Some of my more detailed reviews - books, films, theatre trips, software etc. I will also post the text of some of my sermons here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Carol Service Sermon (@Christ Church 13 Dec 2011) "Christmas starts with Christ(?)"

Christmas Starts with Christ - Pagan beginnings
At one level this is patently untrue.  Jesus was most definitely not born on December 25, not in December at all.  We have very little evidence when He was born, but the stories indicate that it was most likely towards the end of September. Then the weather would still have been good enough for Shepherds to be outside overnight.  In December it was too wet and cold for that.  So how did we get to December 25?
In the early Christian world there were many activities that we would find outrageous and entirely unacceptable .  There was a winter solstice festival celebrated in ancient Rome called Saturnalia. The festival celebrated the return of the unconquered sun.  The days had been shortening, now they were lengthening again, the sun was returning.  It lasted a full week, ending on December 25th.  In pagan Rome the law courts were suspended, charges of drunkenness, criminal damage, criminal injury and rape could not be made.  The festival was characterized by naked singing in the streets.  On the last day, someone was chosen as an enemy of Rome, they were fed generously then attacked and killed.
The early Christians were appalled at the excesses of this festival (along with much of the rest of life in Rome) and put an alternative festival on the day.
Much as we do on Halloween with our lights parties.
The birth of Jesus was a good choice – it picks up on the equivalent Christian symbolism.  The son of God is born, the light of the world has come, sin and darkness will be banished forever, we celebrate the coming of brighter days ahead.
When the Empire became officially Christian the Saturnalia festival was still widely supported and the official celebration of Christmas encouraged, with much of the over indulgence of Saturnalia being left in place so as not to upset too many of the population.
Then, just as there is now, there was a tension between Christ at Christmas and the other festivities that take place at that time of year.  Most of the traditions that go with Christmas have come from other pagan festivals from other times and other cultures, as Christianity spread throughout the world.

Christmas Starts with Christ - Times are changing
I've already use the title 'Light of the World' to describe Jesus.  It's especially true that a new baby brings light and hope into our lives.  When there is a birth among family or friends we make an effort to visit the baby as soon as we can.
I can remember visiting my sister when she gave birth to her first child (He's 30 now).  I knew nothing about babies and was very tentative.  I bent over the cot next to the hospital bed to get a closer look.  A small fist shot up, and only because I was young and had good reactions did I avoid a black eye.
I remember when our God Child was born desperately trying to find the hospital in a strange town, and then struggling to find the maternity ward which seemed miles away.  All that effort just to visit a baby, who will never have any memory of your visit.
We visit partly out of politeness , I'm sure, but also because babies represent our hope for the future.
We get a phone call and we go to visit, the shepherds went to worship, but then the announcement they received was somewhat more impressive than a phone call.  The baby they were visiting represented hope for the future, not just for them and their families but for the whole world. 
Most of us have about six months to prepare for the arrival of a new baby.  That's when the expectation begins.  What will he or she be like, what effect will they have on us and on the world around them. 
We've heard the prophecies of Jesus' birth, they were hundreds of years before the birth.  “ … the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting  Father, Prince of Peace.
That's a lot to expect!
This child, though, changed the course of History.  His death on the cross paid for our sins and allowed us to make peace with God, and even to have good will to all men.
For a baby like that you'd expect an impressive announcement when He finally does arrive and you'd expect a good attendance.  That's just what Jesus got.  Wise men – Magi – Astrologers from the east traveled for many miles, so far that they didn't arrive until He was described as a Child. 
Christmas then began with Christ.  There is biblical evidence for the celebration of His birth.

Christmas Starts with Christ - Today
Again it looks like it's just not true.  Christmas, it seems begins with Marks & Spencer’s, and in September too – very appropriate!  We must remember though that for many Christmas is a festival of gluttony and laziness, because they do not know what they're celebrating. So much mythology is incorporated into our tradition it's hard for someone who doesn't attend church to work out what's real and what isn't.  They're in danger of throwing out the baby [pause]. 
If Christmas begins with Christ it is up to Christians to show that. 
There's nothing wrong with preparing for a celebration and having everything ready in good time, but when it comes to the celebration we must be sure that it's Jesus we are celebrating.
When I first joined this church the group of friends I was among used to meet at the midnight communion and exchange presents after the service.  The pattern was worship first and celebrate second.
When we first had our own children we continued the tradition.  About 11pm we got them up, put them in the car in their pyjamas, dressing gowns and coats, and took them to church.  The only babies, the only toddlers, the only children at midnight communion (in this church anyway).  We continued the pattern of putting Jesus first – worship first, then celebration.  Not only that NONE of them EVER got up early in the morning on Christmas day!
There are many things we can do during advent to prepare for the celebrations. Attending some of the special services, like the Carol service.  Delivering invitations, keeping appropriate advent calendars, using an advent wreath at home.  Whatever it is we must be sure that Christ is the focus, just as He should be in the rest of our lives.  That way our Christmas really can begin with Christ – and end with Christ.

There's a Christmas song from the seventies you may remember: 'I believe in Father Christmas' by Emerson, Lake and Palmer the last verse reads:

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
Hallelujah Noel be it heaven or hell
The Christmas you get you deserve

If our Christmas begins with Christ and continues with Him, the Christmas we get will be far better than the one we deserve.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

1 Thes 5:12-24

Introductory Question
What does Christ Church Expect of us in terms of our behavior?
[Get Responses]
Reading 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

Sermon
The Thessalonian church was a young church.  Indeed all the churches we read about in the New Testament were young churches.  This church was founded by Paul you can read about that in Acts chapter 17.  The young Christians were learning fast how to live the Christian life.   They had received praise for how well they were doing and were known as a dynamic congregation, {ref} but there was still a long way to go.
New Life / New Language
Tom Wright describes learning the Christian life as like learning a new language.  As a young child learning languages comes naturally.  Once you are older there is grammar to learn, which inevitable means learning rules, otherwise like Yoda you will always sound.  After a while though these new rules become natural, you no longer have to think about them, so you no longer sound like Yoda.
It's similar with the Christian life, there are rules that make living the life easier, once you know them and are practiced in living with them they become natural and don't require thought.
Even with a new language, (or even with an original one) its often worth re-visiting the rules to see if you've fallen into bad 'abits.
So lets take a look at some of the things Paul says and see how well we did.
1Th 5:12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.
The very first thing that Paul asks of the Thessalonians is that they have respect for their leaders.  [Comment?]  Those, he says are the ones that work hard among you.  He says similar things in other letters too.  To Timothy he says:
1Ti 5:17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour,  especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
Well, I would pick that verse wouldn't I? Of course it only works if you believe that the affairs of the church are well directed.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews says:
Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
So we are to have respect for our leaders, but then there's that word 'admonish'.  Not a word I hear in everyday conversation.  According to thefreedisctionary.com it has three meanings:
1. To reprove gently but earnestly.
2. To counsel (another) against something to be avoided; caution.
3. To remind of something forgotten or disregarded, as an obligation or a responsibility.
I wonder how you feel about being admonished.  My reaction is often very defensive “Who do you think you are?”  “What gives you the right ...?”  “Take the plank out of your own eye ...”.  I may not say it, (although I might – and more!) but you can bet I'm thinking it.  I can remember that my reaction was like that when I was spoken to by someone who I believed needed some lessons in moral living.  It was a reaction and when I thought about it a bit more, and prayed about my anger, I realized there was some truth in it.
I wonder now who I would readily accept admonishment from.  It depends, of course, on the issue and the approach – the key is in the first definition – to reprove GENTLY but EARNESTLY.
So let me leave that as a question for you to discuss over coffee.
Who would I accept admonishment from?
1Th 5:13b Live in peace with each other.
Peace does not mean we never have disagreements, but it does mean they must be settled with discussion and prayer.  It also means that our disagreements must never turn into fights – that just leads to factionalism and beaks up the fellowship.  Later, before communion there will be an opportunity to make your peace with any one you have anything against.  That's what the time is supposed to be for – not just a general greeting to all around the church.  I know it's said often – but that's because it's important and true – if you have anything between you and someone else in the congregation – make your peace BEFORE you take communion.
1Th 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 
One preacher I read calls these the “won't dos”, the “want tos” and the “can't do's”. 
First the idle – the won't do's – what should we warn them about?  I am a firm believer in 'every member ministry', or the priesthood of all believers, or whatever you would like to call it.
1 Peter 2:9 "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
Revelation 5:10, "You [that's Jesus] have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth"
I believe that everyone has something to offer to the rest of the body of Christ.  If someone constantly refuses to take part in anything at all, then they are in danger of becoming detached from the congregation, and no longer being a part of the church.  We would not want that to happen to any one, so we must warn them.
The timid – the want tos – are characterized by the phrase “I'd like to but I couldn't ...”, or something similar.  I'm assuming that their response is the truth and not an excuse.  Paul says that we should encourage these people so that they will eventually try something – and probably be a great success at it.
The weak – the can't do's – those that have genuine difficulty taking part in any type of ministry.  These people need our support and help in doing whatever it is that are trying to do.
Be patient with everyone – let everyone travel on the road at their own speed – there is no minimum speed in the Christian life, the only need is to keep moving in the right direction.  There are plenty of times when I haven't even managed that.  Had I been condemned or rejected I would not be here now!
1Th 5:15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
This is the recipe for living in peace, but it goes deeper than that.  You've heard the expression “Don't get mad, get even”, I'm sure.  In the Christian life neither getting mad, nor getting even is an option.  When you accept Christ into your life any “rights” that you may have had in this area must be given up. 
It means the end of the fear of reprisals, blood feuds and vendettas.  It's the start of genuinely living in peace.
1Th 5:16 Be joyful always;
1Th 5:17 pray continually;
1Th 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

