September 12th 2021: Pete Hilder

Matthew 6:19-24

Everyone has opinions, whether it’s morals, politics, films, tv or books. We look for reviews, for holidays, purchases online. As Christians we are to review things, for example, at the end of the day in prayer, at the end of the year. Covid pauses us to review and reconsider our time and money, our commitment. There are all sorts of things we review and assess. Maybe we go to church and review the service over lunch or review the minister! But God has a different plan when we come to worship Him. He wants to review us, to assess us, to look at us and tell us about what He thinks. Maybe you’ve come this morning to have a look and see what you think. God has come and He is going to have a look at you and tell you what He thinks.

In this passage of scripture there are three pictures, three reviews or assessments, which God brings before you and which Jesus brought to the hearers of this sermon on the very first occasion, and He desires to do so again this morning.

There are three questions for each picture. He wants to know where you are, how you are and who you are living for.

The first review: Jesus, the doctor
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Jesus is ready and waiting for us. He is the greatest doctor who wishes to review us and our health. He has a question for us. If you went to a doctor and he asked, ‘Where is your heart?’ you’d be worried! But our heart can be in many different places. Is your heart in a good place or a bad place? You can know because your heart is where your treasure us.

What is your treasure, your most prized possession? Is it your bank balance, job, status, family? Where do we spend our time and energy? Jesus is telling us there is a danger – our heart could be in the wrong place. There is a danger to us of hell, judgement, being destroyed. Dr. Jesus is concerned for physical and spiritual health. He identifies a couple of dangers for us. Your heart could be in a place of danger and destruction if it is placed in the wrong place. The other danger is our heart could be stolen. Jesus is offering us something different – placing our treasure in heaven.

Jesus has not lost one of those who have entrusted themselves to Him. He wants us to place our hearts in a safe place, in heaven, to entrust ourselves to Him. He is already preparing our inheritance. Jesus is 100% reliable and true. His concern is full and true. His way is a way of life to the full.

The second review: Jesus, the optician

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23).

This time we have the review of the optician. The greatest one who we need to see is Jesus, who is available at all times. How healthy are your eyes? Your heart is important but so are your eyes. That first time you need glasses, you put them on and you’re amazed. Suddenly the world opens back up again. The eye is the lamp of the body. It has great purpose – to shine light. Jesus says it is possible that your lamp is a lamp of darkness. We have many different ways that things enter us. We can be very careful about what we put into our mouth to eat.

How careful are you with what you let into your eyes? Are you filling your eyes with things which are darkness? God’s Word is a testimony of Him. The light of God’s Word is granted to you. God’s concern is so many of us are filling our lives with not seeing Him. So many are in darkness, they choose the darkness. You have a choice when you see an optician – whether to listen and act on what they say or not. Jesus, the optician, is perfect. He has seen the impact of those who reject Him (Genesis 3:6). Sin came into the world through the eye. The same happened with Lot’s wife; she looked back and longed for the world. Job made a covenant with his eyes.

God wants us to have life to the full. But without receiving Jesus Christ as Lord, we face the outcome of death. Solomon wrote, “The eye is not satisfied with seeing (Ecclesiastes 1:8). But Jesus contrasts those very words saying, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6). Jesus wants us to enjoy the blessings which are there for those whose lives will be filled with light. What are you filling your life with? We should be filling our lives with Jesus. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8). Fill ourselves with these things, the gifts that are there for those who follow Him.

The third review: Visiting the Master
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24).

The thought of this puts a shudder down my spine. This is a picture of more than just your master in work. It is a 24/7 commitment. Who is your master? There are two but you can only have one – God or money and possessions. Materialism is one of the great ‘gods’ of our age. We find ourselves not living for God, the Master, but living for someone else.

A squirrel will be busy storing up treasure – nuts for what is to come. Winter. Imagine that a squirrel comes to your garden, bored with collecting nuts and instead collects pebbles to store. What happens when winter comes? He dies. He hasn’t followed his maker’s design. We have a winter – a time of judgement. Maybe the squirrel decides to collect nuts and pebbles. What happens when winter comes? He still dies! The first commandment states we are to have no other gods, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). These are testing words. Are our hearts wholly devoted to the Lord our God or are we storing up other treasures, serving other masters, filling our lives with darkness? God is not that cruel boss who is looking to pick all your faults. His concern is to bless us, to draw us back. We thank Him that He calls us back again. Jesus promises, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7). He calls us to build our life on the rock, to have life for eternity.

It is very interesting that the rest of Matthew 6 is about anxiety and worry. So often, when we are taken up the things of this world, we become anxious and worried. God has presented to us everything, the way to live, to have peace, to store up treasure in heaven. Jesus states it very clearly at the end of this chapter, “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:32). Amen.

September 6th 2021: Bernard Lewis

Daniel 6:1-24

This is a message that is relevant for us all and a help to us in our Christian lives. This passage of scripture, Daniel in the Lion’s den, suffers from familiarity. We are going to see Daniel as an historic man, seeing the experience of his life. We will also see him as a fellow man, a fellow believer, like us, whom we can learn lessons from and help us to approach our life. Thirdly, we see Daniel as what theologians call a type of Christ. There is only one Christ but in the Old Testament we see pictures of Christ in well-known people, such as Joseph. We see Daniel as a type of Christ, as lone who did his people good and remained faithful in difficult situations.

1 Corinthians 11 tells us to, Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Be imitators of Daniel, as he was of Christ, as he was in preparation for Christ. David lived and prepared for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11). We see a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament and see Him there in the life of Daniel as he faced the trials and pressures of his life.

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18). Both Peter and Paul are saying, ‘Look, I want you people to change and become more like the Lord Jesus Christ.’ I want to show you Daniel as a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, as an example of how we can live our lives in a hostile world.

We are shocked when trials come but we should not be surprised. Daniel was a man who knew real trials. The first thing I want to show you is Daniel and the Lord Jesus Christ were unique men (Daniel 6:3). Daniel had been in exile since his teenage years. Even as a teenager he stood out. Friends, our Lord Jesus Christ is a unique man. Daniel was different but he was tempted in all points, like we are, yet he stood against the crowd. The Lord Jesus Christ, even in his first sermon, taught with authority, and not as one of the Scribes or Pharisees. As Christians, we are to be different, we are to be unique, we are to stand out from the crowd.

Daniel, in verses 4 and 5, is described as faultless. “He was faithful and no error or fault was found in him.” We see what made Daniel unique. Although, now in his seventies, he has remained faithful to his God. He has remained a prayerful man, a faithful servant of Babylon, the Medes and Persians. Some Christians give the impression we should stand out against the government of our land. Daniel is a refugee, yet he remains faithful to his God and to his earthly rulers. (Hebrew 4). The same thing is true of our Lord Jesus Christ. He Himself said, as people accused Him, “What is it you accuse me of? Who can actually charge me with sin?

For us, this may seem a very high bar. How can we, who are born in sin and shameful iniquity, holy people, be faultless? We can’t. Sin dwells within us. But God says to each of us as Christians, “Be holy, even as I am holy.” I don’t believe that we, as evangelicals, preach this enough. We preach the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are saved entirely by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, not works, lest any man should boast. It is the gift of God. Friends, I want to do nothing to undermine the fact that we are saved completely, utterly, and entirely by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the same Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” We are to be holy people.

Daniel was an opposed man. He was unique, he was faultless, but people didn’t like it. Daniel and the Lord Jesus Christ both had an effect on people that may seem strange. In the world we have different parties which are opposed to each other. In verses 6-7 we read, “O these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: “May King Darius live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.” (Daniel 6:6-7).

The people, because of the reality of human nature, were opposed to each other. When someone gains promotion, others want to cut them down (known as ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome in Australia). We find the same thing in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Jewish leaders came together, with the authority of Rome, to cut down the Lord Jesus Christ. Daniel knew exactly the same thing. Have you ever known that experience in life? You are doing all you can to help people and even though you’re giving yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, people want to cut you down.

David was an orderly man, “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” (Daniel 6:10). The law of the country had changed. It didn’t ruffle him one iota. Our Lord Jesus Christ was exactly the same. In Luke 4 we see He went to the synagogue, as was his custom. He had a pattern to His life because it would give Him time in God’s presence. David had a pattern to his life. Three times a day he turned to Jerusalem to pray. He was an exile. He was looking not simply to Jerusalem but to the God of Jerusalem. He had not forgotten the covenant promise of God.

