Google+ Followers

Monday, 14 November 2011

Giving: God owns it all anyway! 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Evening service
13th November 2011
Giving: God owns it all.
2 Corinthians 8:1-15
Giving is always a difficult subject for us to speak about particularly if you happen to be the main recipient of the Church’s giving. Probably for that reason I have had to gird up my spiritual loins and seek what the Lord would have us learn from this passage. I assure you that if it was not the next section of this letter I would not choose to consider it tonight. But here we go:
We will consider:
1. Giving is a grace given by God.
2. Giving is limited.
3. Giving is a pleasure.
Giving is a grace given by God:
Look again at verse 1, Paul is informing the Corinthian church about the Macedonian church’s attitude towards giving. We will consider their attitude in a moment but before we do we must consider their motivation to give. Paul tells us that their generous giving is in response to an act of grace given to them by God. God has given them the grace to give for the cause of the gospel, the recipients in this case was the church in Jerusalem who was in great need. The believers in Jerusalem were being mercilessly persecuted; they were not allowed to work and so were considered to be pariahs on society. Many were out of house and home and destitute. That caused the wider church to share of its comparative wealth in order to ease their burden. God had by His grace worked in the heart of the church and had given the members the grace to help their brothers and sisters in times of need and as we shall soon see. The Macedonian church was a fine example of giving sacrificially.
Considering their attitude to giving we ought to refresh our memories as to the Macedonian situation. Paul tells us that they were also suffering severe trials and were themselves extremely poor. They were being persecuted by the Roman occupiers and also by their own people simply because they were Christians. In fact they had every reason not to give because they had very little themselves and what they had they needed.
By God’s grace they gave anyway. Paul is using the Macedonian church as an object lesson for the Corinthian church to learn from and so we look at verses 8-9 in order to see how this works out. The testimony of the Macedonian church is both powerful and inspiring and Paul uses it to great effect in order to inspire his readers.
So what does he say?
 Firstly there is no compulsion to give.
 Secondly Paul wants to test their (our) sincerity of love.
 Thirdly there is a comparison to be made, the Macedonian example versus Corinthian (our) earnestness. Do we match up?
 Fourthly he reminds them of the gift of grace found in the Lord Jesus Christ. He became poor (poverty stricken) and then by His gift we became rich.
 Finally we need to go back one verse to see Paul’s urging for the Corinthian church (us) to not only excel in faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness and love for the saints but to excel in everything including the grace of giving.
The church is not compelled by Paul to give, in fact it is not and should never be demanded by the church; but each Christian in the light of what Paul teaches here should not only look to Macedonia for an example but learn from them and to be inspired by the gift of grace given to us all in Christ Jesus. He gave all that we might become rich in mercy and so He owns all that we have and are and so we like the Macedonians ought to give sacrificially in keeping with becoming more Christ-like!
Is this the motivation for your giving?
Giving is limited:
This might just seem like a paradox considering what I have just said. How can God own everything but yet our giving is limited?
The Old Testament giving requirement is a tithe or 10% of income. The people were expected to bring their gift to the place of worship regularly. That money was intended to pay the wages of the priests and to keep the place of worship in order and also to supply everything necessary for the enabling of worship. Interestingly when it comes to the New Testament teaching there is no such requirement. A tithe in not mentioned and neither is any other amount. We simply have passages like this one in front of us. These are our educators and it seems there is far more than 10% required by God. In verse 7 the Church in Corinth are commended for attempting to excel in everything. This is the key to what is expected from us, we are to give everything to God. I do not mean we are to empty our bank accounts; that might be the emphasis of some who in turn become financially rich by exploitation. That is certainly not what the bible teaches. Paul commends the church for excelling in everything, they gave as much of themselves as they could and that is the yardstick for giving also. Notice the example again of the Macedonian church (verse 3) they gave as much as they were able and much more than was expected; to the point of going beyond their ability. That is a great example of Godly giving; remember the great cost of His giving! But there is another twist to the story, look again at verse 5 the Macedonian church even surprised the Apostle Paul! They were an even greater example than he expected in that they firstly gave themselves to the Lord and then to the Apostles. The church submitted themselves to the authority of their Lord and Saviour and also to His church. In effect they were saying that all that they had belonged to the Lord. They limited themselves to giving everything and recognised that all that they had rightfully belonged to God; that is 100%; you cannot give more than that! We might say that the sky is the limit!
