Sermon and Prayers
Sermon and Prayers
Lyrics for the above song “Mary Consoles Eve” by “Rain for Roots”
Eve, my sister
The one who took the fall
Eve, my sister
Mother of us all
Lift up your head
Don’t hide your blushing face
The promised One
Is finally on His way
Almost, not yet, already
Almost, not yet, already
Eve, it’s Mary
Now I’m a mother too
The child I carry
A promise coming true
This baby comes to save us from our sin
A servant King, His kingdom without end
Almost, not yet, already
Almost, not yet, already
He comes to make his blessings flow
As far and wide as the curse is found
He comes to make His blessings flow
Almost, not yet, already,
Almost, not yet, already…soon
Eve, my sister
The one who took the fall
Eve, my sister
Mother of us all
The promised One
Is finally on His way
Written by Katy Bowser (©2015 Velveteen Songs [SESAC]), Flo Paris Oakes (©2015 Flo Paris Music), Sandra McCracken (©2015 Drink Your Tea, [ASCAP], Admin by Simpleville, Inc.) & Kenny Hutson (©2015 Jiggyfoot Music [SESAC])
Dear BGPC members,
I’m planning to send out the latest pastoral letter this week. In an attempt to be a little “greener” and save on paper, as well as time and postal expenses, I am hoping to send some of the letters out by email to those who would be comfortable receiving them via email.
Sermon and Prayer
Sermon and Prayer
Sermon & Prayer
This year has been exceptionally difficult for so many people in this country and all over the world. We were caught off-guard and so many of our plans and dreams for 2020 were derailed. This year will go down in history. But life, normal life, has its moments too. We get derailed, caught off-guard, unsettled. We don’t like to be unsettled. It’s not a pleasant feeling to be reminded of the uncertainties of life and how little control we have over things.
Peter was writing to a church undergoing a difficult time. They were facing persecution from the society they lived in because of their faith and how that changed the way that they lived. Peter’s advice to them is to not be surprised that this is happening:
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
(1 Peter 4:12, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
Why shouldn’t they be surprised at their hardship? I’m not disagreeing with Peter, but I want us to reflect on why these people shouldn’t be surprised at their hardship. Because this can change how you view your struggles. And we’re all struggling with something, especially now.
Notice what language Peter uses: “fiery ordeal”. Not “painful ordeal”, nor “upsetting ordeal”, even though enduring persecution must have been both painful and upsetting. Peter says “fiery”. Fire doesn’t just destroy; it’s also used to purify and to refine. Peter is referencing something that he mentioned at the beginning of this letter.
Peter mentions the trials that these Christians are suffering and says:
“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
(1 Peter 1:7, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
This is a “fiery ordeal” because it is a refining process. They are being transformed. Their faith is being refined in the fires of persecution.
Christians should not be surprised that they are being refined. You cannot have a relationship with Jesus and not be transformed by him. If you view your Christian life as a refining, transforming, purifying process then you will not be surprised or disheartened by hardships.
Transformation involves being stretched, being unsettled, being made uncomfortable. People who go to the gym are not surprised that they must work out. You wouldn’t be surprised to go to school and find that you must concentrate and study hard.
You will be surprised and disheartened by fiery ordeals if you think that everything is already gold. If you think that nothing needs to be unsettled or refined, then you’ll just be upset. You will see it as nothing more than torment. But if we know that we need to be, and are being, transformed by God, refined by God, then we can have hope and even joy.
This battle against COVID-19 has been hard on the church. We can’t currently meet for Sunday services, Bible studies, prayer meetings, youth fellowship, Sunday school, committee meetings, kirk session meetings and much of the normal socialising that is so important for fellowship and friendship. I’m glad that I can still communicate with you through our modern technology including these videos, or the CDs, or by post. But this isn’t church. This is a very poor substitute for meeting together and worshipping together. It’s easy to become disheartened, I know.
Aside from our current situation, the church has other fiery ordeals that are just typical to the experience of being faithful followers of Christ in a world that does not know him. We have brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted, beaten, jailed and killed for their faith. The opposition that believers face in Ireland is not so severe, but still it’s not insignificant. We can do our best to nurture the faith of young believers (either young in age or simply new to the faith) but when they encounter mockery or abuse for their beliefs that can really hurt. It’s not nice to face mockery and accusations from your neighbours or those who once were your friends. It’s heart-breaking.
So, we shouldn’t be surprised when we suffer for our faith. What should be our response?
“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
(1 Peter 4:13, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
We can rejoice when we suffer for our faith, because we know that we are not only suffering for Christ but suffering with Christ. We’re walking his way, and if our Lord encountered opposition and hardship in the world then so will we.