How can I be joyful when I get out of the bed the on the wrong side, let alone when more serious problems occur in life.  Here's a blog someone wrote on this verse, its called
“When God says always does He really mean ALWAYS?
Like ALL the time?
No matter what?
Without exception?
Every time?
Every circumstance?
Could He possibly mean THAT?
I mean- how is that even possible. Today I woke up with the remains of a migraine that will not quite go away and that has interposed on my sleep for two nights. Was I supposed to be joyful for THAT?
This afternoon I was ready to strangle someone I love very much. Someone I have cared and nurtured for many years. Was I supposed to be joyful THEN?
When I got home a car wouldn't start and we had to jump it. Was i supposed to be joyful THEN?
When I finally got inside, out of the cold wind (was I supposed to be joyful when I was cold?) and was met at the door with a "We have something to tell you" and the look from the supervising sibling that communicated that serious parental intervention was required. Then? Was I supposed to be joyful THEN?
REALLY?
Yes. Really! I was. Supposed to be that is. I wasn't. Joyful I mean.
How could God expect me to feel joy in all these circumstance? Uh- well- I guess He didn't command me to feel anything. He really just commanded me to BE something and He was gracious enough to tell me how.
Praying continually. Being thankful.
If I am supposed to be praying continually then it must mean that I am going to need a lot more of God and a lot less of me in order to be joyful.
And if I am "giving thanks in all thing" I am going to be awfully busy. In fact I will have little time left over for feeling sorry for myself or feeling angry at mistakes or envious of another's abundance.
So I think I better have a "do over" today- Thank you Lord for the headache: thank You that I have to slow down, and for medicine that can work, and family that cares that I am in pain.
Thank you Lord for the mistake of my child: thank You for the opportunity for a lesson to be learned, and thank You for ready solutions, and thank you for the opportunity I will have to apologize when he gets home, and thank You for love that covers a multitude of sins.
Thank You Lord for a car with a bad battery: thank You for a responsible son who doesn't expect me to fix everything for him, and thank You for jumper cables, and thank You for a car at all and that it still runs after 180,000 miles.
Thank You for the cold wind: I like sweaters.
Thank you Lord for my young child and her sins: thank You for the chance to share how You hate lies, and thank You that You hate lies, and thank You for creative ideas, and thank You for a big sister who cares for her younger sister, and thank You that I was with her for this valuable lesson.
Thank You that I do not have feel happy to BE joyful.”
1Th 5:19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;
1Th 5:20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 
Some of the men from Christ Church recently attended the CVM mens day called “Iron Sharpens Iron”.  Carl Beech, who used to be at the Baptist Church, told a story that illustrates why we should listen to Gods spirit and never reject what He is saying to us.
He'd been doing door to door evangelism.  At one house the woman had be very abusive and told him to get lost.  You can imagine the language!  Some time later he was walking down the same street and the spirit said “knock on that door”.  Carl was not impressed, but he knocked on the door as an act of obedience.  He received much the same response as the previous time.  A while later, and walking down that same road again he heard “knock on that door”.  This time the act of obedience was much harder to perform than the last time – but the result was very different.  He was invited in!  She explained that she had been preparing to kill her self when he first called and that God had been speaking to her about his next visit!
The Holy Spirit speaks into our lives in many different ways, recently, on our weekend away we were assured of God's love for all of us.  This is prophecy – God speaking to us – it is intended to make a difference, just as predictions of the future are intended – mostly – not to come true!
1Th 5:21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.
Scripture!, Scripture! Scripture!
It's the only place we can go to find out if the messages we are receiving really do come from God, or whether the enemy is conning us.
My DIYers Bible contains everything you need to know to repair and improve your home – except mine doesn't talk about plastic water pipes because it was written in the seventies and things change.
People don't; God doesn't.  The Bible was written 2000+ years ago and is just as relevant now as it was then!
1Th 5:22 Avoid every kind of evil.
Run Away!
This is the only thing the Bible tells you not to get involved in something.
1Th 5:23 May God himself, the God of peace,  sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless  at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Th 5:24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
Jesus is faithful.  He has already done it!  He has made it possible for you to be at peace with God.  Through His death on the cross our sins can be forgiven and our relationship with the Holy one restored.  Through his resurrection we are shown the life to come.
1Th 5:23 May God himself, the God of peace,  sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless  at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Th 5:24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sarah Millican @ Hammersmith (10 Nov)

Having seen her on TV, it was generally agreed that it would be good to see her live.  Our daughter duly obliged and booked some tickets.  So off to Hammersmith we went.  The theatre itself started it's life as a 1930's cinema.  It's been through a lot, no doubt, but is now in need of a facelift.  I do hope they remove the fly-paper floor coverings from beneath the seats.
Sarah starts slowly.  I was beginning to wonder when she would really get going, but get going she does.  By the time the interval arrived I'd all but forgotten the slow start.  The second half started as the first ended.
Her subjects are relationships and bodily functions.  Many of the jokes would keep an eight year old boy amused, but also work well with adults.  She is different from her TV appearance character.  The jokes are cruder, sometimes with a yuk factor thrown in.  Most notably there is prolific swearing.  She says she likes to swear.  Personally, I don't care what she likes - what she does needs to be funny, that's why I came to see her.  Swearing is NOT funny in its own right.  With one or two exceptions it did not enhance the comedy at all - so should probably be left out.  Especially in the second half there is a degree of audience interaction.  This leads some of the more outgoing ones (drunk ones?) to think they can take on the comic.  It really doesn't matter how she deals with this, insults, tirades etc all enhance the show - the audience in general is very much on her side, but the clever building of jokes against them is by far the best and really enhances the show.  We had one excellent example of that.
So, if you don't mind the subjects and the style you will find the shows very funny.  I'm glad I went, it was an enjoyable evening.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reaching out - Ideas for Action (Luke 5:30)

