September 29th 2022: Adrian Brake

Harvest Service

Texts: Acts 14:8-18; Haggai 1:1-11; Genesis 8:20-22.

            God wants us to know Him. He has made Himself known clearly and wonderfully in three important ways. First, He has made Himself known in Scripture. The Scriptures are the “word of God” in which He manifests Himself. Secondly, He has made Himself known through the coming of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Word made flesh (John 1:14) who declared to us the Father (John 1:18; 14:7-11). But then, thirdly, He has made Himself known through creation.

            There are three things we can learn at this harvest time by looking at what God has done in and through creation.

[1] Harvest time tells us something about God’s love.

[2] Harvest time tells us something about God’s mercy.

[3] Harvest time tells us something about God’s faithfulness.

These three things are put on display in creation by God. The Lord loves humanity. He cares deeply for mankind. He is loving, merciful, and faithful.

[1] Harvest time tells us something about God’s love.

            1 John 3:18 tells us that we must not love in word only but in action and in truth. God loves in action! God expresses His love in ways which we can experience. He gives us gifts. Most people like to give gifts. Such a thing shows that we are made in the image of God which although fallen and marred is not completely lost. In that we give gifts we know also that God gives such to a greater degree. When a person gives another a gift it is a way of saying “I love you,” or “I care.” God has given to humanity certain gifts and these declare His love.

[a] Food.

            One of these gifts is food. Where does food come from? Sadly, many youth think it comes from the supermarkets! But we know that it comes from the miracle of God’s creative works. We could speak of the soil, the sun, the rain, the warmth and so on, but all of these are provided by God. He made the systems that enable the seeds to grow in the soil. He provides the water and sunlight to enable photosynthesis to occur. It is God who brings our food to the table. In Acts 14 we hear Paul speaking of the Lord’s witness to those of Lystra:

“Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17).

The people of Lystra did not have the law, the tabernacle, the prophets, nor the sacrifices, but they did have creation, (Psalm 19:1). God loves the cheerful or generous giver, for He is a very generous giver Himself. All of creation witnesses to this. Did He not make an abundance of creatures in the seas and on the land?

            A recent supermarket leaflet lamented the fact that in the UK we waste 6.4 million tons of food every year. This amounts to 730 lbs per household every year. There is a vast abundance of food in this land! God is a generous giver! God has provided. The problem of lack in different areas is not due to God’s lack of provision, but mankind’s greed and sinfulness.

[b] A more precious gift.

            We need food to survive and God has given this in abundance. But we need something else more desperately. Our greatest need is the forgiveness of sins. If we cannot survive bodily without food, then note that we will not survive eternally without the forgiveness of sins.

            God created us to know Him but we are unthankful and rebellious. If we do not know Him then the wrath of God abides on us (John 3:36). But God is so generous and kind that He has provided His only Son for us. Through His coming, His death, His resurrection, and His ascension we are given the gift of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. This Person is the greatest gift that God has given to us (John 3:16).

            God has given us food that we may thrive bodily. And He has also given us the Lord Jesus Christ that we might have eternal life. Jesus referred to Himself as the “bread of life” (Genesis 6:35,48). In this manner God has loved us. The coming and sacrifice of Christ demonstrates God’s love to unholy men and women (Romans 5:8).

            In Luke’s gospel we read of the rich man and a beggar named Lazarus (Luke 16:19f). The rich man had plenty to eat in this world but in death he was cast into the torment and flames. The poor beggar, Lazarus, ate the crumbs from the rich man’s table and was taken to paradise. There is a great gulf between these two places where souls are delivered after death. If all we have in this world is an abundance of earthly food then we will end up in the same place as this rich man. If, however, we have little of this world’s fare but are rich in the knowledge of God, we have heaven to look forward to.  

            The apostle John wrote:

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1John 4:10).

If we trust in the Lord and in His provision through Christ Jesus, then we are highly favoured and greatly blessed. But if not then we need to see His provision of Christ afresh.

[2] Harvest time tells us something about God’s mercy.

            In Haggai 1:1-11 we read of a failed harvest. They sowed the seed but reaped little in the end. Why? Well, we read that God “blew it away” (Haggai 1:9). He did this because they had forgotten God’s house. Because they had rejected the Lord in their neglect. The exiles were those who returned from captivity and were enabled through Nehemiah and by God’s power to rebuild the walls. Having done this, they set about building themselves their “panelled houses” but they did not attend to the house of the Lord. They did not set themselves to rebuild the temple. They had no thought of the glory of God. So, God chastised is people by withholding the harvest.

            In our land the Lord has been good and gracious. We have been greatly favoured. We have a great history of God’s goodness so that by-and-large we enjoy happiness and peace in our land with an abundance of food. However, in general we do not think of God. In our rebellion and neglect are we any less guilty than the Israelites of Haggai’s day? Does not our land deserve the same chastisement? In all of this we see that God is merciful.

Mercy is when God does not give us what we deserve.

Grace is when God gives us those things we do not deserve.

What of those who have not? What of those who do in fact starve? Well in a recent supermarket magazine we are told that 29,000 tons of oranges and 6,000 tons of spring onions, all valued at £84 million, are thrown away every year. We do indeed have sufficient but we are grossly negligent in sharing this abundance. It is due to our sin and greed that some starve, not because God does not provide. Psalm 145 tells us something of God’s great provision:

The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. … 15 The eyes of all look expectantly to You, and You give them their food in due season. 16 You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:9,15,16).

God gives generously to all.

“He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45).

In Acts 14:17 we discovered that even though the unbelievers had no thought of God. Nevertheless, He gave them rain and fruitful seasons, food and gladness. Now this fact that we have an abundance of food is due to the mercy of God. At any moment He could justly and righteously consign our souls to hell. This is what we deserve. But He does not send us there even though we do deserve it, but rather He continues to give and provide for us. This is the mercy of God, withholding what we justly deserve. God spares us and He spares us, and He spares us. How long have you been spared the judgment you deserve? God is truly patient and long suffering (2Peter 3:9). Think of the multitudes alive at this moment who have no thought of God and who are rebelling in wicked ways. These are held back from the judgement they deserve. This is only on account of God’s great mercy.

            But there is a time limit for God’s mercy (Genesis 6:3). As day succeeds day, God withholds His judgement from us. He strives and bears with us. Do not presume on this mercy. God could take you at any moment (Hebrews 9:27) but He has enabled you to see this day in which He has graciously provided for you both food to eat for your body and food for your eternal soul. Why would you not take and eat of the Lord?

[3] Harvest time tells us something about God’s faithfulness.

            In Genesis 8:21 we learn that God promised Noah He would not destroy the world again with the waters of the flood. He promised this even though “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Man’s heart had not changed through the flood. He was wicked before the flood and man continues to be wicked after the flood (the Tower of Babel event in Genesis 11:1f declares this especially).  But God promised the entire world that seed sowing, the harvest, the seasons, and the order of day and night would continue unabated throughout the remainder of time (Genesis 8:22).

            God has kept this promise for the harvest has come. How many harvests have come throughout time? The Lord promises and He always does what He has said He will do. God is faithful. What of His many other promises in Scripture? Here are a selection:

[1] Whoever comes to the Lord Jesus He will never cast out (John 6:37). He will keep and preserve all who come to Jesus forever.

[2] Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13).

[3] My God shall supply all your need (Philippians 4:19).

[4] God will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

[5] The Lord Jesus promised that He will come back for us (John 14:3; Acts 1:11).

We can build on such promises (and there are many more in Scripture) for God is faithful and what He has said He will most certainly do.

We are here to give thanks. We give thanks for:

The God of love – He is great, generous, and abundant in His love for He gives us food to eat and the bread of life for our souls.

The God of mercy – He has withheld that which we deserve in patience offering us the salvation and redemption which are found alone in Christ.

The God of faithfulness – He has promised so much for us, and He will keep this world going in its regular order until that day, and we can rely on all that He has said.

September 25th 2022: Ian Middlemist

Psalm 40:1-3.

            How patient are we? What are we like when we have to wait? In this Psalm we see an example of king David having exercised patience in difficulty (Psalm 40:1-3), then seeks to trust the Lord and His deliverance once again (Psalm 40:11,13).

            David has had a dreadful experience in the “pit,” a place of darkness and despair, In the first half of the Psalm (verses 1-10) we discover how the Lord got him out of the pit on one occasion. In the second half of the Psalm (verses 11-17) it is evident that David is now in another “pit” and cries to the Lord for deliverance once again.

Considering the experience David recalls in Psalm 40:1-3 we can see three features of David’s experience:

[1] King David experiences an inner struggle.

            We are not sure what the particular difficulty is, but it is clearly an internal struggle. He cries to the Lord (40:1). Elsewhere, in Psalm 6:6 we learn of David crying to such an extent that he drenched his bed with tears. This situation (whatever it may have been) was clearly very bad as shown by the imagery of the pit and the miry clay.

            What did David do? We might imagine a small child with their father in a swimming pool but who then gets out of their depth and is suddenly terrified crying out to dad for help. This cry of David is directed to the Lord, for David knew that the Lord was ready to hear his cries, just as the child knows his father is nearby in the pool. We must trust to nothing else save the Lord. Other helps such as doctors, nurses, medics and so on are useful but they are not the ones we direct our cries to for help. The Lord may use such to help as He wills but the cry must go to the Lord.

It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.  (Psalm 118:8)

            What are the things we might do when a crisis occurs? We may not wait upon the Lord. We may take action into our own hands, or seek help using our own ingenuity and strength. Sometimes we fret, sometimes we withdraw, sometimes we run, sometimes we control others, sometimes we defend ourselves or justify our actions, but all of this is idolatry for we are not trusting in the Lord but in self or in another (medical profession) or some scheme or viewpoint (wrong-headed thinking).

            What else did David do? He waited patiently (40:1). The Hebrew is literally “I waited waitingly.” He did not just wait for a time like Saul for Samuel to come and perform the sacrifice (1Samuel 13:8-11). He waited with a settled mind and heart waiting for the Lord to act. He was not going to stop waiting. He was going to be consistent in his waiting for the Lord. Remember that God knows what He is doing. His timing is always perfect. It was in due time that Christ came and died for us. All time is in God’s hands. He who sent His Son to die for us loves us, and so His seeming delay is for our good. He expects us to wait for Him. He does not give us all that we ask or desire immediately. His purpose in delaying is for our sanctification and holiness. Waiting for the Lord and waiting upon the Lord is an essential part of the Christian life. We are to wait upon the Lord in humility, in hope, and in expectation.

[2] King David was rescued from the pit.

            What is intended by this image of the pit and the miry or boggy clay? Perhaps we should think of a cistern or dungeon like the one Jeremiah was thrown into and sank into the mire nearly to his death (Jeremiah 38:6)? Or maybe a deep well, dark, dank, putrid, from which there is no escape? Perhaps the intention was to suggest that he was at death’s door? The issue king David faced could have been a national threat from an enemy, or it may have been an illness. It could have been any number of things. And so we are justified in applying this in a general sense to cover all those situations where we find ourselves in a pit of despair, a boggy mess from which we can see no escape. Each of us encounter such pits of despair from time to time and each of our experiences differ, but all may be linked with this experience king David was going through. Only the Lord knows the depths of our miry pit so we must be careful with respect to the experiences others are going through. What they are struggling with maybe something you take in your stride. But to them it is a boggy mess and they will need our love and watchful prayers so that they can look to the Lord. Remember that God really does care for you. David also wrote these words when he was captured by the Philistines:

You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book? (Psalm 56:8).

