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Friday, November 30, 2012

OUR ADVENT HOPE


OUR ADVENT HOPE

Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36

Happy New Year !!!!!?????

That’s right, .....................happy new year!

Advent marks the beginning of a new year in the Christian calendar. The liturgical year starts with the first Sunday in Advent, which is today, and then moves into Christmas season, which includes Christmas Day, Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus. Then it moves into Lent which ends with Holy Week, followed by Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Then it is the Season of Easter (Paschaltide) which includes Ascension Day ends on Pentecost Sunday. This is followed by the Season of Pentecost which begins with Trinity Sunday and ends the fifth Sunday before Christmas. The new liturgical year then begins four Sundays before Christmas, with Advent One.

So… it’s Advent… happy new year.

During this season we remember that the Christ who came, will come again at His Second Coming


Since time immemorial people have wondered about the end of the world. You've probably all heard that according to the Mayan Calendar, the world will end in 2 weeks time.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus spoke to his Disciples and said:

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

So even Jesus spoke about the end of the world .

Interestingly, He said:
 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

In Mark's gospel last week we heard Jesus saying that something else that will happen at this time is that the Temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed. He said not one stone will remain standing on that terrible day.



And that prophecy was fulfilled in A.D. 70, just 37 years after Jesus spoke it. The Romans absolutely destroyed the Temple and all the things Jesus prophesied, wars, revolutions, earthquakes, famines, strange and terrifying things in the sky….. all these came about in A.D. 69 and 70. You can Google ' fall of Jerusalem and Jesus prophecies ' and you will see Roman historians and Jewish historians recording all these things.

Of course for the disciples hearing these words, it sounded like the end of the world. They could not imagine a world without a Temple – where would God live.

Jesus goes on in our reading:
 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.


 And that is the good news we celebrate in Advent. In the midst of destruction, there is new life. In the midst of chaos, God speaks a new creation word. In Advent we remember that God came in Christ, is with us now… and will come again.

The Kingdom of God came in Christ, is among us by the Spirit, will come in all it’s fullness with Christ's glorious return and .......Jesus says, ........it’s happening now, look for the green shoots.

In your life now, look for the green shoots.

Yesterday was World Aids Day.


In 1996, Cotlands (based in Turffontein, Johannesburg) offered the country’s first AIDS hospice aimed at 
helping children to die with dignity.

They have helped thousands of children die with dignity. Earlier this year, they had to shut the doors of the AIDS hospice for children… do you know why?......................................Because they haven’t had an AIDS related death since 2009. A Cotlands' spokesperson was quoted in The Johannesburg Star as saying ‘Anti retro-viral treatment increases life expectancy. These children are now going to live until they are adults.’ Isn't that good news?

One of the prophet Isaiah’s prophecies regarding the End Times is that people will not die young.

Look for the green shoots, says Jesus.




We've walked through another year, hopefully discovering that God is here with us, as He has always been with His people. And I hope we've been amazed at how He shows up unexpectedly, in a service, in a funeral, a small group, in your illness, in your celebration, in your hospice.

This year has been hard for many/most of us, hasn't it?
We feel…................ barren.
My prayer is that this Advent season, this new year, will provide you with.......... a new hope… a renewed hope, so that as we go into the future with it’s struggles that God leads us through, or that sin in our world brings us into, or maybe even that you and I have fallen into because of our own sin… that in our struggles we will be able to look at the fig tree…
and amid the ruins, the mess, the confusion, the worry....see the leaves.
Perhaps even thinking or saying I’m so dry,.... I’m so hungry,...... I’m so lonely,..... it’s so hard, how am I going to make it,........ but at the same time looking for the green leaf, remembering that God who was a baby, is a powerful presence, is in our lives,............ He is with us.

In Advent we remember the note of hope that runs through all the pages of the Bible. I love that song that the saints sing in Revelation 7… it actually comes from the book of Isaiah…

They sing together as they experience the fullness of their relationship with God.
Never again will they hunger. Never again will they thirst. Never again will the sun beat upon them, nor the scorching heat.
The Lamb from the centre of the throne will become their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of living water, and He will wipe away every tear. 
That’s our hope. Sometimes, praise God, some of that even happens in our life here. We go through painful, trying times. We come out on the other side, as many of you have this year, and many of you will in the coming year.
God has (or will) quenched your thirst. He has (and will) wiped away your tears.
And as we continue our journey into Advent, through Christmas and into a new calendar year, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the day will come, Jesus will return, His Kingdom will come in all its fulness and God's people will know fullness of relationship with Him.

That’s our Advent hope, and the shoots are all around us.

Who may be saved?


From John Wesley's Journal for this day in 1767:
30 Nov 1767: I took coach for Norwich, and in the evening came to Newmarket.On Tuesday, being alone in the coach, I was considering several points of importance. And thus much appeared clear as the day:
That a man may be saved who cannot express himself properly concerning imputed righteousness. Therefore to do this is not necessary to salvation;
That a man may be saved who has not clear conceptions of it (yea, that never heard the phrase). Therefore clear conceptions of it are not necessary to salvation; yea, it is not necessary to salvation to use the phrase at all;
That a pious churchman who has not clear conceptions even of justification by faith may be saved; therefore clear conceptions even of this are not necessary to salvation;
That a mystic who denies justification by faith (Mr. Law, for instance) may be saved. But if so, what becomes of articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae?[The article of doctrine by which the church stands or falls] If so, is it not high time for us Projicere ampullas et sesquipedalia verba,[To lay aside big words that have no determinate meaning] and to return to the plain word, ‘He that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.’
Every evening this week, I preached at Norwich to a quiet, well-behaved congregation. Our friends, the mob, seem to have taken their leave. And so have triflers; all that remain seem to be deeply serious. But how easily are even these turned out of the way! One of our old members, about a year ago, left the society and never heard the preaching since, ‘because Mr. Lincoln said Mr. Wesley and all his followers would go to hell together!’ However, on Tuesday night, he ventured to the house once more. And God met him there and revealed his Son in his heart.

