Thursday, February 24, 2005

Offending God's holiness

It's so easy to think of our sin as something minor, especially if we are Christians seeking to live holy lives. Here are a few thoughts from Stephen Charnock on offending God's holiness which cast things in a different light:

The holiness of God is injured

1. By unworthy representations of God and imaginations of him in our own minds

2. In defacing the image of God in our own souls

3. By blaming our sin on God

4. When men study arguments from the holy word of God to colour and shelter their crimes
"…this is to feed the roots of Hell with the dews of Heaven." - v2p175
5. When man will put up petitions to God to favour them in a wicked design

6. In the hating and scoffing at the holiness in a creature

7. By our unprepared for address to him,
"… when like swine, we come into the presence of God with all our mire reeking and steaming upon us. A holy God requires a holy worship; and if our best duties, having filth in every part, as performed by us, are unmet for God, how much more unsuitable are dead and dirty duties to a living and immense holiness!" - v2p176
"God is so holy, that were our services as refined as those of angels, we could not present him with a service meet for his holy nature." - v2p177
"To be conversing with sordid sensualities, when we are at the feet of an infinite God, sitting upon the throne of his holiness is as much a contempt of him, as it would be of a prince, to bring a vessel full of nasty dung with us, when we come to present a petition to him in his royal robes; or as would have been to God, if the high Priest should have swept all the blood and excrements of the sacrifices from the foot of the altar into the Holy of Holies, and heaped it up before the mercy seat, where the presence of God dwelt between the cherubims, and afterwards shovelled it up into the ark, to be lodged with Aaron's rod and the pot of manna." - v2p177

8. In depending upon our imperfect services to bear us out before the tribunal of God
"as if this injured perfection could be contented with the dregs of their purses.2 - v2p177
"the best duties in this life, are but as the steams of a spiced dung-hill" - v2p178

9. When we charge the law of God with rigidness, when we feel it shackles us and prohibits us from our desried pleasures

10. When we rate some sins as less serious than others, or think that by doing something godly we make up for our errors

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Food for thought - "I haven't sinned for years"!

(My local newspaper column)

"Do you believe in the Devil?"
"No, sure no-one has ever seen him, have they?"

So began the second in Anna Nolan's series, "Is there anyone out there?". This one was about sin, the Devil and evil.

I wonder if the man questioned doesn't believe in the wind either - after all, no-one has seen it, have they? Of course we see the effects of wind, and likewise we see the effects of the Devil.

I quoted from CS Lewis last week - odd how this Irishman seems to have answers to most of Anna Nolan's questions - and he commented on our attitude to the unseen world of demons:

"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail the materialist or a magician with the same delight."

Some people have an excessive interest, some none at all, but like the hypochondriac and the person who thinks that they will never get sick, both are flawed positions.

The response of another person on the programme surprised me, "Do you believe in evil?" - "No, there is no evil in the world." I wondered what planet was she living on!

For me the most revealing thing was when Anna asked people, "When did you last sin?". For me the answer is always, "in the last couple of minutes" - for there have been wrong attitudes of the heart or mind, words said that shouldn't have been said, or thought. So it was with a measure of amazement that I listened to a couple of women on the show declare that they hadn't sinned for quite a number of years.

Now, either, I'm miles worse than the average human being, or one of us is using the wrong measuring stick. The Bible tells us that, "the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked," that "no-one is good, not even one", and that "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

I think most people tend to grade sin: there are the really serious sins - murder, adultery, rape, violence; and then there's the other sort, that aren't so bad, an occasional 'white lie', a sharp tongue, an envious glance at someone's new car or house.

Unfortunately God doesn't grade sin in the same way we do. He says, "The commandment against adultery also includes looking at a woman lustfully". He says, "Being unjustly angry with someone breaks the command not to murder." He says, "If you break the law even in one place (one of the places we think of as insignificant) then you are guilty of breaking all of it."

When it comes to sin, some of us may have smashed the window completely, others may have only cracked it, but it doesn't matter, it's still broken.

Human beings, and even churches, may come up with elaborate scales and divisions of sin into different categories, but with God there is only one category, and we're all in it. Anna Nolan asked, "Wouldn't it be great if you could just be forgiven and the slate wiped clean?". And thankfully, the woman she said it to was able to tell her that such a dream was possible. That's exactly what Jesus came to do. None of us can ever make enough amends for our sin to please God; it's far too serious for that. But Jesus comes and offers to wipe our slate clean. We have to admit our wrongdoing, apologise and ask God to change us so that Jesus is now in charge of our life. That doesn't mean that we won't ever sin again, but it does mean that he will give us the strength to fight sin, and will wipe the slate clean when we mess up. That's the good news of the gospel.

The simple truth is this:

We're all sinners. Evil is real; and it exists in each of us. We need God's help to get it out.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Camp Reunion Talks (3) - Christ and your Relationships

(Some of you who were at Camp Reunion, or who missed some of the talks had asked for notes of the talks. Here's the text of each of them. For those who weren't, and who haven't a clue what I'm talking about - these are three talks I gave at a young people's weekend on Keeping Christ the focus of our lives.)

Christ and our Relationships
Sometimes we can view Jesus as a measles jab. You get the jab and then you can get on with life.
Sometimes we can view Jesus as a burden, like a brother or a sister who is always watching you ready to report back on everything you do.

That is not how the Bible portrays the Christian life. If all we needed was a measles jab to vaccinate us against sin, God would have sent a giant syringe. If all we needed was to be watched - well he could do that anyway. But he sent his son, who became a human being. Why did he do that? Not just to identify with us which is important, and vital, but to let us know that God wants us to relate to him. You can't relate to an idea, or to a force, or to a syringe. But you can relate to a person. Ands that what we have with Jesus - a relationship. And I think that this is one area that we miss out on. We are so conditioned to think of becoming a Christian as a step, but it's a journey. We think of it as a starting point followed by a list of rules, but it isn't. It's a whole new relationship - with God the Son.

