Sermon Forty The wilderness state

john                                                    audio clip

Being a reader, editor and proof reader I have come across many “wilderness” books. The wilderness years of Winston Churchill and Adrian Mole (now there’s a contrast!) come to mind immediately. Blood Meridian is a novel based on real life events in the desert of the Mexican border with the States. But another one of my pastimes is film. In films deserts are sandy places not unlike Inch beach without the water. The sand scours the skin. My favourite wilderness in film from a cinematography point of view is the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Dying in a hail of bullets in a remote chapel someplace along the border previously mentioned. So desperate, so caught in a corner, that there is no place left to hide, they were hunted down and then killed.

Sometimes in our peachy happily clappy Christian life something happens that makes us doubt everything, including God’s sovereignty in it all. We are floored literally by some life event and we end up in the wilderness. Immediate desert after a time of abundance. What floors us is as individual as to how long it takes us to rise again. Some of us don’t languishing in a place not fit for human habitation, where breathing in and out is a chore that we want rid of. Not every Christian goes through this so if someone tells you we all do, we don’t. It is a specific time for specific people.

There is more than one wilderness, though. Sometimes a sin that we hadn’t brought before the Lord, by omission rather than design, rears up and causes us to enter this state. For others it is the realisation that something has got to change. Whatever causes us to enter, the losses are the same and interlinked.

The first is loss of faith, people no longer trust God, after putting all their trust in him they suddenly find they have lost their spiritual strength and have become as weak as non believers. So they lose the love. Where is the love? The love is in the connection, when we sever the connection the love is still there but we cannot feel it anymore, we are not plugged into that personal relationship. And so to joy, with no faith and no love there is no joy, not the temporary happiness that abounds at a tea party but that deeply rooted joy that comes as a gift from the Spirit. Where peace was, there is now a chasm as wide and as deep and as long as can be. Where once the person was basking in the glow of the love of God, now there is turmoil, insecurity, doubt and all measure of devilish thoughts. And finally we lose the power of Jesus Christ, that power over sin.

What does cause it? Sin committed deliberately can darken the soul in an instant. Like there is a boy who when he was eight years old I swore that when he was a grown up I’d give him a beating for all the bullying he inflicted on one of my children. He is twenty now, still walking, still has a pretty face. Why? Because in the meantime my heart was softened by the love of God until I could say clearly from the bottom of my heart I loved this boy. My clucky mother hen natural instincts supplanted by God’s love. We love because He loves.

We can quite easily wander into the desert by omitting things in our spiritual life and this is possibly why John Wesley was so diligent in this area.

Just like there are many wildernesses and deserts there is equally only one way out. It does make sense. Wesley says there are a variety of cures but I say one. The lying down of oneself at the Cross, hand it all over to Lord, ask for forgiveness and ask for the strength to forgive. Let go of the “what if’s” If it surrounds a death, be assured no one knows when the time will come for our earthly hearts to stop whether we are ninety or nine hours old. If it surrounds a sin get rid of it. A relationship, healing. Whatever is causing you to doubt God’s sovereign rule in your life, get it out of here because it is not of God.

I was once placed in the wilderness for my own good and it was a very enlightening period. I discovered lots of things about pink, I discovered a lot of things about God and me or me and God too. I was not there from doubt or fear, but I was there for a reason and I had stuff to work out before I could be brought out of the wilderness through the refiner’s fire, a shinier person than before, ready to hear what he had in store for me.

[and then I wanted to go back to the desert!] briefly before I was given tools to proceed.

Sermon Sixteen Christian happiness

john                                            audio clip

Jesus sat down on a mountain side and taught. What a beautiful picture of God incarnate.

Wesley points out three things at the beginning of this sermon.

  1. The teacher – Jesus – Lord of heaven and earth
  2. What? The way to the kingdom of heaven
  3. Who? All humankind

Wesley talks about the spiritually poor as those who have not yet given their lives to Christ. So like the taxcollector who thuds his chest whilst calling himself a sinner. A while ago I was at a bible study and someone asked “Can’t we communicate with God when we haven’t sinned?” To not be a “sinner” in the presence of God suggest something that we are not. It is suggestive of perfection which we cannot even begin to comprehend let alone attain it.

