Immeasurably More

This is the sermon I preached today, based on Ephesians 3:14-21 It’s holiday season and some of us will be heading to the coast. Nearly all of us have. When we stand on the shore, there’s so much more out there. And sometimes you can stand on the shore, and if you look left, all you can see is the sea, and if you look right, all you can see is the sea, There is nothing else on the horizon – you’re struck by the boundless depths of the ocean. But you don’t really experience the sea unless you get your feet wet, actually you need to get out of your depths. Even then, you don’t experience the depths of the sea – you need to go diving or to a sea life centre to experience the breadth of life there. Then you become aware of the boundless depths of the ocean. Wouldn’t it be a shame if all you experienced of the sea was the view you got from the shore, gazing at the pretty blue thing out there. And yet, for many of us when it comes to our faith, if we’re honest, we’re standing on the shore. Some of us might have dared to step beyond the shore, but we’re still only up to our ankles and we don’t believe we can go much further. God’s saying, “I’ve got more for you than that – I don’t want you just to be paddling. I want you to be immersed in the full depths of all I have for you.” This morning I want us to widen our horizons, our expectations of what God can do in us and through us, so we might begin to grasp the immeasurably more that God has for us. Because God is a God of immeasurably more – he is able to do “immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.” God says, “I want you to imagine more with me, and together we can do some fantastic things.”

We’re going to be looking together at this passage from Ephesians 3:14-21, which is one of the great prayers of Scripture. In fact, if you’re wondering what prayers to pray for others, or indeed yourself, this is a great prayer!

Lord, we pray that “You would strengthen us with power through his Spirit in our inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And I pray that we, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Wow, that’s mindblowing!

It’s great that we’re looking forward to some wonderful celebrations of love, and there’s no doubt about the depth of love there is between Kerri and Ray who are being married next weekend, but God’s love that he wants us to experience is even bigger than that! God’s sating I have so much more than you can possibly imagine.

But what stops us from experiencing that “more” from God?

This morning I want to explore two barriers that stop us experiencing all that God has for us.

 

1) We fail to grasp how much God loves us

2) We make God to small

 

1) We fail to grasp how much God loves us

 

I think some of us are afraid of God. I think my nan was a God-fearer. This fear can impact everything we do, when it comes to faith. We come to church out of some sort of fear that when we meet with God face to face, we’ll be rejected because we haven’t met the standards and he’ll judge us if we’ve not gone to church or said our prayers often enough. And then, when we come to pray, we pray as though God doesn’t really want to hear from us. We fumble over our words and think of ourselves as not being important enough to be worth God’s time and certainly not good enough for God.

God doesn’t want us to come to him like this. He wants us to come to him like children come to their parents – with confidence. He wants us to know that his love for all of us is “wide and long and high and deep” and that his love for us “surpasses knowledge” (vv.17-19) – he wants it to be in our head and our hearts, to the depths of our being. He wants us to be filled with this love – not just to paddle in it, but to be completely immersed.

God loves you. Oh, how he loves you. If you’re here this morning, doubting the depths of God’s love for you, hear the voice of the Holy Spirit saying over and over again, oh, how he loves you. Grasp that. He has adopted you into his family, and made you his child. He delights in you. He wants you to know that to the very core of your being. You don’t have to strive to be in his favour. You already are. People in this world are desperate for love and approval. It’s there for them, and they don’t need to do anything to earn this love.

“The Law commands that we love perfectly. The Gospel announces that we are perfectly loved.” – William McDavid.

I think if we really grasped God’s love for us, it would change the way we prayed, it would change the way we hoped. I think it would also change some of the relationships we have with each other, because if we’re anchored by the knowledge of God’s love for us, we no longer depend on our family and friends to sustain us. This means that when we let each other down or hurt each other it’s not a disaster, because our self-worth is derived from God’s unchangeable, perfect love for us, rather than what others think of us and how they treat us. I think it would bring freedom to those who are imprisoned by fear. Why? Because, as it says in the Scriptures, “there is no fear in love, because perfect love drives out fear.”

God wants you to experience his love, to be immersed, as we are in the ocean, in his love for you. Knowing this and experiencing this love knocks down one major barrier to experiencing God’s boundless grace – we fail to grasp God’s love for us.

I pray that you would grasp that just a little bit more today, that you are infinitely precious, and infinitely loved, and nothing can take that away from you.

The second barrier that prevents us from living fully in God’s boundless grace is that

2) We make God too small. We put limits on what God can do.

St Paul ends his prayer with the words,

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (vv.20-21).

Do we believe in the God who can do immeasurably more? Do we know that God has so much more for us?

