Calming the Storm

This morning I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church. I chose to speak on the passage in Mark’s gospel entitled “Jesus calms the storm”. As this was an “All Age” service with the children staying in with the adults rather than going to Children’s Church, the sermon was rather simpler than usual.

Mark 4:35 – 41

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

christ-calms-the-storms-of-life

Anyone ever been on a boat or a ship?

Some go on boats for pleasure and others for business.

I understand that my great grandfather was a sea captain involved in trading with Chile in South America, in the days before the Panama Canal. So he had to navigate his ship round the bottom of South America and the hazards of Cape Horn and Terra del Fuego. Beyond Cape Horn the next land was Antarctica.

But its nice to have a relaxing boat trip. We were in Pisa in Italy a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed a boat trip through the town on the River Arno seeing parts of Pisa that you wouldn’t see from the roads.

The one certain thing about being on the water be it river, lake or open sea, is you can never tell what the weather is going to do next. Water can be so unpredictable.

The sea can be flat as a mill pond one moment and suddenly all can change.

Our son Sam and his wife Naomi were recently in Zimbabwe visiting Naomi’s grandad and family. They went to see the famous and magnificent Victoria Falls; and being young and adventurous they went white water rafting on the Zambezi river some distance below the falls. I think there were about a dozen tourists and a guide in an inflatable boat. There were stretches of calm water and then they would come upon the rapids where the river flowed quickly over and around rocks and drop several metres. At one point Sam was the only one in the boat, everyone else including the guide were tossed into the water. Thankfully they all got back into the boat safely and were able to carry on with their journey.

Even big ships can get into trouble and be affected by the waves. Gaynor and I came back last week from a cruise on the MS Ventura. It is a huge ship: 115,000 tons in weight, 18 decks high and 291 metres long; that’s the same as 32 London buses lined up end to end. There were 3000 passengers and 1400 crew. It was big!

And yet before we left Southampton dock we were all shown how to put on our life jackets and where to meet if we had to abandon ship and get into the lifeboats.

Whilst we were in the Mediterranean sea off the coast of France we sailed through a storm with 90 mph winds and waves 4 metres high – that’s up to your bedroom windows if you live in a house! The ship did move about and certainly did rock during the night but we were safe.

You never can tell with the weather and no matter how big your ship you should never underestimate the power of nature.

And so to our Bible reading.

It’s been a busy day for Jesus and his disciples, teaching by the lake, which was also known as the Sea of Galilee.

The Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River, rainfall and springs on the northern side. It’s really a freshwater lake, 13 miles long and 7 miles wide. At its deepest point the lake is only 150 feet deep. The rabbis said of it, “Although God has created seven seas, yet He has chosen this one as His special delight.” At 209 metres below sea level it’s the lowest freshwater lake in the world.

kinneret-boat

The lake was very busy with fishing villages around its shores. According to Josephus a 1st century historian there were in Jesus’ time some 230 fishing boats on the lake. In those days people used nets; either small ones thrown into the shallow water or bigger ones let down into the water from a boat.

Many of Jesus’ disciples were local lads – fishermen who had made a living on the Sea of Galilee. These were men who knew the area well and would be aware of the perils involved with being on the water.

Now evening had come and Jesus suggests going across the lake, probably to have some peace and to leave the crowds behind. Lets face it we all need time to rest and relax and recharge our batteries.

None of the local lads object to Jesus’ suggestion. Clearly they thought it was safe to go on the journey. After all they often went out fishing on the lake after dark, coming home in the early morning. They knew the lake and I am sure they would have said to Jesus if they thought there was a storm coming.

So they set off on their short voyage across the lake. Jesus settled down in the stern, the back of the boat and was so relaxed that he went to sleep.

However the peaceful calm of the Sea of Galilee can quickly become transformed by a violent storm. Winds funnel through the east-west aligned Galilee hill country and stir up the waters quickly. More violent are the winds that come off the hills of the Golan Heights to the east. Trapped in the basin, the winds can be deadly to fishermen. A storm in March 1992 sent waves 10 feet high crashing into down town Tiberias and causing significant damage.

But as we know from our reading it was quite an eventful trip. Suddenly the weather changed and we read in v37A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.”

The fishermen had, no doubt, dealt with storms all their working lives but now there was something far worse. This is something they can’t do on their own. The only thing left is to wake Jesus and get him on the case. You feel the tension and the fear as we read in v38The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?

It seems in their terror they have forgotten who Jesus is. Jesus the son of God cares for all creation. We are reminded in Psalm 121 that God is on the case 24/7; as the Psalmist wrote “he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

Jesus is described in Colossians 1:16 & 17 as follows: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Jesus, who was the creator of the universe, deals with the situation as we read in v39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. ”

Asking Jesus to help us in life’s problems is always the best thing we can do. Like the disciples in the boat we have to ask him. Its our decision.

A few years ago we were stranded at a service station on the M6 toll road. Our car’s starter motor had failed. I could have just sat in the car and complained that the AA didn’t come to my rescue. Well. they only knew I needed help when I phoned them and asked for assistance. Once I made that call we just had to wait for the patrol to arrive to fix the car.