God knows we are imperfect, that we are sinners but if we are authentic in our quest to be more like Christ we are acceptable to him. All he asks is that we become living sacrifices, our whole lives given over to him. We do so in love, because we are in love with the Lord. In love because our whole being is infused with his love that he gives us freely and we respond by loving.

We are right with God because he forgives us our confessed sins. We can’t water down the need for confession, we can’t in church not talk about sin, we can dress it up into other words and call it mess or stuff or whatever but we do need to talk about sin. We need to talk about forgiveness, we need to forgive ourselves.

A friend once admitted that although God had forgiven them, they couldn’t forgive themselves, poppycock. If the creator of the universe deigns to forgives us with all the mercy and grace and love necessary, who are we mere mortals to say I can’t forgive myself.

Wesley goes on to talk about those who mourn, not the ones who mourn the loss of a house, a job, a reputation. I think of a public official shamed by his drug use, pulled into the public arena to state how sorry he was. He looked more sorry for being caught than for the act. Does the size of our house matter? Does the size of our payslip matter? We are here for such a short time, surely our time should be spent on Godly matters. God matters first, the rest comes because of God.

Who can separate us from the love of Christ?

What can separate us from the love of Christ?

Mourning an absent God?

Joy of the love of Christ sustains us through life’s difficulties, shields us, protects us, nutures us, challenges us, encourages us, loves us. God is with us, Emmanuel.

Sermon Fourteen How to recognise the new birth

john                                                                                  audio clip


Wesley has four elements to the new birth – faith, peace, hope and love.

How wonderful is that, doesn’t it make you jump for joy and grin wildly. We have faith, we have peace and we have love all given to us as gifts from the Lord.

We are children of God, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven – we shall be glad, we shall rejoice and we shall jump for joy. And we do, daily, hourly, by the minute and second because to be a child of God is to live differently.

Now in previous sermons Wesley has honed in on faith so I won’t go over old ground. We are to be reminded though that because of faith there is power over sin, we are not slaves to sin as we were in past lives we have been set free from the burden of sin and we give thanks for that.

This freedom leads to maturity and that is the process we are all in. We mature over time just like fruit on trees. Those fruit need water, food and sunshine. We need the bible, fellowship with other believers, sound teaching, prayer and worship to the Lord. With these tools we mature so that the sinful past becomes a shadow and in time even we forget.

What a privilege we have to be adopted into the family of the Living Lord. Do you feel that privilege today? Or do you think of it as unimportant, are you taking it for granted that you are saved?

We have peace in our hearts that transcends our understanding, we cannot even begin to describe it, nothing we say will ever come close. But it is wonderful isn’t it. Do you feel it today as you face uncertainty, trials and tribulations?

Our hope is in Christ Jesus, in him alone. It is a living hope, and very real. It is not the hope, like oh I hope to go to Cork tomorrow. It is that very real deep down hope that we shall see Jesus, and in the meantime we walk with him in simplicity and sincerity.

We love because first he loved us, it keeps coming back to love. Because love was there in the beginning and it will be there forevermore. It is a love that surpasses all human knowledge. There is no earthly reason why I can turn to my abuser and say I love you, I hope only good things for you, God loves you too, There is no earthly reason why anyone could find something to love in me. But God loves me and because he loves me I am able to love and because I am able to love so others love me. What a wonderful love we have. What a wonderful Saviour we have. Thank you Jesus.

So to be born in God means to believe in God through Jesus as to be free from sin and to enjoy the peace which passes understanding, so to hope in God is to have the witness of a good conscience and the witness of the Holy Spirit; so to love God as to love every human being as you love yourself, making your whole life a labour of love.