Friday, November 23, 2012

What is Truth?


What is Truth?

‘And what is truth’ Pilate asked. 
John 18:38

That must surely be one of the more ironic lines in Scripture.
Staring at Jesus - one of His names is The Truth and asking ‘What is Truth?’
It’s a question that is appropriate for the times we live in.

I want to say 3 things about Truth today – things that I hope will set us free in some new way…. to live in a new way as a disciple of Jesus.

Truth is: a thing
                a power
                a person   

What do I mean, truth is a thing – well truth is the opposite of lies, of deception, of things that we keep hidden. Truth is a thing which is always in the open and is never scared of, or ashamed of, being revealed.
The world today is full of the opposite of truth – in the business world, the political arena and the sporting world the opposite of truth is called corruption, fraud, nepotism, mismanagement, etc.

And we need look no further than our own country to the scandals in athletics, cricket and in various government departments where rampant fraud has been exposed, to realize that there is, in many areas, an absence of the thing called truth.

And the good thing is that it is being exposed.

On every continent throughout the world, similar exposure is taking place on an unprecedented scale. The current recession is due to TRUTH being exposed.
This exposure of corruption is a new thing taking place in our lifetime and it has considerable prophetic significance. We will misunderstand its significance if we simply conclude that we live in the most evil generation ever to have inhabited the world. This may be true, but no one has evidence to prove it.
There has always been corruption, unrighteousness, cruelty and wickedness ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden. It was precisely to deal with this that the Father sent Jesus with the good news of God’s saving love.

The new thing we are seeing today is the extent of what is being revealed. Nothing remains hidden.

What is happening today is fully in line with a prophecy given by none other than Jesus himself. He said ‘there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open (Luke 8:17)’.
Jesus was speaking about the effect the gospel would have upon the world. He said it would be like lighting a lamp and putting it on a prominent place in the room so that everyone could see the light which would also expose everything in the room.
This is precisely what is happening today. Nothing remains hidden for long.

God is undoubtedly turning up the power of the light that is exposing evil and corruption, but that same light is also bringing life to millions who are hearing the good news of the Lord Jesus for the first time. These are the contrasts of the age in which we live. But these are also the signs of the times for which we should be watching and noting if we are to understand what God is saying to His people today and what He is requiring us to do.


So truth is a thing, which because of the light of the gospel, will be and is being revealed.

That same gospel of course touches us and changes us and this leads to the second thing I want to say about truth, and that is that truth is a power, it has potential.

John reminds us (8:32) that The truth shall set you free.
Wherever the opposite of truth exists, be it in the form of lies or deception or fraud or corruption, there is un-freedom, there is bondage, there is watching what I do, or say or spend.

You might disagree, but what I’m saying is that, as an example from current news, General Petraeus is a freer man today than he was before the truth was brought out into the open.
King David in the Bible was a freer man after his sin was exposed.

The opposite of truth enslaves and is a constant threat to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. This is especially true in the relationships we have with the people we love. Husbands and wives, be truthful with each other about what you like and don’t like. Parents and children (of all ages), brothers and sisters, friends, be truthful with each other.

I counsel too many people who say – ‘I didn’t know he/she felt that way’….. ‘He never said anything’

Friends “the truth sets you free”

Don’t believe Satan’s deception that you cannot be truthful with the people you love…….you can, they (and you) will survive.
The gospel, which is the good news for our salvation, says “the truth will always set you free.

I have counseled many people into the courageous steps of revealing the truth about themselves to the people they love……….. and sometimes it has almost been with great fear (how will he/she respond) but ALWAYS the discovery has been that the truth sets free.

Now this doesn’t mean that on your way home, or even in the pew right now, you turn to the person you love and say:
Actually I’m married to somebody elseOh by the way I have a child in FranceAnd while we’re at it I can’t stand your hair today… And you look terrible in blue….
That might have an unnecessarily unexpected and unpleasant immediate outcome…….. but,do as you sit here or drive home, decide that the time is near for the truth to come out, because the truth will set you free.

And it will set you free because the truth is not just a thing that will be revealed, and it is not just a power that will set you free, it gets even better than these two good things,………….. the truth is also a person.

Jesus said: I am the Truth (that’s why it is so ironic that Pilate should look at Him and say what is truth)
And Jesus is revealed in us, His image is restored in us, His spirit is upon us and in us when the truth is in us and in our relationships. Does that make sense?

When you are truthful, Jesus is revealed in you.

What is truth? Pilate asks.

Jesus in His life and in His gospel reveals that:
1.    Truth is a thing which will be revealed
2.    Truth is a power which always sets free
3.    Truth is a person, Christ, who wants to be revealed in you and me.

Amen



Year-end, End-times and the Gospel

It's year end, and people say it's End times.....and this evening I want relate these two things to the Gospel.





And the good news I want to preach about in this context is that......

Right now in this place God is making a new Earth


Our Old Testament reading from Isaiah and our gospel reading from Mark really compliment each other today and I'm going to move between the two, referring to one, then to the other, because they both speak of the same reality, namely:

Right now, God is making a new Earth, and you and I are not only living in it, but are even invited to be part of God’s creative effort…. part of the building process.

Here in South Africa we recently had the Fifa 2010 World Cup,............

.............. part of which was a massive building programme, huge construction projects, but you and I didn't really play a role in the building process, other than through our taxes.


God is making a new Earth and you and I, and all people in fact, are called to be involved, not just with our money, but by hands on construction work. And there is no job reservation, there is no special skill required, in fact you are equipped and empowered on the job, and best of all, it is a project, which although huge in nature, definitely has no trace and no possibility of corruption scandal. Your effort will make a difference and will not be wasted.

