Thursday, 31 July 2014

The treasure hidden in the field

The following is a talk I gave at a midweek service in St. James (30th July 2014) on Matthew 13:44

The word here for treasure is from the Greek word “thesaurus” which is the name given to a word-finder or a treasury of different words, their meanings and synonyms. For those struggling with crosswords, creative writing or composing a poem a "thesaurus" is indeed a treasure-trove that enriches their search.

The word "treasure" crops up in several places in the New Testament:

In Matthew 6:20ff Jesus tells us for example that we should not lay up for ourselves treasure on earth which moth and rust destroy or thieves steal—but to store up treasure in heaven which cannot rot or rust or be stolen. Jesus is drawing a contract between a treasure that is eternal and will last and one which is earthly and temporal.

In Matthew 12:35 talking to the Pharisees Jesus warns about how good trees produce good fruit while bad tress produce bad fruit. The particular Pharisees Jesus was talking to were bad trees (not all Pharisees were bad). He calls them a “brood of vipers” and says “how can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” In other words their hatred and rejection of Him is proof of the badness within. By contrast he says, “a good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things.”

So treasure is something eternal not temporal, it is something good not bad.

In Matthew 19:21 Jesus is talking to the rich man who wants eternal riches AND earthly riches at the same time. He wants the “penny and the bun” as the old saying goes. But his love of earthly riches is like a huge weight that is dragging him down. So Jesus tells him: “If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.”  Here Jesus is setting himself as the treasure the Rich young man should bind himself to ("come follow me") while cutting himself off from earthly riches.

So here we come to the treasure hidden in the field and we begin to understand a little more the significance of it. It is a treasure that when found will give us eternal life. It is something good above all other. It is however not a thing, or an object, it is a person. It is Jesus—the son of God and the Saviour of the world. To many he is still hidden, just as the treasure was hidden from the man who owned the field! He was hidden even from his own relatives, initially at least. And to his neighbours he was just Joseph the carpenter's son. Even to the Jewish people who so longed for the Messiah found it hard to find him—in fact from the start they tried to kill him. But as John says: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he (gives) power to become the children of God” (John 1:14)" 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Celebrating Church Colson

One of the early influences on my Christian life was a man called Chuck Colson who founded Prison Fellowship something one of our congregation, Sylvia Nock, is very much involved with here in Swansea. Here is a video from You Tube which pays tribute to him - he died in 2012 - and celebrates his life, work and faith.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Treasure of the Kingdom

The following is a sermon given at St. James, Uplands on 27th July 27th 2014

In February this year the news ran an item about a couple from California who found rare coins to the value of 7 million pounds. For years they had walked the same path  and had passed by a piece of metal sticking up above the surface of the ground. They hadn't really noticed it before although they may have glanced in its direction. But this one day they did notice it and saw that it looked like the edge of a can. So they stopped and dug it up—and four other cans near it—and inside discovered what the news described as “a buried treasure of rare American coins”. There were five cans in all & the couple are now very rich & very happy people.

What struck me about the story is that the couple had gone hiking that route for years and never noticed the can. And if not for that one time when they looked down and decided to investigate, they could have gone on hiking and never ever made the discovery and the riches it offered. All that treasure so very close.

The kingdom of heaven is like that treasure. It’s so very close that you can get it, but also so hidden that you could miss it.

First, it’s very close because Jesus said that it is at hand. When he first started preaching that is what he told the crowds. “Repent—change your mind or your way of seeing/looking at things—for the kingdom of heaven it near/at hand.”  (Matt 4:17).

On another occasion he puts it even closer. In Luke 17:20-21 when the Pharisees asked when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied: “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.”

In other words each person has to discover the Kingdom for themselves. The Pharisees wanted to know what the signs of it was, as if it was something way off, or you could point towards it and say “there it is” or “X marks the spot”! No the kingdom of heaven is even closer—its within you. But unless you have an open attitude of mind, although its so close, you can miss it!

Which is what Jesus meant when he quoted the prophet Isaiah earlier in Matthew 13:14

“You will be ever hearing but never understanding, you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.”