We do not need to limit the application to certain difficulties or struggles, for God collects every tear!

            We learn here that king David was lifted out of this pit of despair and he was placed in a firm and secure place so that his feet were on the rock (40:2). God will lift us out of our pit and boggy situation. So we can approach God with expectancy. King David recalled the occasion that God drew him out of the pit and he reasons that the Lord will do so again. God has not changed. His power is not weakened. He still loves and cares for His people.

            In the bog and mire all we can see is the problem, the issue, and (what seems like) the unanswered prayers. But the Lord will (in His perfect time) life us up out of the pit of despair. Now from other Scriptures we know that this happens in two ways.

[a] He may indeed take us out of the situation, or He may remove the difficulty and problem completely. Sometimes the Lord heals miraculously.

[b] He might deliver us within the situation, giving us more grace and strength. The testimony of a believer in difficulty is a great witness.

Whatever way the Lord chooses to deliver and save from the pit we know that it is accompanied with an incredible peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

            If you have not yet cried out to the Lord to save you from the pit of despair then cry to Him now for now is the day of salvation. The Lord is still heeding those who cry out to be rescued so why will you not come?

[3] King David sings!

            King David knew the Lord’s deliverance from a desperate situation but how does he respond to his rescue? Well the only valid response is to sing! People sing naturally when they have received something wonderful or marvellous. Some sing when their football team does well! Others sing when they fall in love. But king David sings because of his deliverance by the Lord. This is why we sing!

            Think how important singing is. We can express truths with a depth of emotion that speaking in conversation does not convey. Think of the many examples of godly music written over the years. Whilst our hearts are engaged in singing in praise to the Lord, songs are sung for others to hear as well. King David speaks later of not hiding the Lord’s goodness in his heart (Psalm 40:9,10), and singing the truths is one important way we declare the gospel.

            But apart from the singing of hymns and songs in the great congregation, king David’s expression is a personal one. He sung out in grateful thanks to the Lord. We too can sing out a personal song of praise to God. Let me encourage you to ‘sing your song of deliverance’ (Psalm 32:7). It is very important that we share our testimonies! The Lord has done great things and so king David sings out in praise. May we sing of all that the Lord has done for us in all things!

September 18th 2022: Thomas Kitchen

To view this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel:

Hebrews 12:18-29

A Kingdom that cannot be shaken

Bad things happen. After previous challenges, people thought 2020 would be a better year. Then Covid struck! It seems every couple of years there is something public that affects us in our personal lives. There is something going on, a trail for us. We think things will get worse. People are lovers of money, self and arrogant. What happens when something unforeseen happens? We need encouragement in these times.

There are a few things which cannot be shaken, And to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:24). We have Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant. Abel died for nothing because Cain was jealous. But Jesus’ death brought in a new covenant, a huge development for the whole world.

What is unshakeable?

  1. The Throne of God
  2. The Word of God
  3. The Church of God
  4. The Child of God
  5. The Cross of Christ

We have things that change, “26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12:26-27). This indicates the removal of things that have been made. Are we trusting in man-made things?

The Throne of God cannot be shaken.

God is on the throne. The Psalms have a great deal to say about God’s sovereignty (e.g. Psalm 103:19, 47:8). God’s throne is unshakeable. Perhaps an anxious Christian or a sceptical non-Christian would say these verses just refer to the Old Testament. There is a difference between then and now, but humanity is exactly the same – exceedingly sinful. The main thing that hasn’t changed is God is the same yesterday, today and forever. We are not the same as we were yesterday, or we will be tomorrow. God is the same. He was on the throne in the Psalms and He is on the throne now. Revelation talks of some things happening now and some things in the future, At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.” (Revelation 4:2). The One on the throne is the One seated on the throne before existence. All the horrors of the world can come crashing down on us, but God will laugh. He and His throne are unshakeable. What if Covid strikes again and gets worse, or another disease comes? If it does, then we can rest in the joy and the fact that the Lord God is sovereign.

  • The Word of God cannot be shaken.

There are three ways to talk of the Word of God:
              Jesus is the Word,
              the Word speaks of God’s promises, which are unshakeable,
              God’s Word – the Bible.

All 66 books of the Bible were written by God. No man who wrote a book in the bible was the same as another man. There are different styles of writing but all the books are written by God Himself. We have the very words of God. I’m not sure we, as Christians, appreciate that today. When we open the Bible, God is literally speaking to us. When it is preached, God preaches. When a preacher says, ‘Today is the day of salvation,’ that is God speaking. You are hearing God Himself.  1 Peter 1 underlines this truth. God’s Word will never fail or falter. We weren’t saved by hearing a human bit of good news, but by hearing the divine news, the heavenly news, spoken straight from the mouth of God. People may feel Christianity is on the way out, but these are feelings against the Word of God itself. We can tell people with confidence about Jesus, our Saviour. His Word will accomplish what it set out to do – to save souls.

  • The Church of God cannot be shaken.

The Church is not a literal building. The real Church of God is His people. If we are believers, we are Christ’s Bride and He is our Bridegroom (Revelation 19). We will be united to Him at the marriage supper. Stunning! We will be blessed to be at the marriage supper of the Lamb. If you’re a Christian and leaning on the finished work of Christ, you’re a member of heaven. We’ve been given access now.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” (Hebrews 12:28). We are meant to be grateful because we’re blessed now. We’ve entered the Kingdom. We’re joint heirs with Jesus Christ. That’s where our status lies. We are joint firstborn sons. We’re with Him and we’ll get to fully enjoy that one day in heaven. On earth, we’re just as much His church here. People in heaven are not more secure than us. There is no difference, except those in heaven see more of the eternal glory.

We may question if Christianity is really growing, but God promised, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail.’ The Church of God will not be shaken. We are the elect people of God, chosen from before the foundation of the world. Pray that God will continue to add to the local church.

  • The Child of God cannot be shaken.

We, as individuals, are so insignificant. We could crumble if there’s enough pressure. You may see a godly preacher and think you’ll never reach that point. You might compare yourself to other Christians who have been a Christian for the same amount of time as you, but they are further along in their spiritual journey. But the humble child of God cannot be shaken. When you’re in Christ you can never be lost (John 10:28-30). Whether you’ve been saved 30 seconds or thirty years, if you’re in Christ, you can never be lost.

Christ is the sinner’s surety. We’ve been given His righteousness. God takes our unrighteousness and gives us Jesus’ righteousness. We stand before God as if we’re Jesus. Jesus stood in our place so that we can stand in is place i.e. before God. We will still sin after we’ve been saved; until God gives us new bodies we’ll continue to sin. But because we’re in Christ we stand before God as if we were Jesus Himself. We still sin, badly, but it will never mean that we will ever be lost. If you’re genuinely trusting in Christ – not genuinely coming to church, genuinely singing each song, no – genuinely trusting in Christ – then you have nothing to fear. When you pray on your knees in your bedroom, He will hear you, just as He will hear every other single person praying, and He will devote all His attention to you. We don’t understand it, but it’s true.

People laughed and jeered at Jesus as He died on the cross. For those trusting in Him, His death placed you safely in God’s hands. You’ll never be shaken because you’re held safe in His unshakeable hands.

  • The Cross of Christ cannot be shaken.

If we’re not in Christ, we can and will be shaken (Hebrews 12:25). Don’t think you’ll escape Jesus because He’s in heaven and you can’t see Him! If you’re not in Christ, of course you can be shaken. You have no great work that cannot be shaken. If you’re trust isn’t in Christ, you’re in sinking sand – straight to the depths of hell.

If you’re a saved person, know this: you will never be unsaved. You have been saved through the cross, through Jesus’ sacrifice. The work of the cross still stands. When Jesus hung on the cross and said, “It is finished,” it was to say with certainty, His work of salvation was done. He has saved people. If you’re one of His people, you are saved and always will be saved. You’ve been bought and paid for by the blood of your Saviour. This is how you have been brought into the Kingdom. If you’re a Christian, that should be a great encouragement. God is unshakeable, so we are unshakeable.

If you are not trusting in Christ, what are you trusting in? Sport? Money? Family? Are these unshakeable to you? If it’s not Christ, you will lose it and lose your soul. You need to trust in Christ now. Right now. Trust on Jesus’ cry of, “It is finished.” Trust His Word that He goes to prepare a place for you and will come back for you, so you will be where He is.

September 11th 2022: Dave Evans

To watch this service, click in the link to our YouTube channel:

Psalm 90: The Eternity of God, the Brevity of Man

This is the only psalm we have written by Moses. We have no idea of the context; possibly Moses was contemplating the death of Aaron or Miriam or his own departure. It is a description on the brevity of life.

At the outset, in verses 3-6, Moses is reminding us of how God made us (Genesis 2:7). In describing the brevity of life, Moses uses some vivid picture. In verse 5 he says, “You sweep them away as with a flood.” It is like a tsunami. He goes on, “they are like a dream.” A dream can seem so real, then we awake and in a moment it’s all vanished. Thirdly, Moses speaks of the brevity of life being, “like grass that is renewed in the morning,” a familiar description for those who live in dry, arid lands. The ground can seem so barren, then the rain comes, and a swathe of green appears. But if there is no more rain, the sun rises and quickly burns it off, and the ground it back to where it was before.

Moses says this is what life is like and yet that is not seemingly our experience. We say, as we get older, that time goes faster. We also speak of a life cut short as a shock, a sadness, a surprise. Growing up in the 1950s seems a different era. We can have a long service in church. When the Queen celebrated her Platinum Jubilee, everything was about how long she had served. Now, after her passing this week, we remember her long life of service. Why then does Moses write in this way?

Moses surrounds these words with great truths, which brings these words into focus.

“Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

Psalm 90:2

These words confront us with the great difference between ourselves and God. The Sovereign, ruler of all things, above all created things, made all things. He has all power and all authority. Greater still, we are reminded this sovereign Lord is the only uncreated being. Before creation, He existed. There is no moment when He was not. The Triune God is the eternal, ever-present God. He needs no help, no support. The power to exist is in Him. At times, you can be overwhelmed the universe we live in, it’s vast size. How small we are. The universe is almost beyond our comprehension, yet it is nothing compared to God. It has a beginning and an end, but God is beyond the vastness of the universe, beyond time itself,

“For a thousand years in your sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.

Psalm 90:4

God is beyond all the constraints of time that we know. Who can grasp it? It’s far beyond human comprehension. He is the self-existent one. In God is the source of all other being. Without God, nothing exists. Moses, perhaps like no other man that has walked this earth, apart from Christ, had such a great sense of God’s greatness and God’s majesty. He saw something of that glory on Mount Sinai, when God met with him, face to face.

Moses writes these words in the light of the great truths of the God we worship, in the one who is from everlasting to everlasting. Moses reminds us that our lives are so frail, so quickly passed, but a vapour, a dream by comparison.

