. But Honour god, and engage with him today.
This is the sermon that I delivered at York Salvation Army on Sunday 7 August, 2011. The Bible passage it is based on is Matthew 14:13-21.
I apologise that I’m preaching seated down. I hope you can all see me. Just over a year ago, I was playing basketball in my E division Salvos comp team, the aptly named Team Victory, because we never win. I was making a drive in towards the left, and my knee collapsed from under me. At the time, it was suspected that it was just a dislocated patella, but after I reinjured my knee earlier this year while making a coffee, it became apparent that my Anterior Cruciate Ligament had actually been ruptured, with the only fix being Surgery. I had that almost two weeks ago, and as such, standing isn’t great, so I’m going to have to be seated for this sermon.
However, you’ll know that Jesus taught many sermons seated. These are mostly in the Gospel of Matthew, as this gospel was written for a Jewish audience, who understood that respected teachers taught while seated. So I thought I’d look at those to see if that was what God was wanting me to talk about today. But they didn’t grab my attention so much, however, the Feeding of the Five Thousand sparked something that I thought was where God was leading me today.
“You Feed Them”
The disciples come to Jesus saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus responds by saying “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
This was something that really stood out to me. Jesus instructs his followers to perform the miracle of feeding all these people. However, the disciples can’t see past the physical need of food, when Jesus is actually telling the disciples that they are able to feed these people spiritually. However, they lack the faith at this time to see past the physical, to see what Jesus is talking about, and to see the possibilities.
Lack of Faith stories
The Feeding of the 5000 is the only story that appears in all four gospels, and in three of the gospels, they are accompanied by other stories where the disciples showed a lack of Faith.
In the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples didn’t have the faith that they were able to feed the people, even though Jesus knew that they were able.
Following this story in Matthew, Mark and John is the story of Jesus walking on the water, where Peter steps out from the boat, then lacks faith and begins to sink.
Finally, in John 6:30, the crowd says to Jesus “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you?” This crowd is the very same crowd that was at the feeding of the five thousand – the same crowd that made Jesus withdraw himself from the crowds because (as John 6:15 puts it) “they were about to come and take him by force to make him king.” Yet they lacked the faith to trust him a day later, and asked him to perform another sign.
Has there been a time in your life where you’ve lacked faith? I’m sure at certain points there has been times where we’ve all questioned whether God exists, or whether God is able to help in this or that situation. These times aren’t to be shunned, you shouldn’t feel bad about them. Because I believe that they are healthy, as it is through questioning that we become stronger in our belief.
Likewise, in each of these occasions where the Disciples or the crowd showed a lack of faith, Jesus provided the food for them to restore that faith. Jesus provided Food for the five thousand, pulled Peter out of the water, and calmed the seas, and spiritually fed the crowd by saying he was the bread of life.
Feed them through Jesus
In the feeding of the five thousand, it was only through Jesus that the disciples were able to feed those that were there. The disciples brought what they had, five loaves and two fish – basic Galilean rations. Jesus blessed it, gave it to the disciples and they distributed it.
The important thing here is that the disciples brought what they had to Jesus, and once Jesus had blessed it, they were able to feed the crowds with what they had. Jesus enabled their small blessing to feed thousands.
What this means to us is that no matter how small our gift is, when we give it to Jesus, he is able to multiply it to give blessing to a multitude of people.
An example. I studied Music at university, and as part of that I developed skills in arranging. One afternoon this year, I got home from work, and sat down and worked on an arrangement of Rueben Morgan’s song, Let the Weak say I am strong, for our Songsters at Floreat. I was completed by dinner. It was very little work for me. However, I presented it to our Songster Leader, and he distributed parts for our Songsters and we rehearsed it. Last Sunday, we performed it, and while I wasn’t able to join in thanks to my knee, I was up the back recording it on my phone. That has been uploaded onto YouTube, where that small effort of mine has continued to bless people who I may never know or meet. When I give my gifts to Jesus – no matter how small they may be, Jesus is able to use them to allow me to give blessing to others.
Disciples able to feed others
A couple of months ago, we celebrated Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit came down and empowered the believers. At this time, Peter, the apostle who ran away from Jesus when he was questioned during the crucifixion, the apostle who blurted out at the transfiguration not understanding what he was saying, the apostle who stepped out of the boat and lacked the faith and began to sink, delivered this incredible sermon.
Now, Peter was a fisherman, unschooled, unlearned, having not studied the Torah. Yet, in the sermon that is recorded in Acts 2, about 40% of the sermon is quotations from scripture. There’s a large passage from the prophet Joel, and two passages of David. This is quite an amazing feat for someone who is uneducated, yet through the Holy Spirit, Peter’s small amount was magnified, and there were 3,000 new converts that day.