Because God has given us free will, we have a choice to call out to Jesus to save us, or to remain silent and muddle through on our own. Jesus will not come to our rescue till we ask him. Having prayed the prayer we just have to wait on Jesus, just as I had to wait for the AA patrol to arrive having made the call.

If you have come to put your faith in Jesus, when you find yourselves in one of life’s storms, you are not on your own because Jesus has promised to be with his followers to the end of time. Even if you do not always feel his presence he is with us in everything we face in life.

Jesus does care even if it appears that he hasn’t instantly calmed the storm, he will be with you in the boat and you will not go under.

We read in v41 that “They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

And whilst the disciples were terrified when the storm stopped at Jesus’ command, we do not have to be terrified, for although he is the Son of God and the creator of all things he is also our friend.

This is what God said to his people through the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before Jesus was born: Isaiah 43:1 – 3Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;

God will come to our rescue if we believe in him and we ask him. Amen.

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When the party is over

This morning I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church. We looked at what is commonly called “Belshazzar’s Feast” and can be found in Daniel 5.

Daniel 5: 1 – 9 and 25 – 31

1 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. 2 While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3 So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4 As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. 5 Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. 6 His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking. 7 The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” 8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. 9 So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.

25 “This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN 26 “Here is what these words mean: Mene : God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. 27 Tekel : You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. 28 Peres : Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” 29 Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. 30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, 31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.

Many people love a party.

Indeed some people treat life as one long party.

Its good to enjoy good things; to eat drink and be merry.

However you can go too far. For those of us who spent our formative years in the 1960’s there is a saying “If you remember the 60’s you weren’t there!”

As we know a party cannot go on for ever. There comes a time when it has to come to an end.

The party’s over and there will be a reckoning. This can range from the washing up to be done or a vast quantity of empties to be disposed of, to pacifying the parents when they come home or having a chat with the local police, depending what sort of party it was!

Image result for Empty Pockets No MoneyWhen there was a change of government in 2010 the incoming chief secretary to the treasury, David Laws, found a note on his desk from the outgoing minister that said “Dear chief secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left.

Austerity was with us and the country’s economy was in dire straits.

As we may know from personal experience we can’t keep on spending when we have nothing left to spend.

Years ago when I was in banking, we had a customer who explained to us that his only source of income was his over draft! He was very surprised when we said to him enough is enough. The spending party is over.

Another customer tried to clear his overdraft by writing us a cheque from his overdrawn account!

Some parties get out of hand. People drink too much or take drugs, Morals get forgotten or loosened. Things happen that shouldn’t happen.

Maybe you’ve been at parties like that ? I have; and I thank God that he kept me safe.

Drink and drugs have a price for their use and the pleasure you get from them. Lives are shortened, bodies wrecked and minds destroyed.

That is the price many people end up paying.

So lets look at the party mentioned in Daniel 5.

https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-wlSTGJKulKE/TXzA9bXG3cI/AAAAAAAACGw/LnZLPNgyNc8/s400/10.jpgBelshazzar was the King of Babylon which had been the super power in the Middle East for many years. He had inherited the kingdom from his father Nebuchadnezzar who had conquered Judah and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. He had also taken many of the Jews into exile in Babylon.

As we read about this huge party that Belshazzar was throwing in his palace you should know that the up and coming empire of the Medes and the Persians were on the march. Not only that but their army was surrounding Babylon. Babylon was a city under siege yet the King holds a party!

His attitude seems to be like that of the old Irvine Berlin song “There may be trouble ahead But while there’s music and moonlight (moonlight and music) and love and romance Let’s face the music and dance

If only Belshazzar had remembered the lessons his father had learnt, Nebuchadnezzar had been humbled by God as we read in the earlier chapters of Daniel. He is recorded as saying, in Daniel 4:37Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Belshazzar however did things his way. He seems to either not know about Daniel or forgotten him. No doubt Belshazzar surrounded himself with his own advisors, many of whom didn’t know God or indeed recall just what Nebuchadnezzar had been through and how he changed.

Just look at this lavish party. There were 1000 of his nobles there. No doubt their wives etc were there also. Its quite a bash!

Many people do daft things, actions they later come to regret when they have been drinking. Belshazzar is one of those people. But perhaps he is emboldened by the wine into thinking that as King of Babylon he can do exactly what he wants.

So he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem” and that as he and his guests drank from these goblets they “…praised the gods of gold, silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.”

Here is the King of Babylon drinking from the sacred cups and goblets plundered from the Temple. Not only are they being used to drink from but Belshazzar is toasting the false gods that he and the other Babylonians worshipped.

Our God is incredibly patient with us sinful people. The Bible constantly tells us that this is true. Psalm 103 for example tells us: “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” and “ he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

However there will come a time when God will say “enough is enough”.

A few years ago my friend Paul was in Oldchurch hospital having broken his leg. As was his wont, he lay in bed and prayed for the other men in his section of the ward. But as he prayed for one particular young man, Paul distinctly felt God say to him not to pray for that the young man as he was beyond saving.

Belshazzar like many people since, thinks its fun to insult God. But be assured there is a time when we have to answer for what we have done. You can’t get away with it for ever. Hebrews 4:13 we read “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account”.

Image result for belshazzar's feastFor Belshazzar the time has come. It’s like the parents coming home to a teenage party in full swing. They’ve opened the door and shouted and everything comes to a stop!

