Week Commencing July 19th 2020

Week Commencing Sunday 19th July 2020

Opening Hymn

 

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! – who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand:
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stan

 

 Stuart Townend & Keith Getty https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16KYvfIc2bE

 

 

 

Reading. Luke 12:13-21

1213 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

 

Sermon. ‘The Great Taboo’

The subject of death has replaced sex as the taboo subject in our society. This is extraordinary when we consider that death is universal. It will happen to all of us. Every day is somebody’s last. But we prefer not to think or talk about it. There is this denial:

Fenelon wrote:  “We consider ourselves immortal, or at least as though going to live for centuries. Folly of the human spirit! Every day those who die soon follow those who are already dead. One about to leave on a journey ought not to think himself far from one who went only two days before. Life flows by like a flood.”

C.S. Lewis’s book “The Screwtape Letters,” was written during the Second World War. It is a clever and perceptive work that imagines correspondence between a senior devil Screwtape and a junior one- Wormwood. When these devils refer to the Enemy they are referring to God.  The junior devil Wormwood is delighted at the outbreak of the War, he sends his report to Screwtape who is less impressed:

“I know that Scabtree and others have seen in wars a great opportunity for attacks on faith, but I think that view was exaggerated. The Enemy’s human partisans have all been plainly told by Him that suffering is an essential part of what He calls Redemption; so that a faith which is destroyed by a war or a pestilence cannot really have been worth the trouble of destroying. I am speaking now of diffused suffering over a long period such as the war will produce. Of course, at the precise moment of terror, bereavement, or physical pain, you may catch your man when his reason is temporarily suspended. But even then, if he applies to Enemy headquarters, I have found that the post is nearly always defended”

Wormwood must not be distracted from “the real business of undermining faith and preventing the formation of virtues. Of course a war is entertaining. The immediate fear and suffering of the humans is a legitimate and pleasing refreshment for our myriads of toiling workers. But what permanent good does it do us unless we make use of it for bringing souls to our Father below?”

“The War itself has certain tendencies by no means in our favour. Yes there is cruelty and unchastity, but if we are not careful, we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy….Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they were at all of the Enemy’s party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lied, nurses who lied, friends who lied, as we have trained them…And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever

In fact the conscious remembrance of death is important. Why? Because it should help us have a true sense of values in the way we live here:

Our passage from Luke 12 (about the rich fool) shows this. A Christian is one who has a true sense of values and recognises real life is not measured in terms of possessions. It only needs God to take away a person’s life and immediately we see their possessions are of no value to them. The person who is not rich towards God is poor no matter how big their bank balance. That person is therefore a fool. The rich fool only lived this life here preparing for his own comfort (‘contented worldliness’) but he had not prepared for his ultimate destiny.

How many though live their lives like that rich fool! Their values are upside down and they devote themselves to senseless trivialities, but remain indifferent to really important matters concerning serving God and eternity. One writer tells the story of a shopper who suffered a massive heart attack in front of the frozen pizza section of a supermarket. The writer reflects on her last thoughts ‘should I get pepperoni or vegetarian? Or ‘how about triple cheese?’ Seconds away from eternity but her mind was occupied with the trivial.

When we come to die we are not going to face personal extinction; death is not the end. Neither will we be reincarnated. Rather the Bible teaches that after death follows the Judgment (Romans 9; 27 “Man is destined to die once and after that to face judgement”), and then follows once for all an entrance into heaven (“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24) or hell (“He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” John 3:181. See Appendix).

That’s why it’s no good saying as many do today “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”…you’re going to die so live life for yourself now. Rather death should be a reminder of our accountability before God. God says to the rich fool ‘This very night your life will be demanded from you.’ We are not masters of our own lives. We are created by God and we will have to give account for the way we have lived here. Our choices here on earth count. Death summons us into the presence of the Lord and He will ask each of us did you store up things for yourself or were you rich towards me?

To be rich towards God includes faith in Him. It is through faith in Him that when we stand before the Lord on the day of judgement we will be justified before God. It is on account of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sins. Yes, Romans 9:27 states ‘man is destined to die once and after that to face judgement’ but the next verse continues ‘so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.’ Similarly ‘the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ Romans 6:23

I remember George. He was very ill and expected to die soon but he told me that his heart was warmed by 2 Peter 3:13 which says ‘in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness’. George had no more energy. The most he could do was sit in a chair but he could say ‘I know the Lord is looking after me’. George had his mind set on eternity and what Christ had done for him. Christ has promised us salvation and we can be thankful for assurance we have in Him. We are rich towards God once we have put our faith in Christ.

