King of kings and Lord of lords (13 April 2014)

Easter 2014 King of kings Lord of lordsIs Jesus King of kings and Lord of lords?  Were his disciples right to praise him and celebrate his entry into Jerusalem as royalty entering into his home city?  Or were some of the Pharisees who were there too correct in telling Jesus to stop his disciples from treating him like he was the King of the Jews?

Click image for Sunday's service sheetJesus responded to his opponents by saying:

“If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” (Luke 19:40, NLT)

Jesus’ view was that while some people didn’t recognise him as King of kings and Lord of lords, the creation itself recognised him as such.  Metaphorically speaking, creation would have praised him, if people didn’t.  (See also Romans 8:19-25)

While it is easy to praise Jesus entering Jerusalem, it is possible that some of his disciples were not true believers, and were among those who called for him to be crucified not very long afterwards.  Public opinion can be fickle, joining in with celebration Jesus on the one hand, then turning against him later.

But true discipleship, true worship, includes obeying Jesus.  For example, he two disciples who were given a job to do (to fetch the donkey) and who did it without complaint, without asking why he needed it, and without delay.  Another example in this passage is the owners of the donkey, who readily allow the Lord Jesus to have it.  They could have asked “which lord”, because the word could have referred to ‘master’ or ‘lord’ in a variety of ways.  But they knew of only one lord that mattered, Jesus.

It is good to sing praises to Jesus, but better to obey him. (See 1 Samuel 15:22)

“So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”” (1 Peter 1:14–16, NLT)

If we reject him, we will be rejected by him on the last day, just like he told those in Jerusalem that because of their rejection of him, that they would suffer destruction in years to come.

“God …  commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30–31, NLT)

“Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.” (Isaiah 55:6–7, NLT)

If we do not accept Jesus as Saviour and King of kings and Lord of lords in our lives today, we will have to acknowledge him one day in the futureas the Lord over all, when we no longer have a chance to accept him as our Saviour.

“Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11, NLT)

Today, make Jesus King and Lord in your life, if you haven’t already done so:

Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30, NLT)

Keys to spiritual health-12-Spiritual protection (6 April 2014)

Keys to spiritual health – 12 – Spiritual armour

Our homes need protection – insurance companies require us to have 5-cylinder locks on our doors to protect against burglars.  We use double-glazing and loft insulation to keep the cold out.  We keep our roofs in good condition to keep the rain out.  Our cars require vehicle security – door locks and alarms/immobilisers

Click image for Sunday's service sheetWe need protection for our computers from viruses, hackers, and malware when using the internet.  We’re well familiar with the need to protect ourselves physically, from the cold and rain.  Or soldiers going into battle need the proper armour to protect them.

But are we as careful with our spiritual protection as our physical protection?  If we are believers, are we well prepared spiritually against spiritual attacks that come against us from our spiritual enemy?

We may not be able to see our spiritual enemy in the same way that an army can see another army across a battlefield.  Spiritual warfare is more like guerrilla warfare than battlefield warfare.  You can’t see the enemy – they are lurking around the corner, hiding behind you, combatants disguised as civilians – it’s the same for Christians in spiritual warfare – the Devil and his demons attack Christians in ways that we’re not able to see with our eyes.  But we can be protected nevertheless – we must use the spiritual protection that God gives us, to defend ourselves in this battle.  As Paul says in Ephesians 6:12;

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, NLT)

We need spiritual protection, from external attacks.  These are real.  So, put on God’s armour, so that you will not be injured and become ineffective spiritually.

God invites us, even commands us, to be strong in his mighty power.

“A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:10–20, NLT)

Keys to spiritual health-11-Spiritual temperature (30 March 2014)

Keys to spiritual health – 11 – What is your spiritual temperature

Are you lukewarm towards Jesus? Are you putting one foot within Christianity but keeping one foot in the world? Are you only giving over part of your life to the Lordship of Christ, while keeping the other part outside of his Lordship? Are you half-hearted when it comes to your love and service for the Lord?

Click image for Sunday's service sheetJesus would prefer that we had firm views, a strong reaction, either cold or hot, according to Revelation 3:14-22.  Jesus’ words don’t mean that it is acceptable to be cold-hearted towards him. The church in Laodicea would have readily understood Jesus to have meant that he wished that they were a blessing by being either hot or cold, but not lukewarm. The nearby hot springs in Hierapolis were beneficial for bathing.  The cold water from Colosse was refreshing also.  But with no water supply of its own, the Laodiceans relied on piped water, which was lukewarm when it arrived to them.  It was neither hot nor cold, and (with some lime contamination from the terra cotta pipes) it was likely to make people throw up, rather than refresh them.