Daniel 5: 5 & 6Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.

I suspect that many of us would have reacted like that. The supernatural breaking through into the natural world.

So what does Belshazzar do about this mysterious writing on the wall? He summons the “wise men” of Babylon, the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to hear what they have to say. He even promises them a great reward to encourage them to find the answer. But they are hopeless and indeed helpless in this situation.

But don’t you find that if face of many of life’s problems and disasters people seek help and advice from the wrong places? I am saddened at the number of bereaved people who consult mediums and spiritists to see if there is a message from their loved ones.

Similarly I am astonished at the number of Christians who consult their horoscope or fortune tellers.

Daniel 5: 8 & 9Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.

Here the Queen mother, Nebuchadnezzar’s widow speaks up. She seems to be the only one who remembers Daniel and suggests that he is consulted.

Belshazzar offers the same amazing reward to Daniel as he had done to the “Wise men”. But Daniel is not interested in the wealth and the power on offer. He does however tell the king the meaning of the writing on the wall.

But first of all he gives a history lesson of how Nebuchadnezzar was humbled before God and came to acknowledge that God is the one in control. Daniel then takes Belshazzar to task for the way he rules his kingdom.

Image result for Belshazzar's Feast Daniel InterpretsDaniel 5: 22 & 23But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honour the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.

Daniel then translates the writing on the wall.

Daniel 5: 26 – 28Here is what these words mean: Mene : God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel : You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres : Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

What was Belshazzar’s reaction? Did he like his father come to his senses and acknowledge that he was a sinful man who needed God’s forgiveness?

No he didn’t! Its as if by rewarding Daniel and dressing him in purple and putting the gold chain around his neck, Belshazzar is saying “Oh that’s all it is. Its only God’s judgement on me. Lets carry on as if nothing has happened.”

But as the Bible tells us, and historic records confirm, the Persian army captured the city that very evening and Belshazzar died. In fact the Persians had diverted the Euphrates river away from the city and marched into the city on the river bed under the city walls.

Belshazzar’s death confirmed what we read in Proverbs 6A troublemaker and a villain … who plots evil with deceit in his heart … disaster will overtake him in an instant; he will suddenly be destroyed — without remedy.”

I do wonder what would have happened if Belshazzar had acted differently. Had he come to his senses and realised that he needed God’s forgiveness and mercy. Who knows?

Image result for weighed on the scales and found wantingSo the message for us here and indeed for everyone is that God’s mercy and forgiveness is available for everyone who acknowledges that they need it. However for those who reject God there will surely come a time when they like Belshazzar will be weighed on the scales and found wanting. At that point there is no hope for their eternal destiny.

If you haven’t come to God through faith in Jesus, don’t leave it, because none of us know the day when the writing on the wall could be for us.

 

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I will not leave you orphaned

Today I led worship and preached at Nelmes United Reformed Church in Hornchurch. The church uses the Revised Common Lectionary and so I based my talk on the gospel reading for today.

John 14:15-21
15 “If you love me, you will obey my commandments. 16 I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. 17 He is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God. The world cannot receive him, because it cannot see him or know him. But you know him, because he remains with you and is in you. 18 “When I go, you will not be left all alone; I will come back to you. 19 In a little while the world will see me no more, but you will see me; and because I live, you also will live. 20 When that day comes, you will know that I am in my Father and that you are in me, just as I am in you. 21 “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. My Father will love those who love me; I too will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Not many people want to be alone.

Agreed, if you lead a busy life, it can be good to have some time on your own. But that’s different to being alone.

The famous Hollywood Actress Greta Garbo is remembered for saying “I want to be alone”

At the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 2, after God created Adam he said that it was not good for man to be alone.

Even in a crowded room you can be alone.Alone-27

But here in our Bible reading from John’s gospel, Jesus is promising his disciples that he will not leave them alone. Some versions say “orphaned” or “desolate” which implies completely abandoned and alone in the world.

Jesus is talking to his disciples following the last supper. Some commentators call these chapters of John’s gospel “Jesus’ last Will and Testament”.

Jesus is preparing his disciples to the fact that he is not going to be around for much longer. In fact as we know that very night Jesus was arrested and the following day he was crucified.

Jesus knows how lost his disciples will be without him and so he does his best to reassure them.

I am sure many of us have felt lost and devastated when our hopes and dreams come crashing down around us.

My next door neighbour is a very vocal armchair West Ham supporter and you can hear him whooping and shouting when the Hammers score. And yet since the other day when his team lost to Liverpool 4 – 0 he has been as silent as the grave!

On June 9th there will be many aspiring MP s and their supporters who will feel utterly devastated having convinced themselves that they will win.

Or remember how many people were in shock last year when the European referendum went the wrong way for them.

But for the disciples this will be much worse. The thought that their friend and leader who they knew is the Messiah will die on a cross will leave them desolate and inconsolable.

And so Jesus promises that they will not be left alone because he will ask God to send another Helper who will be with them for ever.

Jesus himself will know on the cross the awfulness of being alone when in his agony he cries out to God “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Which we find in Matthew 27:46 and is actually a quote from Psalm 22.

Jesus who has been with God the Father for all eternity feels how separation can be. For the first time ever, he is utterly alone as he suffers on the cross.