George knew the Lord was looking after him.

Psalm 23 speaks so much of the Lord being the Shepherd who cares for His sheep.

Psalm 23:4 states ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me: your rod and your staff they comfort me.’

The Psalm assumes a background knowledge about shepherding:

Shepherds in Israel usually led their sheep through the gate of the sheep pen and into the fields. But on occasion the shepherd would take his sheep to the high country. All the grazing during the spring would leave the pastures bare. So the Shepherd would lead them to the abundant grass of higher ground.

A shepherd has written this: “Every mountain has its valley. Its sides are scarred by deep ravines. And the best route to the top is always through these valleys. The shepherd leads his flock gently, but persistently up the paths that wind through the dark valleys”

One day our Good Shepherd will do the same with us. He will take us to higher ground by way of the valley. He will guide us to His house through the valley of the shadow of death.

This metaphor reminds us first of all that death is not the final resting place. Rather, it is a passage, a valley through which we walk. The valley is unpleasant, dark and appears full of evil. But the valley is not where we finish. Rather we pass through it to our rest. In death the spirit leaves the body and passes on. It is just like a person who has worked in a shop all his life and then retires. He shuts the blinds and doors of his shop as he leaves for the last time and makes his way to his home. When he arrives home he is greeted by his family and friends who have prepared a celebratory meal for him.

For us as Christians, the valley is dark. Those who suffer sustained illness before they die, those who are bereft because a loved one has already gone through this valley. There is sadness, a sense of loss, the fear of being cut off from our loved ones. But at worse, death is only a shadow. It is “the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus Christ was the one who met Death. He took away its power. Jesus has “destroyed him who holds the power of death- that is the devil- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by  their fear of death’ (Hebrews 2:14). And we can say with Paul “Where O death is your victory, where o death is your sting?’ Jesus has met and overcome death, so we face its ‘shadow’ only. The term ‘death’ no longer applies to the believer.

The nineteenth- century Bible teacher A T Pierson stated ‘It is a remarkable fact that in the New Testament it is never once said, after Christ’s resurrection, that a disciple died- that is without some qualification:

  • Stephen fell asleep
  • ‘Knowing that I must shortly put off this my tabernacle as the Lord showed me’ Peter says
  • Paul says, ‘The time of my departure is at hand’ The figure here is taken from a vessel that, as she leaves a dock, throws the cables off the fastenings, and opens her sails to the wind to depart for the haven
  • The only time when the word ‘dead’ is used, it is with qualification: the dead in Christ, the dead which die in the Lord.

‘Christ abolished death,’ said Pierson, ‘and the term death’

Bill Bright was better known in America. He was founder and president of Campus Crusade for Christ, a missionary organisation that has seen hundreds of thousands come to Christ through its student outreach across the world. In addition Bright was responsible for the Jesus film - the most seen film in the world-which has led to literally millions of people putting their faith in Jesus Christ. He was behind other outreach tools like the booklet explaining “The four spiritual laws”, often used in personal evangelism. Rick Warren wrote “Bill Bright, along with Billy Graham, was one of the two Giants for God who towered over the 20th Century”. Bright was certainly ‘rich towards God’.

I have one of his books, “The Journey Home”. I highly recommend it to you. Bright wrote it while he was suffering from the terminal disease pulmonary fibrosis. He had come through prostate cancer 5 years previously. But his doctor told him pulmonary fibrosis was worse than cancer or a heart attack. So Bright writes the book as one who knows he is facing imminent death. He wrote it to encourage others who have entered that same valley.

‘How do God’s people handle the ‘bad news of disease and death? My reply is that they meet it with the good news of life in Jesus Christ, the Lord of all and all time. Jesus taught us to expect troubles in this life and also to overcome them through faith in Him. As for death, he has promised that anyone believing in him would never die eternally, although the flesh would wither and pass away. So the real question for me was: Would I recoil in denial and frustration, questioning God, or would I be obedient and thank and praise him for this new opportunity to know him better? Would I continue to love, trust and obey my dear Lord and his Word until my dying breath?’