Notice how David prayed. He got down on his knees. I’ve never placed a lot of emphasis on my position in prayer. But it is interesting to look at David, and also the apostles in Acts 9, the Lord Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane on His knees, humbled in the presence of God. I’m not going to tell you how to pray, but do you see the order, the discipline?

David was a humiliated man. Notice how Daniel is described, “Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” (Daniel 6:13). What a disgrace. This man, like Joseph in Egypt, who had done so much for the Babylonians and the Medes, is described as ‘an exile,’ a refugee, an asylum seeker. This man was used of God

Jesus Himself was humiliated. There were times when Jesus could do no miracles in His own land. But friends, let me take you to Calvary, through the prophet Isaiah, He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:3) The Lord Jesus Christ, the King of glory, the man who, on two occasions, had heaven opened up and the glory of heaven revealed as God spoke and said, ‘This is My Son.’ He was despised and rejected. Friends, it hurts when people turn round and say, ‘Holy Joe,’ ‘Do-Gooder.’ We will be humiliated if we follow the Lord Jesus Christ. People will look down their noses at us.

David was a buried man, in the hope that he would never rise again. A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed.” (Daniel 6:17). In reality, the lion’s den was the grave of the victims; no-one came out alive (Daniel 6:24). The Lord Jesus Christ, when He was buried, His opponents wanted an assignment of soldiers to guard the tomb. The authority of Rome was given to Jewish leaders and they sealed the tomb. David, like the Lord Jesus Christ, was buried in the hope they would never rise.

The king goes back to the tomb the following morning and he asks, ‘Are you ok?’ “Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” (Daniel 6:21-22). God sent an angel to close the mouth of the lion. He didn’t take Daniel out of the den. Remember, in the Garden of Gethsemane an angel came and comforted Jesus. On Resurrection morning an angel came and tolled away the stone. Sadly, as Christians, we have no real sense of the spiritual world around us. Friends, we live in two worlds – the physical and the spiritual world. There are angels that God uses according to His purpose.

The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” (Daniel 6:23). Nothing had happened to Daniel. But I want to take you to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. I want to take you to the Upper Room a week later. That week later, after Jesus had risen from the dead, He held out His hands and He said, ‘Behold My Hands. Behold My side.’ Daniel was buried but he rose unharmed. Jesus was buried and the only scars that will be seen in heaven are the scars that bore your sin and my sin.

David was an ascended man. The Lord Jesus ascended, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9). Revelation tells us, “At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.” (Revelation 4:2-3).

Friends, today we worship a crucified, risen, ascended, glorified Saviour. Why? Because He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Friends, do you know Him? Do you love Him? Is He your Saviour? Has He gone to the cross, the grave, in your place? Many of you have nodded, saying ‘Yes, you do know Him.’ Are you walking in His ways? Are you prepared to be different? Are you prepared to be holy? Are you prepared to let God give a new order to your life? Can you cope with the humiliation? Are you prepared to be buried in order that one day you will be raised and enjoy eternity with Him? We used to sing, ‘Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone.’ Will you stand alone with your God?

August 29th 2021: Phil Swann

Psalm 121

This is a ‘Song of Ascents,’ one of a group of psalms (psalms 120-134), clustered together. They are short and often extremely heart-warming. Some people say that these are an ascending series of ideas about God, which is an interesting theory. Others have suggested that the songs were written for pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem. Another idea is these psalms were part of temple worship in Jerusalem; a verse would be sung on one step, then they would go up a few more steps and sing another verse and stop, and so on. The truth is, we don’t know. What we do know is there’s truth to enable us to understand who God is, who we are and, most importantly, how we may know Him, and as a result of knowing Him, how we may live.

Psalm 121 is the most well-known psalm of ascent, often used in times of crisis. The word ‘help’ is used throughout. ‘Help’ is a word that needs no explanation; we all know what it means to ask for help. The Psalmist lifts his eyes to the hills as he thinks about the need for help in his life. There is interesting discussion as to what this means. Is it just a poetical phrase that I’m in a situation which is so overwhelming, my human resources have been so exhausted, and I’m looking to bigger things and higher places? Others have suggested that David’s thoughts are turning to Jerusalem. Mountains and Jerusalem often go together. What we certainly know is that David is not in a good place.

Where does my help come from? Maybe you have experienced times when you have asked a similar question. How am I going to get through this? Maybe there are times when you have felt overwhelmed and devastated by what is going on around us in life? This is no lightweight psalm. It is going to the heart of human experience. It is for those times when we are in need and genuinely out of our depth, during deeply unsettling times, having a devastating, horrible experience.

Even asking for help is a humbling experience. To ask for help is to acknowledge our need. There are experiences in life when God, in His providence, allows us to feel completely and totally out of our depth. They are painful experiences. David speaks words of deep testing and pain. Where does my help come from? They are words of desperation. God, in His providence and in His goodness, may allow us to experience such devastation so that we may see who He is more clearly, and experience His help and grace more deeply.

During the Pandemic, where, in the middle of it all, do you turn for help? Incidents of alcohol, smoking and Netflix subscriptions have increased during this time. It seems that these are often the ways of coping as we try to find ways of coping. Let me be bold this morning and ask you personally, ‘Where do you go to for help when you are overwhelmed?’

Wonderfully, this psalm invites us to turn to God for help. In verse 2 David’s testimony in the midst of his distress is that, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2). This is a wonderful statement. It is always the experience of the Christian, in that whatever difficulty they face, they are always able to turn and seek the help of their heavenly Father. Help is promised here to the Christian, and crucially it is help from the Lord. We care for one another, but here David speaks of specific help coming from the Lord.

This Psalm encourages us to explore who the Lord is. Many of the psalms do this. The very first psalm, which in a way is a template of how we should read the psalms, tells us “But whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” (Psalm 1:2) For David, the phrase ‘The Lord,’ acts as a trigger to think and remember who the Lord is. Here, (Psalm 121:2) the Lord is described as the maker of heaven and earth. This is a recurring theme in many of these psalms of ascendance e.g., Psalm 124 and Psalm 134.

Interestingly, David could have written many things about the Lord, but why home in on this? He wants us to remember our helper is not weak, neither is His help something that we should doubt. We should have confidence in Him that He can help us. He is never threatened by the things that threaten us. He is the maker of heaven and earth. This speaks of His authority and power. The one whom we are invited to trust in is almighty.

If you are not a Christian, how do you discover who God is? When you look at scripture you are pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is both man and God. We see so much in Jesus. He is the one who has all wisdom – what a comfort that is when we are in need. We see in Jesus Christ one who has all compassion and mercy towards us as sinners. It is in Christ we see the reality of the love of God enduring forever as He is patient with us, even in our rebellion. His truth, love and power are seen ultimately in the greatest thing He did for us as sinners, in His death upon the cross and by His resurrection from the dead. We must stress His resurrection. For it is in that wonderful news that he was raised on the morning of the third day, that our confidence to seek help from God is made most clear.

This psalm points us to specific help. What is the help the Lord offers David and which David rejoices in and sings about in this psalm? There’s a word which dominated this psalm, ‘Watch.’ It is found in verses 3,4,5,7 and 8. The Lord continually watches over His people. This may seem a little intimidating; He knows everything about us. But the direction in which this psalm is going is one who is our carer and protector. Here, the news in this psalm is that God sees our lives, our distresses, and concerns, and He is watching over us, committing to us. He is Immanuel, God with us. He has come to us as one of us. He understands. Your life, with your troubles and distresses, as a child of God, matters to God.

If we try to limit God’s interest in us to the times when we mess up, we fail to do justice and we fail to be honest to the wonderful picture that scripture presents us of our Father in heaven (Luke 12, Psalm 17). God loves us and cares for us. This is not because we are special or better than others, it is because the Lord is good. He delights in us. He cares for us. He will not allow your life, as a Christian, to fall into absolute chaos. He is totally committed to you. He is the God who sees us, who will never neglect His care towards us. His commitment to you is total and enthusiastic. We may seek to support one another, but there are times when we fail and get tired. God never slumbers or sleeps. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, where you are, the Lord is always with you. He will keep you. The things in life we think can harm us most, illustrated here by the sun and the moon, cannot. The Lord sets a limit to which disaster touches our lives. Central to that limit is the news that we will not be overwhelmed.