We can begin to appreciate that sense of abandonment if we ever got ourselves lost as a young child. My wife, Gaynor, still recalls being lost in Marks and Spencer’s in Romford as a young child, when she got separated from her mother.

Jesus doesn’t want this sense of loss, this desolation, this feeling of abandonment to stay with the disciples and so he promises he won’t leave them on their own but will ask God the Father to send them a permanent helper who will be with them for ever.

But Jesus’ promise is conditional. You don’t get something for nothing.

Jesus sets out his proposition in verse 15 and 16If you love me, you will obey my commandments. 16 I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever.

Love of Jesus is shown not by what we say but by what we do, how we live our lives and how we treat others.

I once heard a pastor say “you can’t rest on God’s promises by just resting in his premises.” Just turning up in church is not the same thing as having a relationship with Jesus.

In Luke 10:27 we read a summation of the law “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

Many people claim to be Christians but make no attempt to keep God’s commandments or just keep the ones that appeal to them.

The Helper is of course the Holy Spirit who is the third party of the God head. The Holy Spirit is a person, as we read not only in our Bible reading but throughout the Bible. He is present throughout the Bible from the creation in Genesis 1 to the end of the Bible in Revelation 22.

In verse 17 we are told about the Holy Spirit “ He is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God” in other translations he is referred to “The Spirit of Truth”.

At times truth seems to be in short supply.

When Jesus was on trial before Pontius Pilate, Pilate a great political operator asked Jesus “What is truth?”

Many times we wonder what is true?

In recent times we have seen and heard the spread of “Alternative Facts” and “Face News”. And I suspect as we get near to our General Election on 8th June we will hear more false information.

Many of us are on Social Media such as Facebook and we get fed all sorts of Alternative Facts. Sometimes well meaning but naive friends forward articles and news to us that has very little basis in truth. You know the sort of thing. Stories of how an unnamed friend managed to stave off a heart attack by standing on one leg and singing the Peruvian National Anthem.

I have received emails from the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations telling me that I have been the victim of a scam and how I am entitled to several $ million in compensation. All I have to do is to let them have my bank account details. The FBI have similarly emailed me about fraud compensation. I never knew that the FBI email addresses are with hotmail!

And what about fake news. Often on Social media we see news items that a famous person is dead. But when we check it out with a reputable news website we find the truth.

Many years ago Gaynor’s Auntie Nell was accosted by an old friend in Grays and greeting with the words “Oh I thought you were dead!”

But the Holy Spirit will tell us the truth about God. He reveals the things of God to us. He helps each and every believer in their journey of faith.

Paul in Romans 8: 15 &16 tells us “the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” We are adopted into God’s family we are his sons and daughters. We are no longer alone.

The Spirit helps the Bible, the Word of God, come alive as we read it.

Have you ever read a familiar passage which suddenly comes to life?

Or perhaps you have been struggling over some truth which suddenly becomes as clear as day.

Some translations of the Bible refer to the Holy Spirit as the Advocate. According to the dictionary, an advocate is a person who speaks or writes in support or defence of a person. And so the Holy Spirit, our advocate intercedes on our behalf with God.

So we read in Romans 8:26 & 27the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Isn’t it good to know that he is there speaking on our behalf to God? Just as we are told that Jesus our great High Priest also intercedes for us.

With God’s Spirit in us, we are certainly not alone, left to make our own way in the world. We are not forsaken.

The God who said this to Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:8The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” is the God who is with us always through the power of The Holy Spirit.

If you love Jesus and keep his commandments you will have received the Holy Spirit. The disciples had to wait until Pentecost for the Spirit to come. Since that time He has come to each and every believer who puts their faith in Jesus, so that they are not alone or orphaned but are now part of God’s family. Amen.

 

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Alternative facts and Fake news

Today I spoke at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church and as we are still within the Easter period I spoke about the Resurrection.

Last week our minister Sue Millar talked about the events of that First Easter day. Today our Bible reading deals with events later in the day.

Luke 24: 36 – 49
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Alternative facts and fake news has become common in recent months, particularly with politicians. If they are caught out they proclaim the truth is just “fake news” or of course there are “alternative facts”.

We saw that in the American presidential election last year and no doubt over the next few weeks we will have our own share of alternative facts and fake news in the run up to the General Election on 8th June.

How often do we hear politicians come out with alternative facts. Often in reply to a hard question they come back with “The truth is……..” and then come out with anything but the truth.

And to be honest it is sometimes hard to know what is truth and what is lies.

Just look at the recent use of sarin gas against people in Syria. Who did it? Are we certain it was the Syrian Air Force or was it the rebels? What is certain is that many people died or were seriously and awfully injured. A terrible evil has happened but everyone blames everyone else.

Many of us are on Social Media such as Facebook and we get fed all sorts of Alternative Facts. Sometimes well meaning but naive friends forward articles and news to us that has very little basis in truth. You know the sort of thing. Stories of how an unnamed friend managed to stave off a heart attack by standing on one leg and singing the Peruvian National Anthem.

I have received emails from the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations telling me that I have been the victim of a scam and how I am entitled to several $ million in compensation. All I have to do is to let them have my bank account details.