Christian author and speaker, Louie Giglio in the early days of his career in teaching at youth conferences and lock-ins, would preach and stay in the homes of host families. In fact, he had never stayed in a real hotel in his life – until one day, the hosts of this youth conference wanted to bless him so they gave him the nicest hotel room in the city. When he was with them all everyone talked about was the room, and how wonderful it was. When we saw it, he was impressed, but not that impressed – it was just an ordinary hotel room. What he didn’t realise was that he’d actually been given the hotel suite, with a living room, a dining room and even a second bedroom on the other end of the suite. Sitting on the dining room table was a massive gift basket with snacks and a t-shirt for the youth conference where he was speaking and a wonderful note welcoming him. He only discovered this later, by chance – he’d been given the key to the bedroom section at check in and not been told about the main suite that he had access to as well. He nearly missed out altogether on the best room in the city.

What if we lived our whole lives in the adjoining bedroom and thought our Christian journey is this, and God’s saying, I have so much more for you. More than you can ask or imagine. We don‘t have to be confined to the room. We can step out to experience all that God has for us –as individuals and as a church.

I don’t want us to merely exist as a church. I want us to really live. Jesus came so that we could have life to the full, to live life in colour, not just in black and white. I want us to grab the life God has for us with both hands.

Last Sunday – fantastic to celebrate our children’s and youth work. But, got to be honest. I’m not satisfied with current situation. Rich history of children’s and families’ work in the church. Why then are do we only have five teenagers who come regularly to church? What about the ones who are around their age who don’t come to church any more? I think there are about 30 children between the age of 14 and 18 who used to come to church but do so no longer. Of 9 young people who were confirmed only two years ago, only 3 still come to church. This is heartbreaking. I know this is a common experience with churches across the country – that young people drop off after the age of 11 and we don’t see them again until they come back when they themselves have had children. I don’t want to be satisfied with that. I believe God has more for us than that. We need to raise our expectations. We need to have a bigger view of what’s possible. What if we have 50 children as regular part of the church community? It’s not impossible – not in Allesley Park, which is a family area with four primary schools. But these things don’t happen by chance – we need take some steps of faith.

This is why I – and the PCC – believe the appointment of a children’s worker is vital – so vital that we’re willing to invest £17,000 of money that could otherwise be spent on the development of the building. I’m fully expecting that we’ll be able to obtain grants to help towards the costs of this role. But if we don’t, we risk running out of reserves completely. One temptation would be to hold onto our money and think that the children’s work would work itself out. We’d risk less that way, wouldn’t we? Actually, it depends on our perspective. I did some number crunching recently. In the past year, our average attendance of children has dropped by 8 in the past couple of years. If this continues at the same rate, we’d have no children left in the next 6 years. To not do something at this stage, to not act now, when we have great kids work and potential to grow in this area. To not act now could be far more risky than to act and to use the resources that are available.

We don’t have to be satisfied with the status quo. I don’t want to be satisfied with the idea that decline is inevitable, becayse church competes with so much these days, so we may as well get used to it. I don’t want that. I believe the narrative can change, and God calls us to dream bigger dreams for us as a church community. I want to dream that we can have 50 children as regular worshippers and that they don’t drop out at the age of 14. We need to dream bigger dreams and step out. The thing about swimming in the depths is it’s risky. When you’re out of your depths, anything can happen. But, we have a God of grace, of boundless possibility –a God who loves us he will not let us drown. I want to encourage you to dream bigger dreams. I want to encourage you to be people of faith who believe that God has immeasurably more for us. Be full of faith, because God is the Lord of the church – and he will build his church and his kingdom. He says, “I will buiold my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

So, we’re on the shore. I don’t know where you are in your life. Have you limited what God can do for you? Are you praying small prayers? We put fetters on God, and God wants us to break out of those fetters and pray bigger prayers. To think bigger thoughts, to imagine bigger ways that God might work. We need the work of the Holy Spirit to stir us up, that we might dream God’s dreams for us. There is more for us. Not just in the area of children’s work. It’s been wonderful to have 5 adult baptisms in the past year. I want this to be the start. Why not pray for 10 – or more next year – more salvation, more of God at work, more lives changed. There is more for us.

Our duty is to allow God to work in our lives so that our imaginations can be released to dream the dreams God has for us. And then, to get to the edge of the shore. There’ll be areas of our lives where we’re challenged, where we find it difficult to imagine God working, where he’s saying to you, if you want to get the more I have for you, you need to step into the water. Get ankle deep, knee deep, and then immerse yourself fully, and we need to take a risk. . Some of us have got situations where we’re struggling, where we feel imprisoned and we can’t imagine a different future, and God is saying, come on – come out into the deep, like when Jesus walked on the water, he called Peter to walk on the water towards him. While Peter had his eyes fixed on Jesus, he did it, he walked on the water.   And Jesus is saying to us, looking at us, saying come on, walk on the water. Imagine what I can do in you and through you. Imagine my love for you – a love that will never die. Because God can do so much more than we can ask or imagine.