This psalm, which brings rich encouragement and comfort to Christians over many generations, over many centuries, is offered to us today for our comfort and encouragement. It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian, to know that the maker of heaven and earth is the one from whom our help ultimately comes. It is wonderful to know that He is always with us, He will never forget us and He will watch over our coming and our going, both now and evermore.

A Christian always has somewhere to turn. There is always an ear that is open. There is always a heart that is inclined towards them. There is always help. It’s a wonderful thing to be a Christian, to be found today in Jesus Christ, with access to the help of the maker of heaven and earth.

Are you a Christian? Is this help really your help? This is the help of the Christian. It is the comfort of the Christian. But are you a Christian today? You may be very little, very young, a lot older and a lot bigger, but it makes no difference. The invitation goes out repeatedly from scripture to us all. It is for us to come and put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, to become a disciple of Christ, a follower of Christ, and in coming to Him, to receive grace and mercy and love from God. Understand, that the one who sees your life, in all of its chaos, in all of its hypocrisy, in all of its needs and its fears and confusion, is the same one who invites you today to forgiveness, to life, to joy and to freedom in Jesus.

Where does your help come from in this uncertain and dangerous world? Do you feel yourself to be overwhelmed by life? Well, there is a God in heaven who is, indeed, the maker of heaven and earth, who cares profoundly and deeply for each one of us. In His Son, Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, offers us new life. He invites you and He invites me to come to Him today and to receive His help.

August 22nd 2021: Peter Gleave

Luke 9:10-17 ‘You Give them something to eat.’

This miracle is so important, so important that it is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. Therefore, you and I really need to take note what Jesus wants us to learn from it. The disciples arrived back from their mission trip and come to Jesus to tell Him all about what they have been doing. It seems to have gone well. They preached the gospel, they healed the sick and they cast out demons. They’ve done the very thing that Jesus wanted them to do. Even Herod, the King, was stirred into wondering who this Jesus was.

When you and I go on mission, there’s a mission taking place this week here in this church, we are used by the Lord. Very often we’re on the mountaintop. We are really excited about what God has been doing and allowing us to be a part of. The disciples came back and reported to Jesus, very excited.

 Such times are often followed by tiredness. Many pastors taken Monday off because, having preached on Sunday, they get excited in the pulpit. After, they get tired physically, emotionally and spiritually and take Mondays off to rest. Jesus knew this and says, ‘We’re going to rest and recuperate. We’re going to get into a boat and we’re going to go to across the lake, to the north-eastern corner and we’re going to have a time of rest at Bethsaida. There’s a nice, quiet spot and we’ll have some time together.’

It is part of our mission, as we go out and do what Jesus wants us to do – sharing the gospel and meeting the needs of the people – there are times when you and I need to rest, relax and recuperate. As part of that resting, it is absolutely vital that we spend time with Jesus alone, that we spend time talking to Him in prayer, that we spend time reading His Word and allowing Him to speak to us. The psalmist reminds us, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ There are times when we need to be off mission and we need to be resting, relaxing and recuperating in God’s presence, prayer and studying His Word. To give out, it is necessary to take in.

Sadly, we can get stuck in either one of two extremes: some don’t rest from mission and they risk burning out, some do nothing but rest from mission and risk missing out. Neither extreme is right, neither extreme is good for us. We need to get the balance right and ask ourselves, ‘Have I got the balance right between mission, and resting and recuperating, spending time with Jesus?’

Jesus and His disciples landed. They got to the shore and pulled up. The disciples were getting out of the boat and already there was a crowd of people there. The crowd had heard about Jesus. They were running from village to village around the northern part of the Sea of Galilee. By the time Jesus and the disciples got there, there was a huge crowd waiting for Jesus, wanting to know more about what He was talking about. They got people who were ill and wanted Him to heal them. They had heard all about what he had been doing, they wanted to know more about Him. The disciples too had been out, and no doubt the word had spread even further. People were, no doubt, excited about what the disciples had said and so they wanted to know more about this Jesus.

I wonder, what would you do with such a great opportunity? You’ve gone off to rest and relax and suddenly there’s a great crowd there. What would you do? Would you perhaps send them away? Would you, maybe, wait for another day?

In verse 11 we find that Jesus welcomed them. He spoke the gospel to them. He told them how He could make a difference in their life. He also healed those who needed healing. Jesus did exactly what he had sent His disciples out to do: twofold ministry – to share the gospel and to meet people’s needs.

We are called to do exactly the same. Imagine, if you sat in your garden, resting and relaxing, and 890 people came to you needing to hear about Jesus. They bring with them all their physical problems, their cancers, their difficulties, their debt, their incurable diseases, their depression, their anxieties, their addictions, their guilt of past sins.

If you live in Roch, that’s pretty much the reality of the situation you’re in. Because, on your doorstep there are 890 people in Roch in need of hearing about Jesus. I’m pretty sure that every one of those 890 people will, at some time, have a physical need that they need help with. Do you send them away or do what Jesus did and meet their needs?

Over the last eighteen months, Covid has caused a lot of people to ask questions about what life is all about. Many are affected by it physically and spiritually. People don’t want the isolation anymore. Young people are depressed because they can’t go out and live life as they want to. Families are suffering economically because the loss of work and furlough and all sorts of different things. Of course, 2,000 years ago there was no NHS on the shores of Galilee. There were great physical needs in that crowd, alongside the spiritual needs that they come to Jesus with. I want to suggest to you that very often, if we can meet the physical need of somebody, we get the opportunity to share the gospel and meet their spiritual needs as well.

So, do you continue to sit chilling in the garden, or do you prepare to do something about the 890 people on your doorstep? How do we get the balance right between not resting from mission and risking burnout, and doing nothing but rest from mission and risking missing out? Ask yourselves, when was the last time you met the physical needs of someone in Roch? When was the last time you shared the gospel with someone in Roch? If it’s been a while, maybe you’re at one extreme, spending too much time resting and relaxing. When was the last time you went along and spent time with Jesus alone? When was the last time you purposely spent time with Him reading the scriptures and talking with Him? If it’s such a while since that happened, then maybe you’re doing too much of mission and not spending enough time with Jesus.

I know we have all got family responsibilities, we’ve got work, we’ve got leisure time to include, but Jesus sent out these disciples with a great urgency. There is an important imperative for you and I to include these things in our daily lives. Jesus has commissioned us to go out urgently with the gospel, to meet people’s needs and to share the truth about Him. It has got to take priority in our daily lives.

I’m going to suggest to you the answer to the balance problem is that every day we should be spending time with Jesus alone, and every day we should be spending time meeting the needs of people in our villages and in our homes and around us, sharing the gospel with them and meeting their physical needs. If we do that, we’re probably going to get the balance right.

Jesus ministered for a while out there. The people came with all their diseases, and it was there He met their needs. In the late afternoon the disciples wanted to send the crowd away; they were in a remote place with no food. At first, it might seem reasonable. But did they really think Jesus didn’t already know they were in a remote place, or not know the people’s needs? Did they not realise that Jesus knew the vast crowd was likely to get hungry? Had they forgotten that it was Jesus who had given them authority and the power to go out in the first place, to share the gospel and to heal people? If they thought this through, they must have realised that Jesus, the Son of God, who they had witnessed do other miracles, would in fact, be able to meet the needs of this great crowd.

Maybe you think in a similar way of the 890 people on your doorstep? Maybe your response is similar to the disciples? Maybe it’s a practical, thoughtful response – we can’t meet the needs of 890 people when we have only got a few members? We’ll pray that the Lord sends along some more workers and then we’ll go and do it? Or maybe you’re tired and weary and think, ‘Well, they’ll still be there next week, or next year.’

Whatever the disciple thought, they probably weren’t expecting the reply that Jesus gave them. This is what He said, “You give them something to eat.” In the Bible, the Greek emphasis is on the word ‘You.’ Having this practical mindset, the disciples started to respond to Jesus’ command. They found a boy with five loaves and two fish and told Jesus. They said, ‘We could go and buy some food.’ Philip calculated that if they were going to go and buy food, it would have taken eight months wages, and all they would have got was a bite, which was hardly worth having.

