What season are you?

A truly blessed day in Athlone & Tullamore, met lovely folk, visited relatives and spent quality time with my husband. In the service we explored the life of Thomas, a man who showed courage & passion, humility & faith and once had a season of doubt.

I promised to record the service but due to some extremely klutzy behaviour on my part I ended up without a phone and therefore no recording device. However today opened up a window of opportunity and I was able to record it, although there was no congregation I imagined Charlene sitting on her deckchair by the empty pool listening in that intense way she does.

The transcript is below but neither service heard the exact words as written, it was a good guide though:

The Seasons of Thomas

Thomas was one of the twelve named disciples and we first hear dialogue with him in John 11. The friend of Jesus Lazarus lies ill and his sisters have sent word to Jesus. But when Jesus says to his disciples  “Let us go back to Judea,” in verse 7. The disciples are not happy and tried to persuade him not to go. But it was Thomas who stood apart and said “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Verse 16.

Let us go also so that we may die with him.

These are courageous words. These are words of martyrdom, of standing up for Jesus. I wonder if we didn’t live in comfortable Ireland, if we lived in say North Korea or Eritrea or Indonesia or Syria would we be coming together so readily on a Sunday morning to worship the Lord. What would we be willing to do for the Lord? How far would we go?

I managed to get hold of the first volume of Crookshanks History of Methodism in Ireland recently and it makes fascinating reading. These people who put their lives on the line to share the gospel message to the towns and villages around Ireland.

Here is a short passage, from this neck of the woods:

“Then a party of seven started for Athlone. Some persons overtook them on the road running in great haste, and one horseman riding at full speed; but they suspected nothing, and rode on singing till within half a mile of the town. As they ascended a little hill three or four men appeared and bade them go back; but they did not mind them, thinking they were in jest. Then they were attacked by a mob, who saluted them with a shower of stones; but by spurring on their horses, they escaped without serious injury, except J. Healy, who was knocked down and severely hurt…”

It goes on

“The man who wounded Mr Healy was about to finish his desperate deed with a knife, swearing that he would cut him up, when a poor woman came to the assistance of the wounded preacher, and swore as stoutly that he should not be touched. The ruffian half killed her with a blow, from the effects of which she afterwards died, yet she restrained him until help came.”

The woman has no name in the book but she stood up and the gospel was proclaimed many times in this area bringing many souls to Christ. If Christianity was outlawed in Ireland would we still gather?

Could we be courage in our faith like Thomas?

Let us go also so that we may die with him.

The next time we meet Thomas is in John 14. And we meet another facet of his personality, he is not afraid to ask questions of Jesus. Jesus has just explained to them that he is going to be leaving them and finishes by saying “You know the way to the place I am going”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

If Thomas had not asked the question, we would not know the answer, one of the bible verses we all know

Jesus answers “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Have you ever been in a bible study and wanted to ask a question but thought it would sound daft or that people would laugh? Two years ago I was asked to take over a bible study in a neighbouring county for a while and they were mid study of the letter to the Ephesians. I think it was about chapter 4. So I turned up and before we had started the study, a shy lady nudged me and asked if she could ask a question. I was new to leading studies so I was thinking of all the desperately hard questions it might be. And she said “What’s a gentile?” Ephesians is littered with the word and I also knew the person who had been leading the study and they would have given a very thorough explanation of what a gentile was. But sometimes we miss one sentence and then it doesn’t compute for us and we ask the question. Or do we? Are we like Thomas asking for further clarification or do we just leave it because we don’t want to lose face? Thomas showed humility in asking the question.

Could we be more humble like Thomas?

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

So Thomas before the Crucifixion was humble and courageous. What was he like after? Thomas will tell you in his own words:

Hi, I wish I could stand here and tell you my nickname is Captain Courageous or Wonder Tom but you have all read about me and you know I am known as Doubting Thomas.

Which is really unfair because I wasn’t the only one doubting – all the disciples did, Mary did. But I was the last of those to doubt so the name stuck. And it’s okay I am over it. But it is unfair. I’m just saying.

Let me tell you what happened. I had heard about Mary and the gardener who she said was Jesus, Cleophas and his mate had told us about meeting this guy on the road to Emmaus who they said was Jesus. And I had gone off on my own trying to think these things through.

And then I get back to the meeting place and there is uproar. Everyone is laughing and singing, you’d think someone was getting married instead of the awful truth, our teacher Jesus had died and someone had stolen the body.

Our lives had been changed by this man, he had taught us about the kingdom of God, he healed people, he drove demons out and when he showed his power over the elements. I mean he was awesome. He was special, the greatest prophet ever. He talked in riddles to us, and sometimes we didn’t understand and sometimes we asked him to explain again.

He never tired of telling us over and over again. He loved us and we loved him. But the guys, that day, they were telling me he had appeared in the middle of them, inside the locked door. They said it was really him, in the flesh.