Reading Luke 5:30
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
What did Jesus Do?
Instead of the question What Would Jesus Do, lets look at the question What Did Jesus Do?
I've made a short simple list of the things Jesus did while he was with his disciples.  I doubt very much it is anything like complete, but I thought it would be good to get your ideas, so how would you answer the question “What did Jesus Do?”
[Get Answers]
Here's my list:
Preaching
Matthew chapters 5,6,7 – Sermon on the mount
Feeding people (5000+)  Luke 9:10-17
Sacrificial love – death end of any gospel
Teaching – disciples and others (woman at the well) - John 4:1-42
Fulfilled prophecy (deliberately) – e.g. donkey Matthew 21
Friendships – Zacchaeus  Luke 19:1-10
Time for people (non-Jews!) Luke 19:1-10  Luke 7:1-10
Prayer (did it and taught it)    Luke 11:1-4
Time with God     Early morning prayer    Mark 1:35
Prophesied    build the temple in three days     John 2:19
Studies / learns scripture    temptation Luke 4:1-13
Healing Luke 7:1-10 – The centurions slave
If we are serious about being more and more like Jesus, surely we should try to do all of these things.
Jesus led a balanced life and used his time wisely. I often think that I don't achieve that. Warner spoke last week about making time for the things in our lives that are really important – the people that we live and associate with.  Today we are going to look at some of the strategies that may be used to make good use of the time that we freed up after last weeks talk.  (OK, I haven't freed up any time yet – but I'm working on it!)
In my first talk in this series on making Jesus better known (September 10, 2011) I looked at what God thought of people, and found out that every person on the planet – every one of the seven billion of them - is important to God.
Guilty by association?Unlike God we can't know all seven billion, but we can get to know those around us.  Many of the people that we associate with are not PLU's.  Some of you may remember Carrie , our first youth worker teasing us in a sermon with the acronym PLU – does anyone remember what it means?
[Ask]
The answer is: “People like us”
The suggestion here is that we should be more involved with non-PLUs – people who are not so like us.  But doesn't the Bible tell us to steer clear of these people.  It certainly seems to:
James 4:4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
What about John, in his letter he says:
1 John 2:15-17
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
John, in his gospel said:
John 17:14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.
Even Paul warns about contact with the world:
1 Corinthians 5:9-10
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
And in his second letter Paul says:
2 Corinthians 6:17 Therefore,
   “Come out from them
   and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
   and I will receive you.”
So are we guilty by association, or should we be looking at other scriptures to get a more balanced view?
Let's start with James: He has already said earlier in his letter:
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
John in his gospel goes on to say:
John in his letter is speaking about the things of the world and the attitudes of its people.  He is not talking about the people.  I'll talk about this more later.
John 17:15-18
15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians is talking about Christians -people in the church – PLUs, not people outside in the world.
As an aside, do you know that the Barna group in America found that Christian faith has little or no effect on peoples behaviour.  Only evangelicals stood out – along with those who are atheists or agnostics.  Its clearly always been a problem – so perhaps the non-PLUs are not so different!
In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul is talking about close partnerships, like business partnerships and marriages.  He is not talking about being friendly with the next door neighbour or the guy in the pub.
FriendshipPaul also said, in
1 Corinthians 9:22-23
22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
And finally we should look at what Jesus said
Luke 19:10
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Paul was able to pull off being like the people he was trying to reach so that they saw him as a PLU.  That made it easier to befriend them.  He managed that without compromising his faith in any way.
Jesus clearly believes that He is here for those who do not know God, those who are lost in their sins.  So, if we are to engage in His mission, and make friends with those in the outside world we must be sure that it is us who are influencing them and not the other way around.  We must not find ourselves in a position where we want what the world has to offer in preference to what Christ has already given us, neither must we allow behaviour to make us indistinguishable for the people we are friendly with.  To ensure that it is our influence that prevails we must have an approach like St Paul:
2 Corinthians 10:4-5
4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
We can only achieve this when we have a balanced life and a group of people praying for us.  But our perceived lack of knowledge or our  fears that we are too far from God can also be an excuse to do nothing.  There are many possible excuses.  My favourite is that I have no idea what to do.  Perhaps we should just talk about it some more
[Life_Of_Brian_PFJ_meeting_to_take_action]
Ideas for ActionWell, they will never achieve anything, but here are some ideas that might just help.  They're not mine, they come from the Book “Becoming a Contagious Christian”.which our series is based on.
These ideas are not new, even in the book.  The first is based on the verse before the one I read at the start of today's talk.
Luke 5:29. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.
1. Mix it up a bit, get everyone you know in a huge hall and let everybody get on with it!  You might have to brief the Christians before hand so that they know not to stand in a little huddle in the corner, or hide in the kitchen.
2. We could start a tradition – hold a party for our neighbours on a bank holiday – let's choose one when it's usually wet and cold (plenty of choice) that should give them less of an excuse not to come.
3. We already hold events and activities for children, but don't let that put us off doing similar things in different places, different ways and at different times.
4. Organise a sports training event and invite people from the local sports club or gym.
5. It might be as simple as holding a barbecue for friends and neighbours
6. or inviting people to our houses to watch some great sporting event.  There will be all sorts of initiatives for the Olympics, but it could be for Wimbledon, or the FA Cup Final, or any other event that catches our interest.
7. Joins a sports club or take a friend and use the time to share something of our beliefs
8. Spend some time with people at work, if that's possible.  Getting to know them better at lunch, or after the work day is over.
9. Make contact with some old school friends, but don't do it on Friends re-united.  Contact them and get together face-to-face
10. Start to make an effort to talk to the people you meet in pubs, supermarkets, or restaurants where you go regularly, or even on the train station or at the bus stop.
ConclusionIt was Jesus' mission, Paul's mission and it is our mission also.  We, like the evangelicals in the Barna survey, recognise that we have a responsibility to personally pass on our faith, after all Christ Church's tag line is “Knowing Jesus better and making Jesus better known”.  If you accept that Jesus died for your sins and opened the way back to God -  If you accept that His resurrection proves that we have eternal life then how can you not try to explain,  convince or otherwise argue your point with anyone willing to listen – as hard as we find it!
I hope that what I have said today may help us find some more willing listeners.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

People Matter to God

Reading
Lk 15:10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
Introduction
“Becoming a Contagious Christian”
This morning we are starting a new series.  We are going to be working through the book “Becoming a Contagious Christian” by Bill Hybels and Mark Mittleberg.  I'm sure that we'd all like to be contagious Christians wouldn't we?
If you said 'yes' to that then this series is for you.
I have the privilege of the first chapter.  It's title is “People Matter to God”, so I will use that as the title of this sermon.
Americans & Motivation
In the first chapter the authors start by talking about what motivates us.  They are American, and have a different view of motivation than us English.  I have worked for American companies for most of my working life and have been subject to their beliefs on motivation many times.  One of my training courses gave some statistics on the motivational effects of pay rises.  If I remember correctly people given pay rises work harder for just a few weeks, after that the motivational effect of the pay rise has passed.  Motivation comes from within.  What we are motivated to do is made up of our God given character and the cumulative effects of the experiences we have had over the years. 
So there's nothing we can do to 'get motivated'. 
No!  That's not true, because God works from within.  He can and will change our motivations, especially so if we ask him to.
Our motivation is shown by what we do or don't do.  If something is important to you, you will be motivated to do something about it. 
People matter to God
If people matter to God, then from what I have just been saying He should be motivated to look after them and care for them.  We can see this is the case within creation.  He has placed us in a world that is ideally suited to our needs.  Life can be harder in some places and easier in others, but God knows that we need problems to solve and difficulties to overcome.  He wants each of us to treat others the way that He treats them.  After spending a few verses telling the Israelite that their sacrifices are unacceptable to Him because of their constant sin He goes on to say (from the end of verse 15 in Isaiah chapter 1) “Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.   Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
We see similar things in Jesus ministry.  In Luke 8 there is the story of the man healed of demon possession, and Jairus' daughter whose healing he interrupted to speak to the woman who touched his robe.  There are many other stories of Jesus concern for individual who he did not know.
The three stories in Luke 15
People matter to God.
These three stories that we had heard today show the lengths that God will go to to reach people.  Lets take a look at them now and see what Jesus is getting at.
Lost sheep
Firstly there is the story of the lost sheep.  Shepherds were considered to be the lowest of the low – all of them lying, idle, thieving cheats, but Jesus makes this shepherd the hero of the story.  It does not begin well.  The shepherd has lost a sheep – that's typical, they can't even keep watch over a few sheep.  Then it gets worse.  “Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” No! He doesn't!  Not even a bad shepherd abandons the sheep that he has while he goes in search of the one lost sheep. The other ninety nine are left untended and are vulnerable to wolves and bears, and that's assuming that none of them will wander off.
The shepherd is mad!
But notice how it ends.  The shepherd has a party saying to his friends ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 
It's an illustration of just how desperate God is to find the people he has lost.
Lost Coin
Then there's a woman who has lost a coin.  The economy of the time was mainly based on barter.  The poor would have had only a few coins for use in emergencies or for the rare things they could not make trades for.  It's probable that the coin would have been part of her dowry and would have been kept on a necklace.  If so, when she spotted it was missing she would have been very upset.  She sets about sweeping the earthen floor until she hears the coin move or sees a glint of it in the light, then she knows she's found it. She has made a diligent and determined search for the coin.
This story ends in the same way. The woman has a party saying to his friends  ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 
Lost Son
The last story is of the lost son.  The son asks his father for the inheritance, which is duly given.  The father would have been seen as at least as mad as the shepherd.  No-one in his right mind would split up his estate before he was dead – it is economic suicide.  The story follows the son, but it's not the son that we should be concentrating on, its the father.  Unlike the shepherd and the woman he cannot go and make a search.  He has allowed his son to leave, but he watches for his return – perhaps he does nothing else.  Then in an act of compassion he runs to meet his boy. 
He runs, so he would have had to lift up his full length robe and shown his ankles.  This was taboo, like one of us running down the street naked to meet our son.  Jesus' audience would, by now, have lost all sympathy for the man.  He has no dignity left.  His son is immediately re-instated – given a ring and sandals, which makes him one of the family again.  Then there is a huge party.
As an aside, if you don't understand why the older brother is SO upset by his fathers reaction look at verse 12 “The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property  between them.”  So where did the father get the ring, the sandals and the fatted calf?
3 Illustrations that people matter to God
We've just heard three stories that show how much people matter to God.  He is the shepherd, the woman, or the father.  Each of these characters cares so much for the thing that was lost that they go to extreme lengths to find it and then, when they do find it, they have a party to celebrate.
Just to be sure we have the point Jesus makes it clear for us in verse 7 he says “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”  and in verse 10 “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” 
We are the one sinner
Each of us, at some point, whether we can remember it or not – whether we know when it was or not, each of us has been that one sinner.  God threw a party in heaven for us, because we turned away from our old way of life and accepted that Jesus died for our sins, and said we wanted to live for Him.
That's worthy of a party!
[Pause]
But do they matter to you?
People Matter to God.
You matter to God.  That is why he sent his son to die for your sins.  Now like the lost son you are restored to God's family and have already been allowed into heaven.  As part of your restoration you said that you wanted to live the way God wants you to.  That means being more and more like Jesus – who God sent us to show us how to live, as well as to die in or place.
How much do people matter to us?
How much do people matter to us?
[Read “An Eye-opening Interchange” p8,9, up to “A story about 'once-a-yearers' ending ... God doesn't have any use for them either.”]
How often do we make value judgements of people, perhaps just by looking at them.  Perhaps we've even looked around at the people who come to midnight communion or to Easter morning and thought “Why do they bother, no-one really wants them here.”  I've certainly read sermons that tell them to go away and never come back.  It's a tempting message after all we have to change what we do to accommodate them on our most important festivals – perhaps we should just issue tickets for those services in the weeks before?
It's a tempting message … but it is just a temptation, one of the ways the devil has of getting us off track.
It happens time and again.  We look at someone, the person on the bus or train perhaps, who is unattractive and may not be behaving well and assume that God doesn't care for them any more than we do.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As we have seen in our three stories today they matter to God more than we could possibly imagine.
Choosing who we talk to
Who do we take the time to talk to?  Only people like us?  Only our family and friends?
Talking to people isn't easy.
I went on a training weekend run by Through faith Missions, the people who do “The walk of a thousand men”.  One of the things we tried was pub evangelism.  The idea was that in the pub you strike up a conversation with someone, and if they want to talk – you talk, and bring the conversation around to Jesus.  You are helped by wearing a sweatshirt with “Walk of a thousand men” on it. 
Who would you choose to talk to in the pub?  The guy next to you at the bar is the most obvious – whoever he is. It is the most difficult thing I have ever tried and I failed miserably.  I was not able to even try to start a single conversation.  Some of us succeeded though. 
I can start conversations with people in the bus queue or at the check-out, but those are generally too short to get anywhere – but you never know!
I am, of course, very happy to answer anyone's questions, if they come up to me and ask me something.
What would make it easier to talk about our faith?
What would make it easier to talk about our faith?
Now we have to come back to motivation.  Most of us talk about things that really matter to us – our family, our friends, our work.  If we were so close to God that our relationship with him was similar to our relationship with our friends and family things would be different.  (I'm assuming of course that our relationships with our friends and family are good!)
So, in order to get us motivated, we need to get closer to God and have a better experience of Him.
We could also start by talking to our Christian friends about our experiences of God.
How much do we want an invite to one of those heavenly parties?
How much do we want an invite to one of those heavenly parties?
I have had the privilege of leading someone to Christ only once.  It was an amazing experience, and my spirits were raised for weeks afterwards – much longer than they would have been by a pay rise.  It is just like being invited to the party that takes place in heaven.  I am certainly hoping that the experience will be repeated. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Exodus 3:1-14 Moses and the Burning Bush