A cold drink is refreshing, as is a hot drink like tea or coffee too.  But a lukewarm bottle of water isn’t at all as paletable, and a lukewarm cup of tea isn’t worth selling at a café.

Jesus is saying that he would prefer that those in the church at Laodicea were fervenet in their relationship with him – doing all for him from a fervent heart, rather than a half-hearted, weak-willed, attitude towards him.

In this passage (Revelation 3:14-22), Jesus is speaking to believers, to the church at Laodicea in the first place and by extension to all believers since then who might be in the same situation.  He reproves them because he loves them (Rev. 3:19).

But he also gives them the wonderful promise that, even though they have lost interest in him and squeezed him out of their company, that he is waiting to return, to join them again, and have fellowship with them.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev. 3:20)

Imagine being in a church that needed to be told that Jesus wasn’t there with them!  Had they even noticed?  But, if they accept their situation, and turn and welcome the Lord back, he promises to bless them abundantly with his presence.

If our spiritual temperature is cold towards Jesus, maybe we need to turn towards him, either once again, or for the first time.  Then, we should find that our hearts burn within us as our spiritual temperature rises, just like it did for the two dejected disciples who didn’t initially understand what the suffering and death of Jesus was all about:

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”  (Luke 24:32)

Keys to spiritual health-10-Faith (23 March 2014)

Do you believe in God?  Many people believe in God.  But that doesn’t mean that the trust in God.  Many people believe that God exists, but don’t trust him to help them.  That’s like someone who is ill, who believes that the doctor is there to help them, but never makes an appointment and seeks medical help.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetBelieving in God is not enough.  Even the demons believe in God, we read in the letter of James, and they shudder at the thought.  Belief in God’s existence is not faith in God – it is simply acknowledging that God is there.

In Mark 9:23, Jesus says that “anything is possible is a person believes.”  Some films promote the attitude that if someone only believes in what they wish for will come true.  This is a common view of faith, that it is faith itself that you need to have, not faith in someone or something. Instead of believing in God, we are encouraged to believe in belief itself!  Faith is not the act of trusting God, but faith is the object of trust itself.

For others, the saying is slightly different, along the lines that, if you are sincere in your faith, that is all that matters. This puts the focus on the type of faith you have, a ‘sincere’ faith. This is more clearly a dependence on your faith, trusting in a ‘strong’ faith, a ‘good’ faith, than trusting in the one who you are believing in.

At times, people will trust in someone, when there is no reason to trust in them.  For example, if you were in a plane and the pilots both got ill, and someone had to take over the controls, and you were the air-stewarddess, or steward, how would you encourage the inexperienced person who sits in for the pilot? This person at the controls has little knowledge of flying, no experience as a pilot, but is willing to give it a go, and try to see if they can land the plane safely. Would you say “you can do it, I just believe that you can do it”? That might sound very encouraging to the person who is trying to fly the plane. But it is completely unfounded – there is no reason on earth to believe that that person can fly the plane.  That is an example of faith in faith. If I believe hard enough, then even the impossible will happen.

It would be a different matter completely, if they had prayed to God, and the Spirit had assured them that was clearly from God, and not simply their own thoughts, that they would land safely. If that were the case, they should say something like “I believe that God will help us land this plane safely, so let’s get to work and see what we can do so make this happen, by his grace”.

In Mark 9:14-29, when Jesus says that “anything is possible if a person believes”, he isn’t saying that belief makes things possible.  The context makes that clear.  The context is that the father has asked Jesus to heal the boy.

Unlike many of the requests for healing that people make on Jesus in v22, “Have mercy on us and help us”, this man adds what many people often leave unspoken “if you can”.  Imagine asking Jesus, “if you can”! No wonder he replies “What do you mean, ‘If I can?’”. That wasn’t a put-down – Jesus wasn’t being offended and responding in a sarcastic way.  Instead, he was trying to bring out the man’s faith.  He knew that the man had little faith, and wanted him to realise that and to grow in his faith. When he said “What do you mean, If I can?… Anything is possible if a person believes”, he meant that anything was possible for him, if only people believed that he was able to do it.

When Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who gives me strength”, he was putting into practice what Jesus is teaching here.  Paul had experienced the reality of living according to maxim that “anything is possible if a person believes in Jesus”.  But there is a catch – we cannot just ask whatever we like, and believe that we will receive it.  We can’t ask for a Lamborghini and expect God to deliver one for us.