Wesley finishes on a note of caution to not backslide, to not become children of the devil once more but that if people do they can fall on God’s mercy again. And he gives an altar call to be saved in Christ.

Sermon Eight Freedom from guilt

john                                                          audio clip

Wesley’s sermon on freedom from guilt begins by outlining who it is that lives in union with Jesus. They have faith, have confidence in, believe in and love God and do not rely on their own righteousness but have been bought by the blood of Christ living  in union which is an indescribably joyful spiritual experience.

He says at the beginning that these people no longer sin but later in the sermon he teases that out a little more. So hold that thought. When we are held in a state of dependence on the Lord we are given the strength and power to overcome sinfulness. No longer will we desire those things from our past lives but only desire to do what is pleasing to the Lord. The fruit of the Spirit are in evidence in our lives, all the time, not just in public but when we are behind closed doors, when no other human is watching. We are given the tools necessary to keep us turned to God and way from sin.

When we live in union with Jesus we have no guilt. Our past sins are gone, forgotten and so there is no need to think of them. I remember being asked to give a testimony to a group of people some time ago and when I began to collate my thoughts I found that a lot of that past life I could no longer recall. It was gone, finished. It is in the acceptance of forgiveness we truly begin to live, in the forgiving ourselves, we realise that there is no condemnation here.

We tend to be sensitive around people who are slipping or who begin to feel guilty about something again but Wesley is more pointy and tells it as it is. If you are feeling guilty you have ceased to be a believer.

Within us we have the potential for anger and sin of every kind. It is part of the struggle of Christian living that sin is so close to us. The Holy Spirit guides us away from sin but because it is so near we can choose to go have a looksee. It no longer comes easy to us we physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually have to turn toward it and it is not natural for us to do so. But I can say from experience it is possible, it is freaking painful and mocks the living God and not something that I ever have an intention of doing again.

I was in a moment, a very definite call had been put on my life and I was trying my hardest to point out to God that he really did have the wrong person, there were many more suitable people who could do what he wanted me to and I just was not able. So best way to get out of it do the opposite, do something so outrageously bad that I would be unacceptable and I could go on with my easy existence. Well no, it didn’t work out that way because God used the situation I got myself in for his glory. The full details of this situation have been fictionalised and published and can be found if you so wish. Like my past life, it is gone and finished and I learned so much from the experience, and even last week got given new tools to deal with any potential situations arising. I love my God.

Okay so Wesley said they don’t sin, but we know that we are children of God and we do sin. He outlines how for him this works. There is the sins of ignorance – when we didn’t know something or we try to help in a situation and it is made worse. These are mistakes that do not cause a separation between self and God. We often hear ourselves saying “I never meant any harm” “if you have taken offence at what I have said I apologise I didn’t mean it like that”

There are situations beyond our control, we are supposed to do something but we get sick and can’t. So there is no choice and no guilt, there can be upset at not being able to do the thing but no guilt.

My favourite phrase is the “sins of surprise.” I think these are the ones that crop up in our lives most often. Mild mannered Mr Brown suddenly loses the plot at some kids stealing his flowers after forty years of mildness. This is a surprise and the culpability depends on how much warning the person gets. So if Mrs Brown told him that the kids were coming then he should have been prepared and so his loss of temper is a bigger deal than if he had no warning at all. Our own conscience as well as the Spirit will convict us of these surprise sins.

We are also assaulted by the spiritual battle going on for our soul. Satan wants us to backslide and gives us every opportunity to do so. Our foolishness at being tempted by the devil does not cause us to be guilt ridden for we know we can throw ourselves on God’s mercy and as we are held in grace, we know, we have assurance that once we honestly and authentically ask for forgiveness, it is given.

So Wesley brings his thoughts to a conclusion with no slipping into either remorse or sin, God can conquer our sin if we let him. He is our rock, if we lean on him, keep turned to him there is no need for guilt. Because he loves us he gives us the strength to battle sin and battle Satan’s wiles. When we realise our weakness and helplessness we are made strong by the Lord, in the Lord, for the Lord.