My prayer today is that this morning you grasp his love for you in a deeper way, that you swim in the ocean of God’s love for you. And also, as a church and as individuals, we’re able to swim in the ocean of God’s possibilities for us. We need to take risks, to take steps of faith so that we might see God’s kingdom come in ever greater ways in our church, in our lives, in this community.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

 

Weekly update (1 March) - Friends of God

It was a huge privilege to be in Dresden as the city marked 70 years since the bombings. It was both a sombre time of acknowledging deep hurt, but also a celebration of the most unlikely friendship that has sprung up between former enemies. This, as Archbishop Justin said, is miraculous. It’s a picture of the Gospel. Our selfishness and sin has made us enemies with God, but Jesus, the “friend of sinners” has enabled us to be reconciled with God once again (see Romans 5:8-10). We are friends of God, which is the greatest miracle of all.

Proclaiming the saviour of all

This is the text of a sermon I preached yesterday on "Making New disciples", based on Luke 2:8-20. We live in a world where news, good or bad, can travel extremely quickly and far. Social media like facebook, etc, enables us to be part of the news sharing process, and we share everything from the sublime to the ridiculous and very serious. Within minutes of the attacks in Paris, the whole world was kept up to date with the blow by blow account of the attacks, and the ensuing police chase. Newspaper headlines and frontpages have been dominated by these attacks in Paris, and the response of the international community – from millions expressing their solidarity. The hashtag #jesuischarlie was tweeted over 5 million times in the days following the attacks. It was meant to show solidarity with the victims of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, as well as a defense of freedom of speech.

We love to be bearers and recipients of news. I’m sure one of the reasons why some of you are looking forward to church today is that it’ll give you an opportunity to share news with your friends. News spreads quickly, especially if it’s something important. We want to be kept informed, and we feel put out if we’re the last to hear something. And we feel privileged if we’re the first to hear a piece of news or information.

Just imagine how the shepherds felt that night when the angel appeared to them with his very important message.  Shepherds were rather dodgy characters, treated with suspicion by mainstream society. They lived on the hills outside the city, away from everybody. They were shunned by people in polite society. Shepherds were unreliable – not even allowed to testify in a court of law, they were crude, rude and hardy, and you wouldn’t want your sister dating one. So they weren’t your obvious choice to be the recipients of such important news. And yet, God chose to send his angel to them – he chose them to be the first to know that this king has been born. Have you ever wondered why it was them and not some, well, more important people?

The message of the angel has to give us a clue – “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Wow, what a statement. This is good news for all people everywhere, full stop. Not the majority of people, but everyone –– every man and woman, including peasants and shepherds, the unemployed, the retired, farmers, teachers, office workers, shop assistants and even members of the clergy; people like you, people like me. This news was for everyone, and as if to illustrate the point, the first people to know, except for his parents, the carpenter Joseph and peasant girl Mary, were these shepherds. They were the first to hear this good news for all people. They were outcasts, so were the very people who needed to hear that there was good news for everyone.

But what was this good news? What could possibly qualify as good news for all people everywhere? Good news is only good news for you if you’re included in the benefits. Last week, it was great to hear about the Coupes’ news of Roy’s new job and Daniel’s success on the trampoline, and it was fantastic to be able to celebrate with them, but that news isn’t good news for all of us – we could appreciate my friend’s good news, but we couldn’t all participate in the benefits.

What good news could affect all people equally, regardless of race, sex, income level, or location? What about a cure for cancer, or world peace, or the end of poverty? None of these, although, it would be wonderful, counts as good news for everyone, because not everyone is impacted by cancer, war or poverty.

When you try to think of something that qualifies as good news for everyone, it’s hard isn’t it? What does the angel say is good news for all?

“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12).

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. 

That’s the only good news that’s equally good for 'all the people.' Not only the shepherds the angel spoke to, or the people of Bible times, or the early church, but all the people anywhere, ever! A Saviour has been born for all people. His birth offers “good news” for all people who have ever been born or who ever will be born.

This baby Jesus, was born in order that he might grow up to suffer and die for you and me. We may feel insignificant and overlooked, but God sent a saviour to be born for you and me. Too many people feel God is out to get them, that his finger is poised on the destroy button as soon as we step out of line. Actually, the news is just the opposite – God sent Jesus on a rescue mission, to save us from our sin and death – as John 3:16 proclaims. “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”

As Dan Schaeffer reflects,

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince people that there is a perfect, righteous God who loves them and forgives them. It’s not an easy sell, strangely, but it is always good news. This baby Savior would grow up in the midst of our sinful world. He would spend time with prostitutes and embezzlers, telling them the same thing He told the religious folks—“there’s a place for you in My house, and I want you to come and live with Me. I know everything about you, and yet, I still want to be your Saviour!” Good news for all the people!  

All the people who have ever lived have done wrong and need a Saviour. Jesus came to be that Saviour, and that is good news of great joy for all people.