Moses’ contemplations don’t end there. He continues, verses 7-11, with a more fearful comparison – man’s sin and God’s wrath. Moses, author of Genesis, was given that inspiration of God, to record creation and Man’s Fall in the Garden of Eden. When Moses writes these words, he writes them with the full knowledge of Man’s fallenness and the curse of God upon sin (Genesis 3). Moses sees here all the consequences of Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Paul writes, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). This is the tragedy of mankind; lives are lived fully exposed, in all this rebellion, under the wrath of a holy God.

Had sin not entered the world, Adam and Eve would have lived curse free, joy-filled lives. But because of sin our lives now, as the psalmist tells us here, have been deeply affected.

“For all our days passed away in Your wrath;
We finish our years like a sigh.
The days of lur lives are seventy years;
and if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labour and sorrow;
For it is cut off, and we fly away.”

Psalm 90:9-10

The New Testament reminds us it is appointed unto men to die once, and after that, God’s judgement. Our years are filled with sorrow and trial. Moses comes to this solemn question,

“Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?”
Psalm 90:11

By nature, we don’t live in the light of the God’s anger, in the light of the fact that God is angry with sin and will punish it. The brevity of our lives becomes all the more serious when we realise that though our bodies are made of dust and will return to dust, God has breathed into us a living soul. Our soul had a beginning but it will never have an end. We have to give an account to the God of whom we have sinned against. In the light of these truths, we come finally to the enigma.The enigma, the puzzle of this psalm is found in verse 1,

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.”

How can this be? Moses is not just saying about God as our creator; he is declaring more than that. God has been our refuge in all generations. How can this God, who is angry with our sin, be our refuge?

In verses 12-17 Moses offers various petitions to God.

“So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Psalm 90:12

A heart of wisdom comes by hearing God’s words and the answer to our deepest needs and problems. True wisdom teaches us to see ourselves and the brevity of our lives as God sees it. Who knows what a day will bring forth? The Queen welcomed a new Prime Minister on Tuesday, yet she was gone on Thursday. It was unexpected. We all need to number our days. The only way we can do that is to live this day as the last, as the day we are going to meet God.

The wisdom of God teaches us to look away from ourselves,

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

Psalm 90:14

It is the love of God we need to look to. We find the fullness of this, His unfailing love, has been displayed in the steadfast love He had in sending His Son into the world. Who can grasp what this means? Jesus Christ came to dwell amongst men and take on a human body. Our God came down into this world and walked amongst men. How can the eternal God come down? Yet, He did. Paul tells us,

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,

    vindicatedby the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.”

1 Timothy 3:16

When we speak of Christmas, we speak of this great mystery of godliness. God was manifest in the flesh. The Lord of glory took the frailty of our human flesh and He lived amongst us, yet free from sin. He was the only One who didn’t deserve God’s judgement, to deserve the results of the curse and the fall. He was the One who came and stood in our place, the One who became a curse for us, to bear our sin, to suffer God’s wrath in our place.

Here alone is the answer to this puzzle. Where is that refuge in God? Where is that dwelling place for every believer? It is in Jesus Christ. It is in faith in Him. In Him we find this refuge from the storm. We discover Him to be the rock of ages. In Him we have a welcome from God, our Father and the promise of eternal security. This eternal security will last as long as God lasts. God is eternal, so our security is eternal.  

In all generations He has been our dwelling place – past, present and future. Here is the promise of eternal life. In Christ we are anchored in God, safe from all the turmoil of life, until that everlasting home is gained in heaven.

The Old Testament patriarchs believed it (Hebrews 11). Paul proclaimed it,

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer selfis wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

But it was the Lord Jesus Christ who obtained it, “I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1)

So, the question is, ‘Do you have a heart of wisdom?’ Have you seen your life in the light of God’s eternity and God’s holiness? Have you looked away from yourself to that eternal refuge, which is only found in the Lord Jesus Christ? What fills your desires and your prayers?

The psalm ends with a series of prayers.

Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!

Psalm 90:13

Do you long daily for a deeper experience of that love? Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” (Psalm 90:14). Are your prayers filled with great ambition? As Christians, we should be ambitious, “Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.” (Psalm 90:14). It is your ambition that this generation and the next generation, and the generation after, will know God’s word, will see God’s power poured out? “Let the favour of the beauty of our God be upon us.” Do you daily wake and long to be more like your Saviour? Do you long that the beauty of your Saviour might be more and more reflected in your life?

Finally, not that you will be praised by generations, but do you long that your life will be such a life that the church of God will be benefited, that your life will have established something for the people of God? “Establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:17b).

We’ve gone through a week of great change, but we are reminded our God is unchanging. Because of that, we are reminded that the gospel is unchanging. The gospel today is the same as it was in Paul’s days, and the same as it will be until that great day when Christ returns. The offer today, our Saviour says, is “Come unto me, all who labour and are heavy-laden. And I will give you rest.

September 4th 2022: Mike Viccary

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Jeremiah 17: 12-14

Jeremiah was a prophet who had the dubious privilege of prophesying when Israel was about to go into captivity. Here we have the chapter opening with a very clear state of the nation. In verses 5-8 a great contrast is shown between those who trust mankind and those who trust God. There are only two religions: trusting in man – humanism, man-made ideas, or trusting in God. The contrast between the two kinds of people is followed by a statement about man. Then we come to a glorious statement of the Lord and His rule, in verses 12-13, and what will happen to these two types of people. This is followed in verses 14-18 by Jeremiah’s prayer. The passage ends on keeping and breaking the Sabbath day. This is to remind us that the law still stands. Christ has kept the law for us.

In verses 12-14 we see:            The glory of God
                                                 Those who forsake the Lord
                                                 A plea for healing and salvation

  1. The Glory of God.

In chapter 9 we read, ‘Thus says the Lord:

“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches.”’

This is a picture of the glory of the Lord. There are three points to note here in Jeremiah 17:12-14:

a). The glorious high throne from the beginning.

“A glorious high throne from the beginning
Is the place of our sanctuary.”
Jeremiah 17:12

This is a remarkable description. God rules not in Jerusalem, Moscow or Parliament, He rules from heaven. God’s rules has always been. From the beginning there has been this glorious high throne which is the place of our sanctuary (Revelation 4/5, a picture of the throne room in heaven). The Lord Himself is our sanctuary. At this time, Jerusalem was going to be over-run by Nebuchadnezzer and the temple was going to be destroyed. Jeremiah’s contemporary, Ezekiel, prophesied at the time when they had been over-run. Whilst Ezekiel is prophesying, the Lord says to him, “Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Although I have cast them far off among the Gentiles, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet I shall be a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.” (Ezekiel 11:16). Remember, the Lord Jesus told the woman of Samaria that it was no longer in a location, Jerusalem or Samaria, that people would worship; it was in spirit and truth.

 The glorious high throne, where Christ has ascended – He who took our sins and paid for them in full – because we are in Him by faith, we are seated with Him in heaven. Remarkable! This book is written in Hebrew, and we miss the beauty of the Hebrew language; it is a very melodic, alliterative language. This is something to get excited about. A glorious high throne, from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary. Where do you live? I live with Christ, in heaven. The sanctuary is the holy place. If you’re in Christ, you’ve dealt with the issue of sin.

This throne is spoken of, particularly in the Psalms: 11:4, 104:19, 47:8, 93:2, 97:2, 89. God is sovereign. Whilst we rejoice that we dwell with God, judgement will come (Psalm 9:7). Given that we are with Him, this is emphasised in Hebrews 12:22-24, we are in that throne room by the Spirit. We too have the authority that’s vested in God. We have power over the devil (James) but can’t do it on our own, we need Him every moment. You have the power over the sin in your life. Go to the Father and you will have power. Why? Christ has paid for our sin. We also have the power of preaching, teaching and sharing the gospel.

b). The law of the hope of Israel.

“O Lord, the hope of Israel,
All who forsake You shall be ashamed.”
Jeremiah 17:13a

The law of the hope of Israel (also in Jeremiah 14:8). The law is our hope. We are concerned with knowing Christ. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ He is our hope. It’s a sure hope (Hebrews 10:19). Peter describes it as a living hope which comes from new birth. This hope is knowing Christ in His fulness. One day I will see Him! Paul talks about the ‘hope of the call.’

We’re given this hope as a gift. What shall we do with it?
– Be ready to give a defence. How are you going to show or tell other people? I’d like to encourage all of you to come along to Bible Study.
– Having this hope leads us to further purification. ‘Be holy for I am holy.’
– Hope also comes with patience (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Because we know Christ, we know He is going to do all things just at the right time.

c). The fountain of living waters (see also Jeremiah 2).

“Those who depart from Me
Shall be written in the earth,
Because they have forsaken the Lord,
The fountain of living waters.”

Jeremiah 17:13b

Astonishing! Every time we take our eyes off Christ, we stumble. The nation of Israel had gone far, far away from God. This fountain of living waters speaks of pure satisfaction. It is the Lord God Himself. The fountain continually supplies the water. Running water is living water, which is fresh. Christ, our Triune God, supplies life. He made us, we did not make ourselves. Living waters are the very source of life.

These are three remarkable pictures of our Lord.

  • Two things for those who forsake the Lord.

“O Lord, the hope of Israel,
All who forsake You shall be ashamed.

Those who depart from Me
Shall be written in the earth,

Because they have forsaken the Lord,
The fountain of living waters.”
Jeremiah 17:13

  1. They will be shamed. Sadly, Jeremiah had to report that they sinned with no shame (chapters 6/8). Sadly, that’s the day in which we live. Adam and Eve had shame when they sinned. We only declare sinfulness, for example, pride celebrations. Even though that is the case, there will come a day when it will be shamed. The truth will win. Eventually, they will fail. When the light of Christ will shine on the world, it will show the world’s ugliness.
  2. Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth.” This is in contrast to those whose names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. There is condemnation for those who forsake the Lord (Revelation 20:15). ‘Your name will be written in the earth’ means you’re earthbound. The Lord offers gospel calls for people. If they continually reject Him, the Lord will harden their hearts. They will be eternally condemned to destruction.
  • The start of Jeremiah’s prayer: a plea for healing and salvation.

“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
Save me, and I shall be saved,
For You are my praise.”

Jeremiah 17:14

Here is the grace of God. What a confidence to say that. But remember the phrase at the end, “For you are my praise.” Is Christ / God the thing that you want most? It’s worth pausing and thinking about. People who put Christ first, ‘Behold His glory.’ (John). Paul writes, ‘God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14). See also Colossians 2:3 and Song of Songs 5:10.

What is your praise? If you have the confidence to say Christ is everything, then you can say, “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved.” To heal is to mend or to stitch together. We can pray for healing, but it’s not just the healing of the body, it’s also healing of the mind. Jeremiah was the weeping prophet. He says, ‘Heal me Lord and I shall be healed.’

The work of Christ on the cross was completed and finished. Nothing needs to be supplement that. He paid the price for sin. If you trust Him, all of your sins have been cast out. The Bible speaks of new birth and being regenerated. When you accept Christ, you will be born again. At that moment when you say yes, that’s the moment when you accept Him and receive Him, you will be born again in the Spirit. Then, you need your life to be set on this course.

Along with new life comes hope and patience (2 Peter 1). Eventually, one day you will see Him in heaven. Salvation has this three-fold aspect:

Christ saved us 2,000 years ago. Fully.