Similarly the FBI have similarly emailed me about fraud compensation. I never knew that the FBI email addresses are with hotmail!

And what about fake news. Often on Social media we see news items that a famous person is dead. But when we check it out with a reputable news website we find the truth.

Many years ago Gaynor’s Auntie Nell was accosted by an old friend in Grays and greeting with the words “Oh I thought you were dead!”

But alternative facts and fake news are nothing new.

Way back in Genesis we find Adam and Eve avoiding the truth with using alternative facts. They have eaten the apple that God told them not to eat.

The devil uses alternative facts to trick Adam and Eve into eating the apple. And then when challenged by God, Adam and Eve also provide a different version of reality.

And this continues through the Bible.

When Jesus is before Pontius Pilate, Pilate a skilled politician asks “What is truth?” But doesn’t wait for the answer. Perhaps he doesn’t want to know the answer. Many people don’t want to know the truth.

Sadly Christians are known to use alternative facts. One minister I heard preaching some years ago starting off his sermon with the following “Everybody has their own views about Jesus and everybody is right”. The truth about Jesus is that he is the Son of God and he died on the cross for our sins and rose victorious on Easter Day having defeated the powers of evil and reconciled us with God.

Another minister told folk at a Christmas Eve children’s service that Jesus was born at Christmas so that we could all have a lovely time as we are having today!

I was visited yesterday morning by a very earnest lady and a small child pedaling alternative facts about God and Jesus. She was very sincere, but sincerely wrong. Her cult’s false teaching about Jesus is certainly fake news.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is surrounded by alternative facts and fake news.

The Jewish authorities put out the alternative facts that Jesus was a fake, a troublemaker and a blasphemer claiming to be the son of God, when they decided he wasn’t. They were more than happy to have Jesus put to death to rid the country of someone they saw as a troublemaker. They told all sorts of “porkie pies” to support their case against Jesus.

They thought that with the death of Jesus they had seen the last of him but just in case his disciples stole the body to support Jesus’ prediction of rising from the death, they had a guard placed on the tomb.

But as we heard from Sue last week the tomb was open and the stone was rolled away . The guards had fled in terror and were paid by the Jewish authorities to provide fake news about what had happened.

This is what we read in Matthew 281 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. ”

and “11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Just to set the scene for our Bible reading, I am going to quote from Charles Colson who was involved in the Watergate scandal of 1973 and was imprisoned for his part in the crimes committed. Colson repented of his actions and came to faith in Jesus Christ.

This is what he wrote about the resurrection:

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me, How? Because 12 men testified that they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

All four of the gospels deal with the story of Jesus in different ways because they were written with different audiences in mind.

So each of the gospels deal with the Easter story in different ways.

Our reading from Luke’s gospel happens at the end of the first Easter Day.

The guards at the tomb had fled following an earthquake and the tomb opening.

The women had gone to the tomb and found it empty. Mary subsequently met Jesus whom she didn’t initially recognise – after all she had seen him die on a cross and then lain in the tomb. She was overjoyed when she realised that Jesus was alive.

The disciples didn’t believe the women. Remember, at that time women were not regarded as reliable witnesses in a court of law.

According to Luke, Peter went to investigate for himself.

We all have to make our own minds up on Jesus. No one can do that for us. No one can believe on our behalf.

Peter had found the empty tomb and the carefully folded grave clothes – but the penny didn’t drop. He wondered what had happened.

Later in the day two disciples encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples that they encountered Jesus.

As they are talking, Jesus appear in the middle of them.

They think they have seen a ghost.

But Jesus is quick to reassure them that he is no ghost. Luke 24; 37 – 43They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.”

Having given them the proof that he is who he says he is, Jesus then shares with them the scriptural evidence to back up that he had to died and then rise from the dead.

Incidentally there are some 300 old testament prophecies about Jesus and he fulfils all of them.

The Jewish people should have known their scripture, they would have learnt and memorised it from childhood. And yet Jesus’ followers need to be reminded, as in fact we do from time to time.

I can remember when the reality of scripture struck home for me, and I just knew that Jesus had died for me. What a revelation. Jesus loves me so much!

Jesus then tells the disciples that he has a job for them. They are to be his witnesses throughout the world, starting from Jerusalem.

But this is not going to be done in their own strength. Jesus says in Luke 24:49I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit who Jesus had talked about in the days preceding his crucifixion. The Holy Spirit has many names and titles but one in particular we should remember is that he is the Spirit of Truth.

This what Jesus says on the matter in John 16:13But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

So with God’s spirit with in us as our guide we should be able to see what is true and what is false.

We ourselves should not be involved in alternative facts and fake news. We should be people of truth and honesty. That may be difficult for us as we live our daily lives, but the Holy Spirit is the helper and the comforter who will be with us every step of the way.

And so just as the disciples were Jesus’ witnesses to the facts and the good news, so we have had the baton passed to us and it is our turn to tell people the Good News that they can, through faith in Jesus be forgiven for all the wrong things they have said and done.

The truth is that the Easter story is not fake news and that we can be forgiven and reconciled to God through faith in Jesus. Amen.

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Follow me

Today (12th March 2017) I preached at my home church of Becontree Avenue Baptist Church in Dagenham.