“Jesus is the only Saviour anyone will ever have. He is Mother Teresa’s Savior, and he is Madonna’s. … It was as much good news for Pilate and Herod as it was for Mary and Martha. Jesus was the Saviour of the soldiers who crucified Him as well as Peter and Paul who worshipped Him. The good news for the Hindus and the Buddhists and the Muslims is that Jesus is their Saviour.”

The good news both for the terrorists who killed the people at the offices at Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish supermarket – as well as their victims – is that Jesus is their saviour. The good news for those who were involved in the massacre in Nigeria that left over 2,000 people dead – as well as their victims – is that Jesus is their saviour.

Whether people take up that offer of eternal life through faith doesn’t diminish the power of that good news. Jesus is the only saviour – and as Peter says in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Jesus offers everyone salvation. Although many people will never accept Him as their Saviour, will never avail themselves of this good news, this in no way diminishes the character of the news. An act of kindness, even when it is snubbed, remains an act of kindness. Hope, even when it is rejected, is still hope.

When we’re diagnosed with a serious, sometimes life-threatening illness, it’s bad news, isn’t it? But if the illness is treated soon enough it’s possible to recover fully, so that diagnosis then becomes good news. Many forms of cancer are treatable, but only when they have been diagnosed, only when we know there is a problem. It is the same with God’s good news. The good news highlights the bad news. The bad news is: we need a Saviour. The good news is: we have one.

The good news remains good whoever we are, whether we’re kings or shepherds or somewhere in between. And as it’s good news for everyone, there is an obligation placed on us. God has given us a mission – to be bearers of that good news. We’re called to follow in the footsteps of the shepherds and tell people that a saviour has been born to them. Has everyone in Allesley Park and Whoberley been given the opportunity to hear and receive the good news of Jesus’ saving love for them?

Jesus’ command was clear and simple – “go and make disciples of all nations.”

There is no exception to this command. We’re to go – person in every street and every house in this community should have the opportunity to hear and receive the good news. And yet evangelism is something that terrifies us and, as the nationwide statistics of church attendance in the UK over the past few decades tells us, our evangelistic efforts don’t work very well. But why?

If we want to know why our evangelistic endeavours don’t work as effectively as they might, there is one simple reason. We don’t look like the Christ we proclaim. A prostitute was asked whether she’d consider going to church, and she replied, “Why would I go there? I feel bad enough about myself already.” And that’s the problem, churches have simply given Christ such a bad press that people avoid us like the plague. They think of us as hypocrites, bigots and troublemakers. My brother was in a pub in London, near the church where he’s the vicar, and he played a bit of game with a young woman sitting near him, and tried to get her to guess what he did. Finally, she gave up and he told her – I’m a vicar. Her response? With no hint of humour, she said, “I hate everything you stand for.”

That hurts, doesn’t it! I was devastated and, quite frankly, repulsed, to read in the news about so-called Christians killing Muslims in the Central African Republic. They may call themselves Christians, but they do great dishonour to the Christ they proclaim. And if I’m honest, though my behaviour is far less extreme, so do I.

And this is the main reason why our evangelism doesn’t work – because we don’t look like the Christ we proclaim. People will read us before they’ll read the Bible. We are called to embody Jesus, to be like him, to be authentic. And yet we fall so short. As Gandhi once famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

This is the key to all our evangelism. God calls us to be like Jesus. This is the goal of our lives. As John Stott, the well-known Anglican minister, teacher and theologian said in his final address,

“What is God’s purpose for His people? I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth and it is – God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.”

An Arab Christian convert from Islam said 'If all Christians were Christians - that is, Christlike - there would be no more Islam today.'

Wow.

The problem is, we don’t know how. This dilemma is well expressed by William Temple, who served as Archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War.

'It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it - I can't. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it - I can't. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.'

And that’s the key. There is no way you and I could become more like Jesus if we were left to rely on our own strength. And so the temptation is to despair, as it seems like God has commanded the impossible and will condemn us for our failure – it doesn’t seem fair – it’d be like giving Alicia the Times crossword and refusing to give her dinner until she was able to complete it. I wouldn’t do that, by the way!

But, the good news is that we haven’t been left on our own. God has given us his Holy Spirit to help us in a work of transformation and to help us on our journey towards Christlikeness. Jesus’ whole purpose is that we live in him and he lives in us. It’s a two-way process. We can be indwelt by the Holy Spriit – God’s wonderful promise is, Christ in me the hope of glory. God wants to help us live a life that pleases him. He wants to help us to become more like Jesus, but he won’t force us to change. He calls us to cooperate with him. Are there areas of your life where you know you’re not living out God’s will? Submit them to Christ. Allow the Holy Spirit to continue his work of transformation in you.

Liz always tells me that I need to ground my sermons and make them practical. Unfortunately, the subjects of evangelism and discipleship are too large to squeeze into one sermon, even when you speak as long as I do. All I can do is promise that in the course of the year – or longer – our sermons will cover key aspects of what it means to live a life following Jesus. I’d like you to help us choose what to focus on, so look out for a survey that’ll come out in the next couple of weeks that’ll help us, from issues from other faiths to the environment, how to evangelise, how to manage our time and money, sexuality and godly relationships, etc.

