I have to do what!

Last Sunday 17th February I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church. I talked about the healing of Naaman a man from Syria who had leprosy.

Jesus provoked the crowd in the synagogue at Nazareth when he said that a prophet is not believed in his own town and added  “And there were many in Israel with leprosyin the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

As usual I begin with the scripture:

2 Kings 5:1 -14

1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. 2 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” 8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” 11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. 13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

Have you ever noticed how God asks ordinary people like you and me to do extraordinary things? Sometimes impossible or improbable things?

God doesn’t see people as we do. He looks at people’s hearts rather than their physique or their resume. There is one perhaps insignificant player in this story who actually plays a significant part – a Jewish slave girl who is used by God as the story unfolds. Lets just remember that we may be insignificant in the world’s eyes but God has a part for each one of us to play in his plans.

Firstly a brief history lesson. Naaman was a general in the army of Aram, the country we now know as Syria. Aram had gained its independence from Israel during the reign of King Solomon and until its conquest by the Assyrians in 732 BC was often at war with Israel. Sometime, Judah joined in on Aram’s side and other times Judah went to Israel’s aid. And today, some 2800 years on, Israel and Syria are still enemies.

What do we know about Naaman? In our passage we read, “Naaman, the commander of the Syrian Army, was highly respected and esteemed by the king of Syria because through Naaman the Lord had given great victory to the Syrian forces. He was a great soldier, but he suffered from a dreaded skin disease.Image result for Syrian chariot

Obviously this man was a national hero, perhaps of the standing of Montgomery or Eisenhower. A successful and popular man, no doubt famous throughout the country. Here is Naaman, at the height of his fame and power and military prowess, with the writer of the Book of Kings even attributing his victories to God. This may seem strange, but we know that The Lord used the nations surrounding Judah and Israel to punish and discipline his people when they went astray. Given that the then king of Israel was Jehoram son of the evil King Ahab it is hardly surprising that Israel went through periods of judgement at the hands of its enemies.

So at the peak of his career, highly respected and not doubt well rewarded for his victories, he has a problem. He has leprosy. Even if you dress it up in its modern name of Hansen’s disease, it was and for some still is Bad News. It is only in recent years that a treatment has been available, and that treatment is fairly simple if the disease is caught early enough. However, in Naaman’s day there was no cure, just the gradual spread of the disease and the characteristic deformity caused as nerves died away and opportunistic infections of unnoticed or uncared for injuries take their toll.

For Naaman the outlook was disfigurement, disability and finally death. Once the secret was out, his public life, his friendship with the King of Syria, his career, his family life would end and he would be an outcast driven out of society as leprosy sufferers are today in many parts of the world. All he  had worked for would come tumbling down around him. All would be lost.

You can imagine the turmoil in Naaman’s household at the news. What would happen to Naaman? How would the family manage if he had to go away? In the midst of all this, another piece of the jigsaw fits into place. Some would say it was pure chance or coincidence, but when you look at the story as a whole you can see God at work in people’s lives. In v2 we read, “In one of their raids against Israel, the Syrians had carried off a little Israelite girl who became a servant of Naaman’s wife.

How many of us fail to see why we are in circumstances that are not to our liking? We all too often look at things from our point of view rather than God’s. Here is this little girl snatched away from her family in a Syrian raid and enslaved in a foreign land yet she is to play her part for God. Maybe she felt like a discarded bananas on a fruit stall – useless, discarded and unwanted. If we look in Genesis we would see how God was able to use a young man in similar circumstances to save not only his people but also the people of Egypt. That man was Joseph.

Would we do the same? Would we witness in difficult circumstances? In our families or our work? Sometimes if we don’t do what God asks us to do, no one else can or will do it. This unnamed girl played her part and passed on the good news that a cure was possible.

“One day she said to her mistress “I wish that my master could go to the prophet who lives in Samaria! He would cure him of his disease.””

Right from the time of Moses when God gave the law to the Jewish people there was the expectation that people could be cured from leprosy. They would have to be examined by the priests and confirmed “clean”. However apart from Naaman, there is no record in the Bible of anyone being healed of Leprosy until Jesus came – see Luke 17:11-19.

Fortunately Naaman decides to take the advice, perhaps out of desperation rather than hope or belief, but he goes. I think it is interesting that he goes by the official route, almost as if was a diplomatic visit rather than a personal pilgrimage. He has his king’s permission to go and takes with him some amazingly valuable presents and a rather ominous letter for the King of Israel, which really places the onus on the king of Israel to cure Naaman. I wonder if the king of Syria was using the situation to pressure on his neighbour? Look what the letter says: “The letter that he took said ‘This letter will introduce my officer Naaman. I want you to cure him of his disease.'”

There is an interesting parallel between Naaman bearing gifts and seeking a cure with the wise men also bearing gifts and seeking a saviour. They all went to the earthly king when they needed to seek out the heavenly ruler. Anyway Naaman arriving in Samaria the capital city of Israel must have caused quite a stir. To have the commander of a hostile neighbour’s army appear at your palace with what looks like an impossible request or demand must have caused King Jehoram great consternation. He no doubt could see the veiled threat behind the request. We read “When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and exclaimed, “How can the king of Syria expect me to cure this man? Does he think that I am God with the power of life and death? It’s plain that he is trying to start a quarrel with me!””

At this point the second of God’s people in the story makes his appearance. He does not however come to the palace and heal Naaman. No, he sends the following message: “Why are you so upset? Send the man to me, and I’ll show him that there is a prophet in Israel!

So Naaman and his entourage swept out of the palace and make their way to Elisha’s house which was no doubt in the poorer end of Samaria, given that prophets didn’t seem to have that good a life style. Can you imagine the way Naaman feels he is being treated; firstly being sent to the poor end of town and then insulted by Elisha not even coming to the door to see him, the great commander of the mighty Syrian army. Surely the prophet should have come out and said a prayer, or cast a spell as no doubt the magicians back home would do, or maybe tell him to do some amazing task to achieve his healing. This is what happened: “Elisha sent a servant out to tell him to go and wash himself seven times in the river Jordan, and he would be completely cured of his disease

Poor Naaman now he has injured pride to add to his leprosy. The great man wouldn’t deign to see him. How dare he! Who does he think he is? Why should I go and jump in that muddy stinking river? There are some wonderful mountain streams and rivers back home that are far healthier. Forget it!

Can’t you just imagine his reaction? Maybe that’s how some of us would react in similar circumstances. I suspect that then, as now, there was a personality cult with preachers and healers. After all, many people     go to healing services when there are going to be famous men or women there. Look at the hype when famous preachers like Maurice Cerillo or Benny Hine come over to this country. Rather than accept than God can and does heal through anyone he chooses, we tend to seek healing from the “famous healer”. For some folk around here it has to be the vicar or pastor who visits when they are sick. Apparently no one else will do! On the other side of the coin I have come across people who boast that they heal people, rather than God graciously healing through them!

