Trusting God Without Knowing Everything

Sunday the 27th of November 2016

Matthew 24: 36-44

When I was working as a counsellor I had to do professional development. Now a part of this was to go to different workshops looking at the different counselling techniques. One particularly workshop I attended was talking about how when working with people it is important to help them come to peace with the fact that there are many questions in their lives that do not have answers. The idea was to help people come to a point where they could accept the fact that it is okay to not to know sometimes and not to have all the answers and to manage this without letting anxiety take over. Now this was a very secular workshop, but there was some wisdom to what they were getting at.

The fact that we do not know things is very difficult for many in our society, because our lives are based on our perceived ability to figure things out and to know the answers to all the questions we have. Often this “not knowing” can make people very anxious or even angry, particularly when it comes to our being able to know what our future holds. And as Christians we are no exception. There are many things about God and what he does in the lives of his people and the world that are a complete mystery to us. Everything about our future it is unknown. Except for this: “… your Lord is coming” (v 42). Yet, even in this, no matter how many Christians think that they can figure out the how? when? And where? of Jesus return, we are left in a place of unknowing, and don’t we know it.

The time of leading up to and the time of advent is a time where we focus on Jesus return, and this is often a time where we reflect on the hope that we have for the future when he does finally come back to judge. But I think that it also presents us with a challenge and causes to reflect up on our own trust in God.

Jesus says in today’s reading from Mathew 24 these words about his coming: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (v. 36). The fact that Jesus says the he is in the dark about his return, causes us to have questions doesn’t it, ones that we don’t have neat clear cut answers to. But despite these questions we may have it places the emphasis of the fact for us this is a matter of faith or trust. We trust the promises the he gives us. Our future and what it holds for us are in God’s hands. Time is in God’s hands. All you and I really need to know is that we are one day closer to the Last Day than we were yesterday. Or as the Romans reading puts it: “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers” (Rom 13:11).

I can’t help but wonder whether our not-knowing is actually intended by God to bring us back time after time the point where we simply trust, where we trust God’s promise that time is in His hands.

Jesus says: : “Keep watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (v. 42). Our keeping watch is not so that you may know the precise day and hour when Jesus comes back. In fact I don’t believe the Jesus is focusing on the future but rather the present. We are to ‘keep watch’ so that our whole lives may be prepared for all the ways God will keep his promises in our midst now. He says “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (v. 44). Being ready does not mean that we are ready so that we can expect the exact time in the future, but rather so that our lives may be attuned to the work of God and what He is doing in our ordinary lives in the present.

Jesus is not directing us as his disciples toward predicting what the future holds, but rather he is teaching us how we ought to live our lives, here and now, with a with an expectation and hope that Jesus will return at any time. We are to live our lives from the view point that because we do not know when the second coming will occur, we cannot wait until the time is near in order to prepare for it. He is asking us to be prepared at all times (Matthew 24:42, 44).

The challenge that Jesus gives us is a clear. We need to take responsibility for keeping our faith in him on track. We are told to watch out so that no one can come in like thief and steal our faith. There are many things in the world that we live in the can easily distract us so that we can take our faith of Jesus and stop trusting him. Jesus gives us words of warning so that we do everything we can to keep our focus and trust in him.

One of the things about the seasons of our church year is that they are set. This is good because it means that during the different seasons we focus on different areas of God’s Word to us and on what this means for our faith in the world we live in. But I wonder sometimes whether in advent it becomes a bit too predictable. Imagine what it would be like, for example, if Christmas was at a different time every year. We would still plan for it, still take the day off, still have the same celebrations, it just wouldn’t necessarily happen on December 25. All we would know is that it would happen sometime in December. Imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning and the TV or radio would announce: “Today’s the day! Merry Christmas!” If this happened I wonder whether we would plan differently; would our gift giving and holiday plans change at all; I wonder how would we receive the day?

Jesus coming back again is a bit like this, we know it is going to happen, but we don’t know when. The thing is though, for the world the coming if Jesus will be a surprise. But for us who believe in him and are his disciples who trust the promises of God, this will be a great surprise that will be filled with joy. And this is what we anticipate as we live our lives in the present.

We all know that the time will come when Jesus will come back, and many of us have thoughts and opinions about when this may be. Are we living in the end times now? Or is this just history repeating itself? Well we may well be, or we might not be we can’t say for certain. But what we can say it that no matter how long it takes for him to return, we are to make sure that we keep watch and stay alert, and do everything in our power to keep our faith and trust in Jesus. We don’t have to worry about what will happen or when it will happen, but rather trust that God has us in his hands not matter what and when the time comes because of our faith and trust in him, we know that he will take us to be with him. Knowing this we live our normal everyday lives holding on to this hope.