For now, simply know that Jesus is good news for everyone, and we are called to bear and embody this good news. We do this best by being like the Christ we proclaim, and we can only do this through the power of the Holy Spirit who is alive and at work in us today.

#JeSuisJesus – What the world needs

 This is the text of a sermon I preached yesterday for our local Service of Christian Unity based on Bible text – John 4:4-42

Good evening everyone, it’s wonderful to be together to worship, isn’t it?

I hope you’ll forgive me for beginning with a joke ...

How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb? Charismatic: Only 1 - Hands are already in the air. Pentecostal: 10 - One to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness. Presbyterians: None - Lights will go on and off at predestined times.

Roman Catholic: None - Candles only.

Baptists: At least 15 - One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad and fried chicken.

Anglican: 3 - One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks, and one to talk about how much better the old one was.

Methodists: Undetermined - Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Bring a bulb of your choice to the Sunday lighting service. Traditionalists: None - we don’t believe in change.

I hope you’re not too offended and that you were able to laugh at yourself just a little. One of our problems is that people perceive that we take ourselves too seriously but we simply don’t take Jesus seriously enough. We are seen as being divided by wrangling over doctrine and the style of the way we worship and over other perceived petty things when what holds us together is far greater than what divides us. And in a world where in the past week alone, we’ve had bloodshed at the hands of Muslim extremists in Paris and more shockingly in Northeast Nigeria, where over 2,000 people were reported to be killed, and also in the Central African Republic, where so-called Christian Militia are responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Muslims, the world needs a united church more than ever. After the terrorist attacks, the hashtag “JeSuisCharlie” was tweeted 5 million times all over the world as a sign of defiance and of the defence of free-speech. Actually, the world doesn’t really need me to be Charlie – because I’m not sure that the publication of offensive images is necessarily to be celebrated – although their right to do so should be defended. The world doesn’t need me to be Charlie. The world needs me to be Jesus.

The world needs the more than 2 billion people who call themselves Christians to stand up and say in our words and actions, #jesuisJesus.

If we want to know why our evangelistic endeavours don’t work as effectively as they might, there is one simple reason. We don’t look like the Christ we proclaim. A prostitute was asked whether she’d consider going to church, and she replied, “Why would I go there? I feel bad enough about myself already.” And that’s the problem, churches have simply given Christ such a bad press that people avoid us like the plague. They think of us as hypocrites, bigots and troublemakers. My brother was in a pub in London, near the church where he’s the vicar, and he played a bit of game with a young woman sitting near him, and tried to get her to guess what he did. Finally, she gave up and he told her – I’m a vicar. Her response? With no hint of humour, she said, “I hate everything you stand for.”

That hurts, doesn’t it! I was devastated and, quite frankly, repulsed, to read in the news about so- called Christians killing Muslims in the Central African Republic. They may call themselves Christians, but they do great dishonour to the Christ they proclaim. And if I’m honest, though my behaviour is far less extreme, so do I.

And this is the main reason why our evangelism doesn’t work – because we don’t look like the Christ we proclaim. People will read us before they’ll read the Bible. We are called to embody Jesus, to be like him, to be authentic. And yet we fall so short. As Gandhi once famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

This is the key to all our evangelism. God calls us to be like Jesus. This is the goal of our lives. As John Stott, the well-known Anglican minister, teacher and theologian said in his final address,

“What is God’s purpose for His people? I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth and it is – God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.”

An Arab Christian convert from Islam said 'If all Christians were Christians - that is, Christlike - there would be no more Islam today.'

Wow.

We’re called to be like Jesus, who is both offensively inclusive and offensively exclusive. Offensively inclusive, because he reaches out to the worst of sinners and causes great offense to religious leaders. He even hangs out with this Samaritan – this Samaritan woman – this unmarried Samaritan woman – this unmarried Samaritan woman who has been married five times – this unmarried Samaritan woman who has been married five times and is shacked up with a man she’s not married to. Jesus knows all this about her, and he still talks to her, showing her genuine respect. Jesus throws open the doors of the kingdom to sinners of all stripes, and by doing so condemns us for our self-righteousness. Jesus is offensively inclusive.

The inclusive posture of Jesus poses a challenge to the church today, just as it did for the Pharisees two thousand years ago. Until the radically offensive inclusiveness of God’s grace seeps into our bones, we will never join Jesus at the margins of society, welcoming and blessing repentant sinners of all kinds, like ourselves.