In other words the Kingdom of heaven is within seeing distance and hearing distance and is something that can be understood, but at the same time if your ears, your eyes and your mind is closed, it might as well be on Mars—you could miss it!

That’s why Jesus starts his wonderful sermon on the mount with the promise that the kingdom of heaven belongs not to the proud and sophisticated, but to the poor in spirit, those who mourn, who are meek and humble and those who hunger and thirst after God.

So the kingdom of heaven is near, and it is discoverable by everyone without exception.

The second thing to say it that the kingdom of heaven is precious, the most valuable and precious thing you or I will ever come across in our life. In both parables when the treasure and the pearl are found the two men went and sold everything they had in order to get it.

We are not saying that the Kingdom of heaven has a monetary value. You can’t buy it. The parables don’t mean that. But what they are saying is that it is precious. Why? Because to find the kingdom is to find life! When you find this life in all its fullness, then everything else drops in value alongside the most precious thing of all—life with God both here and now and with Him for eternity.

But no-one can persuade you about this. You will know when you find it. The parables DON’T mean you are expected to purchase the kingdom or give anything in exchange for it as both men find the treasure and the pearl—they don’t buy them. But what they DO mean is that when or if you find it then suddenly everything else is put into a new perspective.

Let me give you a very down to earth example. I love watching the Swans, so much so that when couples come to me and arrange a wedding and ask me to suggest a time I have to put my hand up and try and arrange 12.00 because then it gives me time to conduct the wedding, chat after AND get home in time to change and drive to the Liberty for the 3.00 kick off. Watching the Swans is Hazel and my down time when we can relax and enjoy something together and we try to arrange things around that.

Last year my first grandson was born. Early on in his little life my daughter needed us to go up to help her and the day she wanted us was a Saturday. We had to travel up the night before and travel back Saturday night for Sunday worship. The Swans were home against Arsenal—a big, big match. Did we hesitate? No. With Theo’s arrival what before was one of the highest priorities in our life dropped down the pecking
order. Theo was more precious to us than watching the Swans.

When the two men found their treasure their priorities in life changed and “things” and “possessions” etc meant much less than what they had discovered. When you find the Kingdom of heaven then you will find that your priorities and what matters most to you, and what you value most, will suddenly change.

And third, it will bring you joy! “in his joy the man went and sold all he had.”  

In the Beatitudes over and over again Jesus refers to those who have discovered the Kingdom of heaven as “blessed”. Some translate that word as “happy” but actually the word means something much deeper and richer than happiness, which can come and go. And in fact there is a connection between the Greek word for “blessed” and the word Jesus uses here for “joy” - they both have the same root “chara”. So what we find here is something deeply rewarding and fulfilling—summed up in the word “bliss”.  Somebody “blissfully happy” means someone who is at peace within themselves and is fully content, at rest within.

So to sum up:
The kingdom of heaven is close—within you—but beware you could miss it/overlook it. Need to look with open eyes, open ears and open hearts.
The kingdom of heaven is more precious than anything you could have or own. When you discover it you will see that.
The kingdom of heaven, when found, will bring you great joy, peace and contentment. Such that no material or earthly thing can ever bring.

But one final thing. Some commentators have said that there is another way of looking at these parables. Instead of the man being you and I, looking for the kingdom, the man is Jesus looking for us, His treasure. That is how he sees us! And so great is Jesus’ love for us that he was willing to give everything he had, dying on the cross to find us his “treasure” or his “pearl of great price”. And that is not a bad reading and a very biblical way of reading it too.

John 3:16 drives that home:
“For God so loved the world—it is so precious to him—that he gave his one and only son—gave him up to die on the cross, give up everything he had/was precious to him—so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life i.e. have the kingdom of heaven and all the fullness that brings with it.”

God loves you and I THAT much. How can we not seek and worship such a God. Amen.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Parable of the weeds

The following is a short address given at a midweek service in St. James today (23rd July 2014)

24. Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28. “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29. “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
36. Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37. He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39. and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 13:24-29, 36-43)

Have you ever wondered why Jesus gives the parable of the wheat and the weeds other than just providing us with information? I mean, what are we expected to do with it? What use is it to us? As I asked that question and looked a little closer at the parable I found a few things we can learn from it:

First, Jesus is telling us that we should avoid judging others—who is in and who is out of the Kingdom. That is God’s job. That is why Jesus said, “Judge not, or you will be judged..” (Matthew 7:1) It is God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden…” (1984 Welsh Prayer Book). He is the one, says Psalm 139 who has “searched me out and known me...and who is acquainted with all my ways…” Don't play God - and get it wrong - leave that to Him!