Even in his “dying days” as he puts it he was starting up a global Pastor’s network:

‘I report all this amid hospitals and doctors and physical restrictions to the praise and glory of our faithful God and to encourage you: listen for God’s ideas and ask Him to show you how to implement them….None of us has a long time here on this planet. It is our split second in eternity when we have an opportunity to invest our lives, out talent, our treasure to help fulfil what the Lord came into this world to do and commissioned us to do. In fact his last commandment before He ascended to be with the Father was ‘Be my witnesses.’

Throughout we see the fearfulness of his condition is increasingly insignificant to him. Rather his strength comes from looking forward to his true home with Christ:

“The Walk Home: I was born and grew up on a ranch. A school bus took me to classes, but I often had sports practice or a drama rehearsal, and that meant walking five miles home. My loving mother would always meet me one mile from home. I never had to walk the last mile alone. The knowledge of her presence turned that part of the journey into something positive.

It was strategic for me because that last mile included a spooky hollow and a creek, trees bending in the wind, and a hoot owl whose mission in life was to raise the hair on the back of my neck.

About a quarter mile from our house, I could see the light from home. It always buoyed my spirit and put strength in my pace. The light meant warmth around a big natural gas heating unit that circulated heat throughout the ranch house. And, regardless of my particular state of affairs that day. It meant my father and the rest of our family soon would welcome me.

This real life experience portrays how I feel about closing my journey on this earth. I am on the last mile, but I am not alone. The Lord Jesus by His Holy Spirit is with me, and the knowledge of His presence dispels the darkness and allays any fears. We have tender conversations. I can see the light of my real home, heaven, and it beckons and buoys me more than ever, the nearer I draw to it. It is a glorious sight. My precious heavenly father and loved ones in the great family of God are open-armed, and I can barely wait to get home at last.”

Ecclesiastes 7:2 “Death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.”

Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies” (John 11:25).

1Appendix.There is a hell to be shunned (Egs Matt.25:30, 41, 46; Mark 9:43, 48, Luke 16:22-28, Phil.3:19, Rev.14:9-11). God is holy and that means He is Just. The fact there will be a Final Judgment assures us that ultimately God’s Universe is fair, for God is in control and He keeps accurate records and renders just judgment. However we need to realise our sin is serious (see Jesus Sermon on the Mount, e.g. Matt.5:21-30). Further our justice is partial, but God’s justice is impartial. True justice must be dispensed to all. That’s the nub. We are all sinners, we all fall short of God’s glory. So it is not a question of comparing ourselves with one another. Rather we must measure our sin debt in relation to God Himself. By this measure clearly all deserve God’s judgment and punishment for their sins. In addition the human race is already in a state of rebellion, we ‘suppress the truth’ of God as Creator for example (Romans 1:18ff, see also 14/6 Update/Appendix) and rebel against His moral law because we want to ‘justify our sin’ (see 21/6 Update/Appendix). We are already on the wrong road (Romans 3:23). The picture is of us on a motorway, in desperate need of an exit road at the side, onto which we can transfer, and find safety.

God has provided the very escape route we need at great and painful cost to Himself. Not only does the array of sins levelled against the Son of God at the cross expose our own sin and rebellion, it also reveals how serious our plight is if it takes the Son of God going to a cross as the only way by which we can be saved. That is saved from going to hell as well as saved for forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. If there was any other way God would have provided it, but it had to be this way such is the seriousness of our condition. Through the cross God has done everything necessary to bring us to Himself, and to safety. One writer has put it this way: ‘The remarkable fact is not that our rejection of God will lead to death and separation from Him. Rather that God should ever have taken such measures to fulfil His own justice and restore to us what we lost through our own fault.’ (For Christ’s sacrifice fulfilling both justice and mercy see illustrations in Updates 10/4, 5/7). Every day we live on this planet is a day of God’s grace and we have opportunity to leave our hell bound course. We can choose to do so simply through humbly repenting of our sin and putting our faith in Christ for salvation. Many references in this message have already been cited to show His salvation is won at great cost to Himself, but freely offered to us ( e.g. ‘the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ Romans 6:23).