But Jesus is also offensively exclusive. He tells the Samaritan woman, “salvation comes from the Jews”, and he makes it very clear that he alone can offer the living water that truly satisfies. He reveals himself as the Messiah, and the only Saviour of the world. In a pluralistic world he dares to say, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He makes an even more extreme statement when he declares, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

In this pluralistic world where our rights and choices to live life the way we want to are king, Jesus’ demands and claims are offensive. He calls me to submit my will to his, to trade in my personal agenda to his kingdom agenda, to submit to him in the way I use my time, skills and money, how I live, how I love, how I worship, how I behave sexually, how I speak, how I follow Him as Lord.

So, Jesus is both offensively inclusive and offensively exclusive. He alone is the Saviour, he alone is the hope of this world. He is the one we’re called to represent. The world needs Jesus, and we, his church are his hands and feet. We’re called to be like Christ. Sadly, left to our own devices, this is impossible. We know we’re called to be like Jesus, but don’t know how. This dilemma is well expressed by William Temple, who served as Archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War.

'It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it - I can't. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it - I can't. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.'

And that’s the key. There is no way you and I could become more like Jesus if we were left to rely on our own strength. But we haven’t been left on our own. God has given us his Holy Spirit to help us in a work of transformation and to help us on our journey towards Christlikeness. It’s a journey we’ll never finish – whether we’re 8, 18, 48 or 88, we’re still on that journey, and we’re called to a life of cooperating with the Holy Spirit. Are there areas of your life where you know you’re not living out God’s will? Submit them to Christ. Allow the Holy Spirit to continue his work of transformation in you. Allow his living water to flow in and through you. Is there division between our churches of which we need to repent? Then let’s sort it out. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.

And let’s find ways of working together to build God’s kingdom. It’s great to know of some of the ecumenical projects that are springing up, but I think there’s more that can be done. Perhaps there’s scope for working together in practical mission. I’m currently involved in the early stages of setting up a project called Besom, which seeks to help us make a difference to the lives of others and to make it easy for us to do so. If you’d like to hear more, and may be interested in getting involved, please chat to me afterwards.

There may be other projects we may set up. Whatever we do, may we see Christ proclaimed as we reach out into all corners of the communities whom we’re called to serve. Whether our endeavours mean that people become part of the church community of Limbrick Wood or St Christopher’s, or St Andrews’, Our Lady, St John Vianney, or St James’, then the Kingdom is growing.

Two years ago, this service was blighted by the snow that made getting to St Andrew’s rather difficult. When one snowflake falls to the ground, it melts. But when many snowflakes fall together, they stop traffic. This is the power of unity.

Now more than ever, the world needs Jesus. He has the living water, and his living water flows through us. Let’s not be afraid of either his offensive inclusivity or offensive exclusivity. The world needs Jesus. Our communities need Jesus. In his strength and in the Spirit’s power, may it be said of us, #jesuisJesus

The Magi - A journey of worship (Sermon - 11 January)

We’re at the beginning of a new year. No doubt the dawn of this new year has come full of expectations and hopes and fears, and perhaps resolutions? How many of you have made new years resolutions? How many of you have broken them? As we’re at the start of the new year, it seems a good time to renew our focus and remind ourselves of our priorities as a church and as individuals. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be looking at worshipping God, making new disciples, and transforming communities, using familiar figures from the Christmas story to bring these themes to life. So first we begin with worship, and who better to journey with than the magi? The Adoration of the Magi

They set out with one purpose – to worship the new-born king. Though we don’t know detailsl, it’s likely their journey was around 1,000 miles through inhospitable and uninhabitable landscapes. On foot. There would have been no hotels or creature comforts. The return journey would have taken months – and if you take into consideration the time they would have needed to prepare, you’re looking at six months away from home. Why? The answer is simple,

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

These mysterious magi from the east, possible ancient Persia – modern day Iran, came simply to worship the king. They didn’t just fancy a nice journey. They came to worship.

11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

You have to admire their tenacity. I wonder how much time they actually spent at their destination before making their long journey home? Not long, I imagine. But their journey no doubt must have been worth it, because they came face to face with the child Jesus. They came to worship him. They gave him their valuable treasures, but you know what, I don’t think their treasures were the most precious gifts they gave him. The most precious gift they gave Jesus was their devotion and their worship. They put everything else aside that they might bow down at his feet.

These magi give us a picture of worship. Worship is the devotion that we bring to Jesus. Often when we think of worship, we think of the type of worship that we like, and we can be critical, saying things like, well, I didn’t get much out of that today – whether that’s because we’ve not liked the hymn choices, or the style of the service. We stay away from church on those weeks when we don’t think we’re going to like the way the worship is going to be done. There has been lots of wrangling over the worship here in this church, which hopefully is something we’re over now. The problem with all this is that, although it’s appropriate that we are free and able to worship in a way that best enables us to meet with God, it all misses the point rather.

Worship is for God and not for us

We see worship as something we consume, something that is done for us. Worship isn’t about that at all. We’ve got it the wrong way round. Worship is something that we do. It’s something we offer to God. These mysterious magi, though they probably weren’t steeped in theology, they understood this – worship is something we give.