I chose to speak on the calling of the first of Jesus’ disciples and usual we start with the Bible readings:

Mark 1: 16 – 20
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Mark 2:13 – 17
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.
16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Two simple words that can change your life for ever “Follow me”

Image result for calling of simon peterFor Simon Peter and Andrew as well as James and John it means leaving behind the only job they had ever known. Probably fishing had been the family business for generations. A steady and dependable job.

Just as in this country until recently sons would follow fathers and grandfathers into farming or coal mining or ship building. In this area it would be Fords or May and Baker or perhaps Tate and Lyle.

Matthew would have been different. Nice people, religious people in Israel would not have been tax collectors. The tax collectors worked for the hated RomansImage result for calling of levi matthew who occupied and ruled the country.

The Romans would tell the tax collectors how much they expected from each person, but if the tax collector added his own percentage it wasn’t a problem. As long as the expected tax money came in, what else happened was up to the tax collector.

Many like Zacchaeus did very nicely out of it. As we can read in Luke 19:1 – 10.

Hence tax collectors were generally disliked by the people and hated by the religious leaders and of course those who fought to free Israel from the Romans – the Zealots. A later disciple of Jesus was Simon the Zealot, a freedom fighter or terrorist depending how you viewed the Zealots.

I wonder how Matthew and Simon the Zealot got on? It just goes to prove that Jesus calls all sorts of people to follow him.

Look how the Pharisees complained about Jesus eating with the tax gatherers: Mark 2:15 – 17 “ While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew or Levi as he is called in Mark’s gospel gave up a lot to follow Jesus. We are not told exactly what in the Bible but if the story of Zacchaeus is anything to go by, he was a wealthy man.

For many people wealth can be a problem. Jesus encountered a rich young man who couldn’t respond to Jesus’ invitation to give it all away and follow him. Mark 10:17 – 22.

Today Jesus challenges all sorts of people to follow him. Even those who are his strongest critics and enemies hear the call and respond.

Jesus’ message is for everyone. And indeed everywhere that the good news of Jesus is told people have the chance to follow him.

But what does it mean to follow Jesus?

Our priorities change.

We are no longer No 1 in our lives.

Jesus is No 1 and our deeds and our thoughts should reflect that.

We should become more like him in how we treat others.

It may be that we are called like those early followers to give up our present life and go on the road telling people about Jesus.

However, Jesus may call us to “follow him” by staying with our family, keeping on working and live for him where we are.

When we respond to Jesus’ call “follow me” we tend to forget that he is there leading the way. We follow where he has been ahead of us. We don’t have to find our own way through life. We follow Jesus. He knows what we are going to face on our journey and he is there to guide us, help us and support us, if only we put our trust in him.

If we think of the way Jesus described himself as the good shepherd it may help.

Image result for the good shepherdThe shepherd in Palestine would be out front of his flock leading them. He would know the best way to go to get his sheep as safely as possible to good places to eat and drink.

Even in the dangerous places the shepherd leads and protects his sheep. Psalm 23:4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

The rod was really a spear to throw at any wild animals that threaten the sheep and the staff of shepherd’s crook with its curved end was used to pull sheep out of places where they got stuck.

I’m told that in the Middle East if you ever see a man driving sheep, he is either taking the sheep to be sold or to the slaughterhouse.

In the middle east if you find an animal on its own its inevitably a goat because the sheep will follow the shepherd and the goats will go their own way.

Jesus leads us. Those from other religions drive people to their eternal destination or fate.

In John 14:6 we read “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

I understand that in Jesus’ day guides would meet visitors to Jerusalem at the city gates shouting out “I am the way” or “follow me”. They would then guide visitors to their destinations.

When Gaynor and I have been abroad visiting a foreign city we have been in a tour party with a guide who would often carry a bright umbrella or something similar so that we can see him or her in the crowds and know we are safe. We just follow our guide, not any other guide because they may be going somewhere completely different.

Similarly we follow Jesus because he is the way to Heaven. No other guide will take us there no matter what they may promise.

Down at the Dartford crossing the Highways Agency police often escort fuel tankers and other dangerous vehicles through the tunnel. The lead police vehicle has an illuminated sign that says “Follow me”

God led the Israelites through the desert for 40 years. In Exodus 13:21By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

Jesus still invites people to follow him. Its an invitation not an order. It is up to each person to decide for themselves whether to follow Jesus or to go their own way.

If you decide to follow Jesus and let him lead you through life, we know that he will never leave us or forsake us. We are never left to find our own way and he will see us safely to our eternal home. As John Newton put it in his famous hymn “Amazing grace” “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come, Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home

Everybody follows someone.

If you don’t follow Jesus, who do you follow?

And if you don’t follow Jesus who is the only way to God, where are you going?

What will be your eternal destination?

Jesus’ invitation is the same now as it was 2000 years ago. Whoever we are, whatever we’ve done, Jesus says “Follow me”.

 

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Loads of money

Last Sunday (30 October 2016) I preached at Nelmes United Reformed Church in Hornchurch (https://www.facebook.com/NelmesURC/).

The gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday dealt with a subject that is dear to many people: “money”.

Luke 19:1-10

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Money and how people use or abuse it features throughout the Bible.

You can do many things with money. You can do good or you can do bad.