They had completely forgotten the mission they had been on and reported back to Jesus earlier that day. Let’s not be too hard on them. The disciples had had seen Jesus heal individual people but never witnessed a miracle they were about to see. Let’s not forget how like them we are. Sometimes we forget the blessings we’ve experienced and where they come from. We forget that God has blessed us in the past in our churches. We forget that 199 years ago this church was planted in a village where there was no church. After nearly two hundred years, the work has been ongoing.

We forget God has been meeting our needs week in, week out, throughout our lives, both as individuals and as a church. Consequently, we turn to ourselves for answers. Friends, Jesus knows the scale of the problems. He knows the issues that you’re facing. He knows all the issues for you personally and you as a church. Jesus has the power and authority to give you what you need to feed 890 people in Roch. You, yes you, give them something to eat. When we don’t look to Jesus and start to look inwardly, we become inadequate and ineffective. We need to remind ourselves that when we work in Jesus’ authority, miracles can happen. God’s kingdom can be built here in Roch.

This miracle has its roots in the Old Testament – when God rescued His people from Egypt, out of captivity, and took them to the wilderness. There, where there was no food and no water, He fed them daily for a long time. Never once did He let them down.

God’s chosen people had their needs met every day. Now Jesus was going to do exactly the same for this for 5000+. He was also going to meet the two-fold need of the disciples: spiritually, He was going to remind the disciples of who He was and physically He was going to feed the twelve of them too, as well as all the thousands of people who were there. God is a God of provision. On this day, at a remote place, Jesus was going to identify Himself as God. He was going to remind those of a Jewish ancestry to look back and see how God had provided for His people in the desert and how He, too, today, was going to do the same thing. Jesus was going to remind them that He is one with God. He was going to provide their daily food, right there, right then.

What God has done before, God can do again. What God has done before in Roch, He can do again. What God has done before in your life, in your church, God can do again. It doesn’t rely on you, it relies on your willingness to give what you have. You may feel as if you’ve only five loaves and two fish, and nothing else to give. But what Jesus wants is for you to give your all. He wants you to give yourself. He wants you to commit your time, your talent and your treasure to Him. He wants you to give all to Him.

The Lord wants you to give what you have, to yield what you have. We may feel that we don’t have the resources to meet 890 people’s needs. The truth is, we don’t. But God does. He simply wants you to surrender all you have to Him, which, of course, He gave you in the first place. Your time, your talent, your treasure is only what God gave you in the first place, and He wants to take it and to use it.

When the disciples had surrendered to Jesus all that they have, in the Master’s hands it became something much more. Picture the scene: He organised the people into groups of 50, sitting on fertile land. In front of all, He takes what was there, five loaves and two fish, and looks up to heaven, give thanks and breaks the bread. In looking up and giving thanks to God, Jesus acknowledges the source of power, God Himself. When we look up, when we give thanks, when we acknowledge the source of power and authority by which we do the work of God, we don’t look inwardly. Look up.

Jesus kept breaking the bread and the fish, and He kept on giving it out. He distributed it to the disciples. They gathered round and they went on to give them something to eat. You give them something to eat. He kept on giving and He kept on giving. From these five loaves and two fish He just kept on multiplying.

Jesus could have done this entirely on His own, but He chose to involve the disciples in this miracle. In exactly the same way, in His kindness, He chooses to involve us in mission. Why? Simply so that we can experience the joy of service for the King of Kings, so that we can learn the lesson that the disciples did about trusting in the Almighty, and about the power of Jesus in meeting the needs of the people.

There is enough in the gospel for every one of the 890 people who live in Roch village. Jesus died for every single one of them. His blood is sufficient to cleanse and to save them all. God has already shown that He is prepared to give His power and His authority to you, for you to be able to give them something to eat. What He wants is for you to surrender all.

Whatever this church needs to reach 890 people, God will provide – workers, a pastor, finance, skills, talents, abilities, youth work, even an extension to the building. God already knows what the needs are, He knows what the issues are. He has the means to more than meet them. What He wants is for you, yes you, to give them something to eat. He doesn’t want our excuses, He doesn’t want what we don’t have, He doesn’t want us to be burned out, He doesn’t want us to be missing out. He wants what you do have. No matter how small in your eyes, He wants it willingly, completely, unreservedly given to Him.

There’s an opportunity this week. There’s a mission taking place in your church, doing the very thing we’ve talked about. Support it. Pray for it. Get involved. Do whatever you have to do to reach those children in this community, starting tomorrow. Apart from that, you’ve your own mission, spending time everyday looking for opportunities to meet someone’s physical need and their spiritual need, but equally spending time with God alone in order that you can do that.

This is your 200th year of service of your church in this village. I want to set you a challenge. Just think about this for a moment. Think of your 200th anniversary next year. Just imagine if every one of you brought one other person to Christ as their Saviour. The church would be doubled in size by this time next year. There’s a challenge for you – to go and evangelise and try and point people to Jesus; every man, woman and child in this community.

Imagine 890 people on your doorstep, grouped together in the street. Imagine going to them with the bread of life, knocking on their door to show them and to tell them about your love for them and about the love of the Saviour for them, how you want to meet their physical needs, and then getting the opportunity to meet their spiritual needs and tell them why you are doing it – because you love them because the Saviour loves them. He wants them to have life in all its fullness and that He is more than able to meet all their needs in this life and the next. Imagine, it happens so often that you’re bringing people to know Jesus into this church on a regular basis, to the extent that you have to start a building programme to make the church even bigger. It’s entirely possible.

Make sure you balance your time right, spending time with Him. Make sure you spend your time right by speaking to people about the gospel, meeting their physical needs. Don’t send them away. Keep going. Give all that you have. You, yes you, give them something to eat.

August 15th 2021: James Gleave

Luke 9:1-9 ‘Take Nothing for the Journey.’

As we have read Luke chapter 9, there is a lot to think about as we consider our own personal mission. John Wooden’s famous quote reminds us that ‘failure to prepare is preparing to fail.’ It is a quote that athletes plaster all over social media, alongside photos and videos of intense training. Preparation for a task is undeniably really important. Alexander Graham Bell knew this really well when he said, ‘Preparation is the key to success.’

When I think about what it means to be prepared, I think about making sure all the right things are packed, that I have got everything with me that I need to be well-prepared for a wide range of potential situations. For example, prior to driving down here on this holiday, I spent time counting out my T shirts and my socks. I made sure I was appropriately stocked for the duration of my stay. A few weeks ago, when I was camping in the Lake District, preparation involved making sure that me and my friend had means of storing clean water and cooking the food that we were going to buy. It meant making sure that we had a good mix of clothes, so we were prepared whatever the weather was going to do during our time there.

So, when I read these first few verses of Luke chapter 9, and this command to ‘Take nothing with you for the journey,’ it doesn’t sit well with the way that I’ve come to prepare things. In fact, one thing I do every time I go anywhere, whether it’s for a weekend or a week, is pack at least one extra shirt. So how are we to understand and interpret this morning’s command ‘to take nothing with us for the journey’ and what does it mean practically for us today?

The command, ‘Take nothing for the journey,’ as you might expect, is not quite as black and white as it might seem. Because whilst not taking the physical items that you and I might consider essential with them, the disciples do take some really important things with them as they start out on this mission for Jesus. We are going to look at each of them in turn this morning. We’re going to think about how they had companionship, command and calling with them, all of them provided by God Himself.

Firstly then, companionship. Jesus calls the 12 together. This band of brothers who follow Jesus and support His ministry, know each other just about as well as anyone else on the planet. They are, in essence, a little church family of believers all gathered together around the love of God.

Companionship is incredibly important, isn’t it? It is something that lots of us have found very difficult in the last 18 months with the isolation and separation from other people. We are social creatures, and for the most part we enjoy being around people and having relationships with other people. This is true across all aspects of our lives and is certainly true when it comes to our faith. We enjoy being around like-minded people. It makes exercising our faith more comfortable. It’s one of the reasons that things like Christian Unions are so important because it gives opportunity for like-minded people to come together to support each other.