A man once heard a couple of people complaining about the service they’d been part of at church. One said to the other, I didn’t get much out of the worship today. Walking past, the man remarked, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise we were worshipping you.”

And that’s exactly the point. Too often we make worship all about us, when it’s all about Jesus. When it comes down to it, worship isn’t for me or for you. It’s for God. It’s what we offer to him in response to all he is.

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.” – 1 Chronicles 16:29

You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. – Nehemiah 9:6

When we worship, we join with all of heaven to give God praise. Worship is, as it says in one of my favourite phrases in the Anglican liturgy, “our duty and our joy.”

We give thanks and praise to God for who he is, and all the incredible things he has done for us and given to us. We worship God, above all, to give thanks for the wonderful gift of Jesus – and it was wonderful to be reminded of this wonderful gift of Jesus’ coming into the world as we celebrated Christmas together just a few weeks ago. We gather weekly throughout the year, because Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas – he deserves our regular devotion – it’s the least we can do to express our thanks and praise for the fact he came to save us, to bring us new hope and new life.

Worship is about encounter

The magi met with Jesus face to face. Isaiah, when he had his vision in the temple, he met face to face with God. This is why he was so terrified.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

In the Old Testament it was well-known that no one could meet with God face to face and live. However, thanks to Jesus, who has taken away our guilt and sin, and made us pure. This means we can meet with him face to face. We gather on Sundays in order to meet with God together, and to be changed to be more like him.

Worship is a lifestyle

Worshipping God isn’t something that only happens when we go to church on a Sunday, or Wednesday, or whenever. Worship is a lifestyle. In Romans 12, St Paul writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

In the Message version of this verse, we read …

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him."

Darlene Zschech, the worship leader and writer says, "My heart is not for sale. God has claimed all of it to be his own. My life purpose is to revere and worship the Lord, as is the purpose of every person on earth. Our hearts have been bought with a great price and they are not up for grabs. No deals, no financial contracts, no momentary pleasure, no earthly offer can compare to the fellowship that is given to those who love God with their whole heart."

Worship is something that we’re called to do 24/7. Everything we do should be an act of worship. Give glory to God in all that we do and all that we are. The key aspect of our gathering together on Sundays is that we should be able to meet with God together, to learn more and grow deeper in our faith together, and that we might be equipped to live out our life of worship all through the week. We need each other to help us live our lives for Jesus. This is why it matters when you come on Sundays. If we all gathered together we could be such an encouragement to each other. It’s impossible to live out the Christian faith to the full on our own. This is why church matters.

In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a statement of faith written in 1646 and 1647, it declares, “Humanity’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”

Jesus is our goal

Jesus is the goal of our lives. We’ve been made to live and love for God, to worship him with our whole lives. Of course, it’s easy to find meaning in other things, to make them our idols. In the past week, I’ve been personally struggling, because I’ve been looking through the numbers of those attending on Sundays and the reality is that we’re not growing numerically as a church. I have pictures in my mind of the people who no longer come to church, and I feel responsible. I feel like a failure. But, the truth is, I’ve made numerical growth an idol. I’ve made the desire to be a successful vicar – and to be seen to be a successful vicar – my goal.

A platoon of soldiers was marching through the blistering heat of the Egyptian desert during the Second World War in desperate pursuit of water. The guide was confident of where to find it, but suddenly one of the troops spotted a beautiful desert lake several miles away. It was undeniable. So despite the guide's pleading, they hurried off course towards the beautiful water. Sadly as they approached, the Lake grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared in the sand. It had been appearance without reality. They had chased a mirage, and we only know about this because one of the soldiers recorded in his journal in his dying hours.

For me, church growth, or the lack of it, is the mirage in my life. You may have other mirages – other things that, though good in themselves, should never become objects of worship. Actually, our goal should simply be Jesus.

Phil Vischer was an animator who became a millionaire when his production Veggietales became a worldwide hit. It then all went wrong, and he became bankrupt and the dream died. He later reflected -

"if God gives a person a dream, breathes life into it and then it dies, then God might want to know what is more important to the person – the dream or God? The impact God has planned for us doesn't occur when we are pursuing impact. At long last, after a lifetime of striving, God was enough. Not God and impact or God and ministry. Just God."

This year, I’m going to seek to make Jesus my goal, to live my life to his glory. My prayer is that we would all live this out as a church community. The rest is in God’s hands.

Let’s seek to surrender our lives to Jesus.

A global family - this week's update

I, like many, was horrified by the terrorist attacks in Paris. Such senseless slaughter has rightly been condemned, and the blanket media coverage these events attracted is no surprise. But it occurs to me that we are very biased in the West. In Nigeria Islamic extremists reportedly massacred over 2,000 people, and Christian militias have been killing Muslims in the Central African Republic, and yet this gets little attention. These people are no less precious to God than those who died in Paris. Let’s remember we’re part of a global family, and we’re called to stand with all those who suffer. Lord, open our eyes.