Fortunately for Naaman, his servants had more sense than their master or indeed were detached enough from the situation to be able to see what was happening. “His servants went up to him and said ‘Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, you would have done it. Now why can’t you just wash yourself as he said, and be cured?” Don’t we sometimes need someone to be the voice of reason in our ears when we think that God is asking us to do something ridiculous or embarrassing?

Naaman did as Elisha had commanded him. But think about what was involved in this. As a general he rode in a chariot whilst the common soldiers walked. He had to get down from his chariot and strip off all his fine clothes before wadding into the river, not knowing with any degree of certainty if he would be cured. He is at a place where his status, represented by his fine chariot, and all his possessions and achievements, represented by his clothes and war gear have to be put to one side and he has to come to God just as he is. All this stuff does not impress God, it might impress our fellow men, but not God! It is as Isaiah said “All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags.” This is where our title comes in as Naaman finally does as God wants him to and he ducks under the water seven times to emerge healed. Praise God!Image result for naaman the leper

If we had read the next verse in this chapter we would have heard something amazing from someone who up to know had been a non believer and an enemy of God’s people: “He returned to Elisha with all his men and said ‘Now, I know that there is no god but the God of Israel.’” I wonder how many of us thank God when our prayers are answered, and then tell others how God has worked in our lives? Shouldn’t we testify to God’s goodness?

So what lessons are there for us in this story?

I think the major point is that there is a parallel between Naaman’s condition and that of mankind. Man is suffering from an apparently incurable disabling, disfiguring disease called sin. Where leprosy kills off the nervous system, sin deadens our conscience so that we are not aware of the damage we do to ourselves by the way we live, the choices we make.

There is a cure for sin as simple as the cure for Naaman’s leprosy. It too can restore the damage done to a person’s life. But from man’s point of view, God’s cure for sin is just as improbable, as we all want to do it our way just as Naaman wanted to do it his way.  Just as there were three stages to Naaman’s healing there are three stages to our healing from sin.

Naaman was told:

  • Go
  • Dip
  • Be healed

We are told:

  • Confess
  • Believe
  • Be saved

Romans 10: 9 puts it this way “If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death you will be saved.”

Do you need God’s cure? If so, like Naaman you need to:

  • Shed your pride, you cannot save yourself because of who you are.
  • Recognise that your human achievements really mean nothing to God and they must be dropped as Naaman dropped his uniform.
  • Be obedient to God.

If you feel that like Naaman you have a problem that is beyond man’s help bring it to the Lord today and when he tells you what to do just obey and see the Lord work in your life.

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Lost and Found

I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church on Sunday 25th November 2018. We dealt with the subject of “Lost and found” and as part of my talk for the children produced a list of items left behind on London Underground and Heathrow airport which was quite amazing. We are still wondering why anyone would take a 14 foot boat on the underground let alone Two-and-a-half hundredweight (125 Kilo) of sultanas.

Luke 15:1 – 10
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

No matter what sort of background we come from, we will at some point have lost something. Sometimes it’s a trivial item other times its vital like our door keys or our bank card. Or maybe its of great sentimental value such as jewellery or photos. Some losses we get over and others can make us inconsolable.

Before we look at the reading I would just point out that throughout the Bible we have opposites, things that are either one thing or another and not anything else. For example good and evil, truth or lies, saved or unsaved. And of course: lost and found.

Sadly in today’s society people don’t like absolutes. And they don’t like to be offended by having the truth pointed out to them. After they argue something may be true for you but it isn’t necessarily a truth for me.

Today we are looking at the two stories that Jesus told dealing with the loss of something that is precious to its owner.

You may say what’s the big deal – its only a sheep. But to the shepherd his animals were very important, every one of them. His sheep were his livelihood and indeed his wealth. He was always with his sheep and indeed when they were in the sheep fold at night, the shepherd slept across the gate way to keep them safe. Jesus said in John 10 v7I am the gate for the sheep.” Even though there are 99 other sheep in the field, the missing sheep is still of great concern to the Shepherd.

We know from the Psalm 23 about the care a shepherd would take of his sheep.

Perhaps you know the old hymn “All people that on earth do dwell” which is based on Psalm 100. This talks about God’s people being the sheep of his flock.

In several places in the Old Testament God’s people are described as his inheritance. That’s how he regards us, those who believe and trust in his Son Jesus Christ. We are so precious to him that we are his inheritance. This is from Psalm 33:12Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.“

Image result for lost coinAnd what about the woman with the silver coins? Most likely the silver coins were her dowry, the wealth from her family that she brought into the marriage. The coins were often worn on a headdress. The coins in this case were probably drachma and each coin was worth about a day’s wages. In this country the Office for National Statistics states that the average wage is around £500 pw ie £100 per day. So the woman has lost something precious not only in monetary value but also sentimental value.

Both the shepherd and the woman search diligently to find what is lost. Never mind that the rest is safe, it’s the concern for the lost which is paramount for them. And the rejoicing when they are successful in their search.

But not everyone seems that concerned over their possessions. Perhaps we in the west are so economically blessed that losing something doesn’t matter so much. Just look at the list of lost property from London Underground we thought about earlier.

However when people lose their pet cat or dog they put up posters detailing the animal that has been lost, often with a picture and sometime offering a reward for the safe return of Snuggles the Cat.

Ever since what the Bible calls “the Fall” when sin came into the world and spoilt God’s relationship with mankind, God has been looking for us, to bring us back to him.
God is holy, that is separate from everything else. He can’t abide evil and sin. Mankind’s sinful nature ie the selfish, hurtful things we say and do prevent us being in God’s presence. He cannot turn a blind eye to sin. There are sadly many people who think that because God is love, and we know that to be true because the Bible tells us, God will at the end of the day let everyone into heaven. These people think that murderers, rapists, abusers etc will just walk straight into heaven and God will smile and say “you were a bit of a rascal when you were on earth. But I don’t mind.”

Many of the people I visit in the course of my work automatically assume their recently departed loved ones will be in heaven. It will be business as usual. Never mind how good, bad or indifferent people have been here on earth, whether they believed and trusted in Jesus or not, they’ll all be in heaven.

I have to say that is very wrong.

In the gospels, Jesus talks more about hell than heaven. He warns us about judgement. He longs for people to avoid the penalty for their sins. He longs for the lost to be found.
The Bible is the story of God’s search for men and women who have lost the close personal relationship they were intended to have with God. It tells of God’s rescue plan to find us and bring us home to him.

The two Bible stories have an interesting point. Neither the shepherd who still had 99% of his flock or the housewife who had 90% of her dowry were happy. They didn’t say “Well I’ve got most of it. That’s fine. I’ll worry about the rest later”. No, they didn’t rest until they found that which was lost.

Searching for  the coin was time consuming and it cost. The woman had to light a lamp which would use valuable oil and then she searched thoroughly and carefully for the coin. She did so until, oh joy of joys, she found the coin.