You were saved at that moment when you came to the point in your heart of accepting Him.

You will be saved when He comes again or you are taken into glory.

Hebrews 10:14 is a depiction of what happens in salvation, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” God has done it! You can say, ‘Save me and I will be saved.’ I encourage you to keep on and trust Him.

August 28th 2022: Phil Swann

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Psalm 61

In the midst of all the challenges of life, where does your certainty rest? My certainty rests on all Jesus has done. The Christian’s confidence rests on Jesus Christ, on who He is and what He has done for us. The Christian hope rests on the objective claims of scripture concerning who Jesus Christ is, and what He has done.

This psalm begins in desperation,

“From the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Psalm 61:2

It’s very powerful language. David, the writer of this psalm, is reflecting on where he goes in times of difficulty and need. He faces overwhelming challenges. He is at the limit of his resources and ability to cope. Yet wonderfully, he knows where to go. Where do you go when you feel overwhelmed in life? Family, friends? Or maybe life gets so demanding you just want to get away from life and rely on escapism? Maybe you just turn in on yourself and cut yourself from other people, perhaps blames others and become bitter? With all the challenges, difficulties, and pain that you feel in life, may be your way of coping is simply to blame other people.

This psalm reminds us that that the Christian is not insulated or somehow protected from difficulties. David is a man whose heart is set on God. God uses him remarkably and unusually as a king. Yet, here he speaks about crying out to God as he feels his heart is growing faint. Some people believe that if something bad is going on in your life, you must be a bad person. That was the problem with Job’s friends. The Bible tells us Job was a righteous man. There was no-one like Job on the face of the planet. Yet God, in the mystery of His ways in dealing with Job, allows all the precious things in Job’s life, to be taken from him. His friends turn up to comfort him. The best thing they do is spend seven days sitting in the dust with him, not saying anything. But as soon as they opened their mouths, they add to his distress! One of his friends turns to Job and simply says, ‘Well, you must have sinned. Repent. Confess your sin, that you’re in such a mess because you must be a terrible sinner.’

Sadly, some people think that in life – that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Sometimes, as Christians, we can be caught up in that. We can find ourselves saying, ‘Why has God allowed this into my life?’ We can begin to believe, in the darkness of those moments, that He is punishing us because of the evil that we have done. The reality is, as Christians, none of us are insulated from tragedy and suffering.

Paul, writing his second letter to Timothy in the New Testament reminds us, Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12). Everyone. If your heart is set on following Jesus Christ, you will know difficult times, trying times, times of great testing.

If you widen the lens, sometimes God actually allows suffering in our lives to move us on in the Christian life. James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” (James 1:2). Difficulties can come from all quarters. There are times when God allows difficulties in our lives so He can make us mature, complete, and not lacking in anything, so He can make us strong in faith. This psalm reflects this in many ways, in how the Christian responds in times of great difficulty, when we feel our hearts are overwhelmed.

Clearly, David needs help. He places himself before God in a very important posture – he is moved to prayer. That’s the ultimate response as a believer. As David prays, he believes that God will hear his cry. He prays with great confidence. He is asking God for something in the midst of all his troubles. What is very clear is he is not asking God to make everything all right. We often pray to God, and we want God to respond in a very precise way. There are times when we have a terrible problem, and we want God to take it away. David prays for something deeper – the presence of God in the midst of his sufferings.

In this psalm there are a series of places where we are invited to find comfort.

“From the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I.”
Psalm 61:2

Lead me to the rock.’ This is an image of security, of finding God as our rock. This is similar to psalm 40. Imagine yourself in a situation where you are bogged down. There is need for solid ground. Security and stability is what we point to, the opposite of sinking sand. Here is a place where we know we can stand and be secure and safe. In life we can feel the rug being pulled from under our feet, feelings of uncertainty and struggling when all the things we felt were secure are suddenly taken away from us. It’s very natural to feel like this in times of difficulty, when we are disorientated, uncertain and struggling.

David, in this situation, is full of faith, believing that the God he calls is able to lead him to ‘the rock that is higher than I.’ It’s a reminder of the confidence that the Christian has, that we don’t face our difficulties and struggles on our own. There is a place, indeed there is one, who is higher than us. He is mighty to save. We have Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead. He has overcome the final enemy. Whatever struggle comes your way, Jesus is greater than that. There is confession of need here. God doesn’t expect us to face our difficulties under our own steam, under our own resources. Instead, in times like that, we are to call on Him.

1 Corinthians 10 reflects on stories of the Old Testament, of the children of Israel in the wilderness, wandering around, being kept alive by the grace of God. Paul, writing here, tells us that the rock that sustained the children of Israel is Christ. We build our lives on one who has broken the power of death.

As well as being a rock, He is a strong tower against the foe. This is a reminder, in life our difficulties can be the result of our enemies. In life we have our foes, our enemies, who seek to discourage us, to mock us. It is hard. Compared to the 100,000s in Pembrokeshire now, we are a small gathering of people. The accusation comes, ‘Look how small you are.’

In Ephesians 6 Paul calls these ‘’fiery darts of the evil one.” They are designed to spread chaos and confusion, to spread uncertainty amongst us. There are times of doubt and difficulty which can come over you as a Christian. But there is a refuge for us – a strong tower, a place that will not fall. David tells us Christ is our refuge. There is, in Jesus Christ, a strong tower, one who is impregnable to the assault of Satan.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” (Colossians 2:13) Jesus Christ is not just one who can comfort you in the face of your enemies, but He invites us to run to Him so He can be our refuge against the enemy. It’s a wonderful place of safety.

We have a rock, we have a strong tower, but then in the next verse David says,

“Let me dwell in your tent forever!
 Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!”

(Psalm 61:4).

The tent is very different to a strong tower. Strong towers are built for military defence and fortification. But the tent is a place designed for a place of care, comfort, kindness, family and friends. A tent in the Old Testament, in many ways is a loaded word. David writes ‘your tent’ – God‘s tent, the tabernacle, the dwelling place of God amongst His people during their wandering in the wilderness. It was a place of comfort, the place of reassurance, the place where the presence of God was known uniquely, the focus of all God’s promises to His people. So, to all His people wandering in the wilderness, it was always a visible reminder of God with them.

In the New Testament, the focus is off tent and tabernacle and onto the temple. What David wanted more than anything right then, in the midst of his distress, was to be with God. He wanted to know His presence, His reassurance, what it was to worship Him in the midst of great difficulty and great opposition. As a Christian, in the midst of crisis, you are invited to know God and worship Him, to know what it is to dwell in His presence.

David longs to dwell in His tent forever, to know warmth, love and security. No-where in scripture does God say He will take all the trouble away – until we are with Him in glory. But in the midst of all our troubles we may know His reassurance, we may dwell in His tent. We may feel His protection. He is with us and will never leave us or forsake us. Paul’s wonderful anthem at the end of Romans 8 says he is convinced that, from the long list he gives, nothing can threaten our sense of peace in this life. He ends up, having looked at life and death, angels and principalities, things future and things past, and anything else in all creation, convinced that none of these things can separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus.

These are the things we are to long for, to hunger and thirst for in times of difficulty. These are the things we are to pray for. We can always be guaranteed, as Christians, a welcome into His presence, to feel His reassurance and comfort.

When David’s heart is overwhelmed, he focuses on the images of the rock, the strong tower and the tent. His fourth and final image in this psalm is a wonderful, tender picture of a mother bird, “Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!” (Psalm 61:4b). Wonderful!
What a variety of imagery. Here is the desire to find refuge and safety. This is our basic need in times of distress.  Here it is presented in the most tender of ways. 

There are times in life when you and I need to run into that strong tower and know that there is an enormous strong door that can be shut tight, locked secure and we can bury ourselves in that strong tower and know that nothing can get us. But there are also times in life, as Christians, when we need to know the tenderness of His protection. He is both mighty and tender. Here we have the shelter of His wings. Jesus picks this up powerfully. Just before His crucifixion, as He looks out over Jerusalem He says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34).

In our distresses, as Christians, there are times when God provides the strong tower. There are times when He comes to us, as this illustration shows us, as a mother bird, so tender. The difference between the tension of the tower and the mother bird is that in the tower is the objective truths of scripture and security – the things that we know and believe about God in the face of the accusations of our enemies. But here, with the mother bird, it’s the warmth of His life, His person. There is something very intimate here. There are times in life when you’re distressed as a Christian, and Christ comes to you with such warmth and tenderness, ultimately pointing us to His unfailing love, which was made manifest upon the cross.

The comfort that we have in the face of difficulty is that we, as Christians, have a rock to go to that is higher than us. We have a strong tower to enter into, which cannot be penetrated. We have a tent where we are always welcome and wings that will shelter us. All of this rests on the finished work of Jesus Christ. Be encouraged this day. You are not alone. He has bought you by His blood. He has promised to get you home into glory. In the meantime, He is with you and He will not fail you.

August 14th 2022: Peter Gleave

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Joshua 3:14-4:24

What happens next? This question is asked in many different circumstances in life. You can be in the doctor’s surgery and you get the news you don’t want to hear and you ask, ‘What happens now?’ Or when you retire after doing something the same way every day for forty years, all of a sudden you ask, ‘What happens now?’ When a relationship breaks down, you think, ‘What happens now?’ It’s a question that we are confronted with at various points in our lives. We have to answer it. That is the question that you as a church in Penuel, in your 200th year, have been asking yourselves. As you’ve done two centuries, what happens now? What do we do next? Maybe you’ve got a plan. That’s great. If not, I want us to try and answer that question from what we’ve read this morning about these stones and the incident that happened in the life of Joshua and the nation of Israel.

Isn’t it amazing – in the case of the Israelites, who have been wandering around, led in the desert for forty years, they arrive in the springtime, at the worst possible time, to cross the River Jordan. They’ve had forty years together, arrive and it’s a terrible time; the snow on Mount Hermon is melting and the spring rains have come. The river that’s normally a nice little river going along, is at places now a mile wide. The floodplain is a mile wide. There’s no way to get across. There’s 2 million or more of these people waiting to cross into the Promised Land. I can hear them on the banks of the River Jordan asking, ‘What happens now?’

Isn’t God good! He has a plan. He said to Joshua, ‘I want you to tell the priests to carry the Ark of the Covenant and the moment the feet step into the water, the water will pile up.’ It did. The impossible happened. We are told in the Bible the water piled up sixteen miles up- stream from where they were, in a place called Adam, in the town of Zarethan. So, the water was cut off sixteen miles upstream and five miles down to the Sea of Arabah, down to the Dead Sea. There was now a twenty-one mile dry riverbed, from which all these people could cross into the Promised Land. They didn’t see that coming!

God has got a plan. Isn’t it comforting to you and me, on the threshold of a third century of service, or as you receive that news in the doctor’s surgery, or whatever time in life when that question comes your way, ‘What happens now?’ to know that God has always got a plan. And God is in control of that plan. You and I can follow that plan. It will be for our good as it leads us to our own promised land. As Christians, we are heading to the promised land; we’re going home one day.