All people can do this work, in fact all people need to do this work and be involved in project re-creation. Every worker can be assured that the work they are doing is making a difference and best of all, each of us can do our part of the job to perfection.

I am making a new earth, says God through the prophet Isaiah….. not…. one day I will make a new Earth and until then you are stuck with the earth you are living in….. no….. I am making a new earth.

This building project is nothing other than the Kingdom of God coming on earth. Isaiah describes such a place, such a kingdom, such a new earth:
it is a kingdom where the people of full of joy;
a kingdom where there will be no weeping, no distress, or calling for help.
It is a kingdom where there will be no more babies dying in infancy…. our own country has a shockingly high infant mortality rate, doesn't it?
It is a kingdom in which people will live out their lifespan.
The Psalmist considered three score years and ten as the blessed life, 70 years, but in this new Earth, 100 years old will be common and even considered young!
People will build homes and get to live in them, they will not be used by someone else, says God through the prophet Isaiah.
We live in a country where the majority of people who build homes, laying one brick upon another, then plastering, then painting etc….. the people who do this in South Africa generally never get to live in a house themselves. Homelessness in our nation is a disgrace.
Against this background, doesn't the kingdom of God sound good? Many of you have never lived in your own home, and some in our congregation live on the streets of Alberton.
Doesn't this kingdom, this new earth that God is making right now sound good?

Isaiah goes on and says that the work you do in this new earth that God is building, that He invites us to be a part of, will be successful.

And best of all, this new place will be peaceful.

Last week we remembered fallen soldiers on Remembrance Day, millions who have died on battlefields. God says this new earth which I am building and which I invite you to help me build, is a place which is as peaceful as a world where wolves and lambs eat together, not each other, where lions eat with cattle, and snakes will no longer be dangerous!
That's a peace that passes all understanding, isn't it?


And yet, God says, it's what I am doing. That is what I am making, right now. Do you want to help me?

Jesus began his ministry, as you might remember, with words like this: ' The Kingdom of God is at hand ' meaning, this kingdom, this new earth which Isaiah spoke about, is close.

Jesus would teach us to pray: ' your kingdom come '; in other words, this new earth, let it come, let it be,….NOW.

And then He showed in his life how, when you live like him, this kingdom comes, this new earth... happens. We see in the Gospels that where Jesus was, and especially when he was accepted and really made welcome into people's lives, there was joy, even in the midst of the brutal Roman occupation.

He showed that this new earth was coming and being established, because when people died before the proper age for their dying, well, he stood at the deathbed or the grave, of children and adults, and said: 'Wake up! In this new earth you which I have begun making, you need not die before its actually time to die. '

Jesus showed and taught in many different ways that with his arrival on earth, the new earth, the kingdom of God, was and is, in our midst.

And he showed how by a small step of faith one can enter into this new earth, and be born again and empowered and equipped for life and work in this new earth.

Are you born again, and have you received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and his power, and are you living and working in and for the kingdom of God, so that where you are, the kingdom of God is coming, and where you are, God's will is being done?

The old Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town had to be destroyed before the new Cape Town 2010 Stadium could be built.

 Sometimes things have to be destroyed, broken down, before new and better things can come about.

The Temple in Jerusalem was one such place.

It was a hindrance to the fulfilment of Judaism, which is what Christianity is. It was a hindrance to God's promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being fulfilled at the time of Jesus and after his ministry.

In verse one of Mark 13, we see pride in the disciples as they look at the Temple, marvelling at its beauty,

 and the beauty of the gifts, the sacrifices, the fine bulls, and sheep and lambs being offered to God. The first fruits and the tithes of all harvests going up to the Temple.

King Solomon had built the first Temple in about 900 BC and it was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. 70 years later, Zerrubabbel rebuilt the Temple, and about 500 years later, when Jesus was born, Herod the Great built the new Temple, huge and grand, it took him 46 years and it was the Temple that was in Jerusalem during the life of Jesus. It was a source of great pride in Judaism.

And in this reading Jesus is predicting/prophesying/foretelling the destruction of this temple. Listen to verse six: “all this you see, the time will come when not a single stone here will be left in its place, every one will be thrown down.”


And that prophecy was fulfilled in A.D. 70, just 37 years after Jesus spoke it. The Romans absolutely destroyed the Temple and all the things Jesus prophesied, wars, revolutions, earthquakes, famines, strange and terrifying things in the sky….. all these came about in A.D. 69 and 70. You can Google ' fall of Jerusalem and Jesus prophecies ' and you will see Roman historians and Jewish historians recording all these things.

Of course for the disciples hearing these words, it sounded like the end of the world. They could not imagine a world without a Temple. Where would they bring their fine cattle, and lambs, and calves,… where would they bring their beautiful first fruits, their produce and harvests? Most of all, where would they bring their tithes?



And there we see why the Temple had to be destroyed,…. because what people had to learn is that God doesn't want your best bull, your finest lamb, one 10th of all your income………………..,

He wants….. YOU! (He knows that when he really gets you, he gets everything else.)

The Temple didn't encourage the giving of self to God, so it had to go.

It also had to go because while in the old kingdom, the old earth, God dwelt in the Temple, in the new kingdom, the new earth, God's dwelling place is with his people,….. remember,….. He is Emmanuelle,…. God with us.


So the old Temple had to go and it wasn't the end of the world, it was the beginning of a new world, the one which Isaiah had looked forward to, and which Jesus told us to pray for, and which comes when God's will is done on earth, in .... [insert your own hometown here], by you, by me, even as it is done in heaven.