Introduction
Series – Encounters with God
Today we start our summer series.  We will be looking at different characters from the Bible and their Encounters with God.  We will see the effect it had on their lives and the lessons for us.
Moses & the Burning Bush
Establish Background / Life Story
Birth    (Clip from Prince of Egypt 4:14-5:01)
Do these by Q&A:
Hebrew
Royalty
Murder (cared for Hebrews)
Midian –Zipporah, daughter of Jethro, a Midianite priest, two sons, Gershom and Eliezer (Exodus 2:11-22; 18:3-4)  working as a Shepherd
Burning Bush
Back to Egypt
Escape from Egypt
40 years in the desert
Failed to enter promised Land - disobedient to God (Numbers 20:7-12)
The Burning Bush
Where was Moses immediately before the burning bush incident?
Moses was in the desert tending a flock of sheep for his father-in-law.  He had taken the flock to Mount Horeb – the mountain of God, which today we call Sinai.
His past failures were behind him.  Remember he had murdered to try to protect his people. Now he was content with life.  He had a wife and two sons, and probably some daughters, but daughters were rarely recorded.  He had a steady job and had settled down.  He was an old man – 80 years old.
My Training
After meditating on the passage for a while I realised that in some ways Moses story parallels my own.  Some of you will know that I dropped out of my first attempt at Reader training.  I'd always said I'd try again sometime, when the children were grown up.  I had settled into youth work and was helping with Carrie's outreach activities.
God's Call from the Bush
How God managed his little trick to get Moses attention is not important.  The important thing is that Moses was intrigued and decided to take a closer look.  When he did God spoke to him. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”  Moses knew who that was, and knew that to see God face-to-face was certain death.  He hid his face.  Then God reminded him to remove his shoes, and tells him the plan.  You will go back to Egypt and rescue your people.
My 2nd call
God's message to me was not as dramatic as Moses, but looking back it was just as clear.  Paul Hinckley caught me at the end of a service and said something like “It's about time you started your training again isn't it?”.  That took me by surprise.
How do we respond to a clear word from God?
If you had a clear word from God like Moses, or even a wakeup call from your vicar,  you'd just get on with it – right?
Well Moses didn't.  He asked loads of questions, and pointed to his lack of abilities.
Moses – Right Qualifications / Doubts
Moses, though had all the right qualifications, he was brought up in the Egyptian royal family and knew how it worked and how to make things happen. He still had doubts.  Mainly he had lost his self confidence.  He was scared of going back to his own people.  “Who shall I say sent me?”  God reveals a new title “I am” and changes the way the Israelites think of Him forever.  God also reveals more of the plan – step by step.  Then he provides a still doubtful Moses with a number of signs, or 'convincers' –
(2:10-3:20) the staff turning into a snake and the hand becoming leprous and being healed. 
Me – Delay
My response was no better, I tried to delay the start for a year.  Even in my case there were 'convincers' during meditation on a bible passage. So after much discussion, I decided that it was right to go into training that year.
Moses – a great leader
Moses eventually followed God's and became a great leader, and that's where the parallels in the stories end.  I'm not expecting to be leader of the Christian world.
What gets your attention?
What is it that gets your attention?  It shouldn't have to be as dramatic as a burning bush.  As Christians we are connected to God in a way that Moses never was.  As Christians were have the Bible and can hear the word of God any time we open it.  We can read and re-read the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus and know that He died for us and His resurrection means life for us.  We can read the story of the giving of the Holy Spirit and be inspired by the apostles and all they did in spreading the good news of the resurrection. Perhaps as you read and meditate on these scripture the Holy Spirit (or the Angel of God) will make you stop and think.
It may be the word of another Christian that intrigues you and makes you listen carefully to God.
You may witness a miracle, or have a vivid dream.
What ever it is be sure to investigate, if it's God there will be an important message for you.
Once God has your attention all you have to do is listen and make sure you understand his plan. 
Moses did, and it changed his life.  I did and it changed my life.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Holiday in Winsham

Sat 2 Jul 11
We drove to Squirrel Cottage, Laymore, Winsham, Somerset (5 miles from Chard).
From 2011_0702-09 Winsham Holiday
After long delays on M25 around M4.  we stopped at Fleet – a horribly small services for lunch – and a dog walk(ish).
Went to Chard for shopping in Sainsbury's and left Brody tied up outside – he was OK.
After tea we drove to Bridport – West Harbour and walked along the stony beach – small uncomfortable stones but the cliffs are eroding so could also walk next to cliffs and avoid the stones.  Brody went for a swim – Jo was not pleased, but it must have been cold – it woke him up and made him crazy.
He stole another dog's ball, and the ate something.  Jo was shouting at me to put him on the lead.  I was reluctant, but as we came closer to the beech parties there really wasn't a choice.

Sun 3 Jul 11
After a very disturbed night in which Brody was very unsettled, we eventually got going in time to miss the morning service at St Stephens.  Walked into Winsham and diverted toward Ford Abbey, then across country and back to the B3162 and into Winsham, there is not much there, by the time we arrived even the Post Office, the only shop, had closed.
Walked around the church and kept the doors carefully shut, as requested, to keep the swallows out.  We got back to the Squirrels Inn for lunch about 14:00.  The carvery was just £5, even with drinks and sweet the total was about £26 for both of us.  The meat was lovely, mainly pork, but one small piece of beef.  The vegetables were over cooked and almost cold – the penalty for being almost last at the table.
After lunch we watched the Wimbledon mens final: Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in 4 sets.  I was relieved that Nadal didn't  win again.
Around tea time we drove to Lyme Regis for a walk along Monmouth beach.  There really isn't much of it, not enough for a proper dog walk.  Brody had another swim.  Even now his coat doesn't smell too bad.  Then we queued for chips and had a wander around the harbour wall. Brody is an excellent conversation starter.  Tried to find the Jane Austen garden, there were many sign posts but we could not find the garden. 
Back in the cottage, the upstairs floor level window curtain rail fell down when I went to close the curtain  Now it's time for bed, but the fretting dog needs his cage put up before he will sleep. 