Similarly the Shepherd goes off to search for his missing sheep. It may be caught in bushes, have fallen down a ravine, or been attacked by wild animals. It doesn’t matter to the shepherd. He just goes after that sheep and searches until he finds the animal and brings it safely home.shepherd with sheep

And our wonderful amazing God is the same. He continues to look for us, to call out our names, to try and bring us home. And he will keep trying until the day we die or until Jesus returns. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.”

He never gives up on anyone, despite those who tell you that God can never love them, or they’re far too bad for God to care for them.

What nonsense! How they limit God’s love for mankind. Just look at John 3:16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” There are no conditions except you have to believe in Jesus. Doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, well educated or ill educated, or where you come from, this offer is open to all.

Jesus described his mission as this, in Luke 19:10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus came to bring mankind back to God. There’s no need to worry about being good enough, as we never can be. Jesus by his death on the cross has paid the price for our sins. If we ask his forgiveness for our sins and put our trust in him, we can be forgiven and have new life, with a restored relationship with God. We can know him as a loving caring Father. And absolutely no one is beyond redemption, if they want to come to Jesus.

Sadly some folk do not recognise that they are lost. Some years ago I went with an old friend to a Men’s Conference at Wood Lane Baptist Church where the speaker was the evangelst Dennis Pethers. My friend bought a copy of Denis Pether’s DVD “More to Life“, which he lent to his sister in law and her husband. They looked at the video and returned it saying that it was very interesting but didn’t apply to them as they have never done anything wrong.

Over the years many people have tried to find their own way home to God. But not every road leads us home. The Beatles in the late 1960’s got into eastern mysticism, Tom Cruise, the Hollywood actor, has gone down the road of scientology , poor Amy Winehouse turned to alcohol and drugs. Others like the scientist Richard Dawkins decide that if they deny the existence of God, then they can’t be lost, so there’s no problem.

Other religions do no help us to find our way back to God. There is only one way to God and his name is Jesus!

The good news is that we don’t have to find our own way. We just have to listen to Jesus’ call to us to “Follow me” and obey it.

We sung this earlier the old hymn “Amazing grace” written by John Newton. He had been a slave trader but God had found him and saved him in the midst of a violent storm at sea. He knew it was God’s grace that saved him, nothing that he had done himself. And so he wrote:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but know I see.

Let me tell you about John. He had been a professional musician, a talented man until alcohol got hold of him. But through the love and care of people at the church he came to faith, repented of his sins and was born again. Sadly the years of drinking had taken their toll and he died. At his funeral the final piece of music was by a band called Blind Faith “Can’t find my way home” I was able to tell the mourners that that was a lie and that John through his faith in Jesus had gone home. He had been lost until Jesus found him.

I have to ask: are you lost or found?

If you haven’t come to faith in Jesus, don’t think that you can find your own way home because there is only one way home and that is through Jesus as he said in John 14:6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

If you feel that you hear God calling you to come home, come and speak with me or one of the leadership team after the service and we will be pleased to talk and pray with you.

And if you are “found” what are you doing to help find the lost? At the very least we should be praying for them. I realise that our family and our friends are often resistant to the good news of Jesus, but we mustn’t give up. After all God never gives up on people till their final breath. We should never write someone off even though you think they are the last person who would ever come to faith.

In Matthew 28:19 & 20 we read “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

So there’s our job description to help the lost be found. But we can only do that if we have come to faith in Jesus and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us, encourage us and empower us.


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Be strong and courageous

On Sunday 28th October 2018 I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church. Knowing that many folk are going through difficult times, I chose to base my talk on Joshua 1:1 – 9

1After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2″Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites. 3I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates–all the Hittite country–to the Great Sea on the west. 5No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
6″Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Whose ever been afraid?

The English language has many words to describe that feeling:
• afraid
• scared
• fearful
• frightened
• terrified
• petrified
• uneasy

The Bible mentions the word “afraid” 206 times. “Fear” is mentioned 253 times. So this is obviously an important topic.

I’m sure we’ve all been there. Situations we have to face, things we have to go through. They take us out of our comfort zone and we just don’t like it.

For most of us, its not knowing what’s going to happen, a fear of the unknown that gets to us.

Some time ago a friend of mine asked me to pray for him as he was having to undergo an unpleasant medical investigation involving a camera. After the event I spoke with him and he told me the worst part was the ½ hour in the waiting room before the procedure.

When I started school in 1959 I was left at the school gates by my mum and had to wait with 40 other four and five year olds for our teacher to come out and collect us. None of us had been allowed into the school before to see what it was like, or to meet our teacher. It was all so strange – we even had outside loos with no roof on so they were cold and wet in the winter!

Changing class in primary school could be challenging especially if your new teacher is new to the school and no one knows him or her. What is he or she going to be like? Will I like him or her?

Even at secondary school we have new teachers, new subjects to face.

All through life we have beginnings and endings. New challenges and dangers to face: from babies learning to walk, to children learning to ride bikes without stabilisers or learning to swim without arm bands and floats and then in later years learning to drive.
Change brings excitement and it brings worries. For adults its changing jobs or even retiring from work.

Moving house can be a great challenge and seem daunting to many people. When my niece Katy was about three, my brother and his family were moving to a bigger house. Katy was distraught because she didn’t like the toys that were in the new house. She thought that you left your toys in your old house and inherited the ones left in the new house. A silly thing to those in the know but to three year old Katy it was too much to bare.

Moving to a new country to make a new start can be worrying.

Fear and worry are very closely linked. I am told that the root of the German word for worry is strangle, and sometimes that is exactly what our worries and our fears do to us.

Somebody once described worrying as sitting a rocking chair. It can take a great deal of effort and gets you nowhere.

The American preacher and author Max Lucado in his book “Come thirsty” writes this about worry:
• 40% never happens
• 30% is about unchangeable deeds of the past
• 12% focuses on the opinions of others that cannot be controlled
• 10% centre on personal health which only worsens if we worry about it
• 8% concern real problems that we can influence.

Lucado concludes that 92% of our worries are needless.

God doesn’t want us to live our lives full of fear. Many times in the Bible he tells people not to be afraid, or he says “Do not fear”.

If only we can see situations as they really are, as God sees them. We get so engrossed in our lives that we either forget who is really in control, or perhaps we’ve never actually made that step of faith and placed our lives in the hands of Jesus.

We may have heard about Jesus, we may have even read our Bibles and been to church for years, but we’ve never actually taken that step of faith and put our lives in God’s hands.

So lets look at our Bible passage for this morning. Its about a man who had every reason to worry, bearing in mind the task he had been given.

Joshua has just taken over the leadership of the Jewish people from Moses who had obeying God, led them out of Egypt and through the desert for 40 years.

Joshua had a difficult task.

According to Exodus 12 there were 600,000 men plus all the women and children. Just imagine being in charge of all those people and responsible for them! I wouldn’t want the job.

Joshua was to get all these thousands of people and all their animals and possessions over the River Jordan and into the promised land where they are to not only conquer every town and city they find but then settle down and live there.