In this story today there are stones. The people are building a memorial. If I said to you, ‘I’ll meet you for coffee on the 11th November,’ it would spring into your mind that that is Remembrance Day. Probably you would see a cenotaph with names of people on it, poppies, and there might be a memorial. This year, on 23rd October, it’s 200 years of your church. You know the date.

In this story, the whole nation crossed over. When God opened up the way, nobody was left behind. Everybody made it into the Promised Land. Everybody made it across the river that had, so far, been impossible to cross. God’s plan meant that everybody who was following Him was saved and made it home. Isn’t that an encouragement to you and I? Whatever we face in life, or as a church, that God has got a plan and that one day we are going home. We are going to be in the promised land.

The stones had to be picked up. God asked Joshua to get twelve blokes, one from each of the tribes, to pick up a stone, put it on their shoulder and take it to the place where they would stand that night, on the other side of the Jordan. I want us to notice that the whole nation of Israel was involved. Not everybody could have picked up a stone – two million would have been too many. However, God got everybody involved by them being represented. Everybody had a part to play. Everybody was doing their bit. Everybody was included. There was unity amongst the whole tribe.

The whole nation was moving together with one common purpose, heading into the Promised Land. It is important to remember that you and I need to do the same. You and I each have a job to do. We might be all different in our churches but each of us has got a job to do. God has called us to a work of service. He needs each of us to work together. He needs us to do it in unity. We have a common purpose; we all belong to Jesus and we are all heading home to the promised land. We must all be united as we do so.

There is a story about the tools in a carpenter’s workshop. They were having a meeting. Brother Hammer was presiding. Everybody wanted to have a say. Brother Hammer started off, then someone said, ‘You’ve got to go because you’re far too noisy, you just keep banging on. Get out of the chair.’ Brother Hammer replied by saying, ‘That’s OK. But Brother Screw, you should also go because you have to keep turning round and round and round to get him to do anything.’ Brother Screw became offended and said, ‘Actually, that’s not very fair. What about the Plane? All his work is on the surface. There’s nothing deep about him.’ Someone else said, ‘Well, what about the Ruler? He’s always messaging everybody thinking he’s always right.’ Then there’s Sandpaper, who is rough and keeps rubbing everybody up the wrong way. Just then, the carpenter from Nazareth came through the door, put on his apron, and started his day’s work. He picked up the hammer, the screwdriver, the screw and all those other tools in the workshop and made a pulpit from which the gospel could be preached. At the end of the day Brother Saw said, ‘Brothers, I think we’re all needed. We’ve all got our part to play. We’re all involved in the work.’

That’s true of the church, isn’t it. We’re all involved in it. We’ve all got a part to play. So, let’s make sure, as we start our next part of the journey here at Penuel, that we are united, that we have common purpose, that we are looking to the future, heading in the right direction. Everybody has a part to play.

Secondly, we need to notice where these stones came from. God said, ‘I want you to pick up the stones from near where the Ark was stood in the middle of the riverbed.’ So, they were to pick up the stones, carry them out and put them on the other side. There is some debate as to whether the stones are being built in the river, on the edge or were there two memorials (v9). It doesn’t matter. The fact is there were twelve stones being built into a memorial. These stones were symbols of what God had done. The stones themselves are of no value. They were symbolic of what God had done at that place, on that day, for His people. That is why they were important.

You and I have got similar symbols. We have the cross. We actually choose, as our faith, an instrument of Roman torture. But the reason we look to it is because of what Jesus did there, what God did through Jesus on the cross. Because on the day He opened up the promised land. Just as the River Jordan was opened up into the Promised Land, so our promised land, heaven and glory, is opened because of what Jesus did at the cross.

It says that the stones are still there to this day. Are they, as a lasting memorial? I don’t think they are. I don’t know where they are. Does it mean that God has failed? No. Because 3,500 years later we have just read about them. Somebody wrote it down in a book called Joshua, which is included in the Bible, which is the word of God, which stands forever. It’s the truth and from there we find out the truth. There it is. It’s a memorial to God for what He did on that occasion. God doesn’t open the Red Sea everyday or the River Jordan every day. He doesn’t do miraculous things like that every day. But He uses symbols to point back to those occasions, the things that should keep us going.

We have communion, a symbol which points us back to the cross. It reminds us of what Jesus has done for us. As we go into our next 100 years of service here, we have got to continue to meet around that table. It is so important because it points us to the cross, it keeps us in mind of Jesus and what he did for us, and it keeps you and I united. We can’t have that together unless we meet in the right way. We have to be right with each other. We have to keep on looking to the cross because it keeps us focused as we go forward for Jesus.

Thirdly, the order came to collect these stones. Did you notice how it happened? God told Joshua, Joshua told the twelve and it happened. We also read that that day Joshua, God’s appointed leader, was revered by all the people. If we go back to chapter one we find out that God had appointed Joshua. But it wasn’t until this day that he was revered amongst all the people, as Moses had been revered. I wonder why Joshua was being revered? Because he had done exactly what God had wanted him to do. In exactly the same way, Jesus did exactly what God wanted Him to do; He came to earth and died on the cross for you and me. This was the way that God had chosen to open up the way. We can see it through the chain of command, the order came from God in both cases.

There is a chain of command for you and I; at the top of it is always God. It’s not the Archbishop of Canterbury, the pastor or the deacons, although they have a part to play. We only have one leader and that’s Jesus. We look to Him and we’re to revere Him. Why? Because He’s doing exactly what God wants Him to do. In that process He saved our lives, and has given us an opportunity to follow and serve Him. Our responsibility is to follow Him.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? At the end of His ministry Jesus asked His disciples to tell everybody in the world about Him. Are you doing the job that you’ve been commanded to do? That’s a standing order from our commander in chief. There are a lot of problems in the world: floods, droughts, wars, fires that are affecting farmers who are now going to be out of pocket, problems with anxiety and depression in our society, food and heating, the cost of living. It’s tough. People haven’t got the answers. But friends, you have. Jesus is the answer to the problem.

Jesus can make a difference in people’s lives. He can bring forgiveness, hope, joy and peace – even in the middle of the crisis. It doesn’t mean necessarily that the crisis will go away, but Jesus will be with you and them in it. We have to tell them. Our mission, our standing order, is that we go on mission, and we tell the people.

I don’t know what your plan is for the next twelve months, but here’s a thought for you to pray about. At least once a month, why not get an outreach event for the next twelve months, that reaches the needs of this community. Invite them to something different every month, to tell them about Jesus. Pray about it.

The stones were collected by one person from each tribe. They went into the river. They had been obedient, and God had opened the way. The moment their feet touched that water, the water was no longer there. Isn’t that amazing! Some people love to try and explain away the miracles of God. Some say it may have been a landslip. It may well have been. There have been landslips in the River Jordan. There was one in 1267 which lasted for ten hours. The water stopped flowing. It happened again in 1906 and again in 1927. Is it coincidence then? Well, the water piled up in Adam, 16 miles upstream. I’m no mathematician but I know that if the water stops 16 miles away, it’s going to be a few hours before it’s actually dry at this bit. The moment they put their feet in it, it was dry. They all walked across, dry. The moment the priest got out, when they were all on the other side, safely in the Promised Land, the water flooded again. Doesn’t that prove that that was God’s timing. Nobody else could have done that. This is God’s power at work.

When the people went, the people hurried over. I don’t know whether it was because they would panic because they were fearful of when the water was coming back, or because they were just so excited, having been waiting to get to the Promised Land for so long. Whatever it was, notice that they hurried, it was quick. Nothing impeded them, not the water, weeds or anything. God had opened the way, and nothing impeded them on their journey to the Promised Land.

Iris Sankey, the famous guy who used to write loads of hymns, was on a Delaware steamboat on Christmas Eve 1875. On this occasion he was quite famous because he’d been caught on a photograph with Dwight Moody, the evangelist. People now knew who he was and who Dwight Moody was. The people on the boat spotted him and asked would he sing one of his songs. He replied that he wouldn’t sing one of his own songs but would sing ‘Saviour, like a shepherd lead us.’ One of the lines in the hymn he so beautifully sang was, ‘We are thine, who Thou befriend us, Be the guardian of our way.’ After he sang, a guy came out of the shadows and asked him, ‘Were you in the Union army?’ Sankey replied that he was, in the spring of 1860. The man responded by saying he was in the Confederate army. He asked Sankey if he remembered doing picket duty in the spring of 1862. Sankey remembered this clear night. The man replied that he too was on duty that night. He continued, ‘You were in the moonlight, I was in the shadows. I raised my musket, and you were in my sight. Just at the point I was about to pull the trigger you started to sing the song you’ve just sung. I thought to myself, ‘I may as well listen and watch before I shoot.’ As Sankey sang and the man listened to those words, it reminded the man of his mother, who used to sing that song to him as a child. He continued, ‘I remembered all that my mother taught me about God. At that point I lowered my musket. At the end of that song, I couldn’t shoot you.’ He explained, “I have reasoned that Lord, who is able to save men from certain death, must be great and mighty and powerful.”

Along the way friends, you and I will face certain problems, but God can bring us through those problems, He can open the way. The way has been opened by Jesus, ultimately to get us to our promised land. Whatever problems we encounter on the way, there is nothing that is going to divert us from getting there. Along the way things might happen. Your life might actually be spared to be used by God in the reaching of others, just as it was on that night, through that song. So, what happens now? You go forward, you keep following Jesus. You keep on being obedient to what He wants you to do.

The stones were dated. We know the date of your chapel anniversary. When you go to memorials, there are dates and the reason why there is a memorial. The date attached to these stones, when all this happened, was the 10th day of the first month. This would be the 10th day of the month of Nissan. I began to wonder why this was included in this portion of scripture. It was an important date because of what happened. But do you know what else happened on that day? 40 years, prior to that day, the Israelites were still captured in Egypt. God spoke to them saying, ‘I want you to get a lamb. I want you to make sure it’s ready for the 14th of the month, when you are going to celebrate Passover. So, effectively, the 10th of the first month of Nissan was the release from captivity of those people. It would have been the first thing they were being asked to do to prepare to leave. 40 years, to the very day, was the day they actually arrived in the Promised Land. Isn’t that amazing. It’s important that you and I remember these dates.

We can look back and see the day that Jesus saved us. We look back to the day that Jesus died on the cross because it’s important. We look back and we celebrate. Where best to celebrate than together as Christians in church on a Sunday? Some people are struggling to come back to church after Covid. I think some of us have become a bit consumerist in our views and think it’s ok to watch services on the tv. No! Don’t do that. You’ve got to be together. It’s what God wants. It’s important that you come together to worship and praise God. It is the single, most important event in your life every week – being in church on Sunday, together as the Lord’s people, as His family. Make sure that we continue to meet in this way. Go forward. Look forward. If you’ve got Bible Study on a Thursday, be there too. All of you, be there too because it matters. Because you can share your story, your encouragement, your experience, with the other people. That becomes a blessing to them. It also means that when people start to meet together, because something great has happened, other people outside get interested because they want to know what’s going on in your life that you’ve got, that they haven’t. It’s a double purpose. It’s’ benefit for the church that enables the Kingdom to grow.  Be in church, worship God together, celebrate those dates that are on the stones.

Finally, number six: the reason for the stones. It says in the last verse of the portion of scripture we read, ‘When your kids ask you what these stones are all about, tell them that this was the place where God opened up the River Jordan in order for you and I to make it to the Promised Land. Tell future generations, pass the message on to future generations.’