Mon 4 Jul 11
The day starts around 3am, Brody needs the facilities of the grass outside.  Then it is almost dawn and its hard to get back to sleep again.  Jo is very tired. Once again we were up late, not so bad today 9:00 ish.  Went in to Chard and to the Tourist Information where the lady was very helpful, but they don’t take cheques any more and have no card machine so it has to be cash.  The banks are easily winning the fight to remove cheques.
A little shopping in Sainsbury's, to cover the cost of the car park ticket, where we bought a meal for two for £10 (it's one of their deals) and back to Squirrel Cottage to make lunch.  Then off to Chard reservoir for a dog walk.
From Holiday 2011 (July 2 - 9) in Winsham, Dorset
The area around the reservoir is split into different types of meadows and is great for dog walking.  Brody almost immediately lost the ball in the long grass.  He was fascinated by the meadow grass and went running through it and bounding about in it.
We had our picnic and then wandered on to the cycle trail for a mile or so, tuned back and walked down the road.  As the reservoir is a bird sanctuary no dogs are allowed in.  After a while we drove to Taunton to look for a dongle.  None are to be had . We found PC World easily enough (amazing!).  O2 and Vodafone have poor coverage of our postcode.  Thanks to the excellent staff in PC world who checked their facts diligently and didn't try to sell an inappropriate product.   We left to try for Orange in the town.  The Orange shop haven't got any dongles and won't be getting any.  Phones 4U said that Orange only do monthly contracts, but I was after pay as you go-  I only need it for a week. Finally, I tried the '3' shop.  They checked the postcode and said no indoor reception – outdoor only – so I am off the net for a week.  Difficult when so many of the leaflets refer to web sites these days.
The £10 meal was very nice – Sea Bass, leaf salad, a bottle of Pino Grigiot blush and a sticky toffee pudding.  I'm quite ready for a blog, but no internet.   Josh (from work) texted me about a billing failure, but the signal is so poor texts take a while to get delivered (and I expect received as well) so I wasn’t much help.  He said they had sorted it out though.

Tue 5 Jul 11
Another early start, taking Brody outside at just 12:30 (00:30) after only 2 hours of sleep.   The rest of the night was also disturbed by the dog.  The weather was supposed to be poor and the rain had already started when we left the cottage.  We went to Heale (near Corfe), which the Sat-Nav didn't know, but the OS map did, for a walk in the Black Wood Hills. As we parked in the road the rain finally stopped.  We made our way back along the road to the bridleway and across the meadow.  Full of corn flowers and daisies it was a beautiful sight.  We made our way around Orchard  Wood and then south to Staple Park Farm.  From there we followed the road and joined the B3178 for a while, finally leaving it for a footpath that cut off the corner and put us on the road where we left the car.  By now it had started raining again. 
All the paths were well maintained and reasonably well signposted, the only exception being the first field we had to cross on the last footpath which was blocked by an electric fence.  The way around was barely passable due to thistles and nettles.  On the way home the rain got worse and it seemed as though we were driving through fog.
We arrive home and had sandwiches, then some rest.  Later we drove the shop in Winsham and posted some postcards and brought some vegetables for tea.
After tea we drove towards Bridport to try to find Eype beach.  Lower Eype was not on the Sat-Nav but we chose a place close by and followed the road signs.  The beach is below a high cliff and is made up of larger stones deposited in tiers by the sea.  The car park which costs £2 after 4pm and has an honesty box.  Ours was the only car, we arrived after 6pm and were there for less that an hour.  We paid a reasonable rate.  From the car park, down the steps on to the beach we turned right  (west) and walked to the end of the beach.  Brody paddled in the sea, but was not sure of the waves which were breaking on the beach with quite a force.

Wed 6 Jul 11
We had up a number of leaflets with walks in the Blackdown Hills from the TI.  This one was '6 circular walks in and around Stockland'  Walk 3 starts at the Stockland village hall.  We found it easily enough and confirmed with a woman about to play tennis that it was OK to park.  The instructions are clear enough, so is the map.  We passed the church, there is no footpath sign.  There is a gap between two hedges that could easily be a footpath.  We tried to walk down between the hedges.  The hedges are high on both sides, the path overgrown with nettles and other vegetation almost up to my shoulder.  It was muddy and stoney underfoot, eventually we turned back.  As we were turning round Brody pushed past me and took my one stable leg from under me.  I landed in the nettles after stepping on his paw.  We returned to the car and drove off to try to find Walk 1  “Happy Valley and the Umborne Brook”.  We found it after a few diversions and joined half way round.  Before we started, the rain began, so we ate lunch and by the time we had finished the shower had passed.  We were soon walking through the woods and following the stream.  Brody spotted a pool that had been dug and was off down hill.  We called and called but the only response was a loud splash.  We continued calling and there were a couple of other splashes then it went quiet.  I made my way down the hill and saw him swimming around.  The pool was deep and the banks steep and high.  All his splashing had not made the pool muddy.  He looked a little bemused and was swimming in a circle – looking for a way out I expect.  I found a corner where the bank was not so steep and attracted him with a dog biscuit.  He came out, but it was a bit of a struggle.  From then on I had a damp dog pushing past me every few hundred yards.  On the way back we passed through a field of cows, who took a dislike to our dog.  He had his best run in this field – and he needed to run – the cows were quite aggressive.  On the final path back we were stopped by a local farmer and asked if the path was clear.  He maintains the path – we were very pleased to hear that some of the paths are maintained..  As we got back to the car a lady on a horse asked us to keep the gate open.  Brody barked at the horse and would not stop.   Once in the car the rain came again.
We drove back towards Chard and stopped at the Yarcombe Inn.  Despite the sign outside, it was closed, but further along the A30 the was the Howley Inn we took a diversion and enjoyed a coffee. They even allowed us to take the dog in.  We also bought some of their eggs.  Then it was back to Chard for some shopping and back to the cottage for tea.

Thu 7 Jul 11
We decided earlier in the week that we would join the walk advertised in the Post Office.  We arrived early only one person was there but he had arrived early as well.  Soon there were about 15 of us.  They are just a group of local friends who go for walks once a month.  They were happy for us to join in.  We had a circular walk around Winsham.  We came around to almost the Squirrel Inn and then back to The Bell the pub where we had met.  The walk lasted just over 2.5 hours.   We stayed for a drink and lunch.  The walkers had pre-ordered lunch and there were some cyclists in, so lunch took a while.  The pub gave Brody a treat and would have provided water if we had needed it. 
After lunch we headed for the Wellington monument, an obelisk visible from quite a distance.  We had hoped to get some good views of the area but there was too much undergrowth.  Here we played with Brody for a while.  The views were available from further down the road.
We came back to the cottage and cleaned up.  Then headed to the Squirrel Inn (next door to the cottage) for an evening meal.  Simple pub food, but well prepared and enjoyable.

Fri 8 Jul 11
After Brody trying out the shower (by now he did need a wash), we headed for Axminster where we visited the TI and followed the town trail.  We passed possibly the grumpiest old man who had just left the cobblers and told Brody not to lick it (the glue he was carrying) and asked why he had to walk in the road to pass us.  The answer I didn't give was “because you're too impatient to wait while the dog moves”.  We then went to Seaton to ride on the tram line to Colyton.  At Colyton, we wandered into town and brought ice cream and wandered back to the tram line.  After a walk around Seaton we drove to Lyme Regis and parked at the top of the cliff.  We walked into town and out toward the Jurassic coast.  We only went a short way, the tide was coming in,  Back on the sea front we had fish and chips, then more ice cream at Rinky Tinks.  Finally we returned home to feed Brody at around 7:30pm.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Field of Blue '11

Easter Sunday is an excellent time to go out and enjoy God's creation.  Jo and I took Brody for a walk in Norsey Woods.  It was a beautiful day - warm and dry, we have had quite a few of those lately, so the bluebells were near the end of their best.  Nevertheless they are stunning.  Each year there is a different place to look to get the best views of the carpet of blue.  Norsey woods is managed and coppiced, so different areas are opened up each year to allow new growth.  This year one of the best views was from the barrow.  There we met a man sitting enjoying the view.  Brody said hello and on his request I took a photo of him with Brody in the background.  We discussed the state of the bluebells and agreed that this year was not as good as last year.  I also noticed that my two previous reports on bluebells were both later in the year.
Field of Blue '11
Beside bluebells other things are also doing well in the wood, take a look at the album to see what.
We spent about an or so hour enjoying the woods, letting small children stroke Brody - who was much more interested in his stick or the tennis ball that someone had found and given him.  We met a few people from church as we were leaving who had come to enjoy the woods.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pilates most stressful day

Introduction
As I first started preparing for this talk the “Christianity at Work” course was presenting the evening on stress at work. It occurred to me that Pilate had one of the most stressful days of his career. So I've called this talk “Pilate most stressful day”.
I'm going to read through the passage covering all of the interaction with Pilate. Every so often I will stop to make comment on the text and occasionally I will pause and leave you with a question to ponder for a minute or so.
First though lets refresh our memories about the two men.
Jesus
The story so far …
The word made flesh, born as a man, grown up and baptised in the spirit. He is on a mission. His mission is to rescue humanity, so that they can have a relationship with God and be saved from death. To do this he must take the blame for everything sinful we have ever done, and be put to death as a punishment.
His ministry has been running about 3 years, he has been teaching about the kingdom of heaven and teaching his followers so that they can carry on spreading the message about the Kingdom after he is gone.
In the last few days he has suffered betrayal by one of his closest friends. As a result he has been arrested by the Chief Priests. The rest of his friends have abandoned him. One of his three closet friends has publicly rejected him.
Now he is to be handed over to the Roman authorities.
Pilate
The story so far …
Pontius Pilate is the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judaea. He has a reputation for being in-sensitive to the Jews and frequently having to suppress crowd trouble as a result. In one instance Pilate allowed his soldiers to bring effigies into the city. When asked to remove them he spent 5 days deciding what to do and then ordered his troops to surround the protesters and threaten to kill them. When the protesting Jews accepted their fate willingly he backed down and removed the effigies. In another similar incident he was censured by the Emperor Tiberius and forced to back down.
He is described as vindictive with a furious temper.
He's is about to have a very stressful day at work.
So lets have a look as Pilate's stressful day. We need to start in the last chapter (18) at verse 40 and move forward to the end of today’s reading. I'd suggest that you keep your bibles open and follow the text.