Many of us find it enough just to organise the family holiday or moving house. But moving all these people and animals and then fighting battles to remove the existing inhabitants? That seems overwhelming.

But now Joshua has to lead the people into the promised land and conquer it. So what does God say to him?

• v3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.
• v5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.
• v5 As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
• v6 you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.
• v8 Then you will be prosperous and successful.
• v9 the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.

And what does God expect Joshua to do?

1. v7 Be strong and very courageous
2. v7 Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you
3. v8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night
4. v9 Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged.

Do you notice that several times God stresses to Joshua he is to be strong and courageous. Often our courage fails us when we have something new or difficult to undertake or we are uncertain of what we are doing.

There are some big challenges ahead for Joshua and his people. The River Jordan to cross and then cities to over run and armies to defeat. If you read Joshua you may think it’s rather unpleasant that God condemns all these people to die, but if you look into the religious practices which included human sacrifices then you would understand how angry God was with the Canaanites.

We all have our own challenges. We have strongholds of the enemy in our lives to be overcome, difficult people to deal with, awful situations to work through, as we make our way through life. Or perhaps God tells us not to compromise with non believers just as the Jews were not compromise with the Canannites. And maybe, as we read in Joshua 7, “sin in the camp” prevents us fulfilling God’s plan. Maybe its our wrong lifestyle or habits that stop us in our tracks. That’s why we need to do as God commanded Joshua in v 7 & 8 of our reading: “v7 Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you and v8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night.”

In our own lives God tells us to do some difficult things. It’s not because God is a spoil sport but because he loves us that he tells us to avoid certain situations or not to get involved with certain people.

Whilst Joshua was alive the Israelites did as God told them and all went well. However after Joshua’s death they decided that they knew best and brought a whole heap of trouble on themselves.

So today as we have new challenges or just have our everyday tasks and duties lets hold onto God’s promise to Joshua and claim it as our own: Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.




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Living bread

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor and natureOn Sunday I preached at Nelmes United Reformed Church in Hornchurch. They use the Revised Standard Lectionary and the gospel reading for Sunday was John 6: 51 – 58.

So as usual I give you the reading  before we get to the talk.

John 6:51‑58

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live.” 52 This started an angry argument among them. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they asked. 53 Jesus said to them, “I am telling you the truth: if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in yourselves. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them to life on the last day. 55 For my flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them.57 The living Father sent me, and because of him I live also. In the same way whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This, then, is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread that your ancestors ate, but then later died. Those who eat this bread will live forever.”

Our reading today from John’s gospel comes soon after the account of the “Feeding of the 5000”, when Jesus fed many thousands of people from just five loaves and two small fishes.

Bread has feature as a part of mankind’s diet for thousands of years. The first traces of bread making are possible 30,000 years old. The world’s oldest evidence of bread‑making has been found in a 14,500 year old Natufian site in Jordan’s northeastern desert.

Bread is eaten virtually every where in the world except south and east Asia where rice or noodles are the staple food.

In Slavic countries such as Russia and Ukraine, visitors are welcomed with a gift of bread and salt.

Often we talk about breaking bread with someone when we share a meal with them.

Or the main income earner in a household is referred to as the “bread winner”.

Bread features throughout the Bible. There are 246 references to bread in the Bible. The first is in Genesis 14 when Abraham meets Melchizedek king of Salem.

https://davidfowlerpreacher.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/c42a3-screenshot_2014-04-23-16-18-38-1.pngFamously God fed the Israelites with Manna, bread from heaven everyday for 40 years until they settled in the promised land of Canaan and were able to grow their own crops. God was able to get the Jews out of Egypt in a night but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of the Jews, so that they were ready and willing to do things God’s way. Yet through out that time he fed them.

When God gave to Moses detailed instructions on the building and furnishing of the tabernacle which proceeded the Temple in Jerusalem he said that there were to be 12 loaves of bread in the holy place, one for each of the tribes of Israel. This was the “Show bread” or “bread of the presence”.

So the Jews were aware of the significance of bread both from a physical sense and a spiritual sense.


At the beginning of his ministry Jesus had been tempted in the wilderness by the devil. This is what we read in Luke 4:1 – 4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, AIf you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.@ Jesus answered, AIt is written: >Man shall not live on bread alone.”

Jesus rebuked the devil with a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3 “…. people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD

Image result for bibleI wonder how many of us have memorised scripture so that we can recall it in time of need?

When I was still in the Church of England I led a day time Bible Study Group and one day I asked if people knew any Bible verse by heart. Encouragingly several people came up with scriptures they had learnt, but one elderly lady who had been a church member for many years and head of the Mothers Union came up with what she thought was a bible verse “they say you are nearer to God in a garden“.

So here in John 6 the crowds who Jesus fed the previous day have caught up with him and want to see him do yet more miracles. Some no doubt want to be sure that Jesus is who he says he is. Other are just here for a free meal or to watch a good show.

This is part of the conversation:  31 After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat. 32 Jesus said, AI tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. 33 The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. 34 Sir, they said, give us that bread every day. 35 Jesus replied, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

You do wonder from the Jews’ reaction if they get that Jesus is talking about spiritual food, rather than physical food. After all life for the average Jew at the time of Jesus was fairly tough so being well fed would be great and a real blessing. And never being hungry again would be brilliant in a land where you can never rely on the rains coming at the correct time and all the other problems that can beset farmers.

Earlier in John 4, Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well and she misunderstood Jesus speaking about spiritual thirst with physical thirst. John 4:13 – 15Jesus answered, Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won=t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus points out that those who ate the manna, the bread from heaven, have died, but those who eat the bread that Jesus brings will never die.

The Jews of Moses’ time who ate the manna, physical food, have died. Yet those who eat the spiritual food Jesus offers will live on past physical death.

People naturally got worried when he talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. To some this could have seemed like human sacrifice or cannibalism which were abhorrent to the Jews as indeed was drinking blood. How are we going to eat him and drink his blood?

The Jews of Jesus’ day were used to the idea of animal sacrifices, after all that is went on from dawn to dusk, day in and day out, at the Temple in Jerusalem. And it is what the Passover meal was about, a lamb being sacrificed and eaten by the people and the blood used on the doorposts of the house to save all who were inside.

But Jesus is talking about him being a sacrifice, his body broken and his blood poured out on the cross of Calvary for our salvation. Jesus paying the price for our sins to put us right with God.

All we have to do to have eternal life is to believe and trust in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. When we come to faith in Jesus we have the Holy Spirit within us to help us feed on Jesus to become more like him as we grow and mature in our faith.

Just as when we eat physical food we absorb its energy and its goodness into our bodies, so through faith we can absorb Jesus’ life and goodness into our lives, our spirits.

And Jesus’ words point us to the Last Supper. We read in Luke 22:19 – 22And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, AThis cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Jesus wants us to have a personal intimate relationship with him. We are not to keep him at a distance. We are not to say “yes we believe” and then do nothing about it.