In Acts, chapter 5, we can read of the time when Peter and the apostles were flogged by the High Council in Jerusalem for preaching the gospel. After they were released, they rejoiced:
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”
(Acts 5:41–42, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
As Peter says in this passage:
“If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
(1 Peter 4:15–16, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
We have fellowship with Jesus in suffering for our faith, and just as we share in this suffering, we will share in his glory too. As Paul wrote to the Roman church:
“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.”
(Romans 8:17, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
The path to true glory goes through suffering because we must be transformed if we want to see glory. And transformation, changing to something better, is an unsettling, uncomfortable and sometimes painful process. Jesus didn’t need to be transformed, but he endured suffering for our sake. As we walk this path, we walk it with Jesus and his Spirit will be with us in a special way. As Peter says in verse 14:
“If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
(1 Peter 4:14, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
When our faith takes us through suffering the Spirit of God rests on us. Now the Spirit dwells in all Christians, but those who suffer for their faith can experience the presence of God in a very powerful way as the Spirit blesses them with what they need to endure, to bear witness, and to be transformed. Those who cling tightly to God in these hard times find their faith strengthened. That is a blessing worth rejoicing over.
Judgement is coming. Evil will be dealt with and done away with. But when we think of evil, we must not think of it as something out there. Evil is in me too and it must be cut away by God. Because I belong to him, God is dedicated to cutting that evil away and transforming me. Sometimes it is a painful process. Sometimes God uses unlikely events or experiences to achieve this end, but I trust in him. As painful as it can be to go against the flow in this world and undergo the transformation that God is working in me, it is ultimately a far more painful and terrible thing to simply go the way of this world. That’s what Peter means in verses 17 and 18:
“For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’”
(1 Peter 4:17–18, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
God may discipline me out of love, to correct my ways and transform me so I become more like Jesus. I know that God isn’t just punishing me when I suffer, because my punishment was taken by Jesus on the cross. I have faith in Jesus and his sacrifice in my place and so I am saved. My debt is paid. My sins are forgiven. I hope the same is true of you because this is a debt you could never afford to pay yourself. Thank God you don’t have to if you put your trust in Jesus.
Cling tightly to God when you suffer, knowing that he is faithful and is working in you to bless you and transform you into what you were always meant to be.
“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
(1 Peter 4:19, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
Don’t be surprised that things are difficult. Commit to God and continue to do what he has called you to do. An athlete doesn’t get discouraged when their muscles ache after training. They know they’re putting in the work, they know that their body is changing and growing, that they are being transformed. Christians who suffer for their faith should have the same response, knowing that they’re being refined and transformed by God who loves them.
Commit yourself to your faithful Creator and continue to do good during these difficult times, and always.
Faithful Lord, help us to trust you in our fiery ordeals. Fill us with the faith and knowledge that you are good and are working all things for the good of us who love you. We pray again for healing and restoration. Heal the sick, comfort the mourning, protect our communities we pray. Help our health service to handle the enormous pressure they are under now. Help those out of work or barely scraping by because of the economic devastation this virus has brought. Help your church to grow in faith and in love for you and each other and to be a powerful and bright witness in a dark world.
We pray for those who are lonely. Help us to remember to reach out to each other, by phone or letter, or other technology, and share friendship.
We pray for the peace, protection, and justice for the people of Nigeria during the ongoing “End SARS” protests.
We pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted for their faith. May they be encouraged and strengthened by your presence with them and may they be a powerful witness for the gospel in their countries.
We pray these things in Jesus’ name,
“The end of all things is near” sounds like something out of a disaster movie. It sounds like something said to scare people. But to a Christian this isn’t doom and gloom. TV and Hollywood just don’t seem to get this. “The end” in films is a disaster, it’s destruction. But in the Bible, “the end” is glory. For Christians “the end of all things” does not mean destruction or doom, it means fulfilment. When we talk about the end of something, we could mean the closing or finishing of something, but that word can also mean the point or purpose of something. Like when we talk about “the ends justify the means” or we say “to what end” someone is doing something. It’s even in the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q 1: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.
What that question means by the word “end” is “purpose”. What is the chief purpose of human beings? What is the main point of people? Humanity’s chief purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. So, “end” is not a bad, scary word.
The culmination of all things, the purpose of all things is at hand. All that needs to be done for God’s great plan of salvation has been done. Jesus has come, he has performed his rescue, dying for his people on the cross. Jesus has been resurrected. Jesus has ascended to heaven to reign. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on his people. Everything has been put in place. Christ can return in glory at any moment to make all things new and to put away evil, death, mourning and tears forever. Our role is not to just wait around for that, but to be alert, to pray and to be useful to our King.
Yes, there will be judgement, but in Christ, God has already declared us righteous because Jesus suffered in our place. So, for us, thanks to Jesus, the end is glory and joy. Since the end is near, let’s stay the course, let’s remain faithful. The finish line is near, so let’s keep going.