In His generosity God has created us with free will. We are not robots or even animals merely acting on instinct, He made us in His image and gave us the ability to make real choices which bring real repercussions- whether for good or ill. The most important choice we make before we die is to make sure we are ready to meet God. We need to know that we are going to heaven. To know that all our sins are forgiven. But God cannot forgive those who refuse to repent; who spurn His mercy and grace in the gift of salvation He holds out to them.’ Chesterton wrote ‘Hell is God’s tribute to the freedom He gave each of us to choose whom we should serve’. How can we expect to have everything to do with Christ in the next life, when we have completely ignored Him in this? Ultimately that is the sin that will take a person to destruction. If we ignore Christ’s dying love for us, then we shall miss the one way of safety He has provided in Himself.

God is not first in the judgment business, but the forgiveness business. These verses from John’s Gospel put it exactly: 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him’ (John 3:16, 17). Salvation is offered. Will you receive it today?

But we ask- what of those who die with no faith? My father never prayed. My Grandfather never opened a Bible as far as I know. What of them?  But we might then ask ourselves- “How do we know they didn’t pray?”  No one knows what a person’s final thoughts are in this life. Are you sure this person did not bend their knee to the Lord at the last. Isn’t it possible that a person staring into the face of death would cry out to the Lord for mercy?  The Lord Jesus has shown His great love for us at the cross. The Father gave up His one and only Son for us all. And so when a person cries out for mercy as death approaches, does the Lord resist such a person? No. He couldn’t on Calvary. The thief on the cross was hanging there for his crime. He was a sinner. But he was repentant. He cried to the Lord for mercy there and then, and the Lord heard his confession and accepted it (Luke 23:39-43). The thief’s sins were forgiven. Maybe you never heard your loved one confess Christ, but who’s to say Christ didn’t? We don’t know the final thoughts of a dying soul, but we know that God loves deeply and has done and will do all that is possible in the name of grace and mercy to rescue. He is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

 

For further reading please see The Goodness of God by John Wenham and Systematic Theology (Chapt.56) by Wayne Grudem.

Song. ‘Next Five Minutes’

 

 

I can reminisce about the already
I can worry and fret about the not yet;
But when it all comes down I know it really
Really all comes down to the right now
So right now

I'm living the next 5 minutes
Like these are my last 5 minutes
'Cause I know the next 5 minutes
May be all I have
And after the next 5 minutes
Turn into the last 5 minutes
I'm taking the next 5 minutes
And starting all over again
Starting all over again (Starting all over again...)
 

Every moment God has given is precious
Every heartbeat; every breath I take
We'll never have them back once they've left us
There will never be another right now
So right now

I'm living the next 5 minutes
Like these are my last 5 minutes
'Cause I know the next 5 minutes
May be all I have
And after the next 5 minutes
Turn into the last 5 minutes
I'm taking the next 5 minutes
And starting all over again

 

Steve Curtis Chapman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z02X0Ho6Vl4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayers

Father God, I come into your presence so aware of my human frailty and yet overwhelmed by your love for me. I thank you that there is no human experience that I might walk through where your love cannot reach me. If I climb the highest mountain you are there and yet if I find myself in the darkest valley of my life, you are there. Teach me today to love you more. Help me to rest in that love that asks nothing more than the simple trusting heart of a child. In Jesus name, Amen

 

Pray for the new coronavirus to stop spreading.

Almighty God, we know that everything is in Your sovereign control. We ask that You keep this new coronavirus from continuing to spread. Give government officials the ability to safely handle people arriving from other countries. Help people decide to stay home instead of traveling or going out needlessly. Holy Spirit, remind people to wash their hands properly. And while it may be heart-breaking, comfort families as they decide to keep their distance from elderly or other high-risk family members.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea …—Psalm 46:1-2

Pray for people who are infected with COVID-19 or facing quarantine.

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. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.—Philippians 4:6

Pray for protection for people at higher risk of developing the disease.

Dear Lord, we lift to You our concern for people who are more likely than others to become severely ill from COVID-19 — the elderly and people with chronic health conditions. Protect them from harm and be their comfort in this time of uncertainty and, for many, preventive isolation from loved ones.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.—1 Peter 5:7

 

Hymn

 

  1. Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
    The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
    When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
    Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
  2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
    Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
    Change and decay in all around I see—
    O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
  3. I need Thy presence every passing hour;
    What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
    Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
    Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
  4. I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
    Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
    Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
    I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
  5. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
    Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
    Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
    In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Henry Francis Lyte

 

 

 

 

Blessing

May the Lord bless you and take care of you; May the Lord be kind and gracious to you; May the Lord look on you with favour and give you peace. (Numbers 6).