Sunday, 30 November 2014

Sharing Our Faith ~ Ganeida.

I've got 5 kids.  Recently our youngest went clubbing for the first time.  She’s 19.  She works in the entertainment industry so she’s not unaware that people can be pretty grubby.  Just the same she got *The Lecture* before she left the house.  You know how it goes:  Never leave your drink unattended;  Stay with the group; Don’t wander off on your own;  Go to the loo with a buddy;  Never, ever, under no circumstances ever, ever get into a car with a drunk driver!  If anything at all happens RING!!!  We can organise something.  We have contacts on the mainland.

You would think the kid was 10 & clueless.  She’s not ~ but she’s our kid.  We love her.  We know she knows this stuff so this is just a reminder to stay safe.  It’s what parents do.

We are made in God’s image & so it is no surprise to find God doing the very exact same thing any loving parent would do before letting the kids lose on their own; he issues His final instructions.  The kids know this.  Of course they do.  They've spent 3 years with this man.  They've heard it before but it’s important enough in the mind of God that it’s the very final thing on His heart before he leaves earth.  And what does He tell them?

Stay safe?  Work hard, get rich?  Go back to what you were doing before I interfered in your life?  Nope.

18And Jesus came and said to them, h: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and kmake disciples of lall nations, jbaptizing them min2 nthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them oto observe all that pI have commanded you .Matthew 28: 18~20

Now, we know this.  And we know that it was meant for all believers in all times & all places but somehow, because we find it such a difficult & challenging thing, we think it does not apply to us, that God wasn't talking to us.  Surely He didn't mean us?  That’s why there are evangelists in the body of Christ.  That’s why we have ministers & pastors.  So we don’t have to do something that is so very difficult.  So very challenging.

Now I will be brutally honest.  Some people do have a special anointing on their life to lead people into salvation through the empowering of the Holy Spirit.  The rest of us are going to struggle.  And no, saying that your witness is your life is not going to hold water in this day & age unless you practise a very radical form of Christianity because it is impossible to tell just by looking who is a Christian & who is not.  Sad to say there is very little difference these days between those who belong to Christ & those who do not.

John 14:15 says: If you love me, you will keep my commandments”.

This is one way of knowing if we belong to the household of faith or not, a test as to whether we are Christ’s or not.  IF we belong to Him, we WILL keep His commandments.  His very last command was to Go & make disciples.

There are promises we can cling to:  He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world; I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me; Perfect love casts out fear; The Just shall live by faith & faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.  None of which helps us in the least when we are out in the world chatting with the neighbour who has heard us yelling at the kids, swearing at the lawnmower, & pretending we’re not home when the Mormon missionaries call in.  It doesn't help when we are in the park chatting with random parents about our kids, or standing on the jetty waiting for the boat.

I’m lucky.  As a preacher I get to stand & deliver to people in the park once a month.  This is far less threatening for me than confronting people one~on~one, which sad to say leaves me tongue~tied & inadequate despite scripture telling me to be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:1 Peter 3:15

It’s not that I don’t know.  I’d be a poor sort of preacher if I couldn't explain why I believe what I believe.  My problem is a problem of the flesh.  Once we understand we are to crucify the flesh we understand what we feel about the matter is of no consequence to God.  He loves us, yes, but He expects us to be obedient children because He has given us every resource we need to achieve the goals He has set us & fulfil the commands He has given.

So what I want to do is give some guidelines that may be helpful. 

The first is something Christ Himself said before He commissioned His disciples to Go. He said: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me… All authority.  I don’t have the time to teach today on the authority we have in Christ.  Some of us have had that teaching & understand that by the power of the Holy Spirit & the shed blood of Christ we are seated with Christ in heavenly places: For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6&7 

So firstly we know we have Jesus own authority when we witness in His name.

Secondly we know, & thus can act in confidence, that we are acting in accordance with God’s known & revealed will for us.

Thirdly we have God’s Holy Spirit within us to lead & guide us.
That is our foundation.