Above all, Peter says, we must love each other deeply.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
(1 Peter 4:8, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
The work that the church is called to do in this world we must do together in the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s how God wants us to live: cooperating with one another, each using the gifts that God has given us by his Spirit, each of us a member of the body of Christ in this world. A holy community.
Just because this is a holy community doesn’t mean that we’re a perfect community. Like any community we are a community of sinners. Because we are still sinners there will be falling out, there will be hurt, there will be acts of selfishness. Although this is expected, we don’t have to accept it and surrender to it. We must fight against this with love. If we love one another, we will be less inclined to act in selfish ways that hurt each other. If we love one another, we will be able to forgive one another and reconcile when we fall out, and then we can get back to being that holy community that God calls us to. This is as true in the church as it is in the home. We simply must love each other, there’s no way we can be the church without love.
It’s not easy to forgive. True forgiveness is costly. Forgiveness means deciding not to make someone pay. It doesn’t mean pretending that everything’s okay. It doesn’t mean excusing sins. It doesn’t mean putting up with abusive relationships that endanger you. It means that you have decided that you are not going to make them pay.
If someone owes me money and I forgive them I have decided not to make them pay. But it costs me. Now I end up short however much they owed me. If someone crashes my car and can’t afford to repair it and I forgive them, then I’m the one who must pay. If someone hurts me and I forgive them then that too is a painful and costly process, but it’s the way of Christ.
In the cross of Christ, we see God forgiving us and just how much it cost to do that. The cross is the best picture we have of God’s love for us. God forgave us, but the debt still needed to be paid. On the cross we see God paying that debt himself, we see God’s painful costly forgiveness.
If we are recipients of such a costly forgiveness, then we don’t get to begrudge anyone forgiveness. We don’t get to say that although God has forgiven such a great debt for me, I’m going to make sure you pay for all the little ways you’ve offended me. That’s not an option for those who have received such grace. If we want to call ourselves Christians, then refusal to forgive is not an option.
That means we don’t hold grudges. We don’t grumble, but we show hospitality to one another.
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
(1 Peter 4:9–11, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
We have received the grace of God and so we are stewards of that grace. In other words, we must pass it along. Those who have received grace must be gracious. Being hospitable is more than just having guests in your home, which is good really because we can’t have guests in our homes right now. Being hospitable means being kind to strangers, loving those who are not like us.
We are to serve one another with the gifts that God has given us. Whether it’s speaking or serving, we do so in God’s strength and as agents of God so that God will be praised. This is the calling of the church: to do God’s work in God’s strength for God’s glory, If we are going to do that then it needs to be done together. And if we are to be together, then we will need to be forgiving. We are going to need to love one another. There’s no other way.
Our loving Heavenly Father, we thank you for saving us and making us a people. We pray that you would help us to be that people: a people of grace, a people of mercy. Help us to be a gracious community, gracious to one another so that we can show Christ’s grace to the world.
We pray for those who lost jobs or are struggling with their business or finances during this time of increased restrictions. We pray that when this virus passes our economy would bounce back, but not just with more money for the rich. We pray that employment would be restored. We pray for a fair and equitable society for all.
We pray for protection from the virus, especially for those who are most vulnerable. We pray for healing for those who are sick. We pray for your comfort and strength for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones.
Help us to weather this storm we pray. Help those working on the front lines to keep society going. Help those who fight against this virus, caring for and treating people. Help those working to produce medicine and vaccines.
We pray that we would see the end of this soon and be able to enjoy community and fellowship again.
In Jesus’ name we pray,
Youth fellowship has also suffered greatly during these pandemic times, so I’ve bought these to help our BGPC teenagers. These “Engage” books are are designed to help teenagers engage with God’s word. If you or your teen would like one, please let me know and I’ll get one out to you.
Bailieborough Group members can request a copy by commenting here or by email or phone.
Also, I want to remind you please just let me know if you’d like a chat about anything.
Sermon and Prayer
Today, as the churches all over the country are once again unable to meet in person, we in the Bailieborough group celebrate our second harvest Sunday. Welcome! Thank you for joining me, wherever you are.
Harvest, I think, is very naturally linked with hope. Harvest is what we hope for. Harvest is a celebration of receiving those things that we hoped for. And so I wanted to preach about hope today, because hope is needed.
So, I’ve chosen one of the great “hope passages” of the Bible: Romans, chapter 5, verses 1 to 11. Here Paul writes to the church in Rome about hope. Hope amid struggles. Hope that can’t be shaken. Hope that is the fruit of the justification that we have in Christ.
Harvest time is a time when people see the results of their labour – the fruit. They enjoy something at harvest because of work that was done months beforehand. They sowed, and now they reap. What Paul shows us here is some of the fruit that we get to enjoy, because of justification that we have in Christ through faith.
The fruits of our justification are peace, grace, and hope. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access to grace through Jesus. And we have hope. Hope in the glory of God. That’s the reality for a Christian.