When you and I walk with the Lord and do his will, there is joy….. and…. the new earth is built.
When you and I live as Jesus showed us to live,…… the new earth is built and God's kingdom comes.
Isaiah said there would be no weeping and calling for help…. well, in this new earth, there is certainly no calling for help, because we offer help before people have to call for it and if there are tears, we wipe them away as we comfort them and……as we live this new way, the Way Jesus lived and calls us to live….. the new earth is built.
As we offer our clean water to others to drink, and then perhaps even work for clean water where they live….. babies no longer die in infancy and people live out their lifespan, because waterborne diseases disappear and….. the new earth is built.
And as we follow Jesus’ example, and love instead of hate, and turn our enemies into our friends,

 it is like a world where wolves and lambs eat together…. it is peaceful and it remains peaceful because we let the Lamb of God give us his peace….. we no longer rely on the peace that the world offers and…….. the new earth is built.
And so we could go on and on and on.

And it is my hope that you will as you leave here, go on and on and on, reaching out to others, wiping away tears, even stopping babies from dying unnecessarily, loving your enemies, and so on and so on and so on. Because when you do these things, and of course many others, the new earth is built, brick by brick, by you and me as we work together with God.

I am making a new earth, says God.

These are ways (among many) that we can help him build it, so that his kingdom comes and his will is done, here in ....[insert your hometown], by us, even as it is done in Heaven.

Let's get busy.

Why did I come to America


23 Nov 1736: Mr. Oglethorpe sailed for England, leaving Mr. Ingham, Mr. Delamotte, and me at Savannah, but with less prospect of preaching to the Indians than we had the first day we set foot in America. Whenever I mentioned it, it was immediately replied, ‘You can’t leave Savannah without a minister.’ To this indeed my plain answer was, ‘I know not that I am under any obligation to the contrary. I never promised to stay here one month. I openly declared both before, at, and ever since my coming hither, that I neither would nor could take charge of the English any longer than till I could go among the Indians.’ If it was said, ‘But did not the Trustees of Georgia appoint you to be minister of Savannah?’ I replied, ‘They did; but it was not done by my solicitation: it was done without either my desire or knowledge. Therefore I cannot conceive that appointment to lay me under any obligation of continuing there any longer than till a door is opened to the heathens. And this I expressly declared at the time I consented to accept of that appointment.’ But though I had no other obligation not to leave Savannah now, yet that of love I could not break through; I could not resist the importunate request of the more serious parishioners to watch over their souls yet a little longer, till someone came who might supply my place. And this I the more willingly did because the time was not come to preach the gospel of peace to the heathens, all their nations being in a ferment; and Paustoobee and Mingo Mattaw having told me, in terms, in my own house, ‘Now our enemies are all about us, and we can do nothing but fight; but if the beloved ones should ever give us to be at peace, then we would hear the Great Word.’

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Reading about Muhammad


23 Nov 1767: I went to Canterbury. Here I met with the Life of Mahomet, wrote, I suppose, by the Count de Boulainvilliers. Whoever the author is, he is a very pert, shallow, self-conceited coxcomb, remarkable for nothing but his immense assurance and thorough contempt of Christianity. And the book is a dull, ill-digested romance, supported by no authorities at all; whereas Dean Prideaux (a writer of ten times his sense) cites his authorities for everything he advances.
In the afternoon, I rode to Dover, but the gentleman I was to lodge with was gone a longer journey. He went to bed well, but was dead in the morning. Such a vapour is life! At six I preached, but the house would by no means contain the congregation. Most of the officers of the garrison were there. I have not found so much life here for some years. After preaching at Sandwich and Margate, and spending a comfortable day at Canterbury, on Saturday I returned to London.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How the Americans have betrayed King George


13 to 20 Nov 1779: I had the pleasure of an hour’s conversation with Mr. Galloway, one of the members of the first Congress in America. He unfolded a strange tale indeed! How has poor King George been betrayed on every side! But this is our comfort: there is One higher than they. And He will command all things to work together for good.
The following week I examined the rest of our society, but did not find such an increase as I expected. Nay, there was a considerable decrease, plainly owing to a senseless jealousy that had crept in between our preachers, which had grieved the Holy Spirit of God and greatly hindered his work.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Some Strange Stories Believed by Wesley


Tues 17 Nov 1772: One was relating a remarkable story, which I thought worthy to be remembered. Two years ago, a gentleman of large fortune in Kent dreamed that he was walking through the church-yard, and saw a new monument with the following inscription:—
Here Lies the Body!
OF
SAMUEL SAVAGE, ESQ.,
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE ON SEPTEMBER —. 1772; AGED —.
He told his friends in the morning, and was much affected: But the impression soon wore off. But on that day he did depart; and a stone was erected with that very inscription.
A gentlewoman present added a relation equally surprising, which she received from the person's own mouth:—
"Mrs. B—, when about fourteen years of age, being at a boarding-school, a mile or two from her father’s, dreamed she was on the top of the church-steeple, when a man came up, and threw her down to the roof of the church. Yet she seemed not much hurt, till he came to her again, and threw her to the bottom. She thought she looked hard at him, and said, 'Now you have hurt me sadly, but I shall hurt you worse;’ and waked. A week after, she was to go to her father's. She set out early in the morning. At the entrance of a little wood, she stopped, and doubted whether she should not go round, instead of through it. But, knowing no reason, she went straight through till she came to the other side. Just as she was going over the style, a man pulled her back by the hair. She immediately knew it was the same man whom she had seen in her dream. She fell on her knees, and begged him, ’For God's sake, do not hurt me any more.’ He put his hands round her neck, and squeezed her so, that she instantly lost her senses. He then stripped her, carried her a little way, and threw her into a ditch.
"Meantime, her father's servant coming to the school, and hearing she was gone without him, walked back. Coming to the style, he heard several groans, and looking about, saw many drops of blood. He traced them to the ditch, whence the groans came. He lifted her up, not knowing her at all, as her face was covered with blood, carried her to a neighbouring house, and, running to the village, quickly brought a Surgeon. She was just alive; but her throat was much hurt, so that she could not speak at all.
"Just then a young man of the village was missing. Search being made, he was apprehended in an alehouse two miles off. He had all her clothes with him in a bag, which, he said, he found. It was three months before she was able to go abroad. He was arraigned at the Assizes. She knew him perfectly, and swore to the man. He was condemned, and soon after executed."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Attainable Christian Perfection