So I encourage you all to keep watch over your faith, to guard and to cherish it, so that you don’t become complacent, but rather grow in confidence because of it. I encourage you to keep your eyes focused on Jesus so that the things of the world, don’t distract you. Most of all I encourage you encourage each other so that we stay strong in faith together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eyes That Truly See

Sunday the 13th of November 2016

Luke 21: 5-19

During the week, like many others, I was watching the events that occurred in American politics with the election of Donald trump. What stood out to me was the reaction of not only those in the USA, but also around the world, including here in Australia. There seems to be so much anxiety about what is ahead. People worrying about how this election will affect our relationship with the US. How it will affect our financial position as a country; how it will effect world events; how it will affect the American people. There are many people who are very worried and anxious about what is to come in the next few years. When people start thinking this way they often have deep fears about the future, particularly when things seem as unstable and uncertain.

Leading up to Advent, which is the beginning of the church year, many of our scripture readings speak about the end times as heard in today’s Gospel reading from Luke 21. As I was pondering how I was going to preach on these words from Jesus, I could not help but have the events of this week in my mind.

The reading starts: Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” Notice Jesus words “As for what you see here”. It is interesting that Jesus was on way to Jerusalem for the final time, he was on the eve of his journey to that cross which he had spoken to his disciples about. Jesus’ focus was on his destination of the cross, but the question is where were these disciples looking? Or what were they looking at?

As disciples of Jesus, where and on what our eyes are fixed is very important. Do we look at the world around us through our eyes, or the eyes of Jesus? Do we see what and whom Jesus sees? With many things happening in this world at the moment it is easy for us to become distracted from what is important. It is easy to become so focused on the world around us that our eyes are fixed on the things of this world. If our eyes are locked on only things that are temporary, we open ourselves up to miss observing the permanency of the true things of God that will last. If we only see obvious grandeur and splendour, we may overlook beauty in that which first appeared unattractive, even repulsive. If we focus only on the negative, damaging, and destructive things of this world, we just might miss all the affirming, constructive, and encouraging things that God is doing amongst us.

Jesus exhorts his disciples to watch out so that they are not deceived and then goes on to describe the things that are going to happen. There will be natural disasters: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven”

And there will be persecution: “They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name” at this point if you are anything like me, you might say to yourself this does not sound hopeful or good in any way. In the midst of all of this he says these very important words to his disciples “And so you will bear witness to me”

As Christians who live in very chaotic and unstable world, where and what we put our focus on is very important. These disciples experienced many of the things that Jesus spoke of, which can be read in the book of Acts, and they did give witness to Jesus in them. You and I as his disciples are called to give witness to him in our world today. But the thing is that, we give witness to what we see or to put it another way what we see is what we will speak.

God is calling us as his children to be the eyes of the Gospel to those around us, when world and those who have the loudest voices in it seem only to see what they want to see, the material world. This is at the heart of much of the anxiety about Donald Trump. It has, in my opinion, to do with our own security and how this could be threatened by his actions.

But it is awfully hard to give witness to what others around us can’t see. This might be the reason that Jesus warns his disciples and us about the things that are to happen. And notice what he says: “9When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” He also says 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. While he was telling what is going to happen, he is also telling us that we do not need to be afraid, because he is with us and will help us. It is because we do not need to fear that we are called to have eyes that can pierce through what seems to be beyond hope, to give witness, in amongst the chaos, to the hope we have because of Jesus Christ; we are called to have eyes that can perceive the activity of Jesus Christ and what he is doing in this world, even when it looks as if all that against God in this world is winning; We are called to have eyes that are intent on seeing what God sees and who God sees — no matter what is happening in the world around us.

Jesus tells us: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them…” How do we not be deceived: by keeping our eyes and focus on Jesus. He is to be our focus.

Jesus speaks to his disciples that ultimately, the experience of persecution will not end in death but in a victory for the souls (Luke 21:19); and that we are trust God even in the midst of hardship and persecution. But more that this it is about the hope that we have. Our God is still present and powerful, even when it looks like His church is powerless in the face of all that seems to be working against the Kingdom of God. God remains present in the world and in our lives even when things, appear to have gotten so bad that it feels like the world is closing in on us.

This reading ends with these words from Jesus: “17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life”

This is the very heart of what Jesus was speaking about to his disciples and to us. We can stand firm in our faith and not be anxious because our focus is on Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. We know that whatever happens that our salvation is secure in him.

The world around us may be very anxious about the near future and what is going to happen when Donald Trump becomes the next president of the US. People and nations may become insecure about where they stand in this world, including us here in Australia. But as Jesus disciples do not have to be overwhelmed with what our future holds, because our security is in Jesus Christ. I have heard from a number of people who are afraid of what the world is coming to. Some are afraid of persecution coming upon Christians like we have not seen before. Will I be able to stand up and give witness to Jesus in the face of persecution? Again the thing is that Jesus has promised that he will be with all of his children and the he will give strength to those are called up on to face this. We do not need to worry or be afraid, but to stand firm in his promise to us.