Read Phil 3:10-14

Paul's great longing was to know Jesus. Jesus had saved him and now he wants to know him. What I have as a Christian is a relationship with almighty God. This is for me a whole new way of looking at Jesus. It gives us a different perspective on our quiet time. On worship. On obedience. On relationships.

Lets look at the passage

Our relationship with Christ is the central thing in our lives
I'm not going to go over what we did on Friday evening - you'll remember how we saw that everything in the universe revolves around Christ Jesus. And if we are Christians we need to make sure our lives revolve around him too.

But Paul goes further than that. Many people's lives revolve around one thing - football, soaps, computer. Everything they do is focused on this. But Paul is different, it wasn't just that Christ's kingdom was at the heart of all Paul did. What Paul did was, in a sense, by the way. Paul's life wasn't driven by doing things for Jesus' sake, it was driven by a desire to get to know Jesus. Do you see the difference. Sometimes it is easy to be busy doing things for Jesus, or because of Jesus, or out of gratitude to Jesus, but in all the busyness we actually move further away from Jesus.

So often when we are involved on mission teams etc, what is the one thing that suffers? Our daily time with Jesus!

Not so with Paul. Listen to these words:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

Everything is focused on his relationship with Jesus. He wants, he longs to know him.

Look at verse 12:

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Start at the end of the sentence and work backwards. Jesus took hold of Paul. He took hold of him for a reason - "for which". That reason is something that Paul wants to see in himself, come to fruition. And so he presses on to get this thing for which Jesus has taken hold of him. What is it? He tells us in the opening words, "Although I am a Christian, I haven't got this completely yet." What is the 'this' he is referring to? All that he has just said it the previous verses. - "I want to know Christ, and the power and the fellowship and become like him."

That's what Paul wants, and that's why Jesus took hold of him on that Damascus road - so that Paul could enjoy a relationship with the Lord Jesus. And that's why Jesus has taken hold of you - that's the reason, so that you can know him. And you will never know him fully, but he has called you into relationship with him so that you can grow closer and closer to him.

This is what you have been saved for.

In v14 we see it again:

14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.

NIV not so clear here - but it seems best to take it that the prize is Christ. The call is a call heavenwards to know Christ, for whose sake all things have been counted loss.

And that ties in with the rest of scripture. The predominant New Testament description of heaven is being with Jesus.

Christ assured his disciples that 'I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am' (John 14:3). He also says in John 17:3, "This is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

Heaven is being with Jesus. Heaven is relating to Jesus. And our relationship with Christ is the start of Heaven. We can experience a slice of Heaven on earth. This is our key relationship.

What's your relationship with Jesus like? Is it key to you? Is your relationship something that you cherish and delight in? Is he someone you cherish and delight in?

It's hard to do that with a person you can't see. But Paul gives us three things we can do in v13,14:

Make it Key - "One thing I do" v13
Paul did many things in his life, and with his life. You have many different aspects to your lives. School, sport, work, studies. But for Paul, one thing took absolute priority. His relationship with Jesus. It was guarded and nourished at all costs. If he had only one thing he was allowed to do this would have been it. One thing I do. And at this stage he was fairly limited to one thing. He was imprisoned. But he was still free to do the one thing that really mattered.

Where is Christ on your list of priorities?
Where is spending time with Christ on your list of priorities? - Tell about my week.
Is it something to be squeezed in at the end of the day? Is it something to be hurried over at he start of the day?

Here is the one thing you need to do with your life - develop your relationship with Christ as much and as far as you can.

And we will never do this if we continue to think of meeting Jesus as some sort of duty that we have to fulfil. We need to change our mindset completely. We talk about 'quiet time' or 'daily Bible reading'. Both of those terms remove Jesus and replace him with silence and a task to be done.

Its time with Jesus, and sometimes it will be anything but quiet - it will be delightful, and we'll want to sing and praise him, and tell him how much he means to us. Its not time with our Bibles. Its not even time with God's word - its time with Jesus.

When you go to meet with your girlfriend would you take someone else along with you, and let them whisper in your ear, while your trying to talk with your girlfriend? No! If we believe that Jesus is going to communicate with us - why do we always take other people with us into that private conversation? We take commentaries and notes etc. These have their use, but first lets just spend time with our Bibles and our saviour and read the passage and praise him, and pray about sins we're convicted of. And ask him for help with lessons we need to put into practice. Then have a look at what someone else has to say.

If we're going to make it key and keep it key we need to see Jesus as the great lover of our souls. Our greatest and closest friend. And already that starts to change how we think about spending time with him. But here is something we can look forward to, not Bible reading and prayer. Talking and listening to Jesus.

We need to make our relationship with Jesus key.

George Mueller. George Müller lived from 1805 to 1898 and is famous for establishing numerous orphanages and relying on God for help in remarkable ways. Listen to his testimony about how and why to meditate on Scripture.

"I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished.

Now I saw, that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, whilst meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord."

Don't be satisfied - "Forgetting what is behind"
Paul has come towards the end of his life - he has achieved much. He has preached the Gospel in Jerusalem, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Crete, and now in Rome. He has established churches, ordained elders, trained ministers and missionaries.

"Forgetting what is behind" he says. He says, I am not satisfied with where I am spiritually. I want to know more. There is a sense that as Christians we are to be dissatisfied with our lives. We are to be satisfied, content with what we have materially. But there is another sense in which we aren't to be satisfied.

Paul writes, "I want to know Christ… not that I have attained this already, I press on".

He had met Christ in a vision, he had been swept up to Heaven, he had glimpsed the wonders of glory, and still he wanted more of Christ. To experience even closer fellowship. What does that tell us about this relationship - it just keeps getting better.

Some of you have been Christians for some time. Don't sit back on your laurels. Don't look at those around you and think to yourself, I'm not too bad. When you talk to other Christians, and you are talking about what you're reading and learning, and you mentally measure yourself against them - don't do that.

Paul doesn't look at himself and think that he has made it as a Christian. His relationship with Jesus means so much to him that he always wants more. That's the hallmark of great Christians.