In Mark we also read the same story that we read in Luke chapter 9. But Mark records it in chapter 6 in a bit more detail. He tells us that after Jesus brought the disciples together, He actually sent them out two by two. Jesus, the master teacher, is also a pioneer of that never-failing ‘buddy system. Jesus knows the value of companionship. The value of this companionship is to be a sense of support for the disciples as they set off on this mission. Not many people would understand the disciples mission that Jesus is sending them on. I think we could all agree that it’s a unique one, especially in the context of the time that the disciples lived in, or perhaps more so today. Most people, in the culture of the disciples, got up every morning, put on their sandals and their cloak and they go out to fish or to work on a farm, or perhaps to craft something. I dare say very few get up of a morning to go and witness the raising of the dead, for example, which the disciples had just done earlier in Luke.

This principle still rings true today. Not many people in 2021 in the UK, get up of a morning with a calling to share the message of a guy who walked around 2000 years ago as the Son of God. Not many people in the UK in 2021 believe in life after death, resurrection, miracles, the power of prayer or the significance of prophecy. The list goes on and on. But as we gather here today, there are people who have experienced these things and who share these beliefs.

As a result, it is imperative that we have a sense of companionship and a spirit of togetherness with our brothers and sisters in Christ, because when our ministry is difficult, or when it attracts the wrong sort of attention – as it did for the disciples towards the end of the passage that we read this morning – it’s our Christian family who will be there to relate to us, to understand us, and to empathise with us in a way that other people simple can’t. As a result, this can be a great source of strength, blessing and encouragement to us.

The other benefit of this companionship that the disciples took with them on this mission is that it gives them an opportunity to demonstrate the love that they have for each other as evidence of their discipleship. As they walk around through these villages, ministering and talking, they also have the chance through this companionship to love each other as Jesus of taught them. In doing so, they provide a practical, visual example of the transformative power of the gospel.

I really love thinking about Christian companionship in this way because I can often be quite quick to see church family and Christian companionship as good for being a means to support and encouragement, but I’m less quick to see it as an opportunity to show the difference that Jesus has made in my life. I think it’s something that would certainly serve me well to begin making a conscious effort to demonstrate the love that God has for me in the way that I interact with my Christian brothers and sisters, so that my way of life, as well as my message, are more attractive to those who don’t yet know Jesus for themselves.

You can imagine that the disciples go out on this mission, there will be times when the right physical preparation and the right practical arrangements won’t be nearly as important to them as knowing that they have someone with them to help maximise each unique opportunity, and make sure that their ministry is most effective and supported.

 So, having been brought together by Jesus so that they can take companionship with them, they are then bestowed with command, all power and authority, as it is described in the NIV. It says that they are given power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases. Having seen Jesus heal people who simply touched His cloak, having witnessed the raising of a young girl from the dead, the disciples will have known full well significance of this power that they have been given.

 I think there’s something in that for us to take hold if this morning. You see in our experience as Christians, as we have walked with God through various aspects of our lives, we will know, just as the disciples did, the power and authority that Jesus has. We have seen it in a variety of ways, at different times. When these moments come in our lives, where God sends us out in his power to do something for Him, we need to know to look back on our lived experience of the power of God, in order to have full confidence it, and full understanding of the sovereignty of God. The disciples know what is possible because they have spent time Jesus, learning from Him and seeing what He can do.

Now, as they are sent off into the world, this knowledge and experience which is the combination of their faith and the basis of their confidence, the disciples knew that they were being asked in their own strength was impossible. Perhaps this morning God is asking something of you which seems impossible? But when we go out in God’s strength and God’s power, as the disciples did, we know that all things are possible.

There’s something else significant about the example we see here of God’s power being bestowed upon the disciples. That is, it was specific. What I mean by this can be explained by briefly looking forward to verse 40 of Luke chapter 9. When a man asked the disciples to heal a demon possessed boy, they could not drive it out. What we see from this is that the provision of power and authority given to the disciples in verse 1 of chapter 9 is for a specific purpose. God equips them with all they need for this particular mission. The same may well be true in our experience; when God is asking you to do something for Him you can count on whatever power and authority you need, when you need it. You can count on God to be with you just enough time to carry out specific tasks that He is asking you to do. I think the significance of this is that the disciples can be left in no doubt that what they are doing is through God, and that they have to keep returning to God, to keep relying on Him for anything and everything they need to serve in each new avenue of service that they come across.

Charles Spurgeon once said that without the Spirit of God we can do nothing, we are ships without the wind, branches without sap and like coals without fire, we are useless. This is something that the disciple will surely have realised as they have this power and authority for this specific mission.

So, having been equipped with companionship and command, the disciples then received their calling in verse 2. This calling comes with some conditions. We’ve already referenced the fact they’re commanded to take nothing with them, not even an extra shirt. They are instead to rely on God and His provision through the good nature of the people whose towns they are going to visit.

They are told in verse 4 that whatever house they enter, they should stay there until they leave that town. I wonder how many villagers cottoned on to what was going on with the disciples, and pretended not to be in when they came knocking so as not to be the ones in the village left with these unexpected house guests, with no definitive departure date? Perhaps that’s just the cynic in me. In reality, we can assume that God was at work preparing the hearts of the necessary people and placing them in the disciples’ path at the right time, so that they were unhindered in their mission.

The command to stay in whatever house they entered was also significant; it prevented the disciples from going around looking for better accommodation. They weren’t to go around looking for five-star, all-inclusive hotels. This, combined with the instruction to live simply, i.e., to take no extra shirt, no bread, no money, no bag, meant the disciples would not be with the travelling people who were out to make money unscrupulously. In fact, they were to go out of their way on this mission to avoid any criticism for making money out of their work. As we witness for God, it’s important that we too are easily distinguishable from others around us, and conduct ourselves in such a way as to minimise the risk of any criticism which may distract from the message of hope that we take with us.

Peter writes in the New Testament, ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.’ Perhaps it’s in these moments in Luke Chapter 9 when Peter begins to understand the significance of this as he and his fellow disciples make every effort to be exemplary in their conduct, so as to bring glory to God and win people round to God in the message that they are sharing.

Another more detailed instruction for this mission arrives in verse five. The disciples are told that if people do not welcome them, they should leave the town, shaking the dust off their feet as they go. Whilst they might not have definitive departure date, they certainly weren’t hanging around. There’s a real sense of urgency in this instruction that the disciples receive. I don’t know about you, but it makes me sit up and take notice. You see, urgency is something that I often really struggle with. I get complacent thinking that I’m relatively young and perhaps not in the greatest hurry to share the gospel with everyone that I meet as soon as I meet them. But perhaps I would do well to take something in the spirit of this mission and apply it to my own.

 I think in our culture, as Christians, we are relatively good at being polite, sometimes too polite. We hate the thought of offending somebody. Perhaps, sometimes that makes us a little bit over cautious so as to avoid any risk of doing so. The disciples were not afforded such a luxury. They are told that if they are not welcome, to shake the dust off their feet and leave. It’s a symbolic way washing their hands and responsibility, saying that they’ve done all they can and, basically they should waste any more time on people who don’t want to hear the message, when there are other people who haven’t the chance to hear for themselves.

I’m not suggesting we have quite the same cut-throat approach to our evangelism here and now. I think it’s clear that there were specific time constraints on the disciples which necessitated a more blunt style of mission. I think we’re very fortunate today to have opportunity to build relationships with people and adopt a more long-term approach as we seek to share the gospel.

But just because we don’t have the same time constraints at the disciples had, doesn’t mean that we don’t have any at all. On the contrary, we must be aware that our time on this earth and with the people around us is limited. Our opportunities to share the good news with those around us are numbered. We must seek to strike a healthy balance between urgency and gentleness in our mission, so as to ensure that we can shake the dust off our feet, confident that we’ve taken our message of hope and good news to everyone that God needed us too. As Robert Moffat once said, ‘We’ll have all eternity to celebrate our victories but only one short hour before sunset to win them.’

So then, the disciples set off with very little in the way of physical comforts or belongings but with everything that they needed for the mission. They are joined together and sent out with command, representing God and loving and supporting one another as they do so. They are relatively unhindered by the burdens and the stresses of having to be practically and physically prepared. They are not slowed down by the discouragement of those who reject the message, but rather, in obedience they continued to press on as Jesus had commanded them to.

Bear Grylls once said, ‘Pack the right skills and the right attitude and you won’t need much else.’ The disciples took with them an attitude of faith and trust, packing the knowledge and the skills for this mission that they’ve learned from Jesus Himself. They went on without need for much else besides.