But there is another limit mentioned, this one is more practical and is a great encouragement to us and a guard against unscrupulous demands that some might put on us. It is found in verse 3; the Macedonian church gave as much as they were able. Their ability was dependent upon their circumstance. Paul thought that their ability was much less than what they gave because they set the bar higher than anyone might expect. That was their choice and it was dependent on their own commitments and also the urgency of the need as they saw it to be! They made their own decision to give and the amount that they gave and then they gave by God’s grace! The balance was all to Jesus I surrender and then they gave to the cause of the gospel as they had the ability.
That must always be our view to giving. It is far better to have a church rich in people who are sold out for Jesus than to have a healthy bank balance! Because those sold out to Jesus will make sure that none are impoverished. In fact Paul takes us back to the wilderness as the example. The manna was there for the taking, everyone was expected to gather in for their own needs but some needed it to be gathered for them, the total amount gathered was always just enough for everyone. None went hungry all were equal, their needs were perfectly met. Paul says that the mind-set of the church is that we ought to help each other out in times of need, see verses 13-15. Where some are poor the church should be helped, where others are rich they should out of their riches to ease the burden of struggling Christians. We should desire equality, not communism but equality!
Giving is a pleasure:
God was pleased to give His only begotten Son in order that sin might be dealt with and that sinners might be saved by grace. Ever since creation we have seen that our God delights in giving good things to His people, we are to be like Him and so giving should be our pleasure. It is now coming up to Christmas when we delight in giving presents to those whom we love. As we give our gifts we are simply being God-like! It should be the same for our giving to God and His people. Throughout the testimony of the Macedonian church we do not even get a hint of coercion or of them giving begrudgingly. They in fact gave happily! Their joy overflowed. We considered the inexpressible joy that Peter talks of in 1 Peter 1:8 in our bible study. We discovered that this is the foundational joy that we have as those who have been redeemed and born again; it is not a manic grin or even the joy that the Macedonians are displaying here. The joy spoken of here is the thrill of being involved with the work of the gospel. It was a delight for them to be involved in giving back to God something from the benefits that they had! They greatly rejoiced in Jesus as saviour and so were happy to do all that they could. They gave generously of themselves and their finances, they pleaded to be part of the giving process and so with overflowing joy they gave out of their own well of richness. It reminds us of the love that God lavishes on us in Christ Jesus 1 John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!”
Giving is God’s pleasure; it was the pleasure of the Macedonian church also. It is said that Jimmy Saville gave 90% of all that he earned, even that is not enough, God owns all that we are and so we are to give all to Jesus. Paul urged the Corinthian church to give likewise and so also he urges us. Is it your great pleasure; are you overjoyed to give of yourself to the cause of the gospel? If you do then you are truly Macedonian and God-like. If not then you are purely a rebel and are displaying worldly tendencies, or worse are unconverted. Where do you stand?

Remembrance Sunday 13th November 2011

Morning service
13th November 2011
Remember Me.
Ecclesiastes 12:1-7
We have been remembering that at times of conflict, when the country has been under attack or when our security is in danger then men and women are willing to fight for our freedom. Some pay the ultimate price in our struggle for freedom. We are greatly indebted to all of them. Much of what we enjoy as a society has been made possible by the sacrifice of these brave people. Our whole country at this time of the year focusses on them in deep gratitude to each one.