Have you a hunger and a longing to know Christ more. Are you satisfied with where you are at. What we could have is always so much better than what we do have. Don't measure yourself with others, measure yourself against Christ - see how much more he has to give. Illustration - if we gave out a free book to you all, some of you would be looking past me, and looking at he warehouse of books, and wanting more and more, walking out of here with armfuls of books. Some of you would be content with one. But that's only books. With Christ it is real riches of the soul.

Don't let anything get in the way - "Straining, I press on"
Devotion - one thing I do. Dissatisfaction - forgetting what is behind. Determination - "Straining towards what is ahead, I press on"

Literally - "I pursue." Picture of a charioteer bearing down on the finishing line, straining at the edge of the chariot, leaning out over. Pushing himself to the limits. Giving it all that he's got.

Do you drive yourself in your relationship with Christ? Yes there will be times when our souls will be bogged down in the mire of lack of enthusiasm and reluctance. And we don't feel like reading or praying, or developing.

And we will have to drive through our feelings, and seek to spend time with Christ. Sometimes we need to take our emotions in a headlock and drag them with us, like a child who wants to play truant from school. Takes discipline. It takes determination. We wont only read or pray when we feel like it. Paul wasn't a 'feel like it' man. Being with Christ, knowing Christ was everything to him.

It was everything to him because Jesus is everything, he is so utterly glorious so wonderfully majestic, that we just can't describe him.

Play "My King" clip - SM Lockridge

Don't let anything get in the way of knowing him.

Our other relationships
Let's apply this. This relationship is our greatest relationship. Its the one that is key. It is the relationship that everything else revolves around.

In other words, if you get this relationship right, every other relationship will fall into place.

4 Principles

Remember Marriage is only a Picture
There is one thing that can consume much of our waking moments - whom will I marry? Help I'm not in a relationship and I'm nearly 17. And sometimes the whole thing becomes an idol.

Do not make marriage, or being in a relationship your goal. Listen to Paul, "I want to know Christ" "I long to depart and be with Christ which is better by far." Don't make a relationship your goal; make Christ your goal.

Very simple reason for this. Let me illustrate it. All his life John has longed to see the Niagara falls. He has heard all about them. And one day a friend sent him a postcard of the falls. And often John would take out his postcard and look at the falls, and imagine what they must be like. Eventually after many years John found himself staying in a hotel right beside the falls, and as he sat there at his window overlooking the thunderous roar of the crashing torrents, he took out his postcard and sat and looked at it instead. He then took it and stuck it to the window so that he couldn't actually see the falls clearly because the postcard spoiled the view.

Friends, marriage is only a postcard, a signpost, to tell us about the reality of the relationship between Christ and his people. Paul writes in Ephesians about how Christ is the bridegroom for the church, and how marriage between man and woman is based on this, and a picture of this. The relationship with Christ is the reality. Marriage is only an illustration.

Marriage isn't a goal it's a picture. That's why in heaven there will be no marrying or giving in marriage - there is no need for postcards when you live by the falls.

Some of you may never marry. But you have Christ, you have the reality. And what's more, if your Saviour permits you to remain single, it is because he intends to provide for you, and he has a task for you that is only possible if you aren't married. Marriage and its joys are only a pale reflection of the joys that are available in Christ.

Some of you will marry, but you don't have Christ - how sad, to have the picture on the wall and never know the true value.

Some of you will marry, and are Christians - don't ever forget that marriage is only an illustration of your much greater relationship. Don't make it an idol. Don't let your postcard get in the way of the view.

All your friends may be in relationships, the world tells us that we are not complete unless we are in a relationship. And that is true - 100%. You are not complete unless you are in a relationship. But that relationship isn't with a boy or a girl. Its with Christ. That's the relationship that makes us complete.

Life is not about getting a boyfriend or a girlfriend, its about getting Christ.

There is another reason not to make marriage or relationships more than they are - if you think that marriage is the greatest thing on earth you will be disappointed. If you think that if only you were married all your problems would be over, you're fooling yourself. Marriage has problems - it has twice as many problems as single life. Two different people's worth of problems, 2 sinful people trying to get along day in day out.

Pour your energies into your relationship with Christ
Some of you are in relationships.
Some of your aren't and desperately wish you were
Some of you aren't and aren't terribly worried.

No matter where you are - your relationship with Christ is what is central. Pour your energies into your relationship with Christ. Seek to become the man or woman Christ wants you to be. Concentrate on being the man or woman God's wants you to be, not on finding the man or woman God has for you.

And the wonderful thing is this: Be Christ-like and Christ will provide. "Delight yourself in God and he will give you the desire of your heart."

I will not promise that he will provide a partner. Scripture doesn't promise that. But I can guarantee that he will provide.

Sometimes we can be in too much of a hurry to get into a relationship. All our friends have a girlfriend or a boyfriend, and we feel left out. Sometimes we can start into relationships too early before we have grown much as Christians, and things happen in the relationship, words are said, things are done, not necessarily sexual sin, but sinful things nevertheless that we will look back on with even an extra years maturity as a Christian and say, "I wish we were only starting now. I wasn't mature enough."

I'll be honest - this is where many of you are. You have a few years of school, or university left. During these years you will lay down many of the foundations for your later life. This is a time to be concentrating on Christ, and not on relationships. When a builder is pouring the foundation, he isn't thinking about the people who will live in the house. He thinks about the foundation, and getting it right, because if he gets it right the people will be safe.

Pour your energies into your relationship with Christ. That way you'll become the sort of man or woman that others will want to marry, that they will look at and say, "she'll be good for me".

Blokes - Don't pour your energies into impressing the girls, pour your energies into godliness.
Girls - Don't pour your energies into worrying about how you look, or is he looking at me, or worrying that you're the only one who doesn't have a boyfriend - be godly.
That's what your life should be about. That is God's will for you. So often we scratch our heads about is it God's will that I go out with so and so. Be godly - that's God's will at its clearest.

Some of you may worry about finding the right person. Don't! If you pour your energies into your relationship with Christ, you will be able to see the real treasures in people, and you will be guided to someone who is perfect for you.