Can I commend you for the work you’re doing amongst the children and young people in this church. It’s brilliant! I want every single one of you to be involved in it. You may say, ‘Doing young people’s work isn’t my thing, I haven’t got time for that.’ You may not need to be here in person, but you could stop where you are and pray, pray for those who are doing it. You could get a list of the names of those kids that come, and you could pray for everyone of them. You can all play a part. If those children come, and they come to know Jesus, they will bring their own parents. I think others will come. Keep on with the work of the children and young people. It’s vital. You must keep going.

It’s not just about children and young people; we’re all involved. Verse 24 sums it up, “This has happened that all might know.” God wanted everybody to know, not just the Israelites. He wanted people who saw that pile of stones to know that the God of the Israelites was powerful, that He was the one who had done it. He wanted the whole world to know about it. This is where everyone looks down at the pews – you are called to be a missionary. You’re going to think, ‘I’m not going to want to go abroad.’ It’s not about being abroad, it’s about being a missionary here. It’s the command that Jesus gave. We can be missionaries where we work, where we live, where we serve our community as a church. We are missionaries for the wider world. Why? So that everybody knows how powerful God is.

This verse also tells us that the Israelites, and you and I, must fear the Lord. Is it something we’re going to be frightened of? No. It means that we regard Him as holy, full of majesty, awesome and powerful. We revere Him and acknowledge Him as such. We need to build the Kingdom of God, and for you and I to be reminded who it is that we worship and we serve. What are we called to do right now? We’ve got to build a memorial. We’ve got to be missionaries and we’ve got to build the memorial.

What happens now? You’ve all got to get involved. We’ve all got to be united. We have that common purpose – we’re all heading to the promised land. We’ve got to commune and work together. We’ve got to share that table and remind ourselves, by looking at the cross, that you and I need to be right with God and we need to be right with each other. We need to follow Jesus’ command.

We need to be out there, on mission in this community. We need to be obedient to the call of God. Whatever that individual call is on your life, whether it is here or elsewhere, it is doing what God is asking you to do. Mark the days. Mark the dates when God has done great things. Come together and worship Him – for the day He saved you, the day that He blessed this church. Come together. Share these things with each other and glorify Him through it. Be there on a Sunday. Be there on a Thursday. If you start a meeting on a Monday, Tuesday and Friday, be there as well. Be at all of them and encourage each other. Tell the kids. Keep on telling the kids. Keep on telling the families of Roch. Keep on telling everybody in this community. Be missionaries. Know His power at work and fear the Lord.

The moment, the door for the opportunity for you to serve God, is open. Don’t miss the opportunity. This is your time to carry the torch in this church that’s been going for 200 years. It won’t always be there for you. Take it while you can. Make sure you are working for the Lord today.

May be God will take you on a different path than you thought you were going to take. Go with it. Go on that journey knowing that one day you are going to arrive at home anyway. But along the way, let it be exciting. Let it be something that God uses you to do for His Kingdom, in order to build a memorial that’s going to bring Him glory. I pray that you will set off this next year full of courage and that God will bless you.

August 21st 2022: John Mann

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1 Samuel 2:1-11: Hannah’s Song of Praise

Hannah has suffered the distress of childlessness and the scornful abuse of Elkanah’s other wife, who has children. But then Hannah is blessed with a son and Samuel is born. Hannah’s joy is unbounded, her joy is complete. These are some of the happiest days of Hannah’s life. As Samuel grew, Hannah’s love for Samuel grew. But, constantly in the back of her mind was her vow to God, And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11).

Hannah was a godly woman. She was a loving mother. I’m sure during the early days, she must have had thought in her mind, ‘Does God really expect me to give my son to Him, for all the days of his life? Does God know what this means to me? Does He really understand how I feel about giving up my only son?’ God understood. He knew the pain of giving up a son because He had also made a vow, back in eternity, of giving up His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus.

Hannah was sending Samuel to a good place, a welcoming place, into the care of Eli the priest, the servant of God. God would send His Son into a fallen world of hatred and rejection, to be abused and mocked by the servants of Satan.

Samuel would know safety and security under the protection of God’s servant, a life of privilege and blessing. Jesus had no-where to lay down His head, no place to call His own, raised to a life of depravation, of hatred and pain.

Samuel would live to a ripe old age. Jesus would be cut down in His prime, nailed to a cruel Roman cross.

Samuel would become a great example of faithfulness, but Samuel was still a sinner. Jesus, in spite of everything He endured, the torment and the temptation, remained perfect in thought, word and deed.

Hannah must have thought, ‘Surely there must be another way.’ God knew all along that there was no other way to provide salvation for sinners. Jesus is the only way. Jesus is the only one ever to fulfil the law of God. His spotless life was the only sacrifice good enough. God knew what the cost of salvation would be to Himself and to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hannah’s love for Samuel enabled her to give him up. For her, it was the deepest act of love to dedicate Samuel to God for his life. The deepest act we can do for our loved ones is to commit them to God in our prayers, in our example, as we seek to live for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. The greatest thing we can do for our loved ones is to dedicate them to the Lord.

As Hannah packed her bags and headed off to Shiloh, taking Samuel with her, it was with a measure of sadness but also with joy in the knowledge that there could be no better thing for him than a lifetime of dedication to God. So, she was able to say, “So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he shall be given over to the Lord.’ (1 Samuel 1:28). Is that your desire for your loved ones, for your children?

Hannah prays this prayer of thanksgiving to God. There are 4 distinct parts.

  1. Hannah praises God for His sovereignty.

She is moved to begin with words of praise. Even as she’s parted from the son she loves, she knows it’s ultimately for his good. She finds strength in the Lord. Hannah is weak, frail and saddened but she finds strength in the Lord. She gladly acknowledges it was God who overcame her barrenness. God’s power is greater than circumstances. He is always loving and faithful with me, therefore, we can trust Him.

  • Hannah praise God for His character.

“There is none holy like the Lord:
    for there is none besides you;
    there is no rock like our God.”
1 Samuel 2:2

God has no rivals in His purity. God alone is perfect. He alone is the one who has done all things well. David also acknowledges this, “This God – his way is perfect.” (2 Samuel 22:31a). Look to the Lord alone, the One who sustains us. When we cry to Him, He always answers. He is the rock, the solid foundation on which we can build our lives. We can lean upon the grace of God, in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hannah also declares God’s glorious omniscience,

“Talk no more so very proudly,
    let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by him actions are weighed.”
1 Samuel 2:3

Hannah knew God wasn’t ignorant of her situation or the cost of her sacrifice. Hannah’s faithfulness was rewarded by God. This barren woman was only not only rewarded with Samuel, but six other children. Seven children in all – the Bible’s number of fullness and perfection. We too have an omniscient Saviour, one who has felt all our heartaches, trails and difficulties, all our joys. Our Saviour has been through every battle we are likely to go through. Jesus is aware of everything we are going through. He promises not only to keep us but to reward our faith. Hannah was a barren woman. We live in barren times. Are you concerned for your own children in these wicked days?

  • Hannah praises God for His transforming power.

We see this in verses 4-8, where she presents three different example of God turning the tables. Our God is the God who transforms and turns things around. We see a turning around of strength,

“The bows of the mighty are broken,
    but the feeble bind on strength.”
1 Samuel 2:4

Very often, we can feel defeated by our circumstances. It seems to us that the powers of darkness are those with the bows in their hands, and the church are those who are stumbling. Hannah reminds us God is sovereign and supremely able to turn things round in a moment.

The things of this world do not satisfy. Real peace can only be found in the Lord Jesus. Jesus says, “Blest are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
    but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
    but she who has many children is forlorn.
1 Samuel 2:5

Hannah may be speaking about Elkanah’s other wife here. We don’t know anything more about her. But I also think that Hannah is not only praying and praising, she is prophesying as well. I believe she is speaking about the children of God, that they will always prosper. The Lord Jesus is still building His Church. Through His death and Resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ is still bringing many to glory. Do we really believe that God can overcome the indifference that we see around us? God can still bring blessing out of barrenness. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for Hannah to have a child, but with God, all things are possible.

Verses 6-7 confirm His great authority and sovereign choice,

“The Lord brings death and makes alive;
He brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
He humbles and He exalts.”

1 Samuel 2:6-7

The very next breath that you breathe will be because God gives it to you by His sovereign will.

Verses 8-10 outline His sovereign grace in salvation.

He raise up the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
He seats them with princes
and makes them inherit a throne of honour.
He will guard the feet of his faithful servants.”
1 Samuel 2:8-9a

What greater assurance do we need, than the Lord will guard the feet of His saints. If you are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, that is you.

There is a serious note as well, a sad note. For those who refuse His grace, things are much different. We read on and see,

“The wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness,
those who oppose the Lord will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven;
the LORD will judge the ends of the earth.”
1 Samuel 2:10

All protests, all criticism, all opposition will finally be silenced when they come face to face with the God of eternity. Hebrews 10 says, ”If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Hebrews 10:26-27). These are fearful word. But that is the reality for those who refuse the grace of God. I trust that there are none amongst us here who are turning away from the grace of God.

  • Hannah praises God for His ultimate purpose.

As well as praising, Hannah is also prophesying. “He will give strength to his King and exalt the horn of the anointed.” (1 Samuel 2:10b). Hannah is speaking about the king, but Israel has no king yet. She speaks about an anointed one, a Messiah, one chosen and sent by God to establish His kingdom. Hannah wouldn’t have known the full implications of what she is saying. How could she? A king for Israel was in the distant future. But by the Spirit, Hannah is proclaiming the coming of the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the One anointed and chosen by God to redeem His people from their sins.

Centuries after Hannah spoke her great prayer of praise and prophecy, her song is mirrored, confirmed by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, as he also rejoices in song at the imminent arrival of the Messiah. The one that Hannah prophesied has come. In Luke 1 we read, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and redeemed His people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his father David.” Zechariah has confirmed what Hannah prophesied. The Lord Jesus Christ came, and He came to redeem His people from their sins as He died on Calvary’s cross for the sins of those who will trust in Him.

Are you trusting God through the trials and difficulties, those things that you don’t understand, just as Hannah did? Is that your song? Do you have a song of praise and thankfulness? Do we have Hannah-like faith? Are we ready to trust God’s providence, even when we don’t fully understand it? Are we looking to Christ, the horn of our salvation?

Are you praising God for His sovereignty in your life? Are you praising God for His character, the one who is gracious, loving, faithful and forgiving heavenly Father? Are you praising God for His transforming power that has turned your life around and set you on the narrow path that leads to life? Are you praising God for His ultimate purpose in sending the Lord Jesus Christ that we might be saved and go to be with Him for all eternity?

Sunday afternoon August 7th 2022: 200th Anniversary Service: Jonathan Thomas

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Song of Songs Chapter 2

If you’re a Christian, I want to ask you some questions. They may seem strange and you may not be sure of the answer. You might not even agree that my questions are appropriate. If you are a Christian today, you know you are saved, but do you know you are special? You know that God has chosen you, but do you know He cherishes you? You know that you are redeemed, but do you know that Jesus relishes time with you? You know that God loves you, but do you believe He likes you? I wonder what you think of those questions? I’ll be honest, I struggle with them. It’s as if the gospel is good but I struggle to believe it’s great.