Second, Jesus is telling the disciples, and us, that we must make sure that we are walking with God. Paul writes to the Philippians and tells them they are to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 4:13).  In other words that should preoccupy their thinking and their energy. Of course we must help others whenever we can through encouragement and prayer, but ultimately we must stand before God alone and be judged on what we have or have not done with what God has revealed to us in Jesus.

Third, Jesus is warning us that the devil is very real and on the prowl. He is not a fairy tale or a fabrication to frighten children into behaving. Jesus is very certain about this. He is warning us that whatever the Son of Man does, the devil will try and counterfeit or counteract in some way. Whenever God's Kingdom makes advances, you can be sure that the enemy of our souls will be working to undermine it in some way. But, says Jesus, he will have his day and in the end be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). Meanwhile we are to resist him firm in our faith knowing that if we do he will certainly flee (James 4:7).  "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33)" promises Jesus.

Fourth, although Jesus points to the last day, the day of judgement when this age will come to an end, there are various points in history when God does weed His church. I believe that such a time is now, in the West, when through decline and materialism the church is having the life choked out of it. But God is using these things as tools to cut away that which is hindering growth so that the wheat of the Kingdom will have a chance to grow again.

That is to say the weeds won’t come again. They will. But we must hold in tension the parable of the weeds with its talk of infiltration and infestation by the devil and the parable of the mustard seed which promises that the kingdom will grow to the four ends of the earth. But it wont be plain sailing and every now and again, if the church is not careful about its teaching and its witness, weeds will cause problems and setbacks, and God, the divine gardener, will have to step in and sort things out.

There are other things I could add - about the weeds that can grow in our own hearts - those besetting sins and addictions that can hinder our own walk with God and need to be weeded out by prayer and the spiritual disciplines.  We could also ask questions about "the blazing furnace" Jesus refers to in verse 42 -is it hell, is it literal etc.? And what does Jesus mean when he say that "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom"? But for now let us heed Jesus' teaching. Don't judge, be sure to work out your salvation, the salvation Jesus has won for us and offers with such grace, beware the devil and resist him, and trust God to weed and grow His kingdom and do all you can to help Him.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Where have the young people gone?

“Why are so many young people leaving the church? I don’t think it’s all that complicated. God seems irrelevant to them. They see God as existing to meet their needs and make them happy. And sure, God can make them feel good, but so can a lot of other things. Making piles of money feels good. Climbing the corporate ladder feels good. Buying a motorcycle and spending days cruising around the country feels good … if God is simply one option on a buffet, why stick with God?”
Stephen Altrogge, Untamable God

Monday, 21 July 2014

Prayer - an Eastern Orthodox perspective

There is a saying about "how the other half live". As Christians in the West we forget that there are other Christians 'out there' beyond Europe who make up a significant part of the Christian family. How do they worship? How do they live out their discipleship? How do they pray? The following is a lecture by an Eastern Orthodox Bishop, Kallistos Ware

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The greatness of God - Hermas

Remember, never to fear the power of evil more than your trust in the power and love of God.
Hermas, one of the Seventy

Who was Hermas?
Hermas is mentioned in the Epistles of St Paul (Romans 16:14). He served as a bishop in the first-century Church, and died a martyr. His book, The Shepherd, is one of the earliest Christian writings outside of the New Testament, and was held in such esteem by the early Church that it is sometimes found in ancient collections of the Holy Scriptures.

Hermas had been a wealthy man, but had fallen into poverty through his sins. A man, clad all in white and holding a staff, appeared to St Hermas and, telling him that he was an angel of repentance, gave St Hermas twelve commandments:

•To believe in God
•To live in simplicity and innocence
•To love truth and flee from falsehood
•To guard his thoughts in chastity
•To learn patience and magnanimity of soul
•To know that a good and an evil spirit attend every man
•To fear God, but not the devil
•To perform every good deed and to restrain himself from every evil one
•To pray to God in faith from the depths of his heart, so that his prayer might be heard
•To preserve himself from melancholy, the daughter of doubt, and from anger
•To try true and false prophecies
•To preserve himself from every evil desire.

See the text of the Shepherd of Hermas here.

The mind and compassion of God

"As a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God."
"Just as a strongly flowing fountain is not blocked up by a handful of earth, so the compassion of the Creator is not overcome by the wickedness of his creatures."
"Someone who bears a grudge while he prays is like a person who sows in the sea and expects to reap a harvest."
St. Isaac The Syrian

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Prophetic encouragements

On Pentecost Monday 1975 a prophecy was given by Ralph Martin in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, in the presence of Pope Paul VI. Here are some key points from it which I find fascinating given the times we are living in. The introductions are given by Father Pat Collins CM and they are taken from his book: "The Gifts of the Spirit and the New Evangelization."

a. A time of darkness and purification in the church. 
Firstly, the Lord seemed to predict that a time of purifying darkness was about to afflict the church:

"Open your eyes, open your hearts to prepare yourselves for me and for the day that I have now begun. My church will be different; my people will be different; difficulties and trials will come upon you.....I will lead you into the desert.....I will strop you of everything that you are depending on now, so you depend just on me."

The Lord went on to say more about the purpose of the time of trial and purification:

"You need the power of my Holy Spirit in a way that you have not possessed it; you need an understanding of my will and of the ways I work that you do not have."

Thirty + years later, would it not be true to say that this aspect of the prophecy has been fulfilled. The church has been afflicted ever since it was first spoken. It is as if the powers of hell have been unleashed, in order to mount an attack on the people of God. One is reminded in this context of the words spoken by Jesus, 'behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat' (Luke 22:31).

Pat Collins then goes on to recall: "When he was in Ireland in 1979, Pope John Paul echoed that point in a prophetic way at Limerick:

"Your being asked to prefer the kingdoms of this world with their splendour to the kingdom of God (Matthew 4:8). Satan, the tempter, the adversary of Christ will use all his might and deceptions to win Ireland for the way of the world.....Now is the time of testing for Ireland. This generation is once more a generation of decision." (Blogger note: The same could be said for much of the West!)

b. A time of darkness in the secular world.
The prophecy given in St. Peter's in 1975 seemed to say that the time of darkness in the church would be followed by a time of darkness in the secular world:

"Days of darkness are coming on the world, days of tribulation.'

c. A new springtime for the church.This brings us to a third point in the prophecy. The Lord intends to use his committed followers, whom he raised up and equipped during the church's time of darkness, to evangelise those who will seek him during the time of darkness in the secular world. As the Lord said in the prophecy in St. Peter's,

"A time of darkness is coming on the world, but a time of glory is coming for my church, a time of glory is coming for my people.....I will prepare you for a time of evangelism that the world has not seen."

The great Pentecostal, Smith Wigglesworth, uttered a similar prophecy in 1947 shortly before he died. he predicted the rise of the Charismatic Movement and the House Church Movement. Then he went on to predict that both of them would decline. Then he said, "When the new church phase is on the wane, there will be evidence in the churches of something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit. When the word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest move of the Holy Spirit that the nation, and indeed, the world has ever seen. It will mark the beginning of a revival that will eclipse anything that has been witnessed within these shores, even the Wesleyan and Welsh revivals of former years. the outpouring of God's Spirit.....will begin a missionary move to the ends of the earth.'

The first two of Wigglesworth's predictions have already been fulfilled. His notion of revival seems analogous to John Paul's talk about a springtime to come. Like the Roman prophecy of in 1975, he spoke about a great age of evangelisation which would follow a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
See also the following website for more of Smith Wigglesworth

Monday, 14 July 2014

Prayer and fasting

Came across this sermon on prayer and fasting by Pastor Kim Gasaway which makes some very interesting points:

In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

There is an old religious joke that has been doing the rounds for years which goes like this:`` I was walking across a bridge one day, and ...