And if you are in a relationship the best thing you can be to the other is Christ-like. Don't neglect your quiet time because of late night phone-calls to your beloved.

I can promise you - be godly and you will have the best marriage imaginable. You will lay a foundation that will last, and bring delight and joy to yourselves, to your children and to your grandchildren. Your husband /wife will thank God for your Christian character. Your children will, your grandchildren will. This is a legacy that lasts.

Only go out with or marry someone who will be good for your relationship with Christ
Two sides to this coin

· Do not enter into a relationship that will hurt your relationship with Christ

If Christ means the world to you, then how should you feel about someone who thinks so little of Christ's death that he can't be bothered to seek salvation? If someone despised your parents, and ignored them you wouldn't have much time for them - Christ is no different.

Perhaps some of you are going out with non-Christians at present. What are you saying to Jesus who died for you? Does he mean so little to you that you would disobey him and jeopardise your relationship with him for a boyfriend/girlfriend? Would it not break your heart for the rest of your life to be married to someone who is going to Hell, knowing that you could do nothing about it? And banking on the Jesus that you slap in the face, to save them? If you are prepared to treat Jesus so lightly you need to look at whether you are a Christian at all.

Perhaps some of you know of someone who married a non-Christian and God has graciously saved them. Just because God did that doesn't make it any less of a sin, and doesn't give any guarantee to you.

Girls - 'no man' is better than an ungodly man.
Men - 'No woman' is better than an unconverted girl

· Only enter into a relationship that will promote your relationship with Christ

But there is another aspect to this. Sometimes amongst blokes there's still the lingering effects of sinful thinking. And the thinking goes something like this - girls I'm sorry to reveal how shallow we can be - "Well I know I've got to pick a Christian, so I'll pick the best looking one." Or I suspect that a girl may think the same way, "Well at least he's a Christian, and we get on so well anyway.."

Being a Christian is not enough of a qualification. God's word commands us to be wise.

All Christians are not equal. Some are more Christ-like than others.

A man may well be a fine specimen of manhood, and a Christian, but as a Christian he is weak and frail and tottering, and unsure and liable to fall into error. He may like a little toddler - immature and childish. What will it do to your walk with Christ to join yourself to such a man?

A girl may be beautiful, but in spiritual terms - she may be wizened and malnourished, and stunted.

And some of you may be setting your sights on shrivelled nobodies and sickly toddlers. And in thirty years time some of us will be talking and we'll say, do you remember so-and-so - and there'll be a shake of the head - "She's gone nowhere, he's gone nowhere.

Guys - Look for someone who will be an asset to you in your walk with Christ.
Girls - Look for someone who will be an asset to you in your walk with Christ.

Be on the look out for people who speak naturally about spiritual matters, where you can see that they have a real walk with God.

If our relationship with Christ means as much to us as it should we will look for someone who is positively going to be good for us in our walk with Christ.

And that leads us to our fourth principle

Encourage Christ-likeness in others
In your relationships be the sort of person who encourages your partner to spend time with Christ. Be someone who will challenge sinful areas in their lives.

Pray for the other that they will grow in godliness, and that their daily walk with Jesus will be a real blessing.

Guys this is something you need to take the lead in. You should be suggesting that you do a Bible study together, that you pray together.

Your relationship with Christ is your key relationship. Keep that one right and all the rest will fall into place.

Camp Reunion Talks (2) - Christ and your Sin

(Some of you who were at Camp Reunion, or who missed some of the talks had asked for notes of the talks. Here's the text of each of them. For those who weren't, and who haven't a clue what I'm talking about - these are three talks I gave at a young people's weekend on Keeping Christ the focus of our lives.)

Christ and our Sin
The Christian life isn't just about making the right choices, and making the best choices. It is also about not making wrong choices. Sinful choices. We live in a world that bombards us with temptation from every angle. It offers us pleasure, and lets be honest about it. Sin is pleasurable. Sin is enjoyable. The devil is not so stupid as to make sin distasteful. Often there is great pleasure to be had in sinning. And often ministers paint it as black as your boot, as if all sin was was eating rotten fish guts. But you know and I know that there's more to it. The devil comes and he offers you all this pleasure, and there are times when we are so attracted by the pleasure that although we know that it is wrong, we can make all sorts of excuses to justify what we are doing, or we can make all sorts of preparations in the hope of sinning. We can flick through the channels late at night - there's nothing wrong we tell ourselves with doing that, but all the while we are hoping to stumble across something we shouldn't, and then we'll watch it for a few minutes and then move on, telling ourselves, "It just happened to be there."

Or we can disguise spiteful gossip as wise warning to another person; all the while it gives us the pleasure of putting someone down, and building ourselves up. Or we can join in with others, and follow the crowd, saying to ourselves, "Well I may get a chance to witness to them" and we find ourselves in places we know we shouldn't be in, or even doing things we know we shouldn't be doing.

And if we are anyway sensitive as Christians, afterwards we feel and great tidal wave of disappointment and sorrow, and remorse. And we hate ourselves for it.

How can we resist temptation? How can we see past the real pleasures that are temporary to the real pleasures that are lasting.

For every situation we could discuss and come up with an answer to, the devil would invent another one, slightly different, but different enough so that the rules we make would not apply. So like last night, we'r going to look to Jesus to get our perspective on sin.

Is sin such a big deal?

We're going to see what it cost to set us free from sin

Read Phil 2

Two headings

The dignity Christ gave up to free you from your sin
The humiliation Christ undertook to free you from your sin

then application

The dignity Christ gave up v6
I think we're so used to hearing that Jesus died that we forget who exactly had to die in order for human beings to be set free from sin.

In order to appreciate sin and salvation we need to grasp who our saviour is.

His nature is what makes our salvation possible

V6 - "Who being in very nature God"

Paul could not have stated more clearly that Jesus is God. Greek = form of God. Form = essense of being. He was unabridged, undiluted Godness. He was:

Transcendent - that means that he is far above what we can ever get our heads around. So that means that when you have been amazed at who Jesus is and what he left to save you, you need to say to yourself - "No this isn't it, he is even more wonderful that."
Eternal - all of time before him like an open book
Holiness - angels covering their faces even sinless angels
Infinitely wise

This great being is who we are talking about. He commands the universe, he is worshipped by the angels. He has existed forever in a perfect relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It has been a relationship of perfect love and glory and delight.