  Now we will all have those unexpected moments when God gives us an opportunity to witness for Him & in those circumstances we simply do the best we can at the time.  What I am referring to next involves a deliberate & intentional purpose to go forth & speak to people about Christ.

Before we step foot out of our own door there are things we should do.  The first is to pray.  We pray for courage, for boldness.  Even that great Apostle Paul prayed that he might share the word with boldness. We pray that God will lead people to us, ones He wants us to speak to, who will be ready to receive.  We pray for a special anointing & infilling of the Spirit of God.

We need to mark our bible with the relevant bible verses if we don’t know them by heart, such as Romans 10:9.

We are being intentional. So we don’t want to waffle round too much.  We want to quickly bring a conversation around to the things of Christ.  So once we believe we have identified someone Christ wants us to speak to, how do we proceed?
As a very dear sister in Christ teaches, always lead with the love of God!  What does that look like?, you might be wondering.

Here are some options to open with:
I have been praying for you.  Remember one of the things we do before we leave our house is to pray for the people God will bring.

God wants me to share that He loves you very much.

God may give you a specific word to share with them.

Ask if there is anything you can pray for for them.  I find this one in particular opens doors.  Many people don’t feel they can approach God themselves but they are open to being prayed for.

Ask where they think they will go when they die?

Many people believe they will go to heaven because they are essentially a *good* person.  The bible says all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

Ask if you can share what the bible says & present the gospel of salvation as succinctly as possible.

Romans 10:9& 10 says If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.

Ask if they believe Jesus died & rose again.  If they confess Jesus as Lord & believe that as the son of God, God raised Him from the dead then according to Romans 10:9 they are saved.

Lead them in a prayer that expresses these truths.  Father, I believe that Jesus is your son, that he died on a cross for me & that you raised Him from the dead.  I confess Him as my Lord & saviour. I desire to be born again & have your spirt indwell in me, sealing me unto the day of redemption.  Check they understand that Jesus' Spirit now dwells within them.

Finish by quoting a verse of assurance, such as John 6:37
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out

Now I want to say a word about repentance. I do not believe one can have a genuine conversion experience without repentance but let us understand the Greek word, metanoia, was a military term used of a soldier who was marching in one direction & then did an about face to march in the opposite direction. It means to change one’s mind, or to change one’s inner man. It describes what happens when someone accepts Christ. Thus someone who genuinely becomes Christ’s will repent ~ that is they will stop marching after the world & begin, then continue, marching after God.

It is possible to bring many people unto salvation at any given time quite quickly.  Peter converted 3000 from one short message on the day of Pentecost.  We need to be bold in our faith if for no other reason than the eternal destination of those we speak to rests on their decision about Christ.  For some, we are their only opportunity to hear the gospel.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Song From the Cross.

"This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me."  In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant between God and you, sealed by the shedding of my blood.  Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it."  For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord's death until he comes again. (1 Corinthians 11:24-26)

When we come to communion we are to remember.  We remember covenant.  We break the bread in 2 to remind us of the covenant God has made with us.  We drink the wine in remembrance of the blood that covers us.  We think of Christ’s betrayal & the Passover.  We think of His agony on the cross.  We remember that it is His stripes that heal us & for our sake He was pierced.  And we remember the cup of the kingdom for Jesus said He would not drink of that cup again until He shared it with us in heaven.  We do not think of His joy.

Yep, you heard me right.

Now remember that during the Passover meal & the trial & the crucifixion we are transitioning from the Old Covenant to the New.  Jesus is taking on the mantle of our Great High Priest.  The old things are passing away.  He is about to become our Passover Lamb, the perfect sacrifice.  We are in Passover, one of the High Festivals;  One which saw every Israelite congregate in Jerusalem to worship in the Temple. 

The scriptures are very succinct & because we are so poorly instructed in the things of the Old Covenant we miss many of the blessings of the New. 

We read that on the night he was betrayed Jesus gathered with His disciples in an upper room to celebrate the Passover meal.  Now some of us have celebrated a seder & have a little understanding of what was happening before Judas betrayed our Lord.  We understand that the communion elements come from that meal.  We understand the symbolism of the lamb & the blood.