From Wesley's Journal for this day in 1767
15 Nov 1767: I buried the remains of Rebecca Mills. She found peace with God many years since and, about five years ago, was entirely changed and enabled to give her whole soul to God. From that hour, she never found any decay but loved and served him with her whole heart. Pain and sickness and various trials succeeded, almost without any intermission. But she was always the same, firm and unmoved as the rock on which she was built, in life and in death uniformly praising the God of her salvation. The attainableness of this great salvation is put beyond all reasonable doubt by the testimony of one such (were there but one) living and dying witness.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bible Studies on Stewardship of Money


Stewardship of Money 
John Wesley — the Use of money
Aim of the lesson:
•   To study some implications of the stewardship of money.
Study passage: Luke 16:1-13
Introductory exercise:
Are group members intelligently informed about your congregation's budget needs? Why not allow 10 minutes for someone (e.g. Treasurer or minister) to explain how church finances work.
Notes:
•    A precious gift. Wesley's famous sermon on The Use of Money was preached to Methodists whose industry and thrift were already bringing them wealth. He makes it clear that it is not money, but the love of money, which is the root of all evil. "The fault", he says, "does not lie in the money, but in them that use it." In another sermon he speaks of "that precious talent which contains all the rest — money." He pronounces it "unspeakably precious if we are wise and faithful stewards of it."
•   Three Rules. Wesley reduced his instructions for the use of money to three plain rules, and claimed that by keeping them we prove ourselves to be faithful stewards of God's bounty. The rules are: Gain all you can; save all you can; give all you can.
•    Gain all you can. Methodists were to work diligently and to trade intelligently — but not to the extent of damaging their health. They were to engage in no "sinful trade", contrary to the laws of God or the country. They were forbidden to "rob the king of his customs"; today's equivalent would be to evade paying taxes. There was to be "no cheating or lying, or whatever is not consistent with a good conscience." They were to avoid unfair competition, which would damage their neighbor’s trade. They were also to avoid selling anything that might impair health. Gaining all one could was to be achieved only by honest industry.
•   Save all you can. This does not refer to building up a huge bank account, but was to be done by avoiding all expense that was not absolutely necessary. So Wesley cautions against expensive goods, needless ornaments, superfluous clothing and furniture, even "elegant rather than useful gardens". He also cautions against spoiling children with more money than necessity requires, maintaining that this is simply to put temptation in their way. Children should be educated in the right use of money and be taught not to squander it.
•    Give all you can. In giving all we can, we must provide first for the reasonable needs of our own families and dependants, and if there is anything over, we must "do good to them that are of the household of faith", and if there is anything still left, "do good to all men". "All that is laid out in this manner", says Wesley, "is really given to God." And this is as it should be, for Wesley maintained that all goods, including money, are God's sole property, and that we are but stewards of His bounty. In Wesley's own words: "Render unto God, not a tenth, not a third, not a half, but all that is God's, be it more or less; by employing it all ... in such a manner, that you may give a good account of your stewardship."
•    Wesley's own life squared with his teaching. It has been pointed out that the sales of Wesley's published works alone were enough to make him a rich man, but he never spent more than 30 pounds a year on his personal needs. Yet in a single year he gave away 1400 pounds, "through his brethren, the poor".

Questions for discussion:
1.  Examine the study passage. Is what Wesley taught consistent with it?
2.   Is Wesley's teaching in conflict with the traditional idea of the tithe?
3.   Wesley told his preachers: "You have nothing to do but save souls." Isn't he then being inconsistent in preaching on the use of money?
4.   What do you make of the three rules?
5.   Should a Christian with money to spare, give first to the Church and to the Christian poor, and only after that to needs in the outside world?
Something to do:
To what extent are you honestly "giving all you can"? Think about this and if necessary, do something about it.

Stewardship of Money 2
Giving in the Old Testament
Aim of the lesson:
• To examine some of the principles of giving in the Old Testament and see what we can learn about our giving as Christians.
Study passage: Deuteronomy 26:1-15.
Notes:
• The first-fruits. In Old Testament times it was the practice to bring the first part of the harvest and the first-born animals to God (vs 2, Deut 15:19, Ex 23:16). Because the Jews had a strong belief that God was the Creator, all living things, vegetable, animal and human belonged to Him. It was therefore necessary to offer the first of these things back to Him to acknowledge His ownership of them. The person was then free to use the rest of them with His blessing. It was also believed that if they were faithful in this regard God would bless the rest of the crop with abundance. As Christians do we tend to give God the left-overs rather than the 'first-fruits'?
Note: In the New Testament the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit are sometimes spoken of as the 'first-fruits' of God's grace (Rom 8:23, 11:16, I Cor 15:20, Jas 1:18, Rev 14:4).
• Tithing. The normal standard of giving in the Old Testament was a tenth of one's crops, produce, live-stock, income etc (vs 12, Deut 14:22, Gen 28:22). In return God promised to bless the giver with plenty (vs 15, Mai 3:10). Every third year the tithe was given entirely to the poor and the Levites (priests), who had received no inheritance when the Promised Land was divided among the twelve tribes (Deut 14:28-29, Josh 18:7). For convenience people could give money instead of produce, but then they had to give one fifth extra (Lev 27:30-31).
• Proportional giving. Giving in proportion to the blessings one had received from God is mentioned in the Old Testament but does not seem to have been widely practiced (Deut 16:10, 16). This seems to be more in keeping with what Jesus taught about giving (Mk 12:41-44).
• Sacrifice. There were many different types of sacrifice in the Old Testament, but the common purpose behind all of them was to honour God, and in return to receive a blessing from Him. It might be to give thanks or remember some great act of God. It might be to receive forgiveness of sins, to restore fellowship with Him, or for good crops. An important assumption of all sacrifice was that, for the person making it, it had to cost them something (2 Sam 24:24). It meant giving up something precious for God. Today we no longer need to make sacrifices of this sort because Christ is our once-for-all sacrifice (Heb 7:27). But our giving to God still needs to reflect something of the costliness of Old Testament sacrifice.
• Giving the best. An offering had to be without blemish or defect because only the best was good enough for God (Deut 15:21).
• Thanksgiving. At the heart of all worship in the Old Testament (and the New Testament) was gratitude for God's blessings and goodness. It was as a sign of this thanksgiving that people were to bring their gifts and care for the needs of the poor. In the same way our giving to God must always be done in a spirit of thanksgiving, and it must be an essential part of our worship.