This is the dignity that Christ had before he came here. This is the God who came to save us. This is the one who came to die.

Not only 'very nature' but v6 "Equal with God." The Son was fully God, completely God. He was not he poor member of the Trinity who got landed with the dirty work. Utter equality. The Son is as much God as the Father and the Spirit.

Listen to these verses:

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

We need to grasp the dignity Christ had if we are to love him more and love sin less.

And this dignity is seen in another way - God, Father Son and Spirit, did not need us, didn't need our worship. Illus of a rich lady who needs her drains unblocked, and goes searching for the ordinary working class man. She needs him despite all her dignity. Listen God didn't need us in any shape or form. What God did was out of choice, not out of need.

V6b - He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped" - clung to. Some versions, "thought it not robbery to be equal to God" - it wasn't robbery it was his right, that's who he was.

This is what it took for you and me to be set free from sin. It took nothing less than God. Sin was so powerful and the punishment so severe, that for you to escape the clutches of sin and to be free it took nothing less than almighty God to leave the glory of Heaven and come to earth to rescue you. No angel could be sent - that wouldn't be enough. It took God.

But it took more than God just to come and set us free. He didn't just come like some Maximus all conquering warrior striding onto the battlefield and thrashing sin. It wasn't going to be that easy. Sin is a personal problem so it had to be a battle fought in person. Like a disease - not just an easy injection for mankind. In a sense to produce the right antibodies, the disease had to be injected into someone, they had to battle against the ravages and horrors of it themselves, and having conquered it, the antibodies that their body produced can be used as a vaccine for the rest of us.

The humiliation of Christ v7-8
7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!

Here we see what was entailed in rescuing you and me from sin.

And again we see how much we owe to Jesus. What he did for you to set you free from sin wasn't something that was forced on him. Look at the words:

"He made himself nothing" - NOT "He was made nothing"
"He took the form of a servant" - NOT "He was made a servant"

All active verbs, not passive. Underscoring the voluntary nature of what he did for you.

Four steps seen here. Remember this is what he did for you:

1 Left the glory of Heaven
Heaven was home. It was to be with his father, it was pure and holy and glorious. There he was the endless subject of the angels praise, and the fathers delight. John 17:5

John 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

He left it. He didn't consider it something to be clung on to. Although Heaven was his home and it meant everything to him he left it so that you could go there. So that you could be free from sin.

2 Became a Man
Paul uses three phrases:

Made himself nothing
Care needed - he gave up nothing of his nature. He wasn't any less God. He didn't stop being God in any aspect. He relinquished nothing. He was fully God. But now he was also fully man. His deity was restrained, not relinquished.

But yet to look at him he had made himself as nothing. He passed up his rights to glory and honour. This phrase refers to his status and privileges of Heaven.

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Taking the Nature of a Servant
The one who owned everything became as one who owes everything. This is what he emptied himself into. Think of it - the Ruler of Heaven serving. The Creator serving. Remember this is what had to be done for you to be free from sin. The angels served him in Heaven, and yet he came to this earth, I'm sure the angels marvelled at our ignorance, as people came into the carpenter shop and made demands of the Creator of the universe. But he came as a servant.

Being made in Human likeness
Think of all that that means. Born as a fragile defenceless baby. The King of the universe vulnerable. Born in a dark dank cave, and placed not in some royal cradle befitting a king and saviour of the world but ina cattle rough. Where once angels praised him, now dirty shepherds gather round. Placed in the care of two young people. Having to flee to Egypt.

Made as a human - For centuries the angels had watched these creatures, humans, rebel against the creator. And now the mighty God has made himself like one of them.

All for you

3 He Suffered
3rd step in his humiliation. We tend to think of just the last few hours of his life being marked with suffering. Did you know that he suffered throughout his life? Think about it. What must it have been like to come and live on an earth surrounded by sin? Seeing the effects of sin daily. Pollution all around him. HIS earth defiled. Holy eyes beholding sin. Holy ears hearing his father's name blasphemed. All around him sinners, sinning, in all their ungodly ways.

He suffered - as a man he was subject to weakness, pain, temptation, hunger, tiredness.

As the end approaches his suffering increases. He is not just man, but he is a cursed man. And as he approaches the end he knows what is coming and the horror of it sweeps over him in relentless waves.

On the cross he didn't just suffer physical pain. That was the easy part. He bore your Hell and my Hell in his own soul. No-one else could feel what he felt. The sinless man, was bearing sin, and bearing punishment, and bearing the wrath of his father. The cross is where God pours out his wrath on your sin and mine. Oh the depths of the suffering of Jesus, bearing the awful wrath of the Father at our sin. Here is God suffering Hell.

So terrible is it that he cries out in anguish at the separation from his father, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me."

And still his humiliation isn't finished

4 He died
Philippians 2:8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!

Death - God the Son experiencing death. Not just any death but a death in which the innocent Son of God suffered the indignity of being found guilty and executed as a criminal.

Even death on a cross - the ultimate shame - a death that was a public display that he was cursed by God.

How the angels must have been horrified. Death - the ultimate withdrawal of God's blessings and happiness from man and visiting him with his wrath.

And in all this he was silent, as a sheep before its shearers, so he did not open his mouth. He could have scattered his accusers, he could have demolished their arguments, he could have come down off the cross, but a greater power was holding him there: obedience - his love to the father, and through that his love for us.

This is what Christ did for you to free you from the chains that sin had held you tight in. You languished in the dungeon of death, and by all that he gave up, and all that he suffered he has set you free.

If you aren't a Christian - this is what it takes to get to Heaven. It takes God to leave the glory of Heaven to become a man, to live and suffer and die and go through Hell. That's what it takes. How do you intend to get to Heaven?

How does this apply to us when we are faced with the pleasures of sin, and find ourselves tempted?