I visit many families who will tell me that mum or dad believed but weren’t church goers or anything like that. And sadly there is no evidence of them actually having a faith in Jesus, which is very sad.

So how do we feed on Jesus?

I would suggest that we:

  1. Spend time in prayer, both talking to God and Jesus, as well as listening to them.
  2. Read and study our Bible
  3. Meet with fellow believers for prayer and worship and fellowship
  4. And also we need to celebrate Communion as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:23 – 26 “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, AThis is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.@ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, AThis cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.@ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord=s death until he comes.”

We do not need anything else to have eternal life. We cannot earn our way into heaven no matter how hard we try.

Sadly some people get led astray and walk away from Jesus to the equivalent of eating spiritual junk food. It may taste good and fill you up for a while but what does it really do to you?

Others say that they believe in Jesus and do nothing about it, so sadly at best they are more or less bonsai Christians.

Jesus is the way to heaven. There is no other way and no matter how sincere followers of other faiths may be, they are sincerely wrong. Jesus said in John 14:6  “Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

We are all going to die, unless the Lord returns whilst we are still alive, but we have his promise to hold on to from John 6:54 “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them to life on the last day.”

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Off with his head

Today I preached at Nelmes United Reformed Church in Hornchurch. They follow the “Revised Common Lectionary” so I worked the Bible reading scheduled for today which you can find here: Mark 6:14 – 29.

The life of a prophet in Israel was always full of danger and not for the faint hearted.

John the Baptist is thought of as the last of the “Old Testament prophets”.

Jesus in Matthew 11:11 describes John as follows: “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist….”

The prophets told the people what God had to say to them. Sometimes it was things that the people had to hear, but didn’t want to hear.

In Hebrews 11 we read about men and women of faith and what was done to them because of their faith in God. “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated

According to Jewish tradition Isaiah the prophet was sawn in half whilst hiding in a hollow tree. He had clearly upset the then King Manasseh who amongst other vile crimes took part in the ritual sacrifice of children to the god Moloch.

Nobody ever seems to have volunteered to be a prophet. It was more that God chose them.

This is what we read about the call of Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:4 – 10 4 The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5 Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. 6 Alas, Sovereign LORD, I said, I do not know how to speak; I am too young. 7 But the LORD said to me, Do not say, I am too young. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you, declares the LORD. 9 Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.

It was not an easy life being a prophet. As being God’s messenger you had to deliver bad news to some very powerful people many of whom didn’t want to hear what God had to say to them. And sadly that is still true today.

The prophets were called to speak “truth to power” and that is what we Christians have to do today.

We have to be salt and light in society.

We have to tell the unpleasant truths. To misquote the well known fairy tale, we have to say that the Emperor’s new clothes don’t exist and that he is in the “all together” even if powerful people don’t like it.

We are fortunate that our Queen is a Christian, but sadly many of our politicians are not, and they take their inspiration and guidance from many other sources. They seem to listen to the vocal minorities who shout the loudest   and ignore what God has said. And so we see the flouting of God’s word is so many areas of public life. At times its getting to the 1960’s catch phrase “If it feels good, do it!”.

And sadly some parts of the church go along with this view as they argue “all you need is love” and assume that anything people say is love is okay.

So lets see what happens with John the Baptist.

John was a miracle baby. His parents were past child bearing age and I am sure that his mother Elizabeth in particular had suffered the shame of being childless. In those days having a large family was taken as a sign of God’s blessing, so you could wonder what was wrong with a couple who had no children.

Related imageAnd yet as we know completely out of the blue, in human terms, John’s father Zechariah, a priest,  receives a visit from an angel whilst he is burning incense in the Temple.

We read in Luke 1 the job description for John: Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteousCto make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

John’s reaction to the angel’s message about the baby is quite understandable “You’re having a laugh mate!”.

After that Zechariah is struck dumb until the baby was born.

Something I had never thought of before is that the angel says Zechariah’s prayer has been heard. He must have been praying for a child for many many years. And yet quite unexpectedly his prayer is answered. It teaches us to persist in prayer even when we think the situation is hopeless.

We don’t hear again about John until he starts his ministry around the year 29.

John served as the forerunner or herald of the Messiah and was to prepare for him by fulfilling an Elijah‑like role by calling the nation to repentance. In Luke 3:3 – 6 we are told 3 So John went throughout the whole territory of the Jordan River, preaching, “Turn away from your sins and be baptized, and God will forgive your sins.” ” As it is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah: “Someone is shouting in the desert: “Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him to travel! 5 Every valley must be filled up, every hill and mountain leveled off. The winding roads must be made straight, and the rough paths made smooth. 6 The whole human race will see God’s salvation!‘ ”

Image result for john the baptistJohn baptized people as a sign of their repentance.

John was approached by some poeple who the religious authorities would have said are beyond hope. But whilst we may write people off, God never does. As we know from Jesus’ encounter with the thief on the cross, people have until their dying breath to repent and seek forgiveness.

This is how John dealt with these people (Luke 3:12 -14)  12 Some tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what are we to do?” 13 “Don’t collect more than is legal,” he told them. 14 Some soldiers also asked him, “What about us? What are we to do?” He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely. Be content with your pay.”

John doesn’t tell them to give up their jobs, but he tells them to do them properly, not trying to make a bit on the side. Be honest in your business dealings with others. There still is a culture in society of trying to avoid paying tax or its alright to steal office stationary etc.

I am paid a high percentage of my fees in cash and some colleagues tell me I am stupid to declare to the Inland Revenue everything I earn. But I am answerable to the highest authority in all creation. I must be honest in my dealings. And yet a good number of years ago there was a retired minister who conducted many funeral services a week often having the cheques made out to different family members. This was he was able to buy a nice retirement home as well as a holiday home for his daughter. He obviously hadn’t taken to heed Jesus’ remark about paying taxes in Mark 12:17Then Jesus said to them, Give back to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is Gods.“”

So what had John done to get himself banged up in prison?

He had criticised Herod Antipas the ruler of Galilee for marrying his half brother Philip’s wife Herodias. Herodias wanted John dead for daring to criticise her actions. But it seems that Herod had him arrested almost as a sort of protective custody.

Herod liked listening to what John had to say even though it disturbed him.

We are not sure how long John was in prison but finally there came a day where Herodias could get rid of John once and for all.

At Herod’s birthday party, his step daughter Salome danced so amazingly well that Herod stupidly said she could have anything she wanted as a reward.

So at her mother’s prompting she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a plate. Herod having rashly promised her anything she wanted felt he had no choice but to agree and ordered John to be beheaded there and then.salome-w-head.jpg

If only Herod had engaged his brain before opening his mouth things may have been different.

How many of us are guilty of doing the same thing? We act on impulse without thinking or praying about a situation.

John had fulfilled his role. He had proclaimed that Jesus the Messiah was coming. He had urged people to repent of their sins and to be baptised.

He had also spoken truth to power.