Questions for discussion:
Deut 26:1-15
1.  What lessons can we as Christians learn from the principles of Old Testament giving referred to above (a) the first-fruits (b) the tithe (c) proportional giving (d) sacrifice (e) giving the best (f) thanksgiving?
2.  What are the most important standards of Christian giving?
3.  Why do Christians give to God? What are we to give Him?


Stewardship of Money 3

Christian Giving
Aim of the lesson:
• To examine our giving to the work of God in the light of Paul's teaching. Daily Readings: Sun: 2 Cor 9:1-15; Mon: Mk 12:41-44; Tue: 2 Sam 24:18-25; Wed: Mai 13:6-12; Thu: Lk 19:11-27; Fri: Acts 27:27-44; Sat: Acts 28:1-30.
Study Passage: 2 Corinthians 9:1-15.
Notes:
•  Background. In New Testament times at least two great famines affected the Roman Empire. During the first the Christians in Antioch decided to take a collection for the Christians in Judea, who were suffering more than most. They gave, each one as much as he or she could, and sent their gifts by the hands of Paul and Barnabas and the church elders (Acts 11:27-30). This was the first recorded example of Christian famine relief that we know of where Christians in one area got together to help the needy in another area. The same thing happened about twelve years later, and this event provides the background to our study-passage. In his instructions to the Christians in Corinth Paul teaches us several things about giving.
• Verses 1-4. Paul was not afraid to encourage a spirit of healthy competition. He told the Macedonian churches how well the Corinthian church gave, and he now urges the Corinthians not to let him down.
• Verse 5. When we give to God's work, or to the needy (which is the same thing, Mt 25:40) it should be done willingly and with a good heart (vs 7).
• Verse 6. We must give generously and not sparingly. Tithing, giving one tenth of what we receive back to God, is a well established biblical principle of giving (Mai 3:10) But truly speaking there should be no limits to how much a Christian is prepared to give to God, because we have acknowledged that everything we have belongs to Him anyway. If we sow sparingly we will reap in the same way. We should give in proportion to what we get. There should be no uniform assessments.
• Verse 7. Giving demands a purpose and a plan (1 Cor 16:2). We should make up our minds before-hand what we intend to give and carry out our purpose reverently and faithfully. Some people make promises but are very slow to carry them out. Our giving should be a sacred pledge. Being systematic also means we will keep an accurate account of our income and what we spend.
• Verses 8-14. The Old Testament often promises that if we give God will return our gifts to us with interest (Deut 15:10, 24:19). Paul however does not teach that we should 'give in order to get' from God. He says we should give freely and even recklessly, without hope of reward, trusting that God will meet our own needs (Phil 4:19). He might not bless us with material things but we will certainly receive spiritual graces; ability to do more good works and give more freely; the enlargement of our heart and soul; the increase of our love and devotion; greater joy and satisfaction. But more than this, those who receive our gifts will give thanks for us, and hopefully also give thanks and praise to God.
• Verse 15. No giving can be adequate return for the wonderful gift of God. The old Israelites were urged to give because God had rescued them from Egypt. Christians give because they have been saved by the precious blood of Jesus.

Questions for discussion:
2 Cor 9:1-15.
1.  Christians are asked to give to the work of God. What is the 'Work of God'? To what should we give? Why?
2.  Jesus said it was more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). What do you think He meant?
3.  How and what should Christians give?
4.  How can we be more systematic in our giving (a) as individuals, (b) as a congregation?
Group exercise:
Decide as a group on a project or a specific need to which you would like to give and make the necessary plans to do so. Later on, assess what you have done.
Something to do:
Spend time this week examining your own giving. Write down on paper what you are actually giving. How much do you receive each month, or each week? How does what you give compare with what you receive? What is God saying to you?