This week's update

As you may know, I've been writing a mini-blog each week for our church news sheet.  Beginning this week, the aim is to publish these online too.  This is the latest edition, hot off the press! Happy new year! Have you made any new year’s resolutions? Are any still intact? If not, don’t worry, there’s always next year!!! Seriously though, I’d like to suggest a resolution that we might all make this year – to know Jesus better and to become more like him. This is God’s purpose for each of us; as preacher and pastor John Stott reflected, “God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God. … In our own strength it is clearly not attainable but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within.” Come, Holy Spirit!

Be strong and courageous

Just over 32 years ago, I was given the name Andrew. It means "strong, courageous, manly." I remember being in secondary school assembly one day when the local Christian worker was talking about the meaning of names, and he mentioned the meaning of my name. There was a titter that went around those sitting near me, and I was embarrassed, because I felt that there was no way I could live up to that name. I felt far from manly as a teenager, and I don't think that ever really changed. I was never a "blokey" bloke, I felt I related to women better than men, so I felt that I wasn't really doing much to live up to my name. On my ordination retreat in June 2009, i felt so excited, and yet hugely daunted by the prospect of serving God in this new way. I was very clear that I was completely inadequate - there was no way I could do any of it on my own. There is a theological argument in some quarters that people change upon ordination to priesthood. I don't really believe in that, because I believe I'm no more different from any other followers of Christ - we are all part of the "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9) - and yet, I believe there was a change in me upon my ordination - a moment of anointing and equipping for the ministry to which God called me. I also believe I was given the courage and boldness that had previously seemed to evade me. Suddenly I wasn't so afraid any more. Sure enough, when I went up for prayer at New Wine a couple of months later, the words from Joshua 1:9 were spoken over me, "be strong and courageous." I found myself standing up for things and people I would never have previously. A year or so later, out of the blue, a member of the church community where I served as curate (assistant pastor, for those unfamiliar with the lingo), said to me, "keep being bold." He'd seen and wanted to affirm that boldness in me. I believe I was bold, and that I saw the fruit of that boldness in people's lives.

On the morning of the service to mark the beginning of my life as vicar of St Christopher's Church in September last year, I was in Coventry cathedral. The reading from the day was from 1 Chronicles 28, in which the following words appeared: “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for ... the Lord is finished." I believe God was giving me an incredibly timely reminder of his command to me, to be bold and courageous. I would need to make difficult decisions, some of which might be unpopular. In the face of this, God was calling me to be courageous.

Just last week, at New Wine, as I was being prayed for, someone spoke over me, "mighty man of God." I don't know if he knew the meaning of "Andrew" (most people know me as Andy, anyway), but in that moment God through him was bringing me back full circle, to the identity bestowed on me at birth. I am called to be strong and courageous.

One of the themes that leapt out at me from the talks at New Wine, was the command to be courageous, that the church needed to stop being so afraid of losing face, or being unpopular. In short, we needed to get over ourselves! Robby Dawkins, a pastor in Chicago, through whom God has worked amazingly, said, "all of us have more power and authority than we use. ... It's about Christ in me. Christ the resurrector lives in us. We need to step into our true identity as God's children. ... Jesus came to show us what WE can do, not what HE can do." Robby's lived that out in his ministry and seen God do some extraordinary things - not because he's particularly special, but because he's grasped what it means to be people in whom God's Spirit lives and works.

The reason why we can be strong and courageous, living out that command God gave to Joshua, the reason why I believe I have been able to be bold, is because of the promise that's attached to that command ... "be strong and courageous," God says, ... "For The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Step out, God says, be bold. You will face opposition and hardship. You will face the regular temptation to fall into discouragement or disappointment, you will have every reason to be afraid, you will face what will seem like insurmountable odds. There will be times you want to throw in the towel and give up. But don't forget something vital, something that changes everything - I will be with you every step of the way. I'll catch you as you step into the unknown. I will never leave you. I will give you the strength you need. I will do all this for the sake of my glory, for the extension of my kingdom." We actually have an advantage over Joshua and Solomon, and the others in the Old Testament to whom that command was addressed - because Christ lives in us through his Holy Spirit. We have all we need to see Jesus work in mighty ways through us in our churches and communities. I believe if we really began to grasp this, we would see change in our nation.

Christ lives in me. His power and authority lives in me. I'm actually beginning to believe this. And so, since returning from New Wine, I have an extra spring in my step. I have prayed for people to be healed with that little bit more faith. I am feeling just a little bit bolder. I am taking courage, because I know that God is with me, that he has called me to love and serve this community that he loves so much that he sent his only Son to live and die for every one of the people who live here. I can be bold, because God goes with me. I can be bold because God's kingdom and the commission he's given us to make disciples matters more than my own reputation. I can do nothing without him, but "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13). It's about time I lived up to my name, and became strong, courageous, enduring, a mighty man for Jesus.