John 18:28-19:16

Jn 18:28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.
Jn 18:29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
Jn 18:30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

Pilate seems to have overcome his insensitive ways. He knows that it is special festival for the Jews, he understands that they are not allowed to enter the house of a gentile (Roman), so he has come out of his palace to meet them and hear what they have to say.
The Jews though are evasive. Clearly they want something, but it seems that Pilate is expected to guess what at this stage.

Jn 18:31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

Pilate does not want to be disturbed – nor does he want the responsibility for settling an argument for the Jews. It doesn't look like a promising start for the Jews, but don't underestimate a well managed, manipulated crowd.

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected.

So we now know the sentence they want, but still we don't have the charges!
When do I make people play “Guess what I want?”, expecting them to do something without being straight forward about what it is I would like them to do?
[Pause]

Jn 18:32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.
Jn 18:33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jn 18:34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

It's a strange question! Where did Pilate get that from. He has obviously heard of Jesus, whether through reports of his actions with some Romans, or perhaps he has spies amongst the Chief Priests.
Jesus, of course gets straight to the point, and wants to know where the idea came from.

Jn 18:35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Pilate is again dismissive of the Jews. He now gets straight to his point. It's a very direct question – he wouldn’t get employed as a detective. Perhaps he has already decided that Jesus will tell the truth.

Jn 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Jn 18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Jn 18:38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.

Pilate is dismissive of Jesus claim to be speaking truth. He is the ultimate politician here, considering only what is useful to achieve his immediate aims. There is no thought of Justice for the accused, no concern for getting to the truth – Jesus is just the pawn he is fighting over. The conversation with Jesus has had no effect on Pilate at all, except to confirm what Pilate already knows: Jesus is innocent of any crime under Roman law.

Jn 18:39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
Jn 18:40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.

Pilate is still trying to release Jesus. Not because he cares for justice, but because he wants the confrontation with the Jews to come to an end. He's had bad experiences with Jewish crowds before, and knows that it will not be good for his career to have another one. He decides to give the Jews a direct choice – when he would normally have asked them who they want. Do you want Jesus or Barabbas? We can assume that he chose Barabbas as his alternative because he knew that Barabbas was not popular amongst the Jews.
The crowds response must have come as a shock to him.

Jn 19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.

Perhaps if some punishment is administered that will placate the calls for a crucifixion. A Roman flogging was a serious punishment and usually left the victim disabled for life – if not dead from the flogging. The aim though was not to kill, it is to inflict long term suffering. A flogging would tear the flesh from a man's back. His muscles would be exposed and damaged, sometime his bones would be exposed. He could also be turned around and have the same treatment applied to his chest and stomach.
Compromise – giving a little to restore the peace
- it's not submission
- it must be copied by the other side
- sometimes it's just gestures (as the flogging was) and doesn't achieve anything
- sometimes that's the first step to reconciliation
- sometimes it's a step to far
What are my limits – what won't I compromise on?
When I do compromise do I understand the value of the offer I'm making?
[Pause]
Jn 19:2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe
Jn 19:3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.
Jn 19:4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out h to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.”
Jn 19:5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

Jesus must have looked awful – barely alive. The soldiers have been mocking him and applying further punishment. Was Pilate now hoping that the Jews would lessen their demands. Had the flogging been enough? When he says “Here is the man!” Pilate has turned from being reasonable to being sarcastic. Here is the man you want crucified – look at him – he can barely stand. Look your king is wearing a crown of thorns.
Jn 19:6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

“I find no basis for a charge against him”. Pilate has said this three times by now. Three times he has declare Jesus is innocent. Three times Jesus was rejected by the Jews (Peter), three times he is declare innocent by the gentiles.
As soon as they saw him they shouted “Crucify! Crucify!”. Nothing Pilate could do would satisfy them, but he STILL doesn't know the charges.
Jn 19:7 The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
Jn 19:8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid,

Pilate believed in the Roman gods, today we might call that superstition, but then it was a recognised religion. He has already recognised something unusual about this man – perhaps he is a god and now the gods are against him as well.

Jn 19:9 and he went back inside the palace. o “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.
Jn 19:10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jn 19:11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you r is guilty of a greater sin.”

On the face of it Jesus has no power at all but who is really in control here? Perhaps only Jesus amongst all those involved realises the truth, God is in control, and God is in the room! Jesus also clearly puts the blame for his situation on the Chief priests. They are the ones who have lost sight of the truth they should be teaching, and have led their people into sin.

Jn 19:12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king s opposes Caesar.”

Now the Jews play their trump card in getting Jesus sentenced to death. “If you don't do as we say we will report you to Caesar. This is simple political blackmail. They have in their previous dealings identified Pilate's main weakness – his love of power, and have found a way to use it against him.

Jn 19:13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha).
Jn 19:14 It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
Jn 19:15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
Jn 19:16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

Finally the Chief Priest deny everything they stand for. “We have no king but Caesar” whatever happened to the Lord God, the person they are supposed to worship, whose passover they will eat in a day or two's time.
Pilate's conscience has been bothering him. He knows Jesus is innocent and doesn't deserve the sentence he has just received. In Matthew's account Pilate washes his hand to try to say that he has nothing to do with it. It's a custom he borrowed from the Jews for this one occasion.
When have I denied the justice that I know I should support?
What do I do to try to quieten the voice of my conscience?
[Pause]
Jesus went through all that and much more so that you and I can have a fresh start with God. His unjustified punishment and death mean that our deserved punishment will no longer be applied.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Through Faith Missions training weekend

On Friday I took a half day's holiday.  I packed a rucksack with way more than I needed and headed to the train station to meet Warner.  We were on our way to Woking to attend the Through faith missions training weekend for Walk West Dorset.  My agenda was slightly different.  I just wanted to understand what it's all about.  There were two practical sessions in the training.  One was Pub Evangelism, the other was door knocking.  The polite way to put my feelings about taking part would be to say that I was well outside my comfort zone.  Very apprehensive. 
After a false start, I forgot my sleeping bag!, we made it to Woking in plenty of time.  A meal at the Wetherspoons was very welcome and then it was off to Christ Church in the town centre for the training event.  The church has rooms everywhere and is an ideal place for this type of event.  There were 25+ of us in the room over looking the worship space.  It was very comfortable - I wasn't.  Plenty of tea and coffee and a very interactive training session.  The clock ticks round and it was soon time to visit the pub - a process I usually look forward to.  We are kitted out with 'Walk of 1000 Men' t-shirts and sweatshirts.  As a novice - a first timer I was hoping to be paired with someone who had at least tried before. It was not to be.  We were completely incapable of approaching people and talking to them.  Eventually I buttonholed one of the more experienced guys and asked him to show me.  Not really much success there either.  The one of the leaders had a try.  He managed a two or three line conversation with someone - and then I did learn something - but only with time for reflection later.
Bed involved sleeping on the floor.  I had borrowed my daughters inflatable bed so I wasn't too uncomfortable.  Sleep though eluded me for a long time.  Too much to think and pray about.  When I did start to doze there was free unscripted entertainment outside.  Three times that happened.  Then it was morning as day light began streaming through the roof even with the blinds down further sleep was impossible.
Breakfast was brought in by the local breakfast expert. Every church should have at least one!  I enjoyed it as you can tell.  Then more training, but this morning it was hard to concentrate after a poor night. 
Lunch was served in the church, by the cafe staff.  It was the first time for years I had eaten mince.  In the rush to book the weekend dietary requirements had been omitted.  I'm sure it was good, but I don't enjoy the taste as I used to.
Then to the door-to-door exercise.  We take a survey.  It is the warmest April day since ... records began.  Most people are out.  From about 20 houses we get 8 (I think) answers. A few are prepared to do the survey - two are from another local church.  Only one person got beyond the end. 
I'm not sure who was more nervous - us or the people we visited.
Reflecting on the experience now I have to ask if the results are a net positive. Does this approach put the people we visit under too much pressure? Are most the people we spoke to closer to making a commitment to Christ or further away?  Is this an effective way to turn people around? I feel for two of the people I spoke to in particular.  Jesus only put the leaders of the faith under pressure.  With everyone else He was very gentle.
I don't have answers.  If I ever get any I will, of course, blog about it. 
Some of the other training elements were very positive for me.  A chance to reflect on my testimony and see that it stops rather a long time ago was very useful.  A testimony that says nothing about the now needs updating.  There was also some practical training on schools work and the legal requirements that go with it which was very helpful.  Then there's the manual to read ...
Finally, there was the interview.  A check to see that the applicants are OK for the task they are being asked to do.  There is a rule of life to sign up to, which I had to stop and read (ALWAYS read the small print - especially when God's involved.).  I didn't have a problem signing that, it's pretty much how I try to live anyway.
So to the journey home.  By now its latish on Saturday.  By the time we get to Waterloo the Drain (Waterloo  & City line) has closed for the weekend.  Northern line trains aren't stopping at Tottenham Court Road (the next most obvious route), so its the Jubilee line to Stratford.   The journey home much less comfortable than the outward one.
My interviewer had warned me that if I decided to do a walk I would come under spiritual attack.  As I left the hall I had a pain in my right heel.  I didn't think much of it until I was walking home from Billericay Station.  Looking so see what was wrong I noticed blood on my sandals.  When I got home I found a spike about the thickness of a staple, but sharpened to a needle like point had gone through the sole of my sandals and had repeatedly scratched and penetrated my heel.  Very painful.  Reminded me of Genesis 3:15.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Getting Heaven into us