All of this pales into insignificance when we consider all that our God has done for us. The writer of Ecclesiastes; thought to be Solomon; has written in sermon form his confusion as to what the purpose of life is all about. I was recently watching a programme by James May about how the universe came into being. The BBC is currently obsessed with our origin and they have a theory which is shared with the majority of modern science. The foundational belief is in the accidental formation of the entire universe. The theory is understandably highlighted by many “don’t knows!” This is understandable because the universe is full of so many mysteries and paradoxes, the problem that modern man has is that he has a somewhat closed mind which comes from his belief that there is no God giving rise to the idea that there must be another logical reason for the existence of the universe. They believe that it has come about by a cosmic catastrophe which has by chance created everything out of nothing. As Christians we appreciate the science but disagree with the basis upon which it is founded. Many scientists (not all by any stretch of the imagination) believe that there is no God and so all that they observe comes from an atheistic basis. The results are therefore very different to those that people of faith come to! People of faith will always attribute all that we see around us to the creating power of God. We will have differing views of issues such as time etc. but the base line is that our understanding of the origins of life is found in God alone. It is certainly not my purpose here to debate these issues but to encourage you as we consider the meaning of life simply to remember our Creator whilst we have breath.
There are really 2 points to what the writer is saying:
 Remember your creator whilst you can.
 Remember your creator before it is too late.

Remember your creator whilst you can:
The writer tells us in the days of our youth to remember our creator. Youth often brings with it arrogance and pride usually in the form of self-sufficiency, pride and selfishness. In our youth we might feel as if we are infallible but the writer tells us differently. He reminds us that we are created beings and that our Creator is worthy of our remembrance in much the same way as our country’s hero’s deserve the remembrance and thanks of us the beneficiaries of their sacrifice.
We have a greater advantage than the writer did because we have the full revelation of God to draw upon. Solomon if he was the writer had an incomplete understanding of God’s purpose but we know that His eternal plan was for the Lord Jesus Christ who is God the Son to come into the world in order to fight the forces of evil and the power of sin over the lives of His people. Jesus was victorious in His mission! His victory came upon a cross where sin was paid for; for all who will believe. This is what we as Christians are to remember! The writer says that the best time to remember God is in our youth. See how he develops the theme in verses 1-5. He wants his readers to Remember God and so he gives a number of pointers.
Remember Him:
o Before days of trouble. Youth has problems but trouble comes as we get on in years.
o Before a time when life has no pleasure left. Normally it is only in old age that people lose the joy of life but illness causes some to be desperate long before then. This simply makes the matter more urgent. We are never sure when life might lose its charm and also when we might lose life. It is therefore imperative that even from youth we must remember our Creator! When we do we will find abundant pleasure in Him.
o Before the brightness becomes dim. One of the disturbing features of old age is macular degeneration. The dimming of the eyes, look around at the reading glasses which are in evidence among us there are a number of us who are on the way to what is being described. It is time to remember God; our glasses should be an aid to remember Him. Our time is coming! Our eyes may be getting dim but one day we shall see Him crystal clear, He will be on that day either our Judge or Saviour.
o Before the storm clouds are constant! Is your life becoming punctuated by hospital visits? When I first came here my hospital record was very slim but now it resembles my figure it is fatter that I would like it to be! One issue or storm may be dealt with only to find that another cloud appears over the horizon. Our medical records also act as a reminder of our fallibility and so should cause us to remember whose hands we are in! Remember your Creator in the doctor’s waiting room, what better place to be reminded of our frailty?
o Whilst you have strength. How many times do you have to admire the view as you come up the hill to the church? Are you feeling ever weaker? Remember Him!!!! When you do you will rise up as youths do and will rise to great heights as do Eagles.
o Whilst you can chew things over. We can tell the age of a person by the length of their teeth. As we get older our gums recede and the teeth become longer and longer until in very old age they become loose and might even fall out. The old grinders become happier with soft food, crunchy apples become less and less attractive. Yet another reminder to Remember Him! When you next buy your tube of sensitive toothpaste remember your Creator.
o Before you are shut indoors. In old age we simply do not want the high life anymore!
o Before your hearing fades. Is pardon or I am sorry I did not hear that part of your regular vocabulary. Remember Him! Every time you have to ask somebody to repeat what they have said remember your Creator!
o Whilst sleep comes easy. Remember Him in the still small and sleepless hours; you have more time to consider His love for you!
o Before you become afraid of even venturing outdoors. Afraid? Just remember Him!
o Before you die and are followed down the street in your funeral cortege! Remember Him before that day comes!!!!