Stewardship of Money 4
Tithing
Aim of the lesson:
•   General aim: Understanding Christian giving.
•   Understanding the biblical principle of tithing.
Study passages: Mal 3: 6-12, Mark 12: 41-44.
Notes:
•   Tithing. When Abraham was successful in battle, he gave a tenth of his possessions to the priest Melchizedek (Gen 14: 17-20). When Jacob dreamed of a ladder reaching up to heaven he had such a deep sense of the power and presence of God that he called the place Bethel (house of God), set up a memorial stone, and promised to give Him a tenth of his possessions and the increase of his possessions (Gen 28: 20-22). Tithing, giving a tenth of our income to God, is the biblical standard of giving and He promises that if we are faithful in this, He will bless us (Lev 27: 30, Deut 14: 22-29, 12: 6, 11, Neh 13: 5, Mai 3: 8-10, Heb 1: 5).
• Jesus accepted the principle of tithing but He stressed that our giving should come from a pure heart. He condemned those who tithed in a legalistic way but whose lives did not show evidence of the more important aspects of the law such as justice, mercy and faithfulness (Mt 23: 23, Lk 18: 12).
•   Christian giving requires more than just giving a tenth. Jesus taught that tithing was a basic minimum for Christians and mat we only begin to give when we have given over and above our tithe. The first tenth belongs to God anyway. If we fail to give it to God, we have in fact stolen what rightfully belongs to Him (Mai 3: 8-9). We start to really give to God when we give out of our nine-tenths. For a Christian there really are no legalistic laws and limits. Like the widow, we should be prepared to give our all to Him (Mk 12: 41-44).
•   What can we give to God? We can give Him nothing that He has not given us in the first place, but there are three clear areas of our lives in which we must give:
- Our money. We must tithe our income to the work of God. The Bible teaches that money is the root of all evil (I Tim 6: 10) but also that we should be wise in putting it to work for God (Lk 16: 10-12).
- Our time is also a gift from God. We ought to make sure that at least a tenth of our time is devoted to Him.
- Our talents and gifts. Some are natural abilities, others are special gifts of the Spirit. God has many tasks to be done. He needs our talents and gifts, and we must ensure that they are consecrated to Him to be used in His service.
•   If we are faithful in giving, God promises to bless us (Mai 3: 10). We do not subscribe to the "prosperity gospel" preached by some churches these days, but there is clear teaching mat if we are faithful and obedient to God, He will supply all our need (Mt 6: 33, Phil 4: 19, Gal 6: 8-10).

Questions for discussion:
Mai 3: 6-12, Mark 12: 41-44.
1.   What insights come to you from the Malachi passage?
2.   In the Mark passage what differences can you find between the way in which the widow gave, and the way in which the rich people gave?
3.   Do you agree with the principle of tithing?
4.   Of what things is a Christian expected to tithe?
5.   Must our tithe be given to the Church or can we give it to the work of God in other ways?
6.   If we are faithful in giving, in what way can we expect God to supply our need?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Stewardship 8: Conclusion


This is the conclusion to our series on Stewardship, which we have seen over the last 8 weeks, is a very important aspect of the Christian life. Stewardship in a sense asks us:
How have we cared for and used the things that God has entrusted to us – the creation He has given us to live in, He often calls it a vineyard in the Scriptures, how have we, you and I, cared for it.
The time, the life He has blessed us with, how have we used it/are we using it/how will we use if from here onward.
The talents, gifts, abilities He has given us – uniquely blessed each one of us – how have we used our brains, eyes, hands, cooking ability, our high jump ability, our work ability, our particular Spiritual Gifts.
How are we blessing and taking care of the people that God has entrusted to us in our homes, our church, our streets, our workplaces.
And our money – are good stewards of that.
And I want to conclude this series with some suggestions regarding how to begin to be a better steward.
Wherever we are with regards to our role as stewards, with the grace of God, we can improve, can’t we?
I can… and you can too.
And the truth is that it’s very important that we do improve if we are serious about being disciples of Christ
.
I want to highlight a few verses from our Luke readings:

‘Whoever is faithful in small matters will be faithful in large ones” 16:10

‘Well done, you are a good steward! Since you were faithful in small mattes, I will put you in charge of large matters’ 19:17

‘Much is required from the person to whom much is given, much more is required from the person to whom much more is given’ 12:48

The principle that we see in there and in all scriptures is a simple and gracious one from God:
‘start off small, prove yourself faithful in small things and I will gradually entrust you with more.’

Let’s look at how this principle works in 3 areas of our lives – the area of : stewardship, sin and growing in holiness, giving of our money.

First an illustration – high jump – I hated it at school.
Jumping over a pole into a sandpit (we don’t have foam when I started school) I hated it.
But I noticed that the people who liked it didn’t start at the school record and try and jump over it.
They started low and gradually worked higher.
Proved themselves faithful in small things and gradually found grace/strength/ability – to reach higher/bigger things.
It’s the Biblical principle mentioned above which applies in all areas of life.
The same principle applied in something that I DID like – weightlifting. You don’t start off with the heaviest. You start off small and you add more as you grow.
It’s the biblical principle. Little bit, and more is entrusted to you.
And likewise when you can jump 6 feet, push 100kg’s, you are expected to. Then you don’t get away with 3feet or 50kg’s. To the one whom much more has been given, says Jesus, much more is expected. The Biblical Principle.

In the area of stewardship of creation, of your time, of your gifts and talents and abilities, of people, your family, your friends, the poor – in all these Satan’s temptation is… what possible difference can you make – so don’t even try.
In all the stewardship parables it is the steward who doesn't even try, the one who just gives back what he got with no interest, he's the one who gets the curse from the King… ‘bad and worthless steward/servant – go away’

In each of the areas we've looked at… start off, even today, somewhere ‘small’, and be faithful in the ‘small’ thing and see how God then helps you grow. Please.

In the area of sin and growing in personal holiness the same thing applies. Satan tempts us to believe ‘you’ll never change’ but God says ‘You can change’.
AA have a wonderful principle/motto: They say ‘one day at a time’. An alcoholic who doesn't drink anymore will never say ‘I’ll never drink again’ – he or she will say ‘I won’t drink today’.
And as they prove themselves faithful in small things,.... ie one day..... they suddenly find by God's grace they've been faithful in big things – suddenly it’s a week, a month, a year, a decade since they last drank.

In the area of sin in your life that grips you this morning, don’t say – I’ll never do that again, rather say ‘I won’t do that today’ and see how God gives you grace, gives you more and more power, and suddenly it’s been a few days, or a week,.... etc.
As you tackle sin in this way, you’ll find you are growing in holiness – one day at a time.

Finally, in the area of giving of your money; we've heard of tithing, and of offering and of giving sacrificially and sometimes, we don’t know where to start. All we do know is… God can’t have all ‘my’ money.

But the same ‘ weightlifting and high jump’ principles apply.
If you’re not tithing yet, make that your goal, set yourself a time limit and begin today, this month, to give more, and add to your giving.