Now a ghost I could understand, but they were saying it was really him, and that he showed the his hands and side where the nails had been driven home and where the spear had pierced him. Well I just couldn’t help it I told them I don’t believe it.

I actually said ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’

And then began the worst week of my life. All around me it was party, party but I was in a desperate place. I loved Jesus and I missed him, not like missing him a little bit, but my heart groaned with the ache of not having him near. Of all the people in the world I would turn to at a time like this, it would have been him and he wasn’t here, he was dead and I was distraught.

A week later we were meeting again in the locked room. You have got to understand we were scared that the Jewish authorities would come and have us arrested. So we were in the locked room, and a guy appeared in the middle of room and said “peace be with you” and I knew who he was.

He said “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

I didn’t need to I knew and I suddenly knew a whole lot more. It was like my mind and my heart suddenly started working together and I was so happy, so joyful and well gobsmacked really

Because I got it. This was God, Jesus who I had followed for three years was who he had been telling us. He is God. I don’t know how I got the words out but somehow I said, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Forever I will be known as Doubting Thomas and that’s okay, because I met Jesus and followed him, I watched him die, I saw the empty tomb and I met the risen Christ, Jesus. We were changed by him, are you?

Thomas doubted and then he believed when he saw Jesus with his own eyes. Just like when we explored belief and doubt in the all age message earlier. It is a lot easier to believe something if we can see it. And more so if we touch it, feel it, hear it, smell it. When all our senses are working together.

Thomas we think went onto share the good news of Jesus as far as India, he was a man of passion, humility, courage and the occasional doubt.

So finally in our scripture passage we come to that inspiring verse:

Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

And in 1st Peter:

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1Pe 1:8-9

That’s us. That is all of us here this morning. We believe. We have passion and courage. We have faith. Praise God

And we also have occasions when we doubt.

Thomas knew who to turn to in doubt. Do we?

Are we willing to face the doubts that we have about God?

Are we willing to talk to Him about it?

Are we willing to listen to the answer, even if the answer is “not telling”

He will meet with us and, he will hear us and he will in a very real and personal way answer those questions and doubts.

Why will He? Why will he meet us in our doubts and questions?

God loves us

And God is able to handle our doubts,

He is bigger than our doubts.

He able to handle our anger as you cry out “Why Me? I’m a good person. Why me? Lord, Why did it have to happen to me?”

So we should embrace our doubts, love them, explore them, encourage others with doubts, be honest, open ourselves up to one another.

The great thing about doing church is we get to meet people. The wonderful life changing thing about being church is we can be like Thomas…

Passionate

Courageous

Humble

And when we have doubt… we can be there for one another.

We need to let go, surrender, trust.

So let’s take God out our boxes, let’s stop trying to contain him with our doubts. And live in fullness and joy.

But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:21

We need to have faith like Thomas we need to bring our doubts to God, we need to release them so that we with Thomas can say, “My Lord and my God”

Amen

Sermon 25~~~Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount~~~Discourse 5

“Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you: Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For verily I say unto you: That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 6:1–15.

I was struggling with one of the commandments, it caused me to walk away from church as a teenager and when I returned it was still there: Front and centre. Joining a Bible study didn’t help, we were studying the Sermon on the Mount and so I heard what fulfilling the Law by Jesus meant and that it wasn’t about following the letter of the Law but following the explicit and implicit nature of the Law. So not only the act, but the first iota of an inkling of the act.

I spoke to one of our Local Preachers about it and they said and I quote:

“oh don’t worry about them that is why we have the New Testament we don’t have to worry about the Old Testament at all.”

Now young as I was in my faith walk this didn’t make sense, firstly if we weren’t to worry about the Old Testament then why was it still attached to the New physically in our bibles. Secondly we hear Jesus himself saying

“I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

The LP in question were themselves living a precarious life – preaching without call and preaching when preaching itself was contrary to their beliefs, but I found this out later.

But it raised queries for me and sent me on a journey of discovery of how to ‘without a shadow of doubt’ be following the ten commandments, I left the 613 other laws alone as I am partial to a fried prawn curry and my friends were not abominations.

Two things I discovered in my journey and these are vital for spiritual growth:

1. you have to ask, not just of God but of godly men and women whom you trust and listen to their replies with discernment. The wisest of the wise of humans can get it wrong sometimes too.

2. this is not a solitary journey, people walk alongside, some for a season, some for a season or two but all who walk have their own backstory and motivations.

Jesus did not land on this earth so we can read his words and go – “oh that’s nice.” No he came to change the world, change history, change us, individually – you and me.

March 2014 a vid was shown in church, to show a model of mission and specifically shown to me to raise questions about where is the mission field. Like the questions weren’t there already. A few years ago I had the privilege of viewing and touching some of the modern art held by the Methodist Church in Britain. Yes I did say touch, I couldn’t help it, it was so tactile it drew me in and I touched.