Our Hatred of Sin
V9 gives God the father's reaction to this great work of God the Son
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

V12 gives what Paul expects our reaction to be:

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

"Therefore" - in the light of this then - we are to be obedient, not disobedient. We are to work out our salvation. What does that mean? It means we are to make application of it to every area of our lives.

Like someone moving into a house. Old and dilapidated. Slowly they begin to work their ownership into every room, cleaning and redecorating, and rebuilding what years of neglect had allowed to rot and decay and become filthy. That's what this means. Sin is a burglar who keeps breaking in to vandalise and destroy, and sometimes we welcome him and make him sit down and have a cup of tea, before he goes upstairs to rape our loved ones. We welcome him.

If only we could learn to see sin through the eyes of Jesus.

When we sin it is because we want to sin, even though there may be some measure of reluctance in us. And it is because we do not hate sin enough or love Jesus enough.

Put how can considering Christ help us?

Three applications, three things for you to grasp:

Satan wants you to suffer like Jesus did
I want you to see what sin does. I want you to learn to see sin as something hideous and repulsive. Sin as Satan presents it to us looks pleasurable and is pleasurable. It is pleasurable in exactly the same way a nice big juicy worm is pleasurable to a fish. Satan presents the bait and hides the hook. When we consider Christ we see the deadliness of sin. We see it for the awful thing that it is - it is so awful that God the Father wouldn't even spare his own son when he took our sins upon him.

When Satan tempts you to sin, when he tempts you by painting sin in some bright and beautiful colours. Look at Christ on the cross, coming from the glory of Heaven, to the filth of earth, look at the bloodstained flesh torn body, hear his cry, "My God My God why have you forsaken me" and say to yourself - that's what Satan wants me to end up like. The pleasure that Satan offers is real, but it lasts only for a short time, and then the hook the cruel hook is into you, and it can't be got out without tearing your soul, without leaving its scar. Never lose sight of this, Satan does not want your happiness, he is prepared to trade off a few short years of pleasure, so that you will be as miserable as he is in Hell. Never lose sight of this, Satan wants to do to you what he did to Christ as he was passed through the hands of first the temple guards as they beat him to a pulp, and then as the Roman guards did the same, so that his face was marred beyond all human likeness. That is what Satan wants to do to you. Consider Jesus, and you will never lose sight of this.

I want you to see sin as something hideous and repulsive. Whenever you are tempted to sin, look at the sight of the battered and bleeding saviour - and say to yourself, this is what sin does to people.

Jesus had to pay for that sin you are about to commit
When Satan comes to you and says, "Look see how close to the line you can walk" - so often at your age the big question is what can I do, how far can I go, how close to the world can I get. Jesus did all this, went through all this to extract you from the clutches of Satan, how can we go back to stand on the brink again.

Even those very sins that Satan paints, and puts new names and colours upon, cost the best blood, the noblest blood, the life-blood, the heart-blood of the Lord Jesus.

As he hangs there he is paying for that sin that you are just about to commit. That lustful glance, that angry word, that bitter thought, that muttering at your parents. How can we? How can we?

From Thomas Brooks:
"Consider that Jesus Christ should come from the delight of his relationship with his Father to a world of sorrow and death.
Consider that God the Creator should be made a creature; that he that was clothed with glory should be wrapped with rags of flesh; he that filled heaven and earth with his glory should be cradled in a manger; the God that made the heavens working at Joseph's homely trade; that he that binds the devils in chains should be tempted; that he, whose is the world, and the fullness thereof, should hunger and thirst; that the God of strength should be weary, the Judge of all flesh condemned, the God of life put to death; that he that is one with his father should cry out of misery, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'; that he that had the keys of hell and death at his girdle should lie imprisoned in the sepulchre of another. Consider that that head, before which the angels do cast down their crowns, should be crowned with thorns; those ears, which hear nothing but hallelujahs of saints and angels, to hear the blasphemies of the multitude; that face, that was fairer than the sons of men, to be spit on by those beastly wretched Jews; that mouth and tongue, that spake as never man spake, accused for blasphemy; those hands, that freely swayed the sceptre of heaven, nailed to the cross; each sense annoyed: his feeling or touching, with a spear and nails; his smell, with stinking flavour, being crucified about Golgotha, the place of skulls; his taste, with vinegar and gall; his hearing, with reproaches, and sight of his mother and disciples bemoaning him; his soul, comfortless and forsaken; and all this for those very sins that Satan paints and puts fine colours upon! Oh! how should the consideration of this stir up the soul against it, and work the soul to fly from it, and to use all holy means whereby sin may be subdued and destroyed!"

How can we, how can we?

Whenever you find yourself tempted to sin, and Satan whispers in your ear - "Its OK you can repent afterwards, God will forgive you. 1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us."

When he does that look at Jesus, and look at the nail marks and the lashes and say to yourself - "I am not going to add anymore."

How often is it that we sin in things we don't even need to sin in - things that don't even matter. You were to do something for someone, something not terribly important, and they ask us did you do it - and even though we haven't we say "Yes". Or we are busy and we sit down and waste half and hour watching something we shouldn't, or surfing somewhere we shouldn't. And we don't even need to do it. Its not as if there's a lot riding on it - on a human perspective. And we think to ourselves "Its not that serious" - friends it is deadly serious. Try to see your sin through Christ's eyes as he sobs in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Father take this cup away from me" He saw in those moments the awful tide of sin that was about to sweep over him. He saw your sins and mine lined up like a tsunami of effluent about to engulf him. And it caused this God-man to weep with loud cries, and to sweat on a cold night.

When you are tempted to go into a situation where you know it will be difficult, and you are tempted to justify it to yourself by saying, "I'll maybe get a chance to witness" - think to yourself - Did Jesus go through all that so that I could go in here and to have my mind filled with all the very sorts of things that put him on the cross?