As Christians we are Christ’s ambassadors also proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. But all Christians should be aware that persecution could await us. And sometimes it can come from within the church.

Recently a man was arrested outside St Paul’s cathedral for breach of the peace. He was reading aloud from the Bible and the cathedral authorities objected to him doing this.

However just as John the Baptist stuck to his role right to the end, so we should, aided by the Holy Spirit, be faithful to what Jesus has commissioned us to do, when he said in Matthew 28:19 & 20 Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”




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Do you want to be blessed?

Last Sunday (24 June 2018) I again preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church .

With the children we explored names both in society and in the Bible and how are names soemtimes define who we are.

So our Bible reading deals with a man who had been named Jabez which means “Pain”. Imagine going through life with a name like that.

Well our short reading from the Bible, a snapshot in reality, tells us what this man did and how God blessed him.

1 Chronicles 4 v 9 & 10

Jabez was more honourable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.”Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

How do you feel about being blessed by God?

For many it’s the nondescript “God bless you” we wish people in a vague way or tack onto the message inside greetings cards.

Many of us were bought up not to ask for things. You may have been taught the old saying: “Those who ask don’t get and those who don’t ask don’t want”

However at times like Christmas and birthdays some people write out lists of what they would like to receive. Often this starts once the Christmas cards start appearing in the shops – usually just after Fathers’ Day in June!

There are people who think God is rather like a cash dispenser. You know how they work, you put the cashpoint card in the slot and type in the PIN and bingo out comes the cash. I am sure none of you treat the Lord like that.

You know: say the prayer, shout “Amen” and grab the blessings!

This is the sort of prosperity religion we see mainly in the States. Some people call it “Name it and Claim it”.

Yes God can give us more than we can ever ask for but we have to ask in accordance with his will.

Of course some people in their asking God for blessings misunderstand how he works.

Many years ago when cash dispensers were first installed, I am told that a bank customer arrived at night at an obviously empty dark bank branch. He wrote out his cheque to cash and put it with his cheque book, and cheque guarantee card through the letter box and rushed round to the cash machine and waited and waited for his money. He was convinced that one of the bank’s cashiers was on duty in the darkened building to cash his cheque and push the money out of the slot in the machine!

People are just as wrong and muddled in their approach to God, relying on myths and old wives tales and a lot of misinformation. It is thought by some that God’s blessing just drops into their laps without the need for faith or any effort on our part. Others don’t feel they could ask God for anything. They are right that we don’t deserve God’s blessings but then he is a loving generous God who delights in giving good things to his children.

Some people think they can earn God’s blessings, rather as people used to collect Green Shield stamps years ago and trade the full books in for various items from the catalogue. “If I do this for God then he will do something for me…”

You can’t earn your way into heaven or bargain with God to get his blessings no matter how many times you go to church on Sunday or how many cakes you bake, meetings you attend or whatever. God doesn’t work that way.

God’s children are those who are “born again”, who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, not just people who come to church regularly – they are church goers. You may have heard the saying “You can’t rely on God’s promises by merely visiting his premises”.

Being men, women and children of faith is far more than parking your backside on a church pew for an hour a week or watching “Songs of Praise” on the TV every Sunday evening.

What does God say on the matter of blessings?

Just see the effect that God’s blessing had on people who were faithful and obedient:

Abraham who obediently left his comfortable lifestyle in Ur to find the promised land of Canaan became a successful and prosperous businessman. And had an even greater blessing in that his physical and spiritual descendants are without number as God promised him.

Joseph remained faithful to God despite all that happened to him and became Prime minister of Egypt and saved not only Egypt but also the Jewish people from starvation.

Job had everything taken from him, yet stuck with God and was blessed by having even more given to him because of his faithfulness.

David despite his sinfulness was described as a man after God’s own heart and he was blessed with the Kingdom of Israel and the promise that the Messiah would be one of his descendants. Now isn’t that a real blessing?

And so to the hero in our story.

Jabez clearly hadn’t had a good start in life because his mother had called him “pain” as she had a very difficult and painful childbirth.

Anybody here a pain to their mums?

Yet Jabez has overcome his difficult start in life and has become the most respected member of his family. Clearly this wasn’t enough and he recognised that he couldn’t do it on his own.

Jabez must have realised that human effort can only achieve so much. He was wise enough and humble enough to know that all things come from God. So to really make his mark he needs God’s help.

Jabez wanted it “God’s Way”. So he calls out to the Lord: “Oh, that you would bless meRelated image

Jabez doesn’t limit his request with something trivial like the Old Testament equivalent of the Rolls Royce or a win on the Lottery. No he leaves it to God to provide the blessing.

God like any loving parent wants what’s best for his children and delights in providing for them. Because he is the creator he can bend the rules and make miracles happen. But miracles just don’t happen. We have to ask. Just look at the gospels to see how Jesus answered those who asked in faith

Yet some may say “Oh I haven’t that much faith”. But Jesus talks about us just needing faith the size of a mustard seed to see amazing miracles happen. As you may know a mustard seed is just a tiny black dot and you may wonder how anything of any size can possible grow from it. Matthew 17 v 20I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’”

Jabez has the faith to ask for an increase in his territory – some translations say “land”. But a person’s territory is where he or she can have influence. Jabez was already well respected and wanted to have greater influence.

But for whose benefit?

This is something we should ask ourselves when we seek to increase our influence – is it for us? For our personal benefit or for God? Are we trying to satisfy our own desires or are we seeking to serve God?

Some may say but I have enough. I do enough already. I don’t want to get labelled as “religious”. All this stepping out in faith stuff is alright for church leaders or for people who have the time to study the bible and things but not for me!

Yes, stepping out in faith and asking God to bless you and use you is scary but the results are truly awesome and often beyond your greatest expectations.

Jabez, I am sure, realised that just asking to be blessed was not enough. He goes on to ask “Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm

If someone’s hand is with you or on you then you are close to them. The only way to keep that hand there is to stay close. Its rather like walking hand in hand with a child, to not only give them the comfort of feeling you there, but to keep them from running off or from falling over and hurting themselves.See the source image

Jabez realises even when God gives him the blessing, he needs God’s oversight to keep him safe. He needs to stay close to God.

Did you realise that a quarter of the Lord’s prayer is asking for protection?

All too often when things are going well we forget God. Some people treat him like the red box on the wall – “In case of emergency break your silence and pray“.

When there isn’t a problem we ignore the fire alarm don’t we?

So we too need to keep close to God and if his hand is restraining us we need to learn not to struggle and try to break free because he knows much better than we do the harm that will befall us if we go our own way.

We need also to learn to go at God’s pace not ours. Like the little child who has to learn that the hand he is holding is slowing him down for a reason we also have to realise that God doesn’t want us to run out of steam or indeed over balance and fall because of our haste to get things done.