In 1 John 5:13–15, like elsewhere in the Bible, we are told that “if we ask anything according to his will” (NIV) that he hears and answers our prayers (because they are his intentions also).

The man who asked Jesus to heal his son had real faith.  Otherwise he would never have brought him to Jesus for healing in the first place.  But he knew that he didn’t have great faith, especially after Jesus’ disciples were chastised for not having enough faith.  Yet, the man had enough faith to trust in Jesus, not his own faith.  I believe, help my unbelief.  He called out to Jesus to fill in the gap of his unbelief.  That is faith, in itself.  Recognising our lack of faith, but trusting God still, is faith in God, and not faith in our faith.

A humble shoemaker had great faith in God many years ago.  He didn’t look at his abilities, or lack of them, but at what God could do through him.  He became one of the most significant of modern missionaries.  His name was William Carey.  He is remembered, among other things, for his encouragement to have great faith in God:

“Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”

Keys to spiritual health-9-Love (16 March 2014)

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In 2012 a Gallup poll ranked countries with the most and least emotions, with one country coming out as least positive people on earth.

A BBC correspondent in who lived there wrote about her experiences . Part way through her story she writes:

I got pregnant. Ten weeks of morning sickness ensued, turning my daily commute into a 45-minute gauntlet. One morning the nausea finally got the better of me just as I had stepped onto a packed train. Worried I was going to faint, I crouched to the floor, holding my head in my hands. And so I remained, completely ignored, for the full 15 minutes it took to reach my station. Nobody offered me a seat or asked me if I was okay. For the first time [this country] had made me feel unhappy. I had been vulnerable – completely reliant on the kindness of strangers. [These people], I felt, had let me down.

As I sat recovering on the platform I wondered if this was part of the story behind those Gallup poll results. By this time a follow-up to the original survey had been published and according to the figures, [This country] had apparently cheered up quite a lot (after a government campaign to make people feel happier). But all I could see was a massive compassion deficit. Or were my fellow passengers that day just unusually uncaring?

A friend said later that day “Oh no, I am not surprised at all”. “My sister is seven months pregnant and she fell down a packed escalator the other day and had to crawl to the nearest railing to heave herself up. Nobody helped.”

“We are programmed to think only about ourselves,” he exclaimed.

Click image for Sunday's service sheetWhile it is easy to point to the dysfunctional way others live in another part of the world, I’m sure that many of us here today can remember situations when we felt unloved, either from a friend, a neighbour, family, from strangers, or from our community or society in general.

But thankfully, many of us can point to situations when we have been loved by others.  It might be through presents or words of encouragement when there are no disasters in our lives.  Or it might be when things go wrong and we experience the love of people coming around us to help us out in different ways – whether practically, or in sympathy, or in encouragement, and so on.

But where does love come as a priority in our lives?

Love God and others

The most important commandment, according to Jesus, is to love God:

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36–40, NLT)

This week, without taking away from the first of these two commandments, I’d like us to focus on the second, loving our neighbour as ourselves – loving others.

What priority does love have in our lives?

Love is crucial to life.  So much so, that the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 that it is far more important than other aspects of Christian living.

haphazard-priorityBut what has first priority in our lives? God, church, work, family, ambition, plans for the future (our bucket list), others, God? How is our Christianity balanced?  What has top priority?

Some people are more concerned with doing the right thing, but without a care or thought for how it affects other.  For them, they are concerned that their truth or their cause comes first.  People are secondary.  They don’t care if people are hurt or killed, in their cause of truth.

For some, people come first, before God.  They don’t just love others, but they do so at the expense of loving God.  People are more important to God, instead of people being important because God says that they are and because God says we should love them.

Love-priorityBut for others, love comes first – love of God and love of others.  This is how our priority in our Chrisitan lives ought to be balanced.

Love ought to come first

In 1 Corinthians 13, the passage often read at weddings, Paul shows that no matter what we do, if it is not accompanied by love it does not count.

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, NLT)

Love ought to come first, above doctrinal orthodoxy, campaigning for the truth, worship, martyrdom, and whatever otherwise noble things we could do for God or others.  If they do not have love as their motivation, they may help others, but they don’t count towards our eternal reward from God.

All you need is love?