If you are already tithing, don’t sit back – add to your giving, you’ll remember that’s when it becomes an offering.

So we've looked at Stewardship over a number of weeks and in a number of different areas.
Why –because it is very very important.

It is in the context of Stewardship that we will one day hear the words I think we all long to hear from our LORD on that Great Day ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Come in, and share my Fathers Glory’

I want to hear those words on that day.

How about you?

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Stewardship 7: Stewardship of our Money

Stewardship of Money 

We all have quite strong feelings about our money, and for the most part we don’t like to be separated from it and we don’t like anyone else to lay claim to it and we don’t like anyone else telling us how we should use it.
We are sensitive about our money.
The Bible talks a great deal about money, and Jesus spoke a great deal about money.
He realized, I think, that the greatest competition He has in our lives is… money.
Not the devil… most of us don’t actively spend time pursuing the devil, but we spend a great deal of our time, energy, effort, planning,...... on money.
Money tempts us to believe that we have to have it, that we can’t live without it.
And so He says on one occasion ‘You cannot serve both God and money’ (older translations Mammon)
It’s one or the other that must have you.
The same principle applies in the stewardship of our money as has applied in our stewardship of everything else.
Everything belongs to God – everything is God's and He entrusts us with varying amounts.
As you read throughout the Old Testament, you’ll see that the people of God understood this.
So you’ll see when they had cattle or sheep, the first born of each cow/ewe did not become part of the herd but was sacrificed immediately to God.
You must understand that animals were their ‘money’. And in giving the first born back to God, they were in effect saying – it is Yours.
And God in effect said to them – I only want the first born, the rest of the offspring are yours to keep. And that was good news.
The people of God demonstrated their faithfulness by giving the first offspring of their livestock to God by giving it to the Temple.

Likewise, when they grew crops, the first fruits (you read that term often) were given to God.
The first grapes to ripen, olives, wheat, was harvested and given to God via the Temple.
God said the rest of the harvest was theirs, entrusted back to them by God because they had entrusted their first part to God.
The people of God loved acknowledging that everything belonged to God.
When they had children, God said:
‘Your firstborn son is mine’ but He didn’t want them to do child sacrifice like the religions around them, so He said they could sacrifice a prize animal instead.
All of this was to teach the people of God that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”.
At the end of the season 1/10th, what become known as the ‘tithe’, was given back to God via the Temple.
Again, the idea is everything is God's but in His grace, He only wants a tenth.
Isn’t that gracious. It’s such good news because instead of saying I want 10/10, He says ‘You can keep 9/10’ Isn’t that good news?!
When we think our money is ours, then the opposite kicks in, then we say ‘He wants 1/10!!!’ and the tithe is bad news for those who don’t know God.
Do you rejoice that 9/10 is yours or do you get angry that 1/10 is God's?
Is your money yours… or Gods?

And so we get to our reading from Malachi where God reminds us in verse 6 ‘I don’t change
Somewhere else He says ‘I am the same yesterday, today and tomorrow’. It is good news to know our God doesn't change.
Is 1/10 of your money still God's, or has He changed His mind on this?
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount ‘not the least point or smallest detail of the Law will be done away with – not until the end of all things’
Does God still require the tithe? And does he graciously still say 9/10 is ours?
Back to Malachi verse 7: ‘you’ve turned away from me
This would have surprised them, because they still worshipped God, sang His praises, kept religious festivals, kept the Sabbath, prayed, studied the Torah/OT.
What do you mean ‘We’ve turned away from You?’
God goes on in verse 8 and says ‘You’re cheating me!
‘What do you mean we’re cheating you, who would dare cheat God?’
And God answers: 8 and 9 – You are cheating me because you are not bringing me the full tithe and offering. I am competing with your money for your heart, and your money is winning. All I ask is the tenth to help my work on earth through the Temple/Church.

You are serving mammon and not God, and it is not possible for me to bless you when you choose to serve mammon............ therefore you are under a curse.
And it’s not that God is cursing them, it’s just that they are refusing to come under his blessing.
He doesn't reward us for tithing, He just blesses us and living under the blessing of God is a beautiful place to be.

Life is just different, it is abundant and full, when you live under the blessing of God – and remember people living under the blessing of God have all the things happen to them that others do – they get sick, they get cancer, they suffer great pain, they lose their jobs, people steal their possessions, ......these will all perhaps still happen, but they experience the blessing of God in the midst of their trials and tribulations, sufferings and persecutions.
They are blessed and they know it, regardless of their circumstances and that’s a beautiful place to be.
And so God says in vs 10 – Bring the full amount of your tithes to the Temple, so that there will be plenty of food there. Put me to the test and you will see that I will open the windows of heaven and pour out on you in abundance all kinds of good things. 

Good things… the New Testament highlights what some of these good things are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self control.
Do you give a 1/10 of your money to God, via the Temple, which is now the Church…
Satan will tempt you to think I’m preaching this because the Church ‘wants your money’ and that’s not the truth, the truth is I’m preaching for 2 reasons:
1 - It is the word of God and the command of God.
2 - I want you to experience God’s blessing; therefore I want to encourage you to tithe, to give to God through the Church 1/10 of your income.

If you are already giving a 1/10 I want to encourage you to give even more, because as we saw in the New Testament story of the poor widow with her 2 coins, God and Jesus just love a cheerful giver – she gives ‘all she had to live on’ says Jesus, and he doesn't say ‘What a silly women!’ No… He blesses her.
We don’t know much about her except she was poor. So quite possibly slept out on the street with an empty tummy,........... we don’t know. What we do know is she lived and slept knowing she was blessed by God.
So in love, in love, I want to plead with you:

Please consider and re-consider your giving to God through the Church. I promise you (but never mind me and my promises) God promises you – that you will never regret it.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen