Week Commencing Sunday 4th October

Devotional Materials. Week Commencing Sunday 4th October 2020

Dear Friends,

I hope you are keeping well. I am looking forward to joining with many of you for our first service together in the Church since the lockdown began. A reminder; please read through the practicalities involved from last week’s update before attending. Please also bring these devotional materials with you (on mobile if you like) when you attend church this Sunday (4/10/20). The service will commence at 10.30am.

 

Call to worship

It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High,proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night...For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done.  (Psalm 92:1, 2, 4)

 

Hymn

 

 

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
  the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy
  health and salvation!
    All ye who hear,
Now to His temple draw near;
Sing now in glad adoration!

 

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all
  things so wondrously reigneth,
Who, as on wings of an eagle,
  uplifteth, sustaineth.
    Hast thou not seen
How thy desires all have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

 

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper
  thy work and defend thee,
Who from the heavens the streams of
  His mercy doth send thee.
    Ponder anew
What the Almighty can do,
Who with His love doth befriend thee.

 

Praise to the Lord! Oh, let all that
  is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come
  now with praises before Him!
    Let the Amen
Sound from His people again;
Gladly for aye we adore Him.

Joachim Neander

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXhxbEjfxxc

 

Prayer

Almighty God we thank you for keeping us during this period of lockdown and now bringing us together again to worship You. We praise You for your great goodness and faithfulness. Help us this morning to grow in further understanding of your ways, especially when we face trials of many kinds. O Lord all of us here face these in one form or another, and we are conscious that that is true for many in our country and indeed throughout the world as we continue to face coronavirus and the emerging trials associated with it. So Lord please speak to us this morning through Your Word. Help us to value what You value; what You intend to work in our hearts and minds as You sanctify our lives, and help us to see things from an eternal perspective. We offer to you this time of worship. May all that we say or sing or think be acceptable in your sight. Amen.

 

Reading. James 1:1-8, 12

 

11 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do…12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

 

Song

 

Though trials will come
Don't fear, don't run
Lift up your eyes
Hold fast, be strong
Have faith, keep on believing
Lift up your eyes
For God is at work in us
Moulding and shaping us
Out of his love for us
Making us more like Jesus

Chorus. Consider it joy, pure joy
When troubles come
Many trials will make you strong
Consider it joy, pure joy
And stand your ground
Then at last you'll wear a crown

Though trials will come
Won't fear, won't run
We'll lift up our eyes
Hold fast, be strong
Have faith, keep on believing
We'll lift up our eyes
For God is at work in us
Moulding and shaping us
Out of his love for us
Making us more like Jesus

Joy, pure joy
Consider it joy, pure joy
Joy, pure joy
Consider it joy, pure joy

Patiently trusting him
Ready for anything
'Til we're complete in him
In everything more like Jesus

Chorus.

Then at last you'll wear a crown
Then at last you'll wear a crown

Graham Kendrick

 

 

 

Sermon

We have heard so much about Coronavirus for many months now and its attendant problems; not only the threat to our physical health, but also to family and social relationships in general, as well as mounting financial debts and unemployment. In addition there is increased speculation about a second spike of the virus.

A question naturally arises in our minds at such times. A question about faith. Since we Christians do face difficulties, including sufferings, how far can we trust God for our best?

There are various ways this can be addressed, but one approach is to ask ‘What is our best?’

James writing to the early Christians has their best in mind. He wants them to be ‘mature and complete, not lacking in anything’ (James 1:4, please see passage above). The words used here by James suggest ‘wholeness’. But this state of maturity comes by perseverance or endurance, which itself, says James, comes from a tried and tested faith. A faith forged in the flames of adversity.

These words reveal that God’s best for us is different to what we think is our best. When it comes to trials we would rather escape them. We want trouble free existences, cocooned with pleasure. We believe such a state will bring us joy and happiness. This is our ‘best’ we think.

After a little while along the Christian path we begin to realise from reading the Bible, and some of the experiences that come into our lives that view does not correlate with God’s best for our lives. Yes, all the good gifts we enjoy in this life are from His hand, and He has given them for us to richly enjoy (James 1:17).  However He has greater ends in view for our lives and a process by which these ends are realised.

Biblically this work in our lives is called sanctification. Sanctification of our lives includes several strands of understanding. It involves being made ready for heaven. (See also verse 12). While we cannot earn entrance into heaven, this is only possible through faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross, Paul could write ‘our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all’ (2 Cor.4:17).  The early Christians faced persecution and other trials, but the apostles Paul and James are teaching here that properly accepted, such trials are insignificant in comparison to the wonder and rewards of heaven that will stretch on for all eternity. Indeed maintaining faith in Christ during such times and choosing His way when the trial comes ‘achieves’ or creates ‘eternal glory’. The thought here parallels Jesus’ teaching about ‘laying-up’ treasure in heaven (Mt 6:19-21) and the creation of greater reward and level of responsibility/honour in heaven because of service and obedience to Christ here (Mt.25:14-30).

Sanctification also involves being made more like Christ in character (1 John: 2:6, Rom. 8: 28, 29). For God to make us more Christ like He will, by the Holy Spirit, put to death the deeds of our sinful nature (Rom. 8:13), this crucifixion of our sinful selves involves raising awareness in our consciences of sins of license or legalism and by His power and our cooperation, putting them to death (sin being the barrier to loving relationships not only with God, but also with other people) Having rooted out He rebuilds. He applies Christ’s resurrection to our lives: By His Spirit He builds our character to make us more Christ like. So He develops the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. One of those fruit- perseverance is mentioned in our passage, but Galations 5 describes others: ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ The Lord also makes us Christ like by making us aware of the gifts He has given each of us in order we might carry out the works of service He has planned for us to do to build others up in the church (1 Cor. 12:12-27) and wider community. Thomas Watson wrote ‘God’s rod is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more distinctly upon us’.

Sanctification works to make us less selfish yes, but underlying that, make us less self- willed, and instead more dependent on, and thereby more appreciative of our Heavenly Father, His love, goodness and presence as we grow to know Him more and more.

God’s sanctifying purposes for our lives are much higher than our own. C S Lewis describes how we start off thinking that God would make our lives into comfortable little apartments suited to our desires, however, when God sets to work He starts knocking out walls and building extensions. He intends to build our lives into palaces that will one day pulsate all through with His glory.

The only way that we can move from our limited outlook of ‘comfort and pleasure alone’ to the benefits of sanctification is by experiencing trial. (Cf Romans 5: 3-5, Hebrews 12:5-8, 10, 11). Pressure must be applied if we are to move from the immature to the mature outlook. Paul Billheimer in his excellent book ‘Don’t Waste Your Sorrows’ puts it this way ‘There is no way that Christ like character can be formed in man without suffering, because he cannot be decentralised in any other way. If he will not suffer, if he determines to evade it, if he refuses to allow the life of self to go to the cross, to that extent he will remain hard, self-centred, unbroken, and therefore not Christ like’ (p41).

We can compare God’s refinement of our lives with natural processes of refinement. Diamonds begin as coal which has been subjected to intense pressure over time. Without pressure coal remains coal. The testing of our faith is the combined pressure that life brings to bear on us. Perseverance/endurance is the diamond to emerge as a result. ( also see 1 Peter 1:7). This is a life- long process.

And this is why James can say ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds’. This is a remarkable saying, that trouble is an opportunity for joy. He is saying that the pain of the trial you face is not the whole story, rather here is the opportunity not to ‘waste your sorrows’, but rather to surrender yourself to God and His sanctifying purposes. The end result of which is glorious. Our joy comes from seeing beyond the trials themselves to an appreciation of being in relationship with our Heavenly Father, the wonderful care He takes over our lives to mature us, the deepening of our relationships with others, and the glory we will share with Him for all eternity.

Here is one example of a lady who learned this:

While travelling through Europe in 1874, Frances Ridley Havergal (Also see our final hymn), in her late thirties but frail, contracted typhoid fever and arrived home. By November, she was hovering between life and death as prayer meetings were held across England for her. For months afterward she was confined to bed. But her recovery was marked by cheerfulness, optimism, and patience. A year later, this was her testimony:

‘’I have just begun to work a little….after twelve months of ‘falling apart’: typhoid fever, which with relapses and results, kept me ill for eight months, and part of the time very suffering, and then four months of very slow convalescence. But it has been the most precious year of my life to me. It is worth any suffering to prove to oneself the truth of ‘when thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee’, and worth being turned back (as it seemed) from the very golden gates, if one may but ‘tell of His faithfulness.’’

 

Robert Browning Hamilton wrote the following:

 

I walked a mile with Pleasure

   She chattered all the way

But left me none the wiser

   For all she had to say.

 

I walked a mile with Sorrow

   And ne’er a word said she

But oh! The things I learned from her

   When Sorrow walked with me.

 

If we are going to keep God’s best for us in view we are going to need:

Wisdom (5-8)

James writes we should ask God for wisdom. True wisdom is divine. It is God’s wisdom. It goes beyond common sense. Common sense does not lead us to joy in the middle of trials. It is an understanding we could not arrive at by ourselves. On our own we can only speculate. We are finite, our knowledge is limited. We are ‘from the earth’ (John 3:31). The Lord is ‘from above.’ Only he is omniscient- all knowing. And He reveals His knowledge/wisdom to us. But only to those who are receptive. Humility is essential here. We must not cling arrogantly to what we ‘think we know’ but rather humbly receive from God. The Bible speaks of four areas in which God willingly reveals His wisdom to us- in Creation (see Update 14/6 Appendix), in understanding of right and wrong (see Update 21/6/ Appendix), through the Scriptures and supremely in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (most Updates explore these).

This wisdom is also practical. It is more than knowledge. All of us know people who are educated fools, they may have a brilliant academic record but their lives are falling apart. Wisdom is God’s truth applied to the way we live. And there is a strong tradition of this in the Bible. The Book of Proverbs gives many concrete examples eg Proverbs 2:10-19.

There is a rejection of this wisdom and widespread scepticism today. Many Christian young people first experience serious trial at University. Universities were originally founded within the Christian tradition, open to practical even divine wisdom. But the current philosophical thought is postmodernism. The key idea here is that no one knows anything truly. We create our own truth. The idea of God given wisdom/revelation is ignored or attacked as ‘propaganda’. However this is a limited, human outlook. A philosophy of doubt and futility. Rejecting God given truth is leading to breakdown in people’s lives. What we believe affects our actions. Having abandoned truth many find existence and the world itself no longer making any sense.

Ravi Zacharias in his book ‘Can Man Live without God?’ writes

“If young fertile minds could be programmed into believing that truth as a category does not exist and that scepticism is sophisticated, then it would be only a matter of time before every social institution could be wrested to advantage in the fight against the absolute. However, over time the sword has cut the hand that wielded it, and learning itself has lost its authority. Today as we look upon our social landscape, the answers to the most basic questions of life- from birth to sexuality to death- remain completely confused. The very scholars who taught their students to question authority are themselves disparaged by the same measure…’ He also makes this telling observation: ‘the word ‘University’ means ‘to bring unity in diversity’, the idea of the academy was to impart knowledge and virtue. Neither of these goals are recognisable today.”

 It is against forms of scepticism like postmodernism that James now turns. Ask God for wisdom he says in verses 6 and 7, ‘But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt… the one who doubts … should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.’

We must ask God for wisdom in faith not doubt. Doubt here means ‘a dispute with oneself’. The person is ‘double minded’ It is not referring to a wondering about God’s ways. Doubt here is stronger than that. It refers to an existing division within the person. They are ‘two souled’; divided between self -centeredness and God centeredness.