What we didn’t focus on was something implicit in the New Testament text:  The Praise.  The Hebrews used the book of Psalms as their song book.  During a seder there are 7 psalms that are sung. The psalms were always sung or chanted. Collectively they are known as the Hallel: Psalms 113~118.  They are primarily songs of praise.  Hallel means praise.

Psalms 113 & 114 were sung before the meal.

Psalm 116 has the place of importance in the middle.

After the meal The Great Hallel, Psalm 136, would be sung.

Now remember Jesus is performing a priestly role.  He is sacrificing the lamb.  He will pour out His blood on the heavenly altar.  He will act as our High Priest, interceding for us before the Father.  He is entering into the Holy of Holies & what does scripture say?

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before His presence with singing.
Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;[
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations. Psalm 100

The Levite priests chanted the Hallel as they slaughtered the Passover Lambs. And what does Jesus do?

Matthew 26:30

Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.  How easy it is to skip over this & miss it’s significance.

Now Jesus would have sung one of 2 psalms.  As the Head of the Passover he would have acted as cantor & led the singing.

He may have sung psalm 118 which begins:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
2Let Israel say:
“His love endures forever.”
3Let the house of Aaron say:
“His love endures forever.”
4Let those who fear the Lord say:
“His love endures forever.”

However I suspect this would have been sung as part of the Passover proper & what they sang before leaving was the Great Hallel, Psalm 136 with it’s repetitive refrain: His Love endures forever.

Jesus would have given the call:  GIVE THANKS, to which the disciples responded with: His love endures forever.  It is an amazing declaration in the light of what was to come. What's more, as the disciples wound their way through Jerusalem's streets the sound of praise would have been arising from every house they passed.

Crucifixion was an absolutely agonising death.  For one thing it was slow.  There was massive blood lose from the beating with the Roman whip, which was designed to open up the flesh & cause deep bruising.  All the body fluids pooled in the extremities, especially the feet as the lowest point of gravity.  This caused the heart to beat harder & harder until it became fatigued.  It caused the body to literally dry out & the tongue to cleave to the roof of the mouth.  The body reaches a point when it begins to involuntarily spasm, straining against the nails, & the weight of itself begins to press against the lungs causing suffocation.

Leviticus 17:11 says:
for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the LORD. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible.

Blood is the depository of life.  By our sins we have forfeited our right to life.

Now don’t mistake me.  I don’t for one minute think Jesus enjoyed the cross.  I think it was appalling & it broke Jesus'   heart.  But He endured it for love of us.  And He did something else.  He rose above it as Paul says in Hebrews 12:2 Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.

How on earth could Paul be so sure of that?

Because Jesus sang on the cross.

I do not mean he sang as he did during the seder ~ he would not have had breath or energy for that, but for the Hebrews to quote the opening line of a psalm was to reference the whole & at the foot of the cross were not only the bulls of Bashan but a disciple, His mother, The people of the Book & they would assuredly have known what Jesus was saying!

Firstly that agonising cry:  My God!  My God, why have you forsaken me? From Psalm 22.  It we stop at the opening line we miss Jesus point.  This is a Psalm that points out that things are not as they seem.  It looks as though God has forsaken Christ but what do we see when we get to the end of this psalm?
22I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honour him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

It ends with a declaration of what God will do unto the ends of the earth, of His goodness & faithfulness.

Traditionally this psalm ends with those famous words:  It is Finished, complete.  These are the words the High Priest utters as the last Passover Lamb is slaughtered.  There is nothing more.

Jesus also references Psalm 31: 21

21They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

And Finally, in utmost trust, Psalm 31:5

5Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

And Jesus still sings over us:

For he said to God, "I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people." Zephaniah 3:17

With us.

For us.

It is Zephaniah & Psalm 22:22 Paul quotes in Hebrews 2:12

For he said to God, "I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people."

In the midst of great suffering our Lord & saviour never lost sight of God’s character.  Never lost His trust.    Never abandoned His faith.  Instead with his dying breath He lifted His voice & declared His praises  Praise Be to God!