The impact of their mission was far reaching. Not only were people physically healed and able to hear the good news, but as we read, the impact of the mission reached Herod the tetrarch himself, the man responsible for killing John the Baptist. He’s understandably confused by the claims that John has been raised from the dead. His attempts to stop the spread of this message have certainly not worked. In fact, there are now more people spreading the good news, reaching more people, performing more miracles. The disciples’ attitude of faith and the way that they have been preparing with Jesus, has allowed God to achieve some truly incredible things. And as we know, this is only the beginning.

August 8th 2021: John Mann

Mark 7:31-37: A Saving Appointment with the Lord Jesus Christ

The gospels are filled with the miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ, as he confirmed the truth of who He claimed to be and who He is. We thank God for the accounts of the many miracles of Jesus that we read about and learn from.

As Jesus travelled through the area where He was, we read of many miracles. In chapter 5 we read of Jesus travelling through the region of the Gerasenes and we read of the healing of the demoniac who lived among the graves. Jesus healed that man. There is no other mention of anything else done in that particular account, no other incidents there.

 Immediately Jesus gets back in the boat and travels across the lake and there he meets with another two individuals who are in need: Jairus and his daughter who had died, and the woman who had suffered a bleed for twelve years. Jesus deals with them both. The woman is healed and Jairus’ daughter is brought back from the dead. There are no other mentions of other incidents in that particular area.

In chapter 7 Jesus travels another 30 miles, may be on foot, to Syro-Phoenicia and heals a Syro-Phoenician woman. There is no other mention of any other healing here. It seems that Jesus is keeping appointments with people to heal. He seeks out those who need His healing touch. At the same time, we realise these people have to be where Jesus is coming to find Him. They are desperate for answers, they want to find Jesus, only to find that He was ready to meet their need.

Salvation begins with people feeling the need for forgiveness and reconciliation. In loving kindness Jesus responds. He brings forgiveness and healing. The Lord Jesus Christ has called us to Himself. We find in salvation, He has come for us, granted us healing and deliverance from our sin. Have you had a personal appointment with the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you sought Him out?

Jesus is on His way back to the Decapolis. We have to ask ourselves why he would go back. His first visit hardly felt like a needy return. The people pleaded with Him to leave. He wasn’t welcome. Aren’t you glad that Jesus didn’t leave you when you first rejected Him? Aren’t you so grateful He never gave up on you? Jesus returned because He had an appointment. This should fill us with hope for loved ones who reject Him. He is able to save and to heal. Jesus is still saying, ‘I have an appointment with that person.’

This return visit will be different (v37). It is only the amazing loving kindness and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ can turn ‘Get out of our region’ to ‘He has done well.’ In verse 32 we see another person in desperate need, a man who is deaf and has lost the ability to speak. He lives in an isolated, silent world of his own, relying on others for his daily needs. In their care they take him to where Jesus is. The deaf and mute man must have been confused, wondering where they were taking him. He can see others are excited but doesn’t know why. His problem has cut him off from society.

Here is a picture of our spiritual condition before we know the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you remember a time when you were deaf to the gospel? When your physical ears heard but your spiritual ears were deaf? A time when the gospel went in through one ear and out through the other in spiritual deafness? This results in spiritual muteness, having nothing to say about the Lord Jesus Christ, no time to praise Him, being cut off from God. Our spiritual condition meant we could understand what it was all about. Sadly, in many of our churches this morning, the gospel goes in one ear and out of another. There is a world of difference between hearing and understanding.

The beauty of this miracle is Jesus came to open the lines of communication of our spiritual ears. The gospel is the truth. But in our natural condition we are deaf to its meaning unless we come to Christ. Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, our ears are opened. We become hearers and experiencers of the gospel.

People took the time to take this deaf man to Jesus. Do you give thanks to people who lead you to the man who could heal you, when Jesus said to you personally, “Ephphatha! Be opened.”

These are pictures of the need of our day. The people had a heart to bring someone to Christ. Are we among the ‘some people’ bringing others to Jesus, or bringing Jesus to others through our testimony, our lives, our witness? We are called to reach our loved ones and neighbours by our testimony. How determined are we to take others to Jesus?

Do we notice how serious these people are? They begged Jesus to heal him (v.32). They believed Him. Are we begging Jesus to save others in our community? They were determined for him to know the healing power of Jesus. Can you imagine the man’s joy when Jesus heals him? Suddenly he hears for the first time. Are you filled with joy when you hear someone has been saved? There is joy for the deaf man and joy for the men who took him to Jesus. Do you thank God for the people who went out of their way to bring you to Jesus?

Jesus took the man aside (v33). Here we see this personal aspect of salvation. We are not forgiven as a group. Jesus wants a personal relationship. He takes us out of the crowd to have a personal appointment with Him. Jesus draws us aside from the company of others, from the distractions all around us. He says, ‘Will you accept me as your own Lord and Saviour?’

Then Jesus does this unusual thing. “Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spat and touched the man’s tongue.” (Mark 7:33). Why does Jesus do these strange actions? Jesus deals with each of us according to our own need. We come with our individual fears and doubts. What is the best way to connect with a deaf man? Sign language. Jesus touches the man’s ears and lips. He knows what the problem is, and He knows what the answer is. This would have caused many to resist, but not this man. He accepts the Lord Jesus Christ without turning away.

There are many people who know something is missing from their lives and may come looking to Jesus for an answer, but who are not willing to come without reserve. They want to be healed but not have an intimate relationship with a Saviour. They have missed the opportunity to be saved. But not this man. Whatever Jesus decided to do, this man puts his faith in Him. In this miracle, it is almost as if Jesus is kissing away the problem. We need to place ourselves into the hands of the only one who can heal our spiritual need.

Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed deeply when he said, “Ephphatha.” He has a deep love and concern in his heart for this man as He looks to heaven for his healing. He sighs with the same compassion He has for every one of us. Our healing is His passion. Salvation is the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why He came, that is why He was willing to suffer the scorn, the mocking, the rejection, the beating, the crucifixion and having God’s wrath poured out upon Him – because His passion is to save souls and to make us well. This is what Peter says, ‘He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.’

If you are a believer this morning, it is not through anything you have been able to offer, nothing that you have done, no righteousness of your own. This deaf man had no possibility, not a hope of healing himself. There was nothing that he could bring to Jesus, that Jesus could say, ‘Well, I’ll help you, you’ve gone so far I’ll bring you the rest of the way.’ The man was helpless, powerless and hopeless, just as we are, outside of Christ. There is nothing we can bring whereby we can say, ‘I’ve made a contribution.’

We are totally dependent on the mercy and grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. We can just imagine what the man was saying when he began to speak (v.35). He would be speaking His praise. Jesus came and suffered and died so people like you and me could have our ears unblocked, to have our dead hearts brought to life.

Have you known a saving, personal appointment with Jesus? What words are on your lips?

Sunday Afternoon August 1st 2021: 199th Anniversary Service: John Funnell

Mark 8:22-26 Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida

Jesus came to Bethsaida, a small fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, an area where Jesus worked a number of miracles and was well-known. It was no surprise that people came to see Jesus and see this blind man. Notice what Jesus does in verse 23. He gets shown this blind man to heal and takes him out of the village. Jesus is God, author of all creation. He can heal this man there and then, but He didn’t want to cause a spectacle. This man is blind, vulnerable and not for entertainment. Jesus deals with him quietly, lovingly.

How does He heal him? He does it with touch. The word ‘hands’ is used three times. Jesus nurtures and guides him through this ordeal. Jesus uses His saliva (v23) to assist the man. Why spit? To show His love. If you burn your finger in the kitchen or hit it with a hammer, what is the first thing you do? Stick it in your mouth. If your son or daughter is dressed in new school uniform and has chocolate on their cheeks, what do you wipe it off with? Spit? You only use your spit on yourself and your children you love. If I saw toothpaste on your cheek this morning and went to wipe it off, you would think it a bit odd, but you wouldn’t think twice if I did it to one of my children. What we have here is a clear sign of Jesus’ deep-seated love for sinners like you and me –  a love that brought Him down from heaven to this fallen and broken earth, so he could so wonderfully and intimately clean us up. He touched this blind stranger as if he was His own son. Beautiful, isn’t it.

