Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Exeter Temple Corps Anniversary Message

Sunday 21st April 2013
Bible Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Our text today may seem a strange choice for a Corps Anniversary. On such an occasion as this we have a tendency to look back and concentrate on giving thanks for past blessings, when this text looks to something that has not happened yet. Whilst wanting to avoid the speculation and controversy that surround Jesus’ promise that he will come again, we are wrong to react to some people’s foolishness by overlooking such a central part of  our faith.
The past, that we celebrate today means nothing if it is does not lead somewhere. The future we anticipate, the hope we set before us powerfully influences the way we live, the way we invest our time and energy, the way we conduct our lives. We cannot afford to avoid passages such as this, if we believe that we are called to continue to fulfil the work of God that began here many years ago.
There is a future aspect to the reign of Jesus Christ. The New Testament points to a time, when the rule and reign of Christ will be seen both in heaven and on earth. This hope hinges on the promise given to the disciples. “This same Jesus who has been taken form you into heaven will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
Early Christians longed for and expected the return of Jesus Christ when that Resurrection power would be unfolded in its fullness. In our text Paul is explaining that event to the Christians at Thessalonica. He has two essential objectives. One is to bring comfort to those who have lost loved ones. The other is to inspire holiness and service to the Lord.

1. The Comfort Resurrection brings
Christians in Thessalonica expected that Jesus would return and bring the Kingdom of God in all its fullness. However some of them were getting a bit anxious that as time went on some Christians were dying before this great event had taken place. Paul writes to reassure them that everyone who belongs to Christ whether alive on earth or alive in heaven will be part of the event and they will come together to usher in the final stages of the coming of the Kingdom.

Read verses 13-18 again.
This is a great thought on an anniversary Sunday when we think of all the saints of God who have gone before us and whose names fill our history book. They will all be there at the biggest reunion that will ever be.
Note the words: “in him.” God will bring those whom we love who have passed on ahead of us with Christ when Christ returns and that means that they are with Him right now at this very moment! They are not in limbo waiting for the party. They are with him.
It is hard to imagine how this will happen. The Corinthian Christians asked the same question, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?

Paul replied in 1 Corinthians 15:20 “Christ has indeed be raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes through a man. For as in Adam all die so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Ashes to ashes dust to dust are the very final sounding words spoken concerning the physical body at a funeral. But there is one person whose dead body, the words ashes to ashes dust to dust were never spoken over. The body of Jesus was not returned to dust but returned instead to everlasting glorious life!
Death could not hold him destroy him or decay him and the promise is that to those who are his can be part of a new humanity that lives for eternity with God. For all who are Christ’s there is the certainty not of immortality, that is survival as we are now but of Resurrection in which all the vestiges of the weak limited sickness prone, pain experiencing run down, mortal body will be gloriously changed.

What will that body be like? Paul gives his reply in 1 Corinthians 15:37
When you sow you do not plant the body that will be but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.”

God would one day give everyone who is a Christian a new different kind of body, one that in the present is beyond our understanding. It will as different a seed is from the flower it becomes, as different as a caterpillar is from a butterfly. It is impossible for us to envisage what our resurrection body will be like. What we do know is that the Bible says it will not be subject to decay. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:52 “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed.”

2. The Call that the Resurrection announces.
Jesus will return and bring all the saints from heaven with him. What for? Ultimately it will be to finally establish this kingdom here on earth.
The picture that Paul paints in 1 Thessalonians of Jesus doing this is rooted in his ancient culture. When an emperor visited a colony or province the citizens of the country would go out to meet him at some distance from the city. It would be disrespectful to have him arrive at the gates as thought his subjects couldn’t be bothered to greet him properly. When they met him they wouldn’t stay out in the open country; they would escort him royally into the city itself from where he would remind everyone who was it was that was really in charge.
Jesus is king, he is coming back to claim the earth for it is rightfully his. He will involve all those who have already given him their allegiance in the process. For those who are not ready for this, it will be a shock but the Bible tells us “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord.”

This corps was one of those raised up in the very early days of the army. Indeed William Booth himself presented the first flag. One of the passionate beliefs of both William and Catherine Booth was that their work in their present was working towards a goal of winning the whole world for Jesus.
They firmly held on to the promise of the Old Testament that the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea and the idea that surely Jesus wouldn’t teach us to pray a prayer that God would be unwilling to answer. We are taught to pray, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

This gave purpose to the very existence of The Salvation Army, and it was the passionate belief of early Salvationist that that the Army was raised up for that very reason. They were big picture people. The image before them was of the risen and victorious Christ, leading from heaven his earthly troops, who were going in to take ground from the enemy.