Indeed Jabez was cute enough to realise the pain that can be caused by going his way rather than God’s way. Without God’s protection we are on our own in the dark. After all Psalm 119 v 105Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” My bible commentary says this about this verse “Apart from this (God’s word) I could only grope about in the darkness. We all know how much harm we can get into walking along an unlit path or negotiating the landing and stairs in the dark when the lights fuse or there is a power cut.

So what happened when Jabez prayed this prayer “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.”?

We read “And God granted his request” We don’t hear again from Jabez in the Bible but we can assume he made his mark for God because his story is recorded for us to study and think about. Clearly the man’s life was changed and indeed his territory or influence is with us today. His story still bears witness to our wonderful loving generous God. Isn’t that something?

Just imagine if you prayed a prayer like Jabez and in three thousand years time, if the Lord Jesus hasn’t returned in the meantime, people are still talking about you as an example of a faithful believer would n’t that say something about your influence being increased and used by God?

If you desire to use what you have for God, to be an influence for him wherever you are, why not pray this prayer?

If you believe that God can and does bless people, and you are prepared to let him decide what the blessing will be and when it will be, why not pray this prayer? After all James says in James 4 v2You do not have because you do not ask

So if you do not ask, you do not get the blessings that God has ready for you and you miss out on the experiencing the God who describes himself as “abundant in goodness”.

Asking God to bless you, as he wills, means that your life will never be the same and he will be able to use you to be a blessing to others and a witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

So lets step out in faith and ask God to bless us:

“Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” Amen.

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My Father’s House

Today I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church. As it is Fathers’ Day, the Children’s Talk explored the idea of family and how as Christians we become of God’s family. The main talk persued the idea of being part of the Household of God as well as thoughts of our eternal home – Heaven.

Our Bible reading is John 14:1 – 6

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

If you speak to people about heaven you will find that there are numerous thoughts about what it is like, and who will be there.

Even some people who claim to be atheists will talk about heaven and how they wish that Mum and Dad are united again there with all the family.

Some want heaven to be like an “East End Knees Up” with all the family there even the dodgy ones who mysteriously will be lovely people.

If you challenge them about the presence of the evil nasty family members being in their version of heaven, it all goes a bit mushy as if they haven’t thought this through. A sort of “it will all be alright in the end” approach.

If heaven is where God lives, how do you get to heaven if you don’t believe in God?

People will maintain that their loved ones have been good people and so deserve to be in heaven. I am never quite sure how they define “good” but it will ensure their loved ones fit the bill.

Sometimes I will be told that Mum or Dad weren’t regular “church goers” but they believed in God. Well, anyone can be a “church goer”, you just walk through the doors. Indeed I have come across church goers and the best thing that can be said about some of them is that it gives them an alibi for where they were on a Sunday morning!

Being a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ is so much more that merely turning up in church on a Sunday morning. It is also more than just believing in the existence of God. Even the devil believes in the existence of God.

It is believing that we need a saviour, some one to get us out of the mess we are in. Its having faith that Jesus is the Son of God and that he through his death on the cross has paid the price for our sins, and that He has put us right with God.

We cannot earn our way to heaven, we can’t work our way into God’s good books. The only was is God’s way, through faith in Jesus.

In John 14:6 Jesus proclaims “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Its as simple as that.

There are some wonderful descriptions of Heaven throughout the Bible. I realise that all the descriptions of heaven fall short of what it is actually like, because human language cannot do it justice. It will be far more wonderful and awesome than we can ever imagine.

To quote the worship band Mercy Me’s song “I can only imagine”:

I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by your side
I can only imagine what my eyes will see
When your face is before me I can only imagine I can only imagine
Surrounded by your glory what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.

You can hear the whole song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xwzItqYmII

All I can truthfully say is it is going to be so wonderful that words will fail us.

Perhaps my favourite description of heaven is here in this passage from John 14: 2In my Father’s house are many rooms”.

This makes heaven sound more personal and less institutional.

Its as if Jesus is telling people “There’s plenty of room in my Dad’s home”.

Heaven is a home not a hotel or hostel. Some translations say “dwelling places” instead of “rooms” to give the idea of permanency rather than just a stopping place.

Perhaps when we were younger we were invited to a friend’s home to play or to have a meal and we wondered what the place would be like. Will the family be welcoming? Will there be a large savage dog the other side of the front door? Will we be well fed or will it be butter or jam with your bread but not both. Will the house be warm and welcoming or will our friends own up that they are so cold that they sit in bed under the duvet to do their homework. Until we walk into the house we can only imagine.

But there are snap shots of heaven in the Bible to give us hints as to the welcome we will receive.

In the parable of the lost sheep Luke 15: 4 – 7 Jesus tells us of the shepherd who leaves his flock to find and rescue a missing sheep and how the shepherd rejoices when he finds the sheep. At the end of the parable Jesus says” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

If the angels throw a party when we come to faith, how much more welcome are we going to be when we get to heaven?

Heaven is where God lives. Its also where his family live. It’s a family home and whilst we can only imagine what it looks like, we can be certain from our own experiences of what a good family home is like, that it will be a place where we are safe, secure, loved, valued and cherished.

If we look at the book of the Revelation we find more wonderful and awesome visions of heaven and what goes on there, but one passage in particular shows us just how loving our God is. Revelation 21: 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Just as a loving parent would sit a child on the lap and see to the scratches and cuts as well as hold the child safe and sooth the tears and the upset away, so God cares for each one of us, his children. Whatever may have hurt and wounded us on earth will have gone forever. And lets face it, everyone of us carries physical, emotional, mental or spiritual scars from what we have been through on earth. We all need God’s healing. And we are assured that we will get that healing in Heaven if we didn’t get it here on earth.

God has a big family.

But the Bible makes it clear that not every human is a child of God. They are certainly created in God’s image and some may be good people but if they are not “born again” then they are not God’s children. And clearly those who follow beliefs that include the murder of those who do not agree with them and their view point, are not heading towards an eternity with God.

Everyone who has put their trust in Jesus Christ as their saviour is a son or daughter of God. We are adopted into his family and we have his Holy Spirit in us to remind us that we are now his children.

This is what Paul wrote in Romans 8:14 – 17For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

An adopted child not only bears the family name but is entitled to share in the inheritance due to the children of the family.

And as children of God, we will have our place in heaven which will be our eternal home.

As I said God has a big family. Some interpret the Bible to think that only 144,000 men and women will be in heaven with everyone else on a newly recreated earth.

But the Bible tells us in Revelation 7:9 – 12After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!

God has many sons and daughters. He does not have grandchildren. Just because your parents were or are believers does not automatically make you a believer. There is no “family ticket” into heaven. I recall a woman at a previous church who was a believer and was upset when it was explained to her that her father would not be assured a place in heaven without him having a faith in Jesus.

Just as I said in our children’s talk about the little boy who was adopted into a new family not being able to make his own way to his new family home, so we need someone to show us the way to our new family home, heaven. I am sure that Thomas’ words ring true for us before we came to faith in Jesus “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?

And that is just what Jesus promises to do, to show us the way home.