What the writer has been saying in poetic form is; before you are incapable due to old age and circumstances remember your creator! In the spring of life, when the almond tree of life is in blossom and then when life becomes difficult, illustrated by a grasshopper dragging itself along rather that jumping, whilst the desire is there and before you leave this mortal coil; Remember God!! It is politically incorrect these days to be so graphic, but God is not known for His political correctness or by His masking of reality in order to make people feel good which is what political correctness is all about! God is perfectly honest in His word and so He says that we are all heading towards the grave and now is the time to remember God and what He has done for us in Christ Jesus!!! Do you remember Him? It is not just a simple thought or act of remembrance; the writer means that you must come to Him as your Creator in submission to Him as your God and Saviour! Have you????

Remember your Creator before it is too late:
There is coming a day when it will be too late for you to do anything about it. There is no point in the mourners praying for your salvation then! It is too late! You will not have to remember your Creator at that time you will be face to face with Him. This is what the writer goes on to tell us. He simply says “remember Him before the silver cord is severed or the golden bowl is broken, before the pitcher is shattered at the spring or the wheel broken at the well and the dust returns to the ground it came from and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Poets always amaze me that they get away with gross repetition at times in order to make their point. This is just what the writer does here; just consider the 6 different ways in which he describes your demise.
o A broken silver cord. Life is precious whilst we have it but it is always hanging on a thread. Who knows what might happen even in the next moment. A silver cord might be beautiful to look at but it is rather precarious to hang onto! If you were clinging onto a cliff face and a rescuer offered to drop a silver cord or a climber’s rope to save you which one would you choose? It would be a fool that chose a pretty cord, but our life is held in place by God by what the poet calls a silver cord. He rightly hints at the fragility of it but also the beauty that it has. Our God gives us a beautiful life but it is entirely in His hands and therefore is His to give and His to take. We do not know the time or hour when He will break the cord of life, therefore before that final day: Remember Him!
o A broken golden bowl. This is a beautiful reservoir of provision from God. All that we have and are is given from His good hand. The golden bowl of blessing that He gives is temporal and one day it will be broken. When that takes place, when oxygen no longer feeds your blood supply, when breath no longer takes place and the heart stops pumping forever, when God’s gracious provision of life is taken away; where will you be then? You will be absent from the body and in the presence of your Creator. Will you see Him as judge or Saviour? Please remember Him whilst the golden bowl of provision is still available.
o A shattered pitcher at the well. Our God is the well of all blessing, whether we believe in Him or not. We all come to His well for the provisions of life itself. The greatest thing on offer at this well however is the water of life. Jesus told us that He is the water of life and if we bring the pitcher of our life to Him then He will freely give water that gives eternal life. What that really means is that He is the fount of every blessing, our lives like a terracotta pot are rather fragile, whilst they are intact they will carry God’s blessing but one day they will shatter and no longer be able to take the water of life. It needs to be taken before that day. When is that day? Nobody knows! Therefore as the bible says “this is the day of salvation, this is the day of God’s good grace. This is the day when the water of life is freely available. Take it and drink of the salvation that is offered through Christ alone.
o A broken wheel. The wheel was used to make it possible to draw water. If it was broken it was impossible for a weak person to draw water. We are infinitely weak when it comes to drawing the water of life. We cannot by our own efforts reach down and draw the water of salvation. It took all of the power of God to provide the water and it takes all of His power to deliver it. Our salvation is purely in His hands, we are powerless to do anything about it but we are required to Remember Him before the wheel that delivers the water of life to us is disabled finally!