Money and possessions can do many things to people.

Often we have to ask do we own our possessions or do they own us?

Many years ago the first hit record of Tamla Motown records was called “Money (that’s what I want)”. If you don’t know the song you can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnP7hNLWisA.

“The best things in life are free

But you can give then to the birds and bees

I need money (that’s what I want)

Money don’t get everything, it’s true

But what it don’t get, I can’t use

I need money (that’s what I want)

Money (that’s what I want)

Lots of money (that’s what I want)

Whole lot of money (that’s what I want)”

We read in the Bible that Jesus has a lot to say about money.

Many people are reluctant for many reasons to part with their money.

So when asked whether people should pay their taxes Jesus has this answer in Mark 12:14 – 17Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”“Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”.

I am never surprised at people who try to avoid their taxes. Even Christians do it.

I was however amazed the other day when a young man I know who is being considered for ordained ministry said that he done a job for cash so that it didn’t have to go through the books.

Image result for pay cash no vatA long time ago I was on the leadership team of a church when we had an estimate for some vital safety work that had to be undertaken. We were told that if we paid cash we could have a 15% discount. That was the VAT rate at the time so it was clear that the work was not going through the contractor’s books. Some of the people at that meeting couldn’t see a problem as it would save the church money!

We can compare two conversations that Jesus had with men who have money. Only one has a positive outcome.

In Matthew 19:16 – 23 we read “ 16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honour your father and mother,’and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’” 20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Clearly this man valued his possessions more than the chance of eternal life.

Having money it not the problem. Having it as the most important thing in your life is the problem.

Our Bible reading for today, deals with another rich man, but the outcome is quite different and maybe that is the reason we know the man’s name. Although one of the early church fathers, Clement of Alexandra gives Zacchaeus the surname Matthias and claims that this Matthias was the man chosen by the disciples to replace Judas Iscariot. (See Acts 1:21 – 26)

In Hebrew the name Zacchaeus means “Innocent” or “pure”. Up until he met with Jesus in the streets of Jericho, Zacchaeus would not have been considered innocent or pure.

He was the chief tax collector in Jericho for the Roman Empire. The RomanImage result for too much tax tax gathering system seems to have worked as a franchise. The Roman’s told the tax gatherer how much they expected from each person and the tax gatherer added his percentage on to the bill. And no doubt it could be a nice little earner.

Jericho being the centre for the lucrative production and export of balsam meant that potentially there was a lot of tax to be collected. Balsam was known in Biblical times as “Balm of Gilead”.

Zacchaeus was not only unpopular because he charged the people too much tax, but also he was a Jew working for the hated Roman occupiers. He was a collaborator.

History tells us how collaborators were treated in Europe after the 2nd World War was over and the German occupiers were defeated. However Zacchaeus would have been safe because of the Roman army in Jericho.

So Jesus comes into town. He is a famous teacher and lots of people want to see him and the streets are crowded. Zacchaeus had a problem seeing Jesus because of his lack of stature so that he couldn’t see over the crowd. No doubt the good people of Jericho made sure that Zacchaeus couldn’t get to a good vantage point.

As we read Zacchaeus was resourceful and climbed into a sycamore tree.

I wonder how Zacchaeus felt when Jesus spotted him and called to him. Maybe he expected abuse from the teacher for him working for the hated Romans.

But what Jesus says to the man is astounding. Luke 19:5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

How did Jesus know his name?

The crowd were naturally angry. How dare this Jesus talk to this awful man? Not only that, but Jesus is going to stay at the man’s house.

Sadly I have known believers who are annoyed when perhaps “undesirables” come to faith. They forget that Jesus came to save anyone who willing come to him, whoever they are and whatever they have done.

However the greatest reaction is from Zacchaeus himself. In an instant he repents and shows his repentance, his change of heart: Luke 19:8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” “

What a change of heart. The man who loved money shows how sorry he is by his actions. Not only is he going to give away half his fortune to the poor but he is going to repay four times as much to those he has cheated.

He either had been a wealthy man to start with or he is going to bankrupt himself!

I believe that it was Billy Graham who said that the last thing to get converted is a man’s wallet.

Clearly this is not the case with Zacchaeus.

Jesus says Luke 19:10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” and as we are his disciples this should be our mission as well, irrespective of who the people are that God sends our way.

And also the Bible challenges us about our money, our possessions. Do we own them or do they own us?

Are we like the rich young man who can’t let go of his possessions or are we like Zacchaeus responding to Jesus’ call and being generous with what we own?

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Chosen for a purpose

Last Sunday (14 August) I again preached at my home church, Becontree Avenue Baptist Church in Dagenham.

Having the previous week talked about Israel’s desire for a king and how disastrous it was, I preached this time on King David who was probably the best King they had.

The Bible reading was 1 Samuel 16: 1 – 13 which can be found here.

Last week we looked at the time the people of Israel asked for a king. If you remember, the prophet Samuel warned the people what would happen if they had a king. But they were insistent and God eventually allowed them to have a king.

Nearly all the kings were simply appalling. They led the people astray, away from God and into all sorts of trouble.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom however. There were some good godly kings.

The first was David. He took over as king when Saul, the first king, died in battle.

