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. 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:

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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