o Returning to dust. The writer now very cleverly returns to the Creator, we remember from the creation account that we are made from the dust. The promise of the fall is that we will return to the dust and therefore will be buried. The Creator God requires that we remember Him before that day because then our spirit which He created will return to Him. At this point it will either be as His friend or as unknown to Him. His friends will have a home prepared for them, those who He does not know will be sent away for eternal punishment because their sin has not been dealt with and there is no place in God’s presence for sin! He gave life, we sinned by our own free will and so God sent His Son to pay the price of the sins of all who Remember Him. How do we remember? By repentance which brings forgiveness and all of the blessings that we have been speaking of.
What must you do?
Repent and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and then you will be saved.

Paying close attention Acts 8:1-8

Paying close attention.
Acts 8:1(b)-8
Last time we saw that Stephen had a message for the Sanhedrin who in turn paid close attention to every word that he spoke. From their point of view it was in order that they might discover words of error and then to try him for heresy. That required their full attention but we also discovered that God had a much higher purpose. The word preached by Stephen would accomplish exactly what God had intended that it should. We therefore concluded that the Sanhedrin heard and rejected the word, Stephen preached the word and was martyred because of the gospel and Saul was being irresistibly drawn by God to Himself!
That is the power and effect of good clear gospel presentation.
We will not be too surprised to find that the gospel continued to have a great effect and that people from all walks of life were paying special attention to what might happen next. I remember a number of years ago being part of a church where there was great blessing especially from the preached word. As a church we were looking forward to Sundays because we knew that God would speak to us and challenge us greatly. I remember reading the passage in advance and trying to pre-empt what emphasis the preacher would bring to us. When Sunday came it was as if the whole congregation held onto every word and savoured the content. When God is at work then people cannot help but to pay attention, even if at times their motives are wrong.
From the passage that we have read we see that there were 2 ways in which special attention was afforded to the church.
1. The authorities paid special attention to the church.
2. Onlookers paid special attention to Philip.

1) The authorities paid special attention to the church:
We are reminded that Saul was present at the murder of Stephen; it seems to be that he was both in charge and fully in approval of proceedings. He meant ill towards the church and seemed to be winning the day. Stephen had died, the enemy of the church seemed to have gained the upper hand and so they used their authority to deal yet another blow to the church. Luke simply records that great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem and that this caused all but the apostles to be scattered far and wide throughout Judea and Samaria. Whilst all of this was happening Godly men were paying special attention to the memory of Stephen. They firstly buried him and they also mourned for him. Stephen’s death did not simply pass by as just another event in the growth of the church; it was not something that was simply to be expected. The church had lost a great man who served them with wisdom, care and compassion. The church had lost one of its best and most respected leaders. Therefore they paid special attention to do the right thing even though they were under the cosh at the time.
On this occasion it seems that the Apostles were not the centre of attention. It was the members of the church that were under attack. The authorities had not been able to demoralise the church by attacking the leaders alone. They had dealt a severe blow by killing Stephen and straight away they deal a body blow. They hit the body of the church in order to take the wind out of them. They persecute them greatly! We can only imagine what that might mean. For a people who could mercilessly stone an innocent man to death anything is possible. We do not need to be fanciful but we do know how a totally depraved crowd could quickly sink to the depths of evil!
Derren Brown programme where the audience were allowed to make decisions for a victim. They had 2 choices to make for each of a series of situations the man would find himself in. One choice was to do the man good and the other was to do him harm. The audience were all wearing masks to make themselves of equal standing and anonymous. The first choice was really nothing but a bit of fun, a trick or a treat. The majority went for the trick and so the man suffered some indignity. The events worsened and by the end almost all were in favour of the man being harmed until it showed the man in trying to escape being knocked down by a car and possibly having died. The object was to prove that man will always, as a pack seeks to do harm to innocent victims. It worked perfectly!