This afternoon, has called you away from your busy lives. He has called you out of the village, away from consumers, away from your worldly distractions and desires. He’s pulled you from your sofa and television to come here, by His grace, to His church. By His Spirit He enters into your heart. He comes to you as if you are the only person in the universe and says, “My child, I love you, and on the cross I gave my all to wash away your sins, so you can see me.”

Jesus takes this man away from the crowd and gives him His undivided attention. He heals him. What does he see? People like trees walking around. Is there any symbolism of walking trees? No. The blind man simply answers Jesus’ question as honestly as possible. Possibly, he saw his friends in the distance. Jesus then restored his sight fully.

The same, unchanging God is asking us to do the same; in the chaos of our busy lives, He is asking us, ‘What do you see when you come to Penuel Church?’ Be honest when you come to answer this question. I’ll tell you what I see. I don’t see trees here at Penuel. I see real people who love Jesus. United, rational, sensible people. People once blind to God but who now see clearly. When I come here, I meet with sincerity and honesty. You are all tangible proof of godly worship.

If you are struggling with your faith, your vision is blurred, look around. You might be small, but you are alive.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” CS Lewis quote.

Friends, you are so blessed to be in this church. Look to Jesus. Be honest with Him. Be clear and real with Jesus and He will guide you.

Sunday Morning, August 1st 2021 199th Anniversary Service: John Funnell

Mark 2: 1-12 Jesus forgives and heals a paralysed man

This miracle comes at the end of a tirade of healing. The Messiah has come. In chapter 1:29 Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. In 1:40 Jesus healed a man with leprosy. He healed all who were sick in Capernaum. The news of these great miracles spread across the entire region of Galilee. It comes as no surprise that when Jesus returned to Capernaum, people gathered in great numbers. They were coming in droves to Jesus to be healed of ailments or to watch a spectacle of healing.

Four men come carrying a paralysed man. There is no doubt they are gutted when they saw a crowd squeezed into a little building where Jesus was preaching. They had come all that way, carrying a loved one, a grown man, in the hope that he would be healed. In verse 4 we read that they hatched a plan; they would carry the fully grown man all the way up to the roof and make a hole to lower him safely. This was no mean feat to get a paralysed, grown man through the hole. They must have been exhausted. They lower him down to where Jesus was, in great anticipation that Jesus would work a miracle.

There, in verse 5, Jesus says to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.” Think, for a minute, what these friends of the paralysed man would have thought when they heard these words. They must have been devastated. They see no physical difference as the paralysed man lies on the floor. Then, in verse 6, the teachers of the law accuse Jesus of blasphemy – only God could forgive sins. All they see is an impoverished Palestine carpenter.

So, we see, in verse 10, to the amazement of the crowd, Jesus heals the paralysed man. He does this to show He is God. He has the authority to forgive sin. What is going on? The eye- witness account raises so many questions. Why did Jesus only forgive sins to begin with? It would have saved a lot of arguments. Jesus is making a very clear statement – forgiveness from God is more important than anything, even your health.

Jesus preaches the Word to the people. He knew the hearts of the people in Capernaum, he knew they were coming for a show, not salvation. He wants to park the miraculous for a minute and get the gospel out there. He comes with serious truth that has eternal consequences for your soul. As He tries to proclaim the gospel, a paralysed man is dangled from the roof, so they can be entertained. In Matthew 11 Jesus says, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

Capernaum was a godless place, but God was reaching out to them, time and time again, with miracles. Jesus stood before them, the divine incarnate God, but they didn’t recognise Him. They didn’t fear God’s judgement. They wanted entertainment, they wanted a show. We can all be guilty of this. We can come to church, maybe anxious, feeling low, scared, in grief, in pain. We can come expecting God to free us from our daily hardship, forgetting our real need is God’s forgiveness. You are not in control, He is.

Leave this chapel in praise and thanksgiving. God has done a far more important work. He saved your soul from eternal damnation. We often forget death has no respect for age. Judgement can come at any time. For anyone of us here, tomorrow could be too late. Are you ready to meet your maker? Have you come here to get better or for your forgiveness? The answer you give to this affects your eternity. Do you know that in Christ your sins are forgiven, washed clean?

I love you all, so I say this in absolute love, if you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour today all, you are not ready. Without Jesus, you stand before God on your own. The all-seeing God knows your heart, your hidden sin and shame. He also knows your greatest need today is not miraculous healing, it is forgiveness. You may have come for great singing at Penuel, for healing, but this chapter tells us our greatest need is forgiveness. There is only one man, Jesus, who can save you. Only He paid the price for our sin in full. Trust the man who paid the price for your sin, because from God’s forgiveness comes healing.

Saturday 31st July 2021: John Funnell

Genesis 11:1-9 The Tower of Babel

I’m often asked if I can explain the Holy Trinity. God is three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three totally separate and defined persons, yet also, at the same time, they are perfectly one. How can three be one? How does this work? Can you explain it? No, the truth of the Trinity is too deep, too profound, beyond our understanding. It proves to us that God is beyond our invention. We can’t make something up we don’t understand. We may not be able to understand the complexities, but we can see the Trinity throughout scripture. We can see the application of the Trinity in our prayer life. We come to the Father, by the Son, through the Holy Spirit. Our worship and salvation is Trinitarian. We know from scripture there is God the Father, God the Son and God, the Holy Spirit, united perfectly in their diversity. We are all wonderfully unique, yet we gather as one. We come with our differences, yet one voice. We are honouring Him as we celebrate 199 years of worship at Penuel.

Our God is three in one and this is expressed in the wonderful diversity of His Church. Together, in love, God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit created everything. They are Triune. God made us in His image and His image is Triune. As image bearers of a Triune God, we, as human beings, can do amazing things when we unite. We can invent vaccines in record time in a pandemic, we can send people into space. When we unite in God, we can do amazing things.

Genesis 11 is a very famous Bible story, although it is a story that is often taught negatively. But it is a story filled with positive lessons regarding our human potential. We can do amazing things when we come together and unite in one voice. For 199 years Penuel has stood firm for the gospel – one common purpose – to reach the heavens. Nothing is impossible. “And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” (Genesis 11:6). These are God’s words. Amazing! What an accolade from God’s mouth.

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

But as we know, we see here the great Tower of Babel ends up failing. God divides the people through their language and scatters them. God can humble us at any moment. He will humble us if we get carried away. The big question for us is why did God humble the people building the Tower of Babel if they were doing such a good job? Their motive was wrong.

In verse 1 we see the people were moving eastward. Going East is very significant in Biblical narrative. It represents moving away from the presence of God. In chapter 10 we have a table of the nations, the offspring of Noah. This runs chronologically with chapter 11. The people listed in chapter 10 lived during the building of the Tower of Babel. Nimrod, a great builder of cities, was likely to have been involved in the building of the Tower; he lived at the same time and place. Nimrod’s name in Hebrew is ‘rebel.’ It is possible to assume the people were not following God and were following a rebel.

But there are other clues regarding the wrong reasons for building the tower, “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4). This reason to build the tower goes totally against God’s reason for humanity. In Genesis 1:28 we read that God told Adam and Eve to multiply and scatter, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” This command was also given to Noah and his sons, “And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” (Genesis 9:7).

God tells the people to scatter, but what do they do? The consolidate and build a tower. They were ignoring God’s command to scatter, therefore, they were going against God’s wishes. So, God rightly and justly undid their work.

Why were they not listening to God and spreading out across the globe? I argue that is was because of fear. If they had scattered, they thought they would be weak and vulnerable, totally reliable on God. They were scared of possibly another flood. God had judged the Earth and flooded it. Catastrophic judgement. A flood happening again was a genuine concern for the people of the Bible. They built the tower with bitumen (v3). God told Noah to use bitumen to waterproof the boat. In their fear and rebellion, the people didn’t want to scatter and so they attempted to protect themselves against God’s judgement, so they waterproofed the tower. They were not trusting God’s covenant promise, they were not trusting in God’s grace.

Friends, the tower of Babel showed what humanity could achieve as image bearers of our Triune God. They build a huge tower to the heavens but God destroyed it and scattered them. Why? Well because, one, arguably, they were following a rebel, Nimrod. Two, definitely, because they were disobedient to God’s command to scatter. Three, they didn’t trust in God’s covenant grace. They were waterproofing. They trusted in themselves instead of going to a God of grace. They were scared and feared another judgement, another flood because they were going against God. They centralised their operations. They tried to get to heaven on their own terms. They should have submitted to His grace, trusting in His provision, looking to the rainbow and live free, abiding His love.