In declaring that he is the way, Jesus is saying that he is our guide and will lead us through life into heaven. He doesn’t say it will be an easy journey but he will be with us ever step of the way.

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How much?

Last Sunday (8th April 2018) I preached at my home church of Becontree Avenue Baptist Church. It was a week after Easter and so I felt it appropriate to talk about Good Friday and Easter although I did not chose one of the traditional Easter Bible readings.

Earlier in the service with the children we explored what to do when we couldn’t pay our debts ourselves. In fact we needed someone else to come to our rescue and save us. Which leads us on to our Bible reading from John’s gospel.

John 3:14 – 18

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’ For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

How much is something worth?Image result for how much?

There are many people who know the price of many things but the value of nothing.

So how much is something worth?

We are all used to shopping. Buying food, clothes, household goods, cars, little treats, holidays etc. The list is endless.

Most of us pay the stated price. Of course some of us claim to have an eye for a bargain. The reduced section of the supermarket is often the busiest part of the shop.

And there is always Ebay where you can bid for the items on sale. You pay what you think something is worth.

Basically something is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. So a house in the catchment area of a good school is going to cost more than a house near to a failing school.

Or if you were really really thirsty you would pay me a fiver for my carafe of water here on the table?

Some of my time in banking, was spent in Debt Recovery trying to get back the bank’s money when things had gone wrong.

So a company may have spent £1/4 Million on a special piece of equipment for a particular contract. The company loses the contract and is in trouble. What cost £1/4 Million may make £25,000 in scrap value.

Or how but the £millions lent to a property company to build an apartment block with an underground garage which actually gave the bank a very expensive hole in the ground ! And who wants to buy a hole in the ground?

On occasions Gaynor has mentioned that various stores may have 50% off . My riposte was that I could save 100% !

I recall with horror the day in 1974 I found out that the price of Mars bars had gone up to 5p! And it was twice the size of the current Mars bar.

Everything has a price or a consequence. That became apparent too Adam and Eve right back in Genesis when sin entered the world. They lost their wonderful close relationship with God and death came to mankind.

Death has haunted mankind ever since. Many people are desperate to avoid it.

I was told by a man I visited that he sat with his cousin as she died. She was fighting desperately to live and was absolutely terrified. He said she was frightened by what awaited her the other side of death. She had done some truly awful and wicked things which I will not mention as there are children present. Maybe in those last moments she recognised that there was a price to pay for her sins. Paul reminds us in Romans 6:23…the wages of sin is death”.

Many people have a naive view of sin. They think they can get away with it. After all “it was such a long time ago”, or “it was only a little sin” or “I was only unfaithful the once”.

Really its like being at the check out at Morrisons and say to the cashier “I don’t have to pay for that as I put it in the trolley half an hour ago.” or “Oh its only a small tin of soup so it doesn’t count”.

The supermarket doesn’t work like that, neither does life.

If we think we can get away with spiritual shoplifting the Bible tells us in Hebrews 4:13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom me must give account

Lets be honest, we cannot help but sin. None of us is perfect, no matter how hard we try. Some try to live by the rules and regulations, but they still fail. The Pharisees were one such group who tried desperately to keep the rules yet failed.

You could say we are addicted to sin, and despite our best efforts we cannot break the habit.

I took the funeral for a middle age woman who had been an alcoholic – eight cans of Tennants strong lager a day for many years until 15 years ago she ended up in hospital with alcohol induced dementia. Each day she had consumed twice the recommended maximum weekly amount of alcohol. Her final years were spent in a nursing home not really aware of who she was or who her family were. Her family had tried what they could to save her but the addiction was too strong and overwhelming.

The same way sin holds us captive and enslaves us. We are not free to be who God made us to be. After all slaves have to do the biding of their owner whether they want to or not.

Image result for shopping cartAnd so how do we pay for our purchases, our sins?

In our local supermarket we pay with money, be it cash, debit card, credit card, Apple Pay or any of the many other payment methods. What ever you call it, it is still money.

But what happens if we haven’t the cash or our cards are declined?

Unless some one intervenes and pays for our shopping we go hungry and the items go back on the shelves or into the chiller units and freezers.

But with sin we can’t put it back. We can’t unshop. It’s all there in front of us and we have to pay.

We have nothing we can use for payment. Some would say “I’ve been a good person so that should help” Or “look at all the good deeds I’ve done. That must off set the bad things”.

However God tells us the real worth of all our good deeds. We read this in Isaiah 64:6all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags”. The original Aramaic is more graphic.

The price for our sins have to be paid for us to be able to enter Heaven. God is holy and to enter heaven we too must be pure and holy, with no trace of sin.

We cannot pay the price ourselves and God realized that, and so he paid the price himself.

Related imageThe price that God paid to set us free from our sin was huge. He gave the most precious thing he had, in fact the most precious and costly thing in the whole of creation and beyond. He gave his son Jesus to be the price of our sins, indeed the sins of the whole world.

Of course it is our choice to accept or decline God’s offer to let Jesus pay for our sins. If we don’t we will spend eternity separated from God and from all that is good. And that is what God calls hell.

And in the Bible Jesus talks more about hell than he does about Heaven. He warns us about the reality of hell because God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell.

So in our “sin supermarket” we have two choices:

  1.  Acknowledge that we cannot pay for our own sins and accept Jesus’ offer to pay for us. We can then walk out of one exit towards heaven. Or
  2.  We can ignore Jesus’ offer and leave via the other exit which leads to hell and eternal separation from God.

The great sacrifice that one off payment was made by Jesus on the cross on what we call Good Friday. Jesus is recorded as shouting out from the cross “It is finished!” which can be translated as “Paid in full” which of course used to be written on or stamped on invoices when payment was made.Image result for paid in full

And with his death the debts of all who put their trust in him, were paid and they were freed from the slavery and tyranny of sin.

Easter Day when Jesus rose from the grave emphasises the fact that the Son of God has broken the power of sin, death and the devil and that mankind need be slaves no more.
Sadly many people chose to stay in slavery to sin. They enjoy their lifestyle and don’t want to think about the eternal consequences of their actions.

Others think they are beyond salvation. God can’t possible forgive them. If the sacrifice that Jesus made is not big enough for them, then nothing is. There is nothing else in all creation that can pay the price of sin.

And for those who follow other religions, other belief systems do they really have a practical solution to the problem of sin?

In John 14: 6 Jesus is quoted as saying “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Sincere as these people maybe, if they leave Jesus out of the equation they will get nowhere, and certainly not to heaven.

People condemn themselves to hell. God in the end lets them have the consequences of their choices and actions. If you reject Jesus then you choice where you are going to spend eternity.

So to return to the question “How much?” God says that you and I are so special and precious that he was willing to pay the price for our sins, and that was the death of Jesus.
And only you can decide to accept the offer. Only you can say whether believing and trusting in Jesus is worth it.

God doesn’t want you to spend eternity anywhere but with him in heaven.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

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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!”


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.


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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