Because of what Jesus has done, we are justified, declared righteous before God. Those words can sound a bit technical or legal and so maybe it’s hard to see the beauty of them. They conjure up images of a courtroom perhaps. Not the warmest of settings. But reflect on this blessing or fruit of justification: you have peace with God. God hasn’t just let us off the hook, he’s made peace between us and Himself. You are on good terms with the Creator of all things. God is your friend.
Sometimes we might think that we must make things up to God. We think we must punish ourselves or keep our distance because of something we’ve done. No! Jesus has made the way and done all the work needed for us to have peace with God. What you must do is believe. Believe that good news.
We don’t stand in condemnation; we stand in grace. That’s what Paul says in verse 2: “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand”. That’s the second fruit we see here. That’s your standing, your position before God. Our position is one of blessing, and not an occasional blessing either. We’re not visiting grace every so often. We’re not passing through grace. We are standing in grace. We’re set there. This isn’t a temporary blessing.
Now the third fruit: Hope. We have peace with God. We stand in grace. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God (v. 3). Even if you don’t feel it right now, you have a sure hope of future glory, a solid guarantee that does not depend on subjective feelings, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ. Christian hope isn’t like an everyday hope. You hope that the weather will be nice enough for a walk later, but you’re not certain. You hope that you’ll get to your destination on time, but traffic might be bad, so you’re not certain. That’s everyday hope. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s different from the hope Paul is describing here. Paul says that this hope we have is hope in the glory of God. God’s glory will be displayed. We can catch glimpses of it in God’s creation. Our clearest sign of the glory to come is in Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection. The amazing thing about this glory is that God involves us in it. God is glorified in us as he works in and through us and when his glory is fully revealed we will share in that glory. As Paul wrote to the Colossians:
“When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
Our hope has a certainty that everyday hope lacks. This hope doesn’t depend on the changeable weather or on the traffic on the road, not on the economy or ups and downs of our fight against COVID. Our hope is in God Himself being glorified and us sharing in that glory. We’re always progressing towards that glory, even as we endure suffering.
Suffering too has its fruit:
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3–4, NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
Paul speaks to the suffering Christians, telling them that in light of our future hope in the glory of God it is possible to rejoice even in the midst of suffering, because ultimately that suffering goes to produce greater hope and the hope that the Christian has does not put us to shame (v. 5) – it’s not a silly hope, a vain wishing that things will all turn out right in the end.
Paul shows the security of this hope in two ways. In the second half of verse 5 Paul gives the first reason for our hope: the experience of the love of God in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Do you know what he’s talking about there? Have you ever caught a glimpse of the sheer massiveness of God’s love? God works in our hearts, to soften them and open them up to the reality of His love through the work of His Holy Spirit. That’s a subjective proof, based on an internal experience – something within us changes when we trust in Jesus. If you don’t know what that feels like, then ask God to show you.
Maybe you do remember a time when you felt that, but things are really bad at the moment, and it seems so distant now that it’s hard to recall and you wonder did it ever really happen. Paul doesn’t just leave us with subjectivity. Feelings come and go but truth does not depend on our feelings. Paul follows this subjective personal experience with the objective fact of the cross in verses 6 to 10.
While we were still God’s enemies, while we had done nothing to deserve it, Christ died for us to reconcile us to God. That is how much God loves us – though we had no righteousness to boast of, God sent His perfect Son to redeem us by His death and make us righteous through faith in Him.
I’m not a farmer. My dad’s not a farmer, he’s a retired mechanic. So, I don’t have a lot of experience with harvesting. But I know that harvest and hope are linked. To sow something and care for it and wait for harvest is an act of hope. You hope you’ve done a good job. You hope that the pests and the frost will won’t get at it. You hope that the weather will mean a good harvest.
The justification that is available through faith in Jesus Christ leads to a harvest of peace, grace, and hope. What utterly secures this harvest of hope is the fact that it’s not relying on me. It’s not about me being a good farmer or gardener, it’s not about my work. This is God’s harvest.
Christ died for the ungodly – us – while we were still sinners (vv. 6-8). That’s the work and it’s already been done. That work that leads to the fruit of peace with God, standing in grace before Him and rejoicing in the hope of His glory, it’s been done. You don’t have to strive to do this. You don’t have to make yourself good enough. You don’t have to toil and sweat for this harvest. The work has been done by God already.
How can we have this peace and grace and hope? Faith. Believe in Jesus. Believe that when Paul writes about Jesus dying for the ungodly, he’s writing about you. I am a sinner saved by Jesus Christ. He paid the price for all my sins on the cross. Because of Jesus I have peace with God. I stand in grace. I boast in the hope of the glory of God. I hope you know that hope too. It’s a hope that rests not on the changeable things of this world, but on God Himself.
Songs to Sing