This morning we looked at the barrier to spiritual intimacy of knowing Christ; we just can’t believe that God would love a sinner like me. It is something that we all struggle with. But then there’s a time that comes when we realise that that’s exactly the gospel – I’m not loveable but He loves me. He has made me lovely and now I can rejoice because everything I have is His and it all depends on Him. We see that the answer to how we view ourselves is this great exchange – that He takes my sin and gives me His righteousness. So now everything I have is Christ’s.

But then, as we come into the Christian faith, even though we understand that we are in Christ, and even though we cherish Him, it’s possible to hide from true intimacy with God. There’s a barrier. Let me show you what I mean. Songs of Songs 2, verse 1, she says, “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.” He replies, “As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women.” (Song of Songs 2:2) I feel for this young woman. What we have here is a continuation of the conversation in chapter 1. She is making a bold statement which we misunderstand today. We think she is quite confident! Actually, at this time and in this location, the rose and the lily were the commonest of flowers. They just sprung up everywhere. It’s like saying, ‘I am a daffodil.’ She is saying ‘I’m pretty – pretty common.’

I think the reason we struggle with the opening questions are because we feel, ‘I am loved because the church is loved.’ We struggle with individual language. We are happy with corporate language. We are happy to have the church be the bride of Christ, but we struggle to bring that to us. There is a danger here; we must remember that we are united to Christ, but by being united to Christ we are united with all other believers. You have to remember that you are part of the church. Galatians 2:20 says, “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” One of the wisdoms of the Christian life is learning both – Christ loves the church and vice versa. It’s so important to try not to think of ourselves as a common Christian but a special saint – but no more special than any other saint. We are all equally priced because everything we have is based on Christ. What we tend to do is, because we all have the same, we lower it. I’ve got three boys so whenever I give them the same, they don’t want it. One of them wants to have more than the other. Having the same thing as everybody else makes it seem not special. We need to understand that all of us having the same Christ does not make it not special. It’s still special.

One of the implications of this thinking is that we can become Christians who don’t believe that God is interested in us. Think of Jesus as a doctor who gives us life-saving surgery. Sometimes, you see people doing an ultra-marathon because they had a car accident, and a surgeon saved their life and saved their leg. They then want to raise money. You also see it with the RNLI – someone was going to drown, and these men and women go out and save their lives. You see photos or television programmes of them being reunited and saying, ‘Thank you so much.’ Often, we can think of Jesus like that. He’s done an amazing thing but then it’s over.

The point of conversion is not the end of the story, it’s the start of the story. That’s the complication of the fairy tale ending. When we come to Christ, that’s not the ending. Fairy tales end with the wedding and then they all lived happily ever after. But I want to know what happened then. That’s the problem; we create a society where everybody thinks the happy ever after is the boring part that we’re not interested in. But actually, that’s the bit I’m fascinated by.

What does it mean to know Christ now that you are united with Him? Because of this view of ourselves being quite common, as she has in verse 1, we can end up not wanting to spend time with Jesus because we  think He doesn’t want to spend time with us. We’ve got this transaction of salvation and we leave it there. Because of this, she comes to the point where she actually hides from him. In verse 14 he says to her, “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” She is hiding from him.

I think, as Christians, sometimes we can hide from Jesus. You have a problem so big that deep down in your heart you’re thinking, ‘I’m in this problem because of me. I’ve created this.’ We don’t pray about it, we don’t go to Jesus about it.

I want to talk about the relationship between union and communion. So far this weekend, I have been teaching union with Christ. It’s the biggest doctrine in the New Testament and it is the most important. That’s why Paul keeps saying, ‘In Christ.’ You are united to Christ. Jesus has done everything and now we are in Jesus. We are united to Him. If you are united in Christ and in Him, you are as sure of heaven now as you will be when you get there. He has us and we are His.

But within our union with Christ, which is unchanging, unmovable and utterly secure -nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus – there is communion with Christ. Within the union there is experience of communion in Christ, of spiritual health and vitality. This covers a whole host of things: you can feel it, it can be peace in the midst of confusion, it can be balm to the soul in the midst of hurt and pain. We need to grasp that within the union we have with Christ, He wants us to have communion with Him.

The Lord Jesus invites us to abide in Him, to draw near to Him, to come to Him. What we tend to do as Christians, which causes us lots of heartache, is judge our union with Christ on our communion with Christ. For example, if I feel Christ, I must be secure in my faith. But it’s like being on a spiritual roller coaster all the time. You can be high on a Sunday morning, feeling the Lord loves you and you are going to heaven. Other times, on Saturday nights, you can be in the depths of despair, feeling Jesus doesn’t love you and you don’t know if you’re going to heaven or hell. When you base the judgement of your union with Christ on your communion and experiences of Him, it is up and down, up and down. Never do that.

Our communion with Christ and enjoyment of Him comes from our union: I can know Christ because I am united with Him. Because I am united with Him, even if I can’t feel Him, I am secure. Isn’t that wonderful! Even if I don’t feel the Lord Jesus, He still loves me. I am His. If we get our union with Christ right, we can go for this invitation of intimacy, of communion with Christ, knowing Him in our weakness and in our sorrows, in our joys and in our difficulties. We can ponder, spend time with the Lord, meditate on scripture, allowing our minds to wonder. We have this communion that we are invited to. This communion is based on how amazing Jesus is.

She sees herself as lowly, common, but he responds in verse 2 by saying she is “a lily among brambles.” He is saying, ‘My darling, among the young women, you are special to me.’ We need to see Jesus. If we see Jesus, we will know our union more and we will enjoy our communion more. This is something that open to all Christians. It looks different for so many Christians. Sometimes, Christians talk about it in two stages; there’s a time when they were a Christian but they weren’t enjoying God, and then something happened and they enjoyed God. For most Christians though, I think it’s just steps, experiences, different seasons of life and experiencing the Lord in those different seasons. And that looks different for everybody. The wonderful thing is the Lord meets us where we are.

There are three things we see about Jesus in this passage. Firstly, when she looks at the king, she sees him as her protector. Jesus is our protector (verses 3 & 6). She sits in his shade. He protects her. It’s a lovely picture of protection and embracing. It’s a picture that is repeated in scripture in lots of different ways, particularly with the church. One of my favourites is in Revelation 1. John, as a persecuted Christian, is given a vision of heaven. The curtains of heaven are rent so he can look in. Although he’s being persecuted, he can see a great throne, a higher throne. Everything is going to be OK. You get this amazing vision where the church is there, represented as lampstands and Jesus stands among them. Wonderful! All the churches in Pembrokeshire, Jesus stands among them. Then we see Jesus holds the churches in His hands. Is He standing there or holding the churches? Both! Then, whilst He is standing among the churches and holding them in His hands, John is falling down on the floor as if dead, so Jesus places His hands on John’s shoulders and says, ‘Don’t worry. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.’

The Lord Jesus is our protector and He is amongst us.  We remember the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘I give them eternal life and they shall never perish, no one will snatch them out of My hands.’ Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. If you know Christ is your protector, and you are safe and secure in Him, in your union, you can enjoy communion.

In verse 6 we read, “His left arm is under my head and his right arm embraces me.” Wonderful protection and embrace. Does that mean we will never get sick? No, you’ll get sick. Does it mean you’ll never get persecuted? In all probability you might get persecuted and have problems for being a Christian. You might get into difficult conversations. But it does mean that Jesus will never leave you and He will keep you forever. Even if we don’t trust Jesus in difficult times, He still has us. He is our protector.

Jesus is not just our protector, He is also our provider. “Let him lead me to the banquet hall and let his banner over me be love. Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.” (Song of Songs 2:4-5). “My beloved is mine and I am his.” (Song of Songs 2:16a). He is the provider. Everything that is his is hers. He brought her to a banquet, to a public feast. He is giving her food and recognition. Food is a time of celebration. Here he is celebrating her, providing for her. We pray for the Lord to provide, but we also remember the Lord Jesus is the bread of life. He provides Himself. We should want Him.

When it comes to this kind of union, we must make sure we do not get it wrong. When we think of relationships, we can think of a symmetrical, equal, mutual relationship. That is not the case. We haven’t all brought something equal to this relationship. Jesus has brought His righteousness, His love, His eternity, His beauty, His holiness, His sovereignty. What have I brought? My sin and my need. We don’t come symmetrically, but in our union we are one and all that is His is mine. It’s phenomenal, isn’t it?

Thirdly, we see that Jesus is our pursuer. In verses 8-15 we see the king comes leaping across the mountains and hills. He’s really excited. But then in verse 14 he says, ‘My dove is in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside.’ It seems to me she is hiding. She really wants the Lord but there’s something stopping that. She’s building a wall, this cleft of rock around her. She knows he bounds towards her, she knows that he loves, but yet she’s in the cleft of the rock.

This is the great struggle of the Christian life; I know the Lord loves me, I know the Lord will forgive me, I know the Lord is gracious, yet will I confess that sin? No. Why? Because deep down, I’m not sure He will forgive me. I know the Lord is calling me to do something, to step out in faith, to trust Him, to follow Him, to give my all to Him in that certain area of my life, but will I do it? No. Why? Because I’m not really sure He is the provider.

Here, she remembers what the Lord is like, and she see that he is a pursuer. She has built this wall, but he comes. See how he comes to her – this is really important. We hide from the Lord and when we don’t believe we can come to Him, listen to how He comes, “My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face. Let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.” (Song of Songs 2:14). Do you believe that your voice to the Lord Jesus is sweet and that your face is lovely?

When we build walls between us and God, He doesn’t come and bulldoze them down. He doesn’t come and say, ‘How dare you build a wall, don’t be so silly.’ He comes and wants her to being the walls down, he wants her to see him. Hosea is so similar because there’s this marriage picture being used when Israel has gone away from the Lord completely. Yet the Lord says these wonderful words, “I will allure her.” (Hosea 2:14). He is the one who comes and says, ‘Speak to me. I want to hear your voice. Come before me. I want to see your face.’

In verse 11 we see what she remembers about him, “See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the seasons of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.” What we call experience in our communion with Christ of going away, backsliding, a wilderness period, which there can be so many reasons for, in Revelation it is talked of as ‘being cold.’ A winter has come in our relationship with the Lord. The wonderful thing is, if we call to Him, the winter is over. The flowers come out. The wall can be brought down. We can stand face to face. “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him and he with me.”

Friends, is the Lord calling you to open the door? Is the Lord calling you to speak to Him again? Have you grown cold? Have you built a wall and you’re willing to go this far but no more? The Lord says, ‘Come to me. All that is mine is yours and you are mine. I love you. I want you to enjoy me and to know me.’ The Lord will meet you in the way that you need Him.

Sunday Morning 7th Augut 2022: Jonathan Thomas 200th Anniversary Service.