In a similar way the authorities persecuted the church, seeking to do them harm but Saul began to pay extra special attention to the church. He went about his business of destroying the church, banging on doors and dragging out believers, he did not care about gender both men and women were imprisoned by Saul. The church was being paid special attention and it was not pleasant.
Wherever God blesses the church there will always be opposition. We recently passed by Tintern abbey and wondered at the magnificence of the building and how that so many years ago they were able to build such lasting structures. But of course Tintern Abbey is derelict now because it had been destroyed by Oliver Cromwell. Many see this as pure vandalism and a blot in our history but we need to have a true perspective of events at the time. The people who were in charge of such places were just like the authorities that we are considering; they were severely persecuting the believers. They were destroying the true church and Cromwell was fighting against their persecutions. He destroyed their buildings in order to stop their destroying God’s people. I know which I prefer to be preserved.
When the church receives special attention from the authorities then generally difficulties are just around the corner.
The result was that the church was scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. The aim of the authorities was that the ever growing church be displaced and made impotent?
2) Onlookers paid special attention to Philip:
Philip is another of the men along with Stephen who had been chosen by the church to care for the widows. Now he is the subject of special attention, this time from the crowd. We remember the command of the Lord Jesus to the church: His disciples are to go out into the entire world and preach the gospel, beginning in Jerusalem and from there to go into all of Judea and then Samaria and then to the whole world. It is amazing to think that all of Jerusalem so quickly had heard the gospel and that now the authorities that are causing the church to fulfil the commands of the Lord, they are actually assisting the spread of the gospel rather than preventing it! Persecution is aiding the spread of the gospel because rather than making the believers afraid to preach, it empowered them to preach the Good News wherever they were. Luke chooses Philip as an example as to what was generally happening. Philip had gone to a city in Samaria where the Spirit of God worked mightily through him. We are rightly cautious as to how we portray what happened in this un-named city because so much is made of the miraculous today. We will return to this next time but it is right to say that what happened in Samaria at that time was a one off event that brought the gospel to Samaritans and many were converted and filled with the Spirit of God. God authenticated this new work of His Spirit by signs and wonders. The crowd paid close attention to Philip and evil spirits and sicknesses were dealt with. That unsurprisingly brought great joy to the city. It is how this came about that is of vital importance for us today, the crowd saw the miracles and were enthralled but we must notice that the miracles came after the preaching of Christ! Philip proclaimed Christ and God blessed the people. Verse 12 tells us that many believed and were converted.
If we pre-empt next week’s passage a little we find that a number of Samaritan’s believed when Philip preached and then they committed themselves to the faith. Many were baptised in obedience to the word of God. These were not just a set of numbers recorded in some church growth survey; they were real people with real issues that had been affected by the preaching of the gospel. The miraculous signs, healings etc. were an integral part of the events of that day but we must always recognise that they were secondary next to the greater miracle of people being saved by God’s good grace. Many today look for the secondary’s and are not too interested in the primary function of gospel witness which is the salvation of repentant sinners. I would like to add that the reason we do not see the signs and wonders as the early church did on this occasion is simply that we are now in very different times. As I have said before and as is clear from the passage before us; the signs were present to prove that this truly was a work of God’s grace in a time of great confusion. The gospel was going beyond the borders of Israel. The great question in the mind of the Jews was “is this allowable by God’s perspective?” God’s purpose was always to extend the borders of grace and so He proved to the people that this was His work. We are under no such confusion, we know that the gospel is for all people of all nations and so we do not need authentication but we desperately need the application of the preached word into hearts and lives. Our prayer should be the blessing of salvation in lives rather than the healing of a body that will die one day and if its owner is never converted will go to hell.
In a way we are like the early church each week, we are scattered all across our area with the gospel of grace in our hearts but it needs to be on our lips because it is by the preaching of the gospel that our contacts will be saved if God so pleases. How can they be saved unless they hear? The challenge for us today is to be like Philip and all of the scattered believers and to take Jesus to those who we are in contact with. Then perhaps there might be some who pay close attention to what we say and bring great joy into the church here at Ogmore-by-Sea.