The Beatles sang “All you need is love”.  While on the one hand that is true, that if there was love abounding in the world, there would be no more war, no more trafficking, no more crime, no more oppression, no more injustice…   On the other hand, it isn’t that simple – what the Beatles didn’t realise is that we’re not all capable of loving as we should.  In order to love as we should, we need to have Christ in our lives, we need the Holy Spirit to empower us to love, we need to walk in the Spirit.

Yes, we need love, but we can’t say that ‘all’ we need is love, because we need more than love on its own, we need to be to be renewed, to be reconciled to God the Father by faith in Jesus’ atoning death on the cross in our place, to receive the Holy Spirit to renew us, to walk in the Spirit in order to produce the fruit of the Spirit, and then and only then will we be able to see true love become a reality that would change lives, that would change the world.

We need God’s love and his power working in us, in order for us to be able to love other as we ought to.

If we want to see the world changed the way the Beatles envisioned, we shouldn’t buy into their simplistic formula that presupposes that we naturally have the power, the ability, the desire, to love others and to be able to change the world.  We should turn to God through faith in Jesus, instead, and then and only then can we have a realistic hope of seeing the world changed, one heart at a time.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NLT)

We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:19–20, NLT)

Yes, all we need is love.  But no, we can’t do it on our own – we need to turn to God first, to receive the forgiveness from Jesus death on the cross, as well as the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to live the lives we ought to have lived.

Keys to spiritual health-8-Fear God (9 March 2014)

13927306_l‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.’ (Amazing Grace, by John Newton)

We all have fears.  We fear losing our job or losing our income, and not having enough money to pay for our basic needs.  We fear others and losing their respect.  We fear others who might cause us actual bodily harm.  We fear not doing well in our yearly review at work with our supervisor or manager, or we fear not doing well in our exams at school.  We fear the car breaking down and not being able to afford getting it fixed.  We fear illness, especially long term or terminal illness.  We fear many things…

Click image for Sunday's service sheetThe question is, where is God on our list of fears?  Is he on the list at all?  Do we fear God at all?  We should, and he should be at the top of our list.

“Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7, NLT)

“Those who fear the LORD are secure; he will be a refuge for their children.” (Proverbs 14:26, NLT)

The fear of the Lord God leads to wisdom, discipline, life and peace.

Do we fear family or friends more than God?  In our weekly timetable, we have much to do.  But when it comes to Sunday mornings, do we put God first?  Do we think little about saying no to God whenever a family event comes up?  Are we more afraid of upsetting our family or friends?  Are we more afraid of them thinking that we’re a bit extreme in our religion if we say we can’t join in with the family get-together that starts early on Sunday morning?  Are we more afraid of saying no to them, than saying no to God?

Jesus said:

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28, NLT)

Those who put God first are called wise in the Bible.  Those who don’t are called foolish.  Even the most shrewd and able businessman, or the highly-educated graduate, if they do not put God first, they do not compare with the wisdom of the poor or uneducated who give God his proper place in their lives.  The former are called fools, while the latter are called wise, according to God.  See, for example, how Jesus tells a rich businessman that he is a ‘fool’ in Luke 12:13-21.

God is not our buddy in the same way that a ‘mate’ or ‘friend’ is.  While Christ is the ‘brother’ of all who trust in him, as one of us, he is nevertheless God.  God’s thoughts are so different to ours (Isaiah 55:9), because he is the awesome and almighty, and we are his subjects.  We ought to have a holy reverence, an attitude that is truly awesome, and to some respects a godly ‘fear’ of the Almighty.  After all, if we have not trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, we have a judgment day ahead in which we ought to fear (Acts 17:31, Romans 2:1-11).  But if we have trusted in Jesus, and have peace with God (Romand 5:1), knowing the blessing of no condemnation on that day (Romans 8:1), we neverthess ought to live our lives with a reverence for God that is more than just respect – if we do so, we will be fulfilling the command that the Apostle Paul gives us in Philippians 2:12:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12 NIV)

If we do this, we will enjoy the blessings that come from having a close relationship with God, doing good to others, having the joy of doing God’s will, and the peace and assurance that come from knowing that we will be with him for eternity, no matter what (Romans 8:28, 31-39).

Keys to spiritual health – 7 – Thank God (2 March 2014)

Thank-God

‘One Foot in the Grave’ characater Victor Meldrew said:

Well, that’s that over for another year. The joyous ritual of our annual pilgrimage to see great-aunt Joyce. Gets more like entering a mummy’s tomb every time we go there. … Still, these’ll be a real godsend, won’t they! A pair of gloves with six fingers in each hand. Trying to tell me I’d grow into them. What’s she going to knit for me next time, a balaclava with two heads? (Only a Story, #5.2, 1995)

On another occasion, after complaing and moaning about being stuck in a traffic jam for a lnog time, be concludes:

I wish I was dead!

To which his wife in the car beside him replied:

I wish you were dead. Then we might get some peace. (The Beast in the Cage, #3.4, 1992)

Click image for Sunday's service sheetNo-one likes a grump-old-man, or a grump-old-woman, or a grumpy teenager or child for that matter.

How can Christians avoid being grumpy? It’s simple, just be thankful! How can we be thankful when situations are not great? And why should we be thankful when circumstances do not naturally make us happy?

Firstly, God commands that we be thankful:

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NLT)

And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:20, NLT)

That might be easy when the going is good. But what about when it is difficult? We are told that all things work together for the good of God’s people, even if we don’t know how (Romans 8:28). We can give thanks to God for how he will use every circumstance.

We ought to be thankful. Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one was thankful (Luke 17:11-19). A courageous man once resuced seventeen people from a sinking ship in Lake Michigan. When asked years later what particularly stood out in his mind, he replied that not one person thanked him for saving them.

Corrie ten Boom in The Hiding Place relates an incident that taught her always to be thankful. She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, Ravensbruck. On entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and flea-infested. That morning, their Scripture reading in 1 Thessalonians had reminded them to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances. Betsy told Corrie to stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Corrie at first flatly refused to give thanks for the fleas, but Betsy persisted, and Corrie finally succumbed to her pleadings. During the months spent at that camp, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings without guard interference. It was not until several months later that they learned the reason the guards would not enter the barracks was because of the fleas.[i]

Even after personal tragedy, godly Job in the Old Testament was able to say, after losing his wealth, his house and his children:

“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!” (Job 1:21, NLT)

Centuries later, a businessman who lost his livelihood in a fire, after which his four daughters drowned at sea, was able to write the hymn ‘It is will with my soul’ which as the chorus:
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll—Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well with my soul.”
Christians should also be thankful to God by giving to those in need. The Apostle Paul commended the believers at Corinth for their generousity gift of money to help the church at Jerusalem which was suffering famine:

“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:12, NIV-84)

But also, Christians are blessed themselves when they thank God. Scientists have noted the benefits of being thankful, or having and attitude of gratitude:

  • Stronger immune systems
  • Less bothered by aches and pains
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Exercise more and take better care of their health
  • Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
  • It lessens worry
  • It strengthens memory for older people
  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • More alert, alive, and awake
  • More joy and pleasure
  • More optimism and happiness (reduces depression)
  • More helpful, generous, and compassionate
  • More forgiving
  • More outgoing
  • Feel less lonely and isolated isolated[ii]

While people in general can be grateful, when they have much to be grateful for, although atheists aren’t grateful to God, the benefits of being grateful apply most when there is much to be depressed about, at face value. At such times, unbelievers don’t have much reason to be grateful. Yet, Christians can be grateful even during the most difficult of circumstances. They therefore benefit the most, when such benefit is needed. Being grateful to God helps our mental health, as well as our physical and and emotional health.

We can become better at thanking God practically in different ways:

  1. Thank God by counting your blessings instead of your problems.
  2. Thank God by reviewing past blessings (keeping a personal spiritual journal is very helpful for this).
  3. Thank God for your relationship with him, if you have trusted in Jesus.
  4. Thank God for your glorious future, even if your present situation is difficult.
  5. Thank God that he is bringing more people to know him over time, that he is a saving God.
  6. Thank God that he is a good God.
  7. Start each day with a prayer of thanksgiving.
  8. Instead of moaning at something, like Victor Mildrew, find something to be thankful for.
  9. If you are blessed by others, focus on the giver rather than the gift – focus on them instead of how yourself and how you have benefited.
  10. Be grateful, and you will soon feel grateful and more joyful.

But we must always remember that we can only expect God to hear our prayers (Isaiah 1:15-20), and answer our prayers (Matthew 7:7-11), if we have placed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ beforehand (John 1:12), by which we are reconciled to God the Father (Romans 5:11), and have open access to him in prayer (Hebrews 4:16), and can thank him as we look forward to when there will be no more pain, suffering or sin (Revelation 21:1-4).


[i] Michael P. Green, ed., Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 Sermon Illustrations Arranged by Topic and Indexed Exhaustively (Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file.; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989).