As a church today, right across Wales, we are guilty of doing the same thing. The Church in Wales is in massive decline because of it. We have ageing congregations, we are weak, we are low on numbers and low on resources. As a result, we fear closure, so we have stopped taking risks. We don’t want to scatter, we don’t want to spread ourselves too thin. In our desperation, we have forgotten God’s covenant promise. We really should be trusting in God in our weakness. In our fear we create holy huddles, trying in vain to protect ourselves. We are content to stay in our little chapels, worshipping how we want to. We stay and waterproof. What should we do instead? We should trust in His voice, trust in our weakness that God is gracious. The tower of Babel reminds us of what we can achieve when we work together. “And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” (Genesis 11:6).

God did not save your soul to build a tower to heaven, to come to God your way. He saved you to go out and take risks, to scatter the gospel, in one voice, in unity, to the community He has called you to serve. Friends, the good news of the gospel, the good news we cherish, is we don’t have to build towers to reach heaven to meet with God. We come to a God who comes down to us, “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.” (Genesis 11:5). As Christians, we have Immanuel, God with us. Jesus Christ came down, so we don’t have to build up. It is by His grace, not by our works, that we are saved, so that no man might boast.

 Jesus came down and showed us, in utter weakness on the cross, that all sin and death can be obliterated. He rose again, and promises to be with us until the end of the age. He gave us that promise so that we can do church as God intended – which is to spread ourselves thin, to take risks for the gospel. God prefers that way, doesn’t He? His power is made perfect in our weakness.

Penuel Church, I love you. You are a small congregation in the middle of nowhere, yet you are utterly untied in your faith to keep going. When I come here, I meet with Jesus. He is here. Your faith to keep going, your faith to reach out into the community in your weakness, is a lesson for the church right across Wales. I pray that you will continue to spread yourself thin for the gospel, trusting in God’s ways.

July 18th 2021: Paul Daniel

Acts 5: 12 -42

We are sitting here, on a lovely sunny day in Roch, because two thousand years ago men and women stood and were beaten for the sake of the gospel. It is a privilege to come together, knowing that others before us took a beating so they could share the gospel, and then their sons and daughters could share the gospel, and their sons and daughters could share the gospel, and we have that beautiful privilege of meeting in freedom today.

This passage of scripture is quite challenging. I don’t know how you would respond if you were living at that time, and you were told not to go and tell people about Jesus, or you would be put into jail. What would you do?

The Book of Acts, Luke’s second volume, records for us what the early church was like. Luke’s first volume, his gospel, tells us all that Jesus did and taught. His second volume, Acts, tells us all that the risen Jesus did. So, we see here is Acts of the Apostles, or you could say, Acts of the Risen Jesus. We now look at everything Jesus did through His Spirit. He has ascended into heaven, and He sent His Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit lives and dwells in His people and they are helping His people live for Him. When you open the book of Acts you realise that there is a small group of people who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the people who turned the world upside down. You and I stand on their shoulders.

Has God’s Spirit changed? Is the Holy Spirit who helped Peter on the day of Pentecost, when he preached to thousands, changed? Has God’s mission changed, to save a people for Himself? Has Jesus Christ changed? Has the cross changed? Is the cross not the same cross that Jesus Christ bled and died on and that is the only means and way of salvation? Has anything really changed? No! Nothing has changed. When Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, the Bible says He is waiting to return. We live in the last days, waiting for Jesus Christ to return. God’s Spirit has not changed and the cross stands still as the only means of salvation. God’s mission has not changed. He desires a people for Himself, even from Roch. The Commission has not changed. God has not changed. Until Jesus returns our mission hasn’t changed – we are called to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. Take the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and share it with others who do not know him.

Pray drives evangelism. The apostles were doing many signs and wonders, and people were being healed. In chapter four, the apostles had already been arrested (4:29-30). They prayed and their prayer was answered. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. If you believe this and have a God-Man who intercedes for you, you can pray to Him. The apostles prayed and were able to do extraordinary things. If you think, ‘Well, I couldn’t do that,’ you would be right. But God can! Christ healed a blind man, the deaf and the lame. God can do all those things because He is God. Evangelism is driven by prayer. God is the one who opens all the doors, who gives us opportunities, the one who answers our prayers. It is ludicrous, as Christians, we don’t pray to the God of heaven, the giver of all things. Pray for an opportunity to witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Evangelism is about speaking life. The apostles were arrested because they were preaching and they were healing. They were doing all sorts of wonderful things. But the High Priest didn’t like it, the Sadducees didn’t like it. They arrested them (v.17). They put them in a public prison. But an angel of the Lord brought them out and said, ‘Get on with it! Go and stand in the temple court and speak to the people words of life.’ (v.19). The apostles got together (v.21). Did they have a big discussion whether they should obey the angel? No. An angel of the Lord comes and tells them what to do and they do it. They are obedient and they go. At the Ascension Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and a cloud hid Him from their sight as they were watching. Immediately two angels come down and said, ‘What are you doing looking at the sky? Why are you looking up there when you should be looking all around you and getting on with the task of evangelism?

Evangelism is about speaking life. It is so important that an angel of the Lord comes and breaks them out of prison and tells them, ‘Get on with it.’ My friends, this is not a message about purchasing some goods, what colour paint you should buy, what your homes or gardens should look like. It has got nothing to do with this. This is about the words of life. This is about life that every one of us needs, that we live in a beautiful but broken word, that sin has entered in and the wages of sin is death. We experience sin in our bodies and we get old and we creaky and things fail. Yet Jesus Christ came to deal with the problem of sin and death. The good news about the gospel is not just having your legs healed and about being able to see. There is much more than that. It is about having this new life where you have a relationship with God, where you will know Him now and forever, into eternity. We are called to go out and give the words of life. Jesus Christ is the only way. There is no other way in which men and women, boys and girls can be saved. We need to know what God is calling us to do, what is He calling us to be more urgent about in our speaking to others?

Evangelism is driven by prayer, evangelism is about speaking life, but evangelism is about what God is doing. The apostles go back into the temple courts (v.27) and once again they are brought back to the Council, questioned and told, ‘We strictly told you not to teach in this name, yet you are doing the things we told you not to do!’ And they reply, “We must obey God rather than men,” (v.29). Scripture calls us to obey the authorities. In one sense, they are obeying the authorities. They get arrested and they don’t oppose being arrested. They let themselves be arrested. There is one thing we cannot disobey and that is we must be obedient to the laws. But here they are in Acts chapter 5 saying they must obey God rather than men. Even though they are told not to speak in the name of Jesus, they say,’ No, we must obey God, because here are the words of life that people must hear, for there is no other name.’ That’s what Jesus did, isn’t it? He obeyed the will of His Father, not His own. There, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was sweating drops of blood, knowing what He would go to, yet He did it, “Not My will but Yours.”

You and I face many dilemmas today, we are faced with complicated situations. We live in a very privileged society, in a very privileged country where there really isn’t that much dilemma about obeying God. We have freedoms, and as we have these freedoms we are not challenged, are we? There is no-one really threatening to put us in prison here in Roch. Don’t get me wrong, there might be cultural variations, there might be regional variations, there might be other variations, maybe a part of a city where it might be more difficult. But it is not about what is happening there, it’s about what is happening here. What is God calling you and me to do?

We have this word of life, and we are living in not difficult days but complex days. With God’s help, we will all know is it that God is calling us to do.

Evangelism is driven by prayer, evangelism is about speaking life, evangelism is about what God is doing in and through us. God is the one who is saving. Finally, the way we live can really help (v 38-39). The apostles are persistent, they are not giving up, they are willing to be put into prison time and time again. If it is from God, God is not going to fail. If this is from God, don’t get in the way or you will be opposing God.

My friends, as you and I live out our lives, as we go about sharing the gospel, the way we live really can help people to hear the gospel. You and I might not have a single conversation with somebody this week, but the way you live really can influence the way people listen to the gospel.

Evangelism is driven by prayer, evangelism is about speaking life, evangelism is about what God is doing in and through us as we are obedient to Him, and the way we live can really help us in our evangelising.