To watch this service click on the link to our YouTube channel:

Song of Songs 1: 5-17

I believe in fairy tales. At least, I genuinely believe in fairy tale endings. Before you think I have completely lost the plot, let me explain what I mean. I believe that all fairy tales we were told as children have something in them that, deep down, is incredibly true. All fairy tales have a similar plot, a similar ending. Why has everyone written these stories? Why do we love the stories? Why do generation after generation of children, myself included, enjoy stories about the ugly sisters or the prince coming to save the day or the ultimate wedding feast with all the dancing? It’s because these fairy tales are aches to a long, lost echo; deep down, we all want to be loved. That’s what all fairy tales are about. Deep down, we all want to be loved by the king.

We don’t just want love, we want love with someone who can sort everything out. We all long for it in different ways. Some people long for it in romantic relationships. When I was growing up, I had a friend who had a file book and she had already chosen her wedding dress, she knew what the wedding was going to be, she had it all in a file. For other people it could be football. You fill your walls with posters of football players in the hope that you will be spotted, in the hope that one day you’ll be given that chance. Some hope in rugby, that one day people will realise that you are the answer to the needs of the Welsh rugby team, that one day you will get that call, ‘Let’s go, I want you to play.’ Wouldn’t that be amazing. It could be wanting success, a promotion. Some people look for success in sacrificing for others, in philanthropy, doing good. Sometimes, we want people to need us. We need people to need us, and we want people to see us. Deep down, it’s not that any of these things are wrong, but there is an ache for something. Because we have this ache, it drives us.

So often we look for happiness, success and significance in all the wrong places. Oscar Wilde famously said, “There are two tragedies in life: not getting what you want and getting it.” There is an ache within us. There is an ache that, so often, can be fulfilled in life for a season, when life is good. I live in an area in Abergavenny that is very affluent. When we think of evangelism outreach to people who have got money, family, a nice house and a nice life, people who are very happy, it is hard. When I say to people, ‘If you’re not very happy, come to Jesus.’ Their response is, ‘No. I’m happy. I’m happier than you.’ But when we realise that these things may fulfil for a while, there is something more.

In the Song of Songs there is a love that is fairy tale. It is so amazing that it will seem like fiction. But this isn’t a fairy tale. It is the ultimate thing that God has put in our hearts. God has placed eternity in our heart. He has put a longing in our heart for something that seems so crazy we put it in the category of fairy tale. But it’s even greater than a fairy tale and it is true.

The first thing we see in verse 5 is undeniable fear of ugliness. I wonder, does anyone here fear that you’re ugly? I don’t just mean physically. Does any one here fear if someone actually got to know you, they wouldn’t like what they see? In verses 5-7 the woman is speaking. We know that she loves the king and wants to marry the king. We know that he has come to her and she can come to him and speak to him because he has initiated this. All the friends are rejoicing, ‘Wow! What a great relationship.’

Everyone is excited and celebrating. Then, something happens in our hearts – this undeniable fear of ugliness. She says, “Dark am I, yet lovely, daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar.” (Song of Songs 1:5). Here is a barrier to intimacy. She has a moment where her self-image and self-worth is rock bottom. How you view yourself affects everything.

The woman starts talking about the complexion of her skin. She keeps going on about the colour of her skin, that it is dark. She says, ‘Don’t stare at me because I’m dark, because I am darkened by the sun.’ The darkness is, in effect, a suntan. The question is why? Because she’s been to Newgale Beach on holiday and had a wonderful time, got a lovely tan and shared it on Instagram? No! She says, “My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards.” (Song of Songs 1:6b).

Here is Cinderella. She has brothers who have told her to work in the vineyards. Here is someone who has been forced to do labour that she shouldn’t do. She has been forced into a situation where she has been forced to do something that she shouldn’t. She says, ‘If I’m looking after your physical vineyard, “my own vineyard I had to neglect.” (Song of Songs 1:6c) because her brothers have forced her into this situation because they are angry with her.

She is having this moment of doubt because of what has been happening in her family. It’s amazing how much of our childhood and family affects our relationships. In verse 6 she thinks everyone is staring at her. She doesn’t want people to stare at her because she is dark. How often do we think that people are looking at us? She is out there because her brothers have put her out there. She is struggling.

“Tell me, you whom I love, where you rest your sheep at midday.” (Song of Song 1:7a). She has literally been calling to him in verses 2-4, and now she feels that she has lost him. She doesn’t know where he is. Her upbringing, her experiences, her hurt, have all become a barrier to experiencing his love. If you are involved in any kind of psychology, counselling or social services, you’ll know about ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences – all the childhood experiences which affect them in later life. If you go into fostering or adoption, you’ll learn all about attachment disorder and how the experiences of childhood can make you struggle to attach to others. How many of us will sometimes remember things from our childhood come back to haunt us? The wonderful thing is all those things can be changed. Lives can be changed with a loving environment.

What we are seeing in this book is a life being transformed by the love of the king. But the first thing we have to see is there is an undeniable fear of ugliness. Do you have a fear of ugliness? How do you view yourself? I think deep down we all fear that we are so ugly that God can’t love us. Sometimes, when bad things happen, we say, ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ because, deep down, we think we do deserve it.

The woman has this fear, so she doesn’t know where the king has gone. She says, “Why should I be like a veiled woman?” A veiled woman in that culture is a prostitute. She has really gone down to the depths. Her friends listen to her and say, “If you do not know, most beautiful of women, follow the tracks of the sheep and graze your young goats by the tents of the shepherds.” (Song of Songs 1:8). Don’t we need friends like that, friends who come along side and say, ‘Hold on. He hasn’t gone, you haven’t lost him. This is the way to go.’ Very often in life we need people to come along and say these things. In a sense, I feel that is my burden for this weekend, to come in God’s word and say, ‘Here is the way to Jesus. Here is the way to know love. Here is the way to find eternal life.’ It is wonderful when people come alongside.

She’s been having a complete meltdown. Her friends point her in the right way and in verse 9 he speaks. I love this. He says, “I liken you, my darling, to a mare.” Today, that doesn’t sound like a lovely thing. But in this poetry, he is speaking to her in response to what she has said. It shows us he has heard her. When I read the Bible, I see when God’s people cry out to Him and think He’s nowhere, He’s always there. When God’s people were in Egypt in slavery, they thought God had forgotten them and had left them. Things went from bad to worse. They knew they were there by their own deliberate fault, trusting in other gods rather than Yahweh. What did they do? They cried out and God heard them and came to them. Remember how Elijah had a massive victory and then straight afterwards had post-mission blues? He lost all his trust in the Lord. He’s completely destitute and God comes to him, feeds him, listens to him, talks to him, and tells him to rest. When we cry out to the Lord, even when we share that undeniable fear of ugliness, the Lord hears us, then He speaks to us.

Firstly, we had the undeniable fear of ugliness. Secondly, we have the unbelievable fact of undeserved love.

“I liken you, my darling, to a mare among Pharoah’s chariot horses. Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings, your neck with strings of jewels” and so on. In those days, a horse was a thing of beauty and was the animal of power. He is telling her she is a powerful, beautiful woman, adorned in natural beauty. She isn’t beautiful because of the jewels; they enhance her beauty. They often say, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ The king is clearly besotted with her. He is in love. He sees beauty. He is looking beyond what Julian Hardyman calls, ‘socially determined stereotypes.’ Within God’s creation beauty is not socially constructed. There’s a pressure today for us to conform to what the world says is beautiful.

The king tells her how beautiful she is, and she responds by getting incredibly excited. What does this mean for us today? Is it, we have an undeniable fear of ugliness and God says, ‘You’re actually amazing.’ Is that the gospel? No. There is something different going on. Deep down, we all know that that isn’t sufficient. C.S. Lewis says, “He loves us not because we are loveable but because He is love.” Whatever God’s love is for us, it is based on His love, not on us. We know we are not perfect; we know that we sin. We know that there are problems. We know about Genesis and the Fall, we know about Romans 1-3. We are able to say with Paul that we are the chief of sinners.

Why does the king say she is beautiful? Because in His eyes she is. Luther, the great Reformer says, “God does not love us because of our worth. We are worth because God loves us.” Your worth is in the price purchased. God paid for us with His only Son. For the believer, it is not just what Jesus was willing to pay for you, but it’s now that you are His. That is the love than transforms us, that makes us beautiful. This is a truth that, as Christians, we need to grasp.

We believe we are sinners. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. We believe that Jesus came and lived for us the perfect life that we could never live. He always did what the Father wanted Him to do. He always followed the Commandments. He did this on our behalf. We believe that Jesus died to pay the price for our sins. It is a wonderful exchange. Jesus takes my sins. ‘He who knew no sin becomes sin.’ If you think of it like a debt, we are in debt to God, Jesus has come, He has lived the perfect life and has died on the cross and paid our debt. That’s amazing! But we often stop there, but the gospel is so much more. When Jesus lived and died for us, then rose again on the third day, went to heaven and is now preparing a place for us, He didn’t just pay off our debt, but He filled our account to the max. He did not just take us from being an enemy to a non-enemy, He took us from being an enemy to a son, to a friend, to the beloved. So, He just didn’t die for us, He lived for us. This divine exchange isn’t just Christ taking our sin, but it is Christ giving us His righteousness. There is a complete exchange. It’s wonderful!

On the cross, when the Father looked at Jesus, if you have trusted in Christ, He saw you. It was your sin that held Him there. Here is the wonderful thing – if you have trusted in Christ, your sins were nailed to that cross in Christ. Now, when the Father looks at you, you can call Him Father because now He sees Christ. ‘I am clothed in robes of righteousness.’ It’s not just that the old self has gone, but there is a new creation. It is not just that your sin has been taken away, you have had righteousness imputed to you. That is why we can always know that God loves us and delights in us. I love the ways we go from being slaves to sons, from being lost to being loved. Jesus has done it all.

Some of us have got a limited view of Jesus. Deep down, this undeniable fear of ugliness keeps coming out. I often think of Jesus as a barrister. Barristers are wonderful people. If you get a good barrister, he can get you off pretty much anything. When a barrister stands in a court he speaks on your behalf. They do everything for you. I think there are barristers who have defended people they don’t like. Do we sometimes view Jesus like that? Legally He has died for me and I’m so thankful. But we leave it there. The gospel is far, far greater. He wants to draw us near. He wants to love us and embrace us. He wants us now to be with Him.

I think we’re all slightly living ‘My Fair Lady.’ We feel like we’ve come to the Kingdom, we’ve come to the church, and we’ve been taught to speak and sound like someone who is ‘in’ – but we’re all waiting for that Cockney accent moment to happen, when people don’t think we deserve to be here. But Jesus has done it all. I believe that when we read the Song of Songs there is poetry here that is showing us how God delights in us. It is undeserved.

Friends, do you suffer from imposter syndrome? There is no place for imposter syndrome in the Christian life. There are no imposters in the Kingdom. If you have trusted in Christ, all that is His is yours and the Father loves you. He sings over you. He says, ‘Come under my wing.’ He says, ‘Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ It’s a wonderful, wonderful truth.

I love the way that God’s love makes us lovely. We have this amazing love. The king talks about it in how He sees her. She responds with excitement (v12-14). Then you get this lovely mutual exchange, “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes are doves.” Can you get to a point where you believe that is true of you and Christ? If all your worth is based in Christ, then to the Lord you are beautiful.

How does she respond? “How handsome you are, my beloved! Oh, how charming!” When we see who we are in Christ, that makes us worship Him all the more. It is a wonderful thing.