[ii] http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/expandinggratitude
http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good/
http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-11729/5-reasons-why-gratitude-is-good-for-your-health.html

Keys to spiritual health – 6 – Obedience (23 February 2014)

Keys to spiritual health – 6 – ObedienceActor David Suchet wants to read the Bible.  But not just read it, to read it aloud.  And not only to read it aloud, but to record reading it.  Here is an extract from a clip on YouTube, made while he was recording reading part of the Bible.

“I had a conversion experience that begun in 1986.  When I was converted I was an actor.  And I thought, well, one thing I can do, or, I think I can do, is to read.  And I’ve for many, many years felt that I wanted to put my voice to the Bible.  Not only bits of the Bible, but the whole thing… It will for me, fulfil, what is for me a 27 year ambition.  What is surprising when reading the Bible out loud, is over and over again I hear in my head as I’m reading it, a quote from the Bible; “Hear the Word of the Lord”.  It doesn’t say “Read the Word of the Lord”, it says “Hear the Word of the Lord”.  It’s my prayer that everybody hearing my reading will find the same things, it will be fresh.  And they will think, as I think when I’m reading it; gosh, this is fantastic.”

Click image for Sunday's service sheet“Hear the Word of the Lord” is a phrase that recurs in the Bible. But it is not simply a call to ‘hear’, but to ‘respond’ to what is heard.  It is not a call to simply listen, but to act on what we hear.

Parents in the past might have been heard saying to a child who was not listening to what they were told; “Have you got poundies (potatoes) in your ears?”  Teachers and parents have often said to distracted pupils and children; “Did you hear me?”  The obvious inference is that if they heard them, they would have changed what they were doing, they would have obeyed the voice of their teacher or parent.  When they ask that question, they’re really asking “Why haven’t you obeyed me when I told you what to do?”

In the Bible, to ‘hear’ God is to ‘obey’ God.  The Hebrew word ‘shema’ means to listen, understand, and to act (obey).  It is often translated ‘obey’ instead of ‘hear’ (e.g. Deut. 30:17-18).  In Psalm 40:6, the writer uses the metaphor of God giving him an open ear to show that he has been more obedient to what God wants him to do – delighting in doing what God commands, rather than going through the motions of religious ceremony:

“In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”” (Psalm 40:6–8, ESV)

In the Lord’s prayer, obedience is one of the first things mentioned, doing God’s will here on earth, as it is (perfectly) done in heaven by the angels (Matthew 6:9-13).  We are not to be the masters of our own lives, doing it ‘my way’, as Frank Sinatra used to sing.  Instead, we are to be obedient to God, doing things ‘his way’.

Jesus said:

“If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15 NLT)

The Apostle John wrote later:

“And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him.” (1 John 2:3–5, NLT)

Paul describes the purpose of the gospel as to bring about “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5, 16:26). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ wrote:

Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.

Jesus made it clear in Matthew 7:21-23 that only we will be judged by our actions on the judgment day.  Only those who put his words into practice will have confidence to stand on that day:

““Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”” (Matthew 7:24–27, ESV)

We ought to not only listen, but understand and obey the Word of God.  Jesus said:

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15, ESV)

Compassion (16 February 2014)

Click image for Sunday's service sheetAlistair Campbell encouraged us towards compassion, especially through evangelism, reading from Mark 1:29-45, especially Mark 1:40-42.

“A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed.” (Mark 1:40–42, NLT)

Keys to spiritual health – 5 – Fasting – What do you hunger for? (9 February 2014)

Keys_to_spiritual_health_–_5_–_What_do_you_hunger_for

From New Guinea to New York, within Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism (the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur), Islam (Ramadan), and Christianity, fasting is an activity carried out among religions all over the world.

But, what is the difference between Christian fasting and fasting in other religions?  And what exactly is Christian fasting all about – why should we fast, how should we fast?

Click image for Sunday's service sheetFirstly, fasting is not to be feared.  It can be a real blessing in disguise, if we approach it the right way.  We should not focus on the absence of food (or whatever else we are fasting from), but focus instead on God.  Fasting is to remove distractions, often good distractions, to focus ourselves on the Lord God.

Jesus expects us to fast, with the point being that we will draw closer to him (Matthew 9:14-15).

Fasting is not to become righteous before God, as a form of good works that merit God’s acceptance (Eph. 2:8-9).  But for those who have trusted in the only mediator between God and people, Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5-6), and who have known the blessing of a new relationship with God the Father (Romans 8:15-16), fasting is a way of drawing closer to God, as we temporarily find less pleasure in the good things that come from God, as we look forward to going to be with him.

Fast forward!