Imagine a Christian student attending University. He (could be he or she) hears something unsettling; that distorts Christianity. Others appear to believe it and he is tempted to think the lecturer will reward his work if he shares the same view. Now James would say if this Christian had faith he would pray for wisdom, read his Bible and good Christian literature on the issue. He already has an existing commitment to God so integrity means he will follow through and so grow in wisdom and mature in his faith as a result. But the nominal, doubting Christian in the same situation is ‘double minded’- he will attach equal importance to maintaining status/success in the eyes of others, his own feelings and desires as much as he does anything Christian. He may shoot up an arrow prayer, but there is no serious intent or discipleship involved. He is more likely to ‘go with the flow’. Circumstances become his decision makers. All his decisions are like that. Like the waves of the sea driven and tossed between self and God. Or as Jesus taught, like thorns choking the seed. Always wavering.

Conclusion

So, when trials come, and that includes doubt, and we choose God’s best for our lives we find we have grown in some aspect of character- put to death some sin, bearing instead ‘fruit of the Spirit’, we have grown closer to our Heavenly Father, reassured of His control rather than given over to depression and anxiety resulting from the limitations of the striving that comes from self- reliance, developed instead a greater love for Him and for others, and we have become more focused on our heavenly home. From that vantage point we will then understand why He permitted the trials and be grateful that He didn’t do it any other way:

“Life is but a Weaving” (The Tapestry Poem) by Corrie ten Boom

 

 

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colours
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skilful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

 

 

………………………………………………………

 

Prayers.

A Prayer for Trusting God in Hard Times.

Lord, I thank You that You are the God of the impossible. You can do anything. I want to trust in your ability and not my own. Teach me to see difficulties in my life from your perspective. Help me to focus on You and Your power. I want to be like Joshua and Caleb who believed in a good report and focused on You even in hard circumstances (Numbers 14:7-9). My responsibility is to carefully read, trust, and obey Your Word. Today I bring before You this difficulty in my life [Name a hard situation you are right now facing, quiet to do so]. Help me not to fear but to trust You in this situation. I declare my faith in your ability to fulfil your promises to me. You will fight for me and win the battles in my life. You are mighty, powerful, righteous and true.  

I have nothing to fear with You on my side. I will be strong and courageous even in hard times. I will not be terrified or discouraged, for the Lord my God will be with me wherever I go (Joshua 1:9). You will never leave me or forsake me (Joshua 1:5). I do not need to figure everything out. You already know the best plan for my life. I will not try any man-made method to do only what You can do. Show me your power. Teach me how to walk by faith. I choose to have faith in your ability to break through every obstacle in my life. Just like Joshua, You will give me the land and every place where my feet step (Joshua 1:3).
 

“Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:5-11). In Jesus name, amen. (Debbie Przybylski of Intercessors Arise).

 

Prayer about Coronavirus

Lord Jesus, during Your ministry on Earth You showed Your power and caring by healing people of all ages and stations of life from physical, mental, and spiritual ailments. Be present now to people who need your loving touch because of COVID-19. May they feel your power of healing through the care of doctors and nurses.

Take away the fear, anxiety, and feelings of isolation from people receiving treatment or under quarantine. Give them a sense of purpose in pursuing health and protecting others from exposure to the disease. Protect their families and friends and bring peace to all who love them. (World Vision)

 

Hymn

 

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

 

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee,
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

 

Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King;
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee,
Filled with messages from Thee

 

Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose,
Every power as Thou shalt choose

 

Take my will, and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine.

Take my heart; it is Thine own;
It shall be Thy royal throne,
It shall be Thy royal throne.

 

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee,
                                 Frances Ridley Havergal

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf11rReeWIs

 

Doxology. ‘To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy- to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen (Jude 24, 25).

David Barnes 30/9/20