Jesus' suffering shows us that sin has to be paid for
So often we are tempted to envy those who can sin freely without conscience bothering them. Remember that all the pleasure that Satan offers, lasts only for a short time. And each time it leaves a scar upon the soul. And for some of you who aren't yet Christians I want to say this to you - Yes Satan does offer pleasure, sin is enjoyable, but all your pleasure lasts only for this life, and you have an eternity of sorrow. For the Christian on the other hand, all your sorrow is in this life, all of it, and among that you will also have great moments of pleasure, but all the sorrow you will ever have is now, and then you will have an eternity of pleasure beyond anything you can ever imagine, purchased for you by Christ on the cross.

When you are tempted to look at unbelievers around you, and to envy them for their pleasures and fun, remember that's all they'll ever get. And I don't want it to sound as if there is no pleasure for the Christian - life is full of it. Being a Christian is the best life, not the easiest but the best.

Someone might say, "Mark, listen, you're forgiven, all this talk about sin isn't healthy." It is perfectly healthy. A friend of mine has a gluten intolerance and everywhere he goes he has to talk to the chef. He carried a book with him of everything that contains gluten and he'll point things out to the chef. Is he being fussy. No, its how he has to live. He isn't free to eat what he wants. The gluten won't kill him, but it will make his life miserable. Sin will not snatch us out of God's hand. But it will make our lives miserable. We have been brought into a wonderful relationship with the greatest being ever - we'll be thinking more on that this evening - and sin, in all its shapes and guises wants to disrupt that, so we need to learn to hate sin with a passion. To be so caught up in our love for Jesus, and what he has done, so that we see sin through his eyes. And when we are tempted to sin, it will be as if someone has handed us a bowl of rancid fish guts to eat, and we will react instantly with a disgust and revulsion.

Jesus didn't save us to blend in. He went through Hell so that we could stand out. So that we would be a bright light warning people of the dangers of sin. So that by our very presence people would be uncomfortable in sin.

There is one part of the passage we haven't touched yet at all. V9-11

Philippians 2:9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Here is the final encouragement for the Christian. God exalted Christ and gave him glory and honour.

Keep your eye on Christ. Watch him - watch him in these two ways - watch the price he paid to set you free from sin, and watch the way he was exalted. One has happened to you, the other will happen.

Although there will undoubtedly be so called pleasures in this life that we have to miss, God is one day going to exalt you, to lift you up and to glorify you. And you will be seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.

Camp Reunion Talks (1) - Christ and your Life

(Some of you who were at Camp Reunion, or who missed some of the talks had asked for notes of the talks. Here's the text of each of them. For those who weren't, and who haven't a clue what I'm talking about - these are three talks I gave at a young people's weekend on Keeping Christ the focus of our lives.)

General Intro to Camp Reunion
I remember once being in a car crash, and once everything had come to a stop, and we realised that we weren't dead, I felt around to try and find my glasses. I found them sitting on my lap, and put them on, and realised that everything was still blurred and I started to panic, I thought something really bad has happened. But it hadn't the force of the crash had caused my glasses to end up in the back, and a girl in the back seat's glasses to end up in my lap.

When I put on the right glasses everything was all right.

We're born into this world with spiritual short-sightedness. In fact, we are so hopelessly short-sighted that although biblical truth stares us in the face we can't see it. Although creation tells us that there is a God we can't see it. When we become Christians, we get a new pair of glasses that enables us to see things correctly. It's a whole new way of looking at life. We see things that we never saw before.

The problem is that sometimes we forget to put on the glasses, and we live life in a short-sighted daze of confusion and muddling about.

When I was asked to speak at camp reunion I was asked initially to deal with the problems that you have to deal with, and to show you how to deal with them from a Christian perspective - problems like temptation, living godly lives in an ungodly world, knowing where to draw the line, knowing what to do with our lives, guidance, relationships.

But the problem with dealing with each of those problems is that as soon as you get one sorted out, another problem arises. Its like moving obstacles out of the way of a short-sighted person. Its kind and helpful, but not much use in the long term. Its far better to get them a pair of glasses.

This weekend I want to get you to put on and keep on the glasses God has given us. In doing so we will see how then to deal with all those issues, and every other issue and decision you have to make in your life. We will see how not to waste our lives poking around in the things that we can see without our glasses.

The glasses that God has given us to put on, or the contact lens through which we are to view everything is Jesus Christ. Jesus is central. We start the Christian life with him, and we are going to be with him - the bit in between is all about him too.

What we are going to do over these talks is to look at Jesus, and then to look at three aspects of our lives, and see how this applies so that we will not waste our lives, either by:

· Fail to live for Christ
· Be a Christian, and loiter with sin
· Make the wrong thing your goal - such as relationships

Christ and the purpose of our lives
What do you want to do with your lives? Most of you are at a stage where you have choices to make. Some of you are finishing school and looking for a job, some of you are finishing university and looking for a job. What choices will you make? What governs those choices? If you aren't a Christian does it matter what choices you make, as long as you are happy? If you are a Christian, does it matter what choices you make as long as you are obedient?

It does matter. Because you and I only have one life. We are only here once. We get no second shot at living, and we can't afford to waste our one precious God-given life.

John Piper tells the story of a couple who "took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells." At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. But it wasn't. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life-your one and only precious, God-given life-and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: "Look, Lord. See my shells." That is a tragedy… Don't buy it. Don't waste your life.

I hear parents talking about their sons and daughters:

"My son doing very well for himself - gone to university, doing really well." Or "My daughter has married a lovely young man, good job, nice house, great prospects, 3 lovely children."
"Where does they worship?"
"Doesn't go to church anymore actually."

Then they not doing remotely well-doing very very badly. On road to destruction. Who cares if road paved with nice houses & well-paying jobs? That's a wasted life.

Some of the greatest men and women who ever lived appear to have wasted their lives. Churchill. Marie Curie, Einstein, Napoleon, Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, actors, actresses - Tom Cruise - Imagine the scene on the day of Judgment "Well what have you to show for your life?" Cruise - "Well I spent it pretending to be people who didn't really exist, so that other people could look at shiny bright coloured lights on a screen for a couple of hours." A whole life. Wasted.