The battle was to see men and women boys and girls brought to faith in Christ, so that they could share in and know the power of the resurrection in their lives. They did this by seeing individuals redeemed and restored through the gospel.
Sheer compassion led the army to take care of those who were hurting but stepping in to battle against injustice, immorality and abuse was never just about trying to create a more comfortable environment.
Social action was always linked to fighting the devil himself who uses such things as greed, violence, exploitation, abuse, lies and many other evil ideas and practices as weapons to deceive people into believing that God is against them, that they are of no worth, that good cannot triumph and that there is no hope. And the Salvation Army should never lose that focus. We are not called to be social workers but soldiers.

And William Booth believed that the battle was winnable. He asked,

“Why should not Jesus Christ have all the world? Has anyone got any sufficient reason? Do any of our readers know of any?” He then went on to note that there was no reason to be found in Hell, nor in Heaven, or even in the “mind of God why His salvation should not cover the earth as completely and as plenteously as the rolling ocean covers the mighty deep.”

3. The Confidence that the Resurrection brings

Do you still believe that we can win the world for Jesus? Sometimes we see so little fruit for our labour we can lose heart and we can start to think that our labour is in vain. The encouragement from our text this morning is to keep going, don’t give up, Jesus is risen and he has promised to return. He will return personally. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven and he will return in power. The word translated in the NIV “with a loud command” is a military commander’s authoritative cry to direct his troops. Jesus will return with such authority and “with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.”
How can we trust that Jesus will keep his promise? Well we can trust him because Jesus has proved faithful to every other promise he made.
The resurrection is not simply a guarantee of our personal survival after death. It does assure us of that but it does more. It also shows us that all that Jesus said and claimed for himself is true. It assures us that goodness and love are indestructible.

Here is what Paul has to say about that in 1 Corinthians 15:56
“The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labour is not in vain.”
Tom Wright (Surprised by hope)
"You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that is about to fall over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown into the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are, strange though it may seem, accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, or comfort and support for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow non-human creatures, and of course every prayer, all Spirit led teaching, every deed which spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption and makes the name of Jesus honoured in the world all this will find its way through the resurrecting power of God into the new creation which God will one day make. God’s recreation of his wonderful world which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of the Spirit means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted.”

Saviour and Lord, we pray to thee,
Thy people ever would we be;
To thee whose love our lives has sealed,
To thee our lives we gladly yield.

A people called by thee to fight,
We stand united in thy sight,
One in our aim to vanquish sin,
And bring thy glorious Kingdom in.

In this glad moment while we sing,
Thy Army, we salute our King;
By thee we live, on thee rely,
By thee, we'll conquer or we'll die.

Our strength for warfare is thy might,
Our hope of guidance is thy light;
Pour out thy Spirit while we wait,
And let thy love thy will dictate.

Beneath thy standard still we'll stay;
Thy cause shall every purpose sway;
Nor will we lay our armour down
Till we exchange it for a crown.
(Thomas Hodgson Mundell)
(SASB  692)


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Wake up O Sleeper

Exeter Temple Message notes:  14th April 2012
Bible Reading:  Ephesians 5:14

1. Wake up- God wants your attention
Sleep in the Bible is often used to indicate spiritual indifference and avoidance of God. The Bible gives us many examples of how God awakens the indifferent or the rebellious to his presence, plans and purposes. Jonah, asleep on a boat as he travelled in a different direction to the one God wanted him to go in was sharply woken up by a storm. Shepherds sleeping on the hills surrounding Bethlehem were startled into alertness by heavenly choirs and strange instructions. It is not always obvious to other people who is spiritually awake and who is actually asleep. John Wesley warned that the “quiet, rational, inoffensive, good-natured professor of the religion of his fathers and the zealous and orthodox Pharisee were just as likely to be spiritually asleep as each other, despite the difference in their outwards behaviour.”
How do we know when God, through his Holy Spirit wants our attention?
a) Inner restlessness
What is it that wakes a baby up apart from a wet nappy? It is hunger. When we begin to feel a longing for answers, when we start asking ourselves, “Where is my life going?” When we cease to be satisfied with material things, it really could be that the Holy Spirit wants your attention.
b) Pain
Do you know that in a reversal of what I am saying our pain gets God’s attention? Long ago when the Hebrew people were in slavery in Egypt, God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and he said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.”
When we are suffering, for whatever reason, know this; you already have God’s attention. God had to use a burning bush to let Moses know that he was on hand to help. It is not a method he uses often. But maybe he is saying the same thing to you. I am here and I want to help. Turn to me.
CS Lewis: God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
c) Guilt
Our modern world of course doesn’t like guilt. It almost always portrays it as a negative thing, unless we feel we are the ones sinned against and then we want someone to feel really bad about what they’ve done.
The Bible sees guilt as God’s way of drawing attention to the fact that we have crossed a line we should not have. It is an in-built alarm system. Sometimes culture and our own attempts to override the system mess it up a bit but it is there for our benefit. Jeremiah lived at a time when the people of Israel were living in a state of low morality. Jeremiah said that it was lack of conscience/ guilt that would be their downfall. “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; “(Jer 6:15)
We know when it is the Holy Spirit who is activating our conscience because he will always be specific. The devil will try to make us feel bad full stop, the Holy Spirit only to help to the place where we seek forgiveness and cleansing from God.
d) Repetition
God is actually very patient and he will often send us the same message through various means. We might read something that impacts us in the Bible, then go to a meeting and someone will quote the same reading, someone raises the same issue. Eventually it dawns- God must be trying to say something.
If God is trying to get your attention in any of these ways please don’t turn off the alarm or fail to pick up the receiver. Wake up O sleeper and rise from the dead!