I’ve been reading Bill Hybel’s book, Just Walk across the room, where he encourages us to walk across the room and make relationships with people. He suggests that when we’re open to the guidance of the holy spirit, we are then able to be aware of opportunities to talk about faith with friends, to be open to opportunities to invite them to church. When we offer up our everyday life, such a little, mundane, thing, and allow the holy spirit to bless it, then we open ourselves up to the possibility of feeding 5,000.
5000 (and women and children)
In conclusion, a short note about the last verse: “five thousand men, besides women and children.” This was the norm for how numbers were recorded. For example, in Exodus 12:37, it is recorded that six hundred thousand men, besides children journeyed from Rameses to Succoth. The reason Matthew included this is to show that there was no exclusion to who received the blessings of God. No group was to be excluded from the glory of God, and likewise no group should be excluded from your ministry.
So if you’re to take only one thing from today, let it be this: Take what you have, give it to Jesus to bless, allow the Holy spirit to magnify it, and let it bless anyone and everyone that you know.
“You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.”
This Psalm of David is the longest of all of the Psalms, and the longest chapter in the whole Bible. Here, David is saying to the Lord that he finds his refuge and safety in the Lord. When Saul was searching for David, it was the Lord that told him where to Hide, to help protect him physically, and spiritually.
Likewise, we should find our refuge in the Lord. When we are being trialed and tested, we should look towards the Lord, we should put our hope in his word. We should trust in the Lord to hide us, to give us refuge, from the temptations of the world, and to shield our mind and soul from the harmful things that we often come across.
Today I’m putting the focus on my friend’s blog, 365 Days of Kindness. Daena is an incredible young lady, and one of my close friends. Last year, she started Project 25, encouraging people to do random acts of kindness.
This year, she decided to expand, and challenge herself to do a random good deed every day for a year. She’s writing them down in a journal, and slowly uploading them to her blog. She’s a bit behind (having only recently uploaded the ones for January), however it is a fantastic project, and a wonderful challenge.
We find this mentioned in the gospels of Jesus.
“Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”
Matthew 22:36-40 (MSG)
The second commandment that Jesus lists here – love others as you love yourself – is just what Daena is practicing here, Loving others, whoever they may be, as she loves herself. Wouldn’t the world be an amazing place if we all followed Daena’s lead and looked for ways to show love to others?
I was asked by a friend on Facebook recently what my thoughts were on whether everything was planned or whether there was the possibility of coincidence.
I believe that God is omnipotent, knowing everything that has happened, is happening and will happen. He has a plan for our lives: “for I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.” However, God also have us Free will. He gave us the ability to choose for ourselves. My picture then is of God watching a sporting match. While he knows the result, he’s there, surrounded by all his angels cheering us on, rejoicing when we choose the right path, and consoling us when we make a mistake.
Does that leave any room for coincidences? I think so. I’ve heard the phrase “god-incidence” used to describe those situations where it could only have been influenced by God. I truly believe these happen.
So does everything happen for a reason? For has a plan for our lives – it’s up to us whether we follow that plan.
I was thinking the other day. Liesl tells me that it’s never a good idea. But I was thinking that there’s a lot of really bad music out there, and a lot of it is Christian music. Take this video for an example:
Take a real good listen to those lyrics. “He is like a Mounty, he always gets his man, and he’ll zap you anyway he can. Zap!” I’m sorry Sonseed, but you really can’t get much more cheesy than that.
See, that’s the problem with bad Christian music – they try to write a “Christian” song, and it ends up being cheesy, kitschy and just plain wrong. However, there is hope. There is a multitude of musicians out there, who are Christians, who write fantastic music that is up there with “secular” music.
Take for example this little band. They’ve got some great songs, and are really deep in faith.
U2 are fairly well-known as being a very spiritual group, with Bono having a deep Christian faith, but also an understanding that to get his message out to the world, it can’t be shoved down people’s throats, but coming through every facet of their music and lives.
Naturally 7, if you’re not aware, are a band that only use their voice. Liesl and I saw them opening for Michael Bublé, and were amazed. Their version of Can you feel it in the Air tonight is amazing.
And they write their own songs too, like Bless this House.
And remember, every sound they make is made with the human voice. And they’re Christian too – they’re headlining at Easterfest 2011, a massive Christian festival being held in Toowomba.
For something a bit heavier, why not try Underoath? This Christian metal band have played at the big heavy rock/metal festivals such as Soundwave, and are not shy in hiding their faith at those events either.
One of my favourite bands at the moment is New Empire. They’re currently touring with Good Charlotte, opening for them. It’s very much a pop-rock sound, but if you didn’t know they were Christian, it would sound very much like any other band out there.
And there’s heaps more out there too. Everything from Metal to A capella. Ska to Soulful, it’s all there, and it’s all brilliant. All you need to do is go searching for it.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)
Have you been to the country recently? Just recently, I headed down to Margaret River for a weekend away. We were driving, and there were no lights anywhere. We looked up and saw the stars. Having escaped the light pollution that cities normally give, we could see all these stars lighting up the sky. It was really amazing. Continue reading “Let your light shine”