David was in fact king in waiting for many years as we shall see.

I think this is a great encouragement for all of us, especially when we feel that God has called us to a specific role and we are just waiting and waiting for the day we can do the job he has called us to do.

Saul started out well enough but had turned out to be a man who went his own way rather than God’s way.

God had enough of Saul and washed his hands of Saul. We can read about that in 1 Samuel 15. In fact we read at the end of that chapter these words: “Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.“

So God sends Samuel to anoint a new king. Samuel had previously warned Saul that this would happen in 1 Samuel 13: 14But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.

Anointing meant setting someone aside for God’s purposes. Often the person has oil poured over their head. In Leviticus 8 we read how Aaron and his sons were anointed by Moses to be God’s priests.

You can read the ingredients in Exodus 30, but here they are in modern quantities:
Myrrh                     6 kg
Sweet cinnamon    3 kg
Kaneh bosem         3 kg
Cassia                      3 kg
olive oil                    7 litres

Psalm 133 makes mention of the anointing of Aaron and compares it to the blessings of God’s people living together in unity:

1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! 2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. 3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

Samuel is obviously carrying some oil, but I suspect not the entire seven litres mentioned above. You would get absolutely soaked having that lot poured over your head. With 15 kilos of ingredients dissolved in it, this would be a very sticky version of the ice bucket challenge that was all the rage a couple of years ago. A bit like having a washing up bowl full of Barbeque Sauce tipped over you.

Samuel has to step out in faith. All he knows is that he is going to Bethlehem and is to meet with a man called Jesse whose son is to be the next king.

You can imagine Samuel’s thoughts “How will I know how to anoint?” “Will he be obvious?” “I expect he will look like a king or a might warrior” “He will be a born leader of men”

When Samuel arrives we read this: 1 Samuel 16: 4&5  When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons The town elders were frightened. May be they felt that trouble follows God’s prophet. Maybe they had heard about the dispute between King Saul and Samuel.and invited them to the sacrifice.

The town elders were frightened. May be they felt that trouble follows God’s prophet. Maybe they had heard about the dispute between King Saul and Samuel.

However the townspeople seem satisfied with Samuel’s response and so they sacrifice the animal that Samuel brought him.

Then Samuel has Jesse’s oldest sons to pass before him. But God says no to all the young men. No matter if they are tall strong and looked the part.

God reminds Samuel in  1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

I recall my days in banking when the most unsuitable people got promoted. The fact that the person rushed around all day with a bundle of files in their hands was interpreted as “look how busy and productive there are”. Someone who was loud and shouted at his fellow workers was seen as keen and passionate about the job. Whilst the ones who just quietly got on with their job were ignored and overlooked. And of course those who snuck out of the office for a fag break with the boss were often seen as suitable candidates for promotion.

Well, Samuel is introduced to Jesse’s sons who are there. But none of them is the right man, the future king. So Samuel has to ask, are there any others?

1 Samuel 16: 11 – 13  So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” 12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David.”

Isn’t it a good job that Samuel listened closely to God and didn’t rely on his own instincts and anoint of one David’s brothers? We read briefly about them late in the story of Goliath the Giant whom David fights and defeats. Three of his older  brothers are there but they, despite the human qualities Samuel had noticed, didn’t volunteer to fight the giant.

David was a young man who saw that it was not only a physical battle but a spiritual one as well. Goliath was defying and mocking God. Yet no one else would take him on.

As we know from the Bible, David fought with Goliath using his own weapons, ones with which he was familiar, to defeat and kill Goliath. He had honed his skills with a slingshot in the desert looking after his father’s sheep, never dreaming that he would one day fight with a giant.

In truth nothing is wasted in God’s economy. He can and will use the skills and abilities you have developed elsewhere and apply them to the situation you now find yourself in.

Sometime after I was made redundant from banking, I was asked to help set up and run a Counselling Charity and here the admin, accounting, and computer skills I had learnt in the bank came in very helpful.

David didn’t always get it right.

He got into a very difficult situation with Bathsheba and to try and get himself out of it, had her husband Uriah put into the most dangerous part of a battle so that he died in action.

David found out that whilst you can hide your misdeeds, your sins, form other men and women, you can’t hide them from God. The prophet Nathan was sent by God to deal with David. David admitted he had done wrong and was forgiven by God. You can read Psalm 51 which David wrote about how guilty he felt and how much he needed God’s forgiveness.

Without a doubt, David loved God.

We read about how he sung and danced when the ark of the covenant was brought into Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 6:14 – 16Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.”

David is stripped down to his undies putting his heart and soul into worshipping God. His wife Michal (who was King Saul’s daughter) is appalled at his undignified behaviour. Perhaps she doesn’t actually know and love God.

I did have a family member who very condescendingly described modern worship songs as “Sing a longs”. She clearly had never been caught up in worship.

You may know the worship song “Undignified” by Matt Redman:

I will dance, I will sing, to be mad for my King.
Nothing, Lord, is hindering the passion in my soul
And I’ll become even more undignified than this.
(Some would say its foolishness but)
I’ll become even more undignified than this.

So David; not an obvious choice, from man’s point of view, to be king. But as our Bible reading tells us: “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

And if your heart is right with God, then be prepared for him to use you in ways you never thought possible.

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