2. Wake up- God has something to say
One of the things that I have felt a burden to speak about to God’s people is about how we respond to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe the simple message is, “Stay awake!”
I believe our annual focus on the cross and resurrection of Jesus is much more than sentimentality. As we remember the sacrifice and the victory of Christ I believe we genuinely lift our hearts in adoration at the grace of Christ. That’s really good but if that is all we take away from Easter, we need to wake up. Easter for us is not a commemoration of Christ but complete identification with him. The truth is that it is not only Jesus who had to die and rise again but each one of us. We are called to Resurrection life. There is huge value in following an annual Christian calendar so that we think about different aspects of our faith at some point during the year. Holy days and special focus Sundays are important but there can be a tendency for us to fall into the trap of celebrating Christmas and we have “done” the incarnation, we celebrate Easter and we have done the cross and resurrection, we celebrate Pentecost and we have “done” the Holy Spirit. The truth is we have to live in the light of these momentous things every single day.
Paul wrote in Ph 3:10 that his ambition was this. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings. “ And in Ephesians he prayed that the Church would know God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe. The power is like the working of his might strength, which he exerted in Christ, when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”
Will the enthusiasm of Easter week-end be translated into committed prayer, consistent holy living and radical obedience? There is no reason it cannot be because resurrection power is ours. The thing that will stop us is, is falling asleep again, when a week or two has gone by.
The interviewer asked, “What’s it like to wake up one day and realize you are a great success?” The reply was, “That doesn’t happen; if you are a success you haven’t been asleep.” (source unknown)

3. Wake up and get up.
God may have got your attention. You have woken up and it’s necessary to stay awake. What keeps us awake? - Arising
Remember the story of Prodigal Son. He goes off to spend his father’s money on wine, women and goodliving. Then there is a credit crunch and he ends up, destitute. But the sinking down into further degradation is halted when Jesus uses a significant little phrase in his story. V 17 “Then he came to his senses…” In other words he woke up and realised that he didn’t need to be in this mess. He could go home. But the real turning point comes when the prodigal says, “I will set out and go to my Father.” And v 20 says “he got up and went.”
There is a difference between awareness of need and action. Paul does not just say, “Wake up O sleeper” he also says, “And rise from the dead.”
Following awakening to any word from God there must be an arising.
It is so easy to wake up, smell the coffee, even drink a drop or two but remained entrenched in the old ways. We must trust and obey or we will go back to sleep.
Is that a bad thing? Absolutely. Spiritually speaking, sleeping is as neglectful as a sentry closing his eyes on duty. He fails to protect himself or others. It is as dangerous as allowing someone who has taken an overdose to doze off. They may go into a coma. It is as deadly as a lorry driver having forty winks at the wheel. There will be a crash.

The phrase “Wake up” in the Greek comes from the word “Ginomai” Its direct meaning is “to become.” When we wake up spiritually it is to enter into something and become the person God plans for us to be. It is not about losing who we are but fulfilling the potential God has put within us.
Whilst in Kenya, the mission team were deeply moved by the singing of the choir at Thika School for the Blind. Their leader is himself blind and writes all the songs for the choir. One of their songs had a particular impact upon us because it was so full of desire and hope, that they would become all that God wanted them to be.
I want to be a message for others
Faithful among ourselves
Ready to carry a message of love
That we all may glorify you
So revive my heart
Renew my vision
Prepare my heart for your purposes alone
Take me deep into your presence and your power
That we all may glorify you
May that be the prayer of every one of us.

God bless