It wasn’t the Diwali madonna or the graphic depictions of the death of Christ, it wasn’t five and chips on the mountain. It was “Cross over the city,” a mixed media (Polyester, brass and mosaic, relief panel) conceptual depiction of The Cross over a city. For me it spoke missionally of housing estates where God is not known. No Pharisees live there and the law is that of the concrete jungle – the hierarchical nature of crime- controlled by the older but carried out be the very young. How do we reach those children, whose light quickly fades and is not present from the age of eight? How can hope be found for those that see life as endless drudge of pain and painkillers? Where the rite of passage into adulthood is not a ritual of confirmation into a church but a gang rape for her and needle for him and where that ritual takes place in ever lowering ages. What age will it stop?

These people do not know the commandments, do not know anything about the Lord and his saving grace, do not know anything about right from wrong. I call them people because children are humans too. How can they even hope to have the righteousness of a Pharisee with no knowledge of the Lord?

And where are we? Tucked up safely in our homes, barricaded in – lest they take out. Where we have no concept of how others live. Someone told me once that everyone has a choice. But not if they are living without choices – where children are groomed to accept whatever is thrown at them.

Jesus came for all of us, not just the twin set and pearls and suited ones, but the raggedy ones, the ones like me and you.

I may have openly struggled with one of the ten, but I was struggling for more secretly with others but until I sorted the open one I was held in grace until such a time was right, timing is everything with the Lord.

Sermon 24~~~Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount~~~Discourse 4

“Ye are the salt of the earth. But if the salt hath lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and trodden under foot of men. “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
“Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light to all that are in the house.
“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

Matt. 5:13–16

God loves a pure heart more than all the outward ritual, so Wesley notes that many philosophers and theologians have over the centuries suggested that a solitary worship of the Lord was preferable to corporate worship. Wesley was a proponent of social religion so he does not concur with the hermit in a cave model.

However he does allow that there is a time for personal devotion and prayer, but there is a necessity to come together not only to do “church” but for the fruit of the Spirit to be seen in the way we do “good works.” How can we share the Good News if we sit on a mountaintop in solitary confinement.

To be in solitary worship, to spend our lives away from people means that our light cannot shine and we are called to shine not hide away. Wesley talks of not only of keeping together and talking only to godly men and women but that we are to converse with all kinds of people – even those we would rather airbrush out. And if we stay away from the world how can we be the salt. How can we challenge wishy washiness? How can we challenge our lawmakers and breakers? How can we challenge wrong thinking or behaviour? … if we are not beside or in front of those people and how can others season our lives and help keep us on track.

Father God, keep us meek, keep us humble, keep us loving & giving, patient & kind. Show us Lord where to go, who to link with, help us Lord see the needs in our communities and give us the courage to step up and out to share the gospel with all we encounter. We say this in the Name of Jesus, our Saviour, Amen

salt-and-light

Sermon 19 ~~~{The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God}

 “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.”

1 John 3:9

Light bulb! Light bulb!
It started with a shower of rain and ended up quite something else. The niggle was “how dare it rain on MY holiday.” that was the beginning of a slide. Did the Spirit try to hold me, convict me. Yes of course, but I was bent on ignoring the righteousness of God, and Wesley in this sermon explains how it is that backsliding occurs.
We allow a little bit of this or that and allow a whole deluge to come in. It takes time to realise the error of our ways, we might need the intervention of a Nathan or Paul but if we are to continue to live in Christ we must get back on track.
Love this sermon, there is nothing in it to pick apart,  the illustrations are relevant to today’s world and I recommend this sermon to be red by every believer, it is very encouraging and yet challenging.
I feel a sermon coming on …

Sermon 18 ~~~ {The Marks of the New Birth}

“So is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

John 3:8

The first mark, Wesley tells us (Gal 3:26) is faith. It is the foundational mark and it is profoundly life changing, it is deeply rooted in the personal relationship we have with the Lord and is fed by daily spending time with Scripture, meeting in fellowship, meditating on the word and prayer.

He takes time to give out to those who say that to sin habitually is against the concept of the new birth. But what he is really saying here is that one of the marks of the new birth is not sinning. We are dead to sin and alive in Christ. In one of the previous sermons he said sin was still around us but that we didn’t allow it reign in us as we did before the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

He again touches on the fruit of the Spirit and living in joy, peace and love. And then he comes to hope which I preached on Sunday week. Secular hope, real hope and a quasi real hope that many people attending church – a hedging bets with a pick and mix religion that many of our pews are filled with (across all churches)

Sometimes I think I am afraid to repeat myself but Wesley has no fear – he spends a good amount of time in this sermon again pointing out the greatest commandment ” love the Lord your God with all.. and love your neighbour …” I shall be less afraid now!

Finally he touches on good works as being the result of a transformed life – a mark of the new birth not to gain reputation either here or in heaven but that we are compelled to good works in His strength.