I encourage you all to pray for our world, to be concerned about that is happening; But I strongly encourage you to keep your eyes on Jesus, and as you do the events of this world will not overwhelm you because you are in his hands no matter what happens.

 

 

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Standing Firm

Sunday the 6th  of Novembers 2016

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 &13-17

Nearly two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul came to the town of Thessalonica in the region we now know as Turkey. Whilst he was there a number of people responded to his preaching of the Gospel and a church started. Right from the beginning this little church, who met in a house in one of the believers, was persecuted, but they were also faithful. Whilst this church was not a big church, so to speak, they were dedicated to following their Lord Jesus, and learning what the Apostle had taught them. However at some point in time some people came among them and started to stir them up because they were teaching false things about the faith. Particularly these people were saying that the end times had already arrived. As you can imagine this unsettled many of these believers and caused them to be confused. I can imagine that they would have been looking around them and asking themselves questions, perhaps like: is this what the end times looks like? And clearly the reaction by them was one that made them very anxious and unsettled.

I have had a number of people talk to me about how they are looking at the way the world is at the moment and wondering: Are we in the end times? Or how much longer do you think that God is going to let things go before Jesus comes back? And of course there are many people out there that have lots to say about where and when Jesus is coming back. Many people have opinions and there are some who are clearly false teachers in the churches. With talk of Jesus return there often comes much anxiety.

To the Christians in Thessalonica God’s word to them was one of encouragement. Listen to what his word says : “13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits[ to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings[c] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

In the face of uncertainty and false teaching they were encouraged to stand firm and hold fast to the teaching that was passed on to them. That is the teaching that comes from the apostles that came from Jesus Christ himself. In Mathew 28 as you have heard already today with the baptism of Ashleigh Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. These Christians were being encouraged to hold on to the Gospel that was proclaimed to them, and not to be deceived by false teachers.

This again speaks to us in that we here today are to stand firm on the Gospel that had been proclaimed and is being proclaimed through the Holy Spirit working faith in us, and we are to hold onto what the we have received through God’s Word, the ancient creeds, and the Confessions, as we await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We here today in the midst of confusion and anxiety are told, like the Thessalonians, to stand firm.

But does standing firm mean that we just stand and do nothing? Verse 14 tells us: “14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And then in 16 it says: “16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

God himself has chosen us as first fruits, he has called us through the good news. But what has he called us for. As Christians we often think about life after death and the resurrection, about what is going to happen when Jesus returns. But the question is: What do we do in the mean time? Do we just sit around and wait?

As those of us who have faith in Jesus Christ, we look for his second coming with hope, knowing that because of what he has done for us by his death on that cross and his resurrection from the dead, our salvation is assured. But God is not calling us to sit and wait, but rather we are to be comforted by the gospel so that we are “strengthened in every good word and work” (v17). In other words, in response to what Jesus has done for us we respond with our actions. Whatever our situation may be, we are all called as God’s children to be good news for all people. This calling doesn’t stop because we are dying, don’t have time, or are physically unable. We are always called to respond. The important thing is that in our responding we do not do it alone, the Holy Spirit is with us, guiding us as we live our lives responding to Jesus call on our lives.

The church in Thessalonica, was not a very big church, but they were faithful. The apostle Paul reminds them not to be lead astray by false teaching. But he did more than that, he reaffirmed that, whilst they were waiting for the return of Jesus, that the Holy Spirit was working in them; that while there were on this earth God was working in them in various ways to show his glory. The false teachers if you like were a distraction, from what God was really doing among them.

Here today in this small congregation, surrounded by a world full of anxieties and false teaching that distracts us, we can be affirmed that God is the one who is at work in us though his Holy Spirit, that he is here today working amongst his children.

Our church may not be big, we may not have hundreds of people like other churches around us, but each of us are called here together to stand firm on what God teachers us through his Word, and to live out our faith together by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us. As it says because of our Lord Jesus we have his grace and even more that that it says that he gives us: “eternal encouragement and good hope” This is good news for us.

In responding to the unsettledness and confusion that was happening among the Christian’s in Thessalonica, whilst they did receive a warning not to be deceived, they received a word of encouragement, a word that built them up, a word that brought their focus back on to what the Church of Jesus is all about: following him where they were and not letting others side track them from this. These same words of encouragement also speak to you and me here today.

In a time where many people are talking and thinking about the end of the world, where there is much anxiety among many, about Jesus return I encourage you to focus on the gospel to focus on fact that right here at this time, God still has things for you and me to do. We do not need to be anxious or afraid, because the Gospel means that we have confidence in our salvation because of Jesus. This means that we do not need focus on what is to come, but focus on and to see what God wants us to do here and now in this Church community and to follow him with confidence.