Why is it wasted? Wasted because that is not what this life is for. It's like lining the cavity walls of your house with £1000 notes to increase the insulation. For two of those notes you could buy enough polystyrene to do the job. With 100 of them you could buy a new house.

And I want to say to you this evening that Christians can make exactly the same mistake. This isn't the starter talk for those who aren't Christians, and then tomorrow we'll get into the stuff for Christians. This is as much for you too.

What is this life for then?

John 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

1 Corinthians 2:2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Ephesians 1:17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever! Amen.

1 John 5:20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true--even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Knowing God is what life is all about. We're going to look at Phil 3:4-14 to see what this meant for one man. He's excited, I'm excited, I want you to be excited about following Jesus.

Looking together at v7,8
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

There are two great lessons to learn and two great outcomes to anticipate

The most worthwhile thing we can do with our lives is to make Christ central
Most of us have our dreams and ambitions. When most preachers say that riches or fame, or success, or flying high aren't worth much, they aren't always speaking from personal experience. When they say Christ far outweighs all that this life can offer, not many of us have had the opportunity to test that theory. We know it is true because the Bible tells us; but we don't know from personal experience. Paul on the other hand does. He had it all. Look at v4-6

He was a leader of the church, sent on a vital mission by his superiors, entrusted with a task that was essential for the future of Judaism.
His family, as well as being devout Jews, were rich, rich enough to send their son to the top universities in the land. Rich perhaps because the tents made in the family business had been seen by the Commander of the Roman garrison at Tarsus, who had then placed the contract for his army with this Jewish firm. They were landowners, and Roman citizens. Paul stood to inherit the family business with its lucrative trade, and he was on course to becoming the top rabbi in Judaism. He was probably married, for you could not be a member of the Sanhedrin unless you were married.

It is this man who says about Jesus, "For whose sake I lost all things."
He lost his inheritance, he lost his prospect of fame as a rabbi with his own school of followers, he lost his status in the church, he lost his family, they would have mourned for him as if dead. His mother and father would never want to see him again. His wife would have divorced him. He lost his health, he was about to lose his life. He lost everything.

This is the man who stands before you this evening, and says, "I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ."

And these are not the words of a bitter man, who says like a child who doesn't get what it wants, "I didn't want it anyway." He doesn't say, "These things are rubbish," but "Compared with what I have in Christ, I consider these things as rubbish". When you add up all my losses they're not losses at all.

"I had everything" he says, "I know what it is to have it all, but let me tell you this evening, all those things are worthless, compared with having Christ."

Paul is not making some rash off the cuff statement here. The word 'consider' means to stack up and count coins. Paul has stacked up all that his life has lost, and he has considered it all, and he has come to a deep-seated conviction. He says to us, "I now see things clearly - all that this world had to offer me was worthless. Christ is all that matters."

Friends, I want you to grasp this truth - that there is nothing more worthwhile that you can do with your life than to be a Christian. Some of you here aren't Christians, and you think that to be a Christian is to miss out. Perhaps you are afraid to be a Christian because you'll lose friends, you'll lose face at school. Paul who lost everything, how do you think it felt to walk through the streets of Jerusalem and to have people turn and mutter to each other as you walked by? Or to have men who were once your colleagues try to murder you? That man says to you, "Its worth it."

Whatever else you rate more important than Christ pales into insignificance compared to Christ.

It's worth it because Jesus is so amazing

Look at Paul's words in v8

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

"Christ Jesus, my Lord" - it's the only time Paul uses that phrase. There's a wonderful warmth about it. It is intensely personal. He piles up Jesus' titles, he gives him Lord and Messiah, but he calls him "Mine". And knowing this great Lord (A king who blesses and rewards his people and is supremely good) and Saviour (the only one who can save us), he describes as surpassing greatness. What I have now excels all the others. The relationship I have now outweighs everything - inheritance, family, wife. Money, friends and sex - Paul says his relationship with Christ far excels them all.

I've had it he says, and I am in a position to compare - one of 2 men in scripture who does this for us - the other is Solomon.

Think about it you can know God, the maker of heaven and earth. You, miserable little you and me can know God!

It's worth it because that is what this life is all about
Read Eph 1:9,10, 22, 3:10

Ephesians 1:9-10 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

This is what this whole universe was made for. That is why there are people and trees and flowers, and stars, and galaxies. So that God would be glorified by sinners turning to him. So that there would be people from every tribe nation and people praising him. And he sits on the Throne right at this very moment controlling all things in this universe for the sake of his people.

Churchill may have achieved much - victory, but if Christ was not central he wasted his life. Einstein. Neil Armstrong. Wasted lives. They missed the point. Tragic. For all eternity.

Friends the universe revolves around Christ. If we have any sense we will bring our lives to revolve around him too. Many are like the sad lonely child in the playground. The teacher is over here with the class engaged in something important … and they are sitting at the far side playing in the dirt. There is something tragic about a wasted life.

Does that not excite you fellow Christians - when you get up and sit down to read your Bibles, you are at the heart of what this whole universe is about. When you stand in church and worship God, you aren't some little group of weirdo whackos but you are at the centre of what this world is about.

It's worth it because it is the only thing that lasts into eternity
String illustration - Our lives are like this ball of string. This first centimetre is for this life, the rest is eternity. Which is the most significant bit? Which bit is worth investing all our energies in?

Some of you are perhaps afraid of what you'll lose or miss out on - listen to me, do you weep and wail when you take the rubbish out to the bin. Do you look at the bits of gunk that have been picked out from the plug hole? Paul says, the things you will lose out on are rubbish compared with the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.

Some of you perhaps are half-way Christians - a Christian at home, and at church, but afraid to let it be known in public. You have a foot in both camps. You are sitting on the fence. People who sit on fences get splinters. And God doesn't bless those who sit on the fence. You can say goodbye to any real growth and blessing unless you commit your way entirely to God.

Put your focus on Jesus - see who he is, see what this world is about, see everything through him and don't be ashamed to be sensible. If this is what its about - then it makes sense to be doing what we are doing.

Some of you are Christians and perhaps discouraged and feeling as if they get all the fun, as if