Introduction
Richard Foster said "The real issue is not so much us getting into heaven as it is getting heaven into us." So I have decided that the title for this sermon is: “Getting heaven into us”.
Getting us into heaven has already been done. Remember the Ribbons clip from last week. How Christ breaks all the ties we have to the things that are not good for us and frees us to be with Him.

1Pe 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
He has taken away our sins, so that we can live for righteousness.
Its still a choice that we must take up. There can be no excuses now, sin is overcome. Jesus did that for us. Now we can choose to look at God and imitate his approach to life, as it says in

Eph 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
If you thought last weeks message was hard with its call to purity, then I sorry to tell you that this weeks is harder. At least though the reading is not so full of prohibitions.
I've split these few verses into 3 headings, and I will try to concentrate on the positives.


  • Be Careful how you live – making the most of every opportunity
  • Understand the Lords will
  • Be filled with the Spirit

Each of these commands has its opposite, something we are commanded not to do. Christianity is sometimes accused of being a religion of prohibitions, in reality though for each prohibition God provides us with alternative behaviours.
Luke 11:24-26
24 When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.'
25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order.
26 Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.
For each evil we let go of, for each evil that we take out of our lives there must be something put in to replace it Without these we would simply find ourselves back in the sin we were trying to escape from. I'll talk a bit more about this later.


Be Careful how you live – making the most of every opportunity
In the days before modern harbours, a ship had to wait for the flood tide before it could make it to port. The term for this situation in Latin was ob portu, that is, a ship standing over off a port, waiting for the moment when it could ride the turn of the tide to harbour. The English word 'opportunity' is derived from this original meaning.
To take the opportunity to get into port the officers of the ship must make sure that it is ready at just the right time. They must understand the tides and the signs that tell them the water is deep enough. If its too soon they might wreck the ship, if the tide is too strong they might wreck the ship.
If we are to make the most of opportunities we must make sure that it is a priority for us to seek them out and follow them up. Each of us should have our own understanding of our personal priorities. Here's a simple list that I made, and have seen other use, many years ago:

1. Public Worship & Private time with God
2. Family – Spouse & children (Other family)
3. Work - Paid Employment
4. Recreation / Voluntary Work (including @ Church)
It's useful when we have conflicts to resolve. Like everything else it shouldn't be used slavishly, or to beat yourself up with when you fail.
Mary and Martha had different priorities, Martha was concerned about being a good host and making sure that everything was ready for her guests, Mary had different ideas. Here's what Jesus said:

Lk 10:40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Having established our priorities we must be careful not to over plan our lives. Someone has said “Life is what happens to you while you're making plans to do something else.”

The phrase “Carpe Diem” was made famous (as far as I'm concerned anyway) by the film Dead Poets society. It is often translated Seize the Day. Life is about Today, not tomorrow, and not yesterday. The full quote is Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero – "Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future", It comes from Ode, by Horace.
In the film Robin Williams says "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary." Take the opportunities that you can see and live them to the full. - Ring any bells?
The Rabbis have another way of saying it:
"And if not now, when?"

Ro 13:11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.
Here's a story that illustrates the kind of opportunities that may come our way:
Author Terry Muck tells of a letter he received from a man who used to have absolutely no interest in spiritual things. He lived next door to a Christian, and they had a casual relation-ship like neighbours often do. Then the non-Christian’s wife was stricken with cancer, and died three months later. Here’s the letter:
“I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. And after the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night. But I did not walk alone. My neighbour - afraid for me, I guess - stayed with me all night.
He did not speak; he did not even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river he came over to me and said, "Let’s go get some breakfast."
I go to church now. My neighbour’s church. A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbour showed me is something I want to find out more about. I want to be like that. I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life.”
What made the difference in this man’s life? It was that one Christian dared to make the most of the opportunity he had to reveal Christ to his friend.
http://www.sermoncentral.com/print_friendly.asp?ContributorID=&SermonID=31330


Understand the Lords will
God is in the business of rescue and nurture. His aim is to offer rescue to as many as are ready to receive it. The form of the rescue itself is as varied as the person being rescued. Sometimes all it will take is following someone all night. Other times it will be much more difficult, and perhaps a lot more dangerous. Once rescued we are to start the process of rescuing others.
Does anyone know what this is:
#threewordstoliveby
It's a twitter hash tag. Here's what twitter looks like.
The currently popular hash tags are listed on the screen when you log in. Have you worked out what is says yet.
 Three words to live by
When I saw that I had an instant reaction. Three words were there in the front of my consciousness immediately. What would your response be? What are your “three words to live by”?
Mine was (and is) “Jesus is Lord”

To serve God we must put ourselves under his Lordship. Here are some of the things that the apostle Paul had to say about living under the Lordship of Christ.

Ro 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
2Co 12:10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Phil 1:12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.
It's not all bad as the disciples found out on the day of pentecost as as Paul alludes to in the verses I've just read, it is mostly very good.


Be filled with the Spirit
The command “be filled” in verse 18 is in the passive voice. That means that in order to be filled with the Spirit we must always be going through the process that leads to it.
[Torch illustration]
[torch = us; batteries = power of spirit, if you can't get the batteries in because of the rubbish already there you can't get any power. The torch (we) is useless]
use Gal 5:19. on a scroll in the torch.
Gal 5:19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
http://www.sermoncentral.com/print_friendly.asp?ContributorID=&SermonID=46599
When we are filled with the spirit there is EVIDENCE in the way we speak and behave.
Evidence - Speaking
Verse 19 “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit”
This is evidence that we have the holy spirit.
What do you see?
This is what I see:
We have done well in the last decade removing the negative – back biting etc,
now its time to put in some positive...
Evidence - Thankfulness
The next piece of evidence is in verse 20 “always giving thanks to God for EVERYTHING, in the name of Christ.”
You'll notice that that too is something that we keep doing, just we keep being filled with the Holy Spirit. It's a bit of a theme with Paul, he says a similar thing in his letter to the Thessalonians:
1 Thes 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
It can be difficult. I never managed to say “Thank you Lord, that I've been made redundant, that I no longer have a job or an income...”, but that is not what it's about. It's about “Counting your blessings”, remembering and being thankful for all the good things you do have, not remembering (and moaning) about your current hardships.
Thanksgiving - Psychology
Psychologists today tell us that sincere gratitude, thanksgiving, is the healthiest of all human emotions. Hans Selye, who is considered the father of stress studies, has said that gratitude produces more positive emotional energy than any other attitude in life.
And a thankful heart will endear others to us and us to others.
Everyone likes to be thanked. What better way then to give Glory to God than to thank him for all that he has done for you?
For you see thanksgiving is not only good for the giver but also good for the receiver, and Paul notes that there is a downside to not being thankful.
Ro 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools
Conclusion
Be Careful how you live – making the most of every opportunity
Have your priorities sorted out and be ready to take any opportunity that presents itself.
Understand the Lords will
God is in the business of rescue and nurture. Once rescued we join Gods rescue efforts. This can be a dangerous business.
Be filled with the Spirit
Look for the evidence of the Holy Spirit within you:
speaking
Not just what we say, but the means we use to say it. Focus on God, speak to each other in Hymns, and spiritual songs and phrases.
Thankfulness
Count Your Blessing, be thankful to those around you and especially to God and the Lord Jesus.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Do you want to get well?

Introduction

Missing verse 4

Has anyone noticed anything unusual about this bible reading? When I first read it I thought there was something missing. Looking closer – its verse 4. Its there in the authorized version, and in some modern translations, for example in the New American Standard Bible it says “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted”. It seems that this verse was added in the second century to explain what was going on around the pool. It's helpful, but its not in the earliest texts that are used as the basis for more modern translations – so its not in the NIV. They have left out the verse number to stay in line with those bibles that keep the verse – primarily the Authorised version (The King James Bible). There one thing that Melvin Bragg missed in his program on the influence of the KJV.

Pool at Bethesda

Before the 19th century scholars suggested that the pool at Bethsaida described here could not exist. The gospel they said must have been written by someone who had never visited Jerusalem. In 1888 an archaeologist names Schick discovered a pool near St Anne's church just in the place described in John's gospel. In 1964 further digs confirmed that this was the pool John mentioned. This is a cautionary tale about our use of scripture. Just because it's not obvious to us now, in the modern era, doesn't mean that it wasn't obvious to the author, nor does it mean that parts of the Bible are the results of someone's over active imagination.

To Know

The next issue I need to bring to your attention will change the way we think about the passage a little. In verse 6 the NIV has “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been ...” Most translations have 'knew' in place of 'learned' The root greek word (already a second language for the author remember) means to know, to come to know, or to understand and is the same word used in the phrase 'Then Adam knew Eve, and later Cain was born'. The text does not require that Jesus and the man had a conversation before the question “Do you want to get well?” was asked, neither does it prevent that as a possibility.

The interaction with Jesus

Jesus walks into the area around the pool. He sees many disabled and sick people there. They are begging and waiting. If they were successfully begging then we must assume that there are plenty of fit and well people there also – it's a busy place. Jesus looks around and then approaches one man. I wonder what he saw in this man? Perhaps he was the one in the most need. Perhaps he was the one who was most ready to be healed, why pick only him? Perhaps this is only one of many healings that happened that Sabbath day, and this one is reported because of the trouble that resulted later when the authorities found out. You can read about that in the next 10 verses.

Life of a beggar

Most of the disabled people there would have been begging. You could make quite a reasonable life as a beggar. You wouldn't get rich as some allege that beggars do today, but you could survive. There was no responsibility – you didn't have to do anything, just sit and wait. Then there's the sympathy from your friends and family – some people thrive on that sort of attention. So its possible that they weren't all there trying to get into the pool and be healed, some may have just found a good 'pitch'.
It reminds me of the beggar in the 'Life of Brian'. Michael Palin looking unusually fit and healthy as the beggar. He not sitting and waiting, he's bouncing around saying “Spare a talent for an old ex-leper, sir.”
B: Did you say – ex-leper?
X: That's right, sir. (he salutes) ... sixteen years behind the bell, and proud of it, thank you sir.
B: What happened?
X: I was cured, sir.
B: Cured?
X: Yes sir, a miracle, sir. Bless you.
B: Who cured you?
X: Jesus did. I was hopping along, when suddenly he comes and cures me. One minute I'm a leper with a trade, next moment me livelihood's gone. Not so much as a by your leave.  You're cured mate, sod you. 
Look, I'm not saying that being a leper was a bowl of cherries. But it was a living. I mean, you try waving muscular suntanned limbs in people's faces demanding compassion. It's a disaster.
Of course we know that Jesus would NEVER just cure someone without being sure they wanted to be cured.
That's one of the reasons Jesus asks the question “Do you want to get well?”

Checking the want

It may have seemed a silly question. Who wouldn't want to? but I hope by now your starting to see that it was really important and incisive question. Jesus is really saying “Are you prepared for this?” The man's life will change. When he is well he will have to get up and find a proper job. There can be no more excuses for his condition or his failure to alleviate it. No more blaming his friends and family “I don't have anyone to ...”. Once he is well there can be no ducking of responsibility for his own life and future well being.
Pr 10:4 Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.
That's what he'll have to live by.
Jesus wants to know of the man “Will you embrace this change in your life, leave your old begging, excuse based existence behind?” Do you want to take on these responsibilities?
Are you up for it?”
In this case the man did not know who Jesus was (v13), which makes it all the more remarkable that he took any notice of him at all. When Jesus said “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” he must have felt something happen in his body or he would have laughed at Jesus – because on the face of it “Get up!” is a ridiculous thing to say to someone who hasn't stood for 38 years. He will barely have enough muscles left to keep his bones together.

The first step.

If the man had said to himself “What a stupid thing to say” he would not have been healed. If he had thought “Great, I'm well”, but stayed on his mat, he would not have been healed. He had to take the first step. No, that's not right, before that he had to make the first move. He had to get up and stand. Jesus had done the work, the healing was complete, but to benefit from it the man had to be involved, had to be 'up for it', or had to 'get up from it'.

Our Healing

Its not always physical healing that we need, sometimes the physical condition is caused by sin, sometimes it is just sinfulness itself that needs healing. Later on from our reading today Jesus goes to find the man he healed and tells him to stop sinning or worse may happen to him. (v14)

Healing is not only physical

Tony Campolo tells a story about being in a church in Oregon where he was asked to pray for a man who had cancer. Campolo prayed boldly for the man’s healing. That next week he got a telephone call from the man’s wife. She said, "You prayed for my husband. He had cancer." Campolo thought when he heard her use the past tense verb that his cancer had been eradicated! But before he could think much about it she said, "He died." Campolo felt terrible.
But she continued, "Don’t feel bad. When he came into that church that Sunday he was filled with anger. He knew he was going to be dead in a short period of time, and he hated God. He was 58 years old, and he wanted to see his children and grandchildren grow up. He was angry that this all-powerful God didn’t take away his sickness and heal him. He would lie in bed and curse God. The more his anger grew towards God, the more miserable he was to everybody around him. It was an awful thing to be in his presence.
But the lady told Campolo, "After you prayed for him, a peace had come over him and a joy had come into him. Tony, the last three days have been the best days of our lives. We’ve sung. We’ve laughed. We’ve read Scripture. We prayed. Oh, they’ve been wonderful days. And I called to thank you for laying your hands on him and praying for healing."
The healing we need is not always physical, indeed the physical problem is sometimes irrelevant.

Are you ready to accept healing?

The conditions are the same for us as for the man in the scripture today. If we are to be healed we have to want it. We have to be prepared to take the first step / to make the first move, to make the healing real.
Suppose you have an addiction – any sort of addiction. To a substance, to anger, to gambling, to shopping, to whatever it is that causes you to sin. You pray for healing. Healing is given. If you don't then stop taking the substance, if you don't remember your healing and continue to get angry and abusive, if go straight out and buy a lottery ticket or head for Blue Water and a shopping spree, the healing is worthless. You are back with your problem, back in your sin before you ever managed to leave it..
Are you prepared for the changes that your healing might bring?
Are you ready to give up your past life of blaming others for your condition, or your continued condition?
Are you ready to stand up in your new life and take responsibility for your future?
Are you ready to stand out from the crowd – the rest of our congregation. If you are healed you may become a minor celebrity – which brings its own challenges.

Recognising the source

A woodpecker was hammering away at a tree when suddenly a lightning bolt split the tree in two from top to bottom. Initially the woodpecker was thrown from the tree but once he had recovered he looked back and saw what had happened. Immediately he flew away and found the other woodpeckers he knew and brought them back to the tree. “look what I've done” he said.
Your healing, your salvation, are nothing that you have done. 
(http://www.sermoncentral.com/print_friendly.asp?ContributorID=&SermonID=32654)
 
When the man was questioned by the Jewish authorities about carrying his mat on the Sabbath he said “The man who made me well told me to”.(v11) That is at least some sort of witness that Jesus had healed him.
It sounds a bit begrudging. We should not be like that. Paul says in Galatians 6:14 “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. When we are healed we must be prepared to give all the credit to God.
If the man Jesus healed at the pool became a good runner he cannot say “I've trained hard and I can now beat most of you in the 100 yards dash”. Without Jesus and the healing he would still be on his mat. He can only say “Jesus healed me and I can now beat most of you in the 100 yards dash”.


Do you want to get well?


Ps 103:2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits - 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Let's Pray
http://1stholistic.com/Spl_prayers/prayer_prayer_of_healing.htm
Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for you are my praise.
I praise you, mighty Father.
You forgive all my iniquities, and you heal all my diseases.
Thank you, Lord. When I am sick, you send your Word, and it heals me and delivers me from all destructions.
Your Word is life to me, and it brings healing to my flesh.
Thank you for the healing power of your Word, Father.
I will never let it depart from my eyes.
I will keep your Word deeply implanted within my heart.
Praise your name, holy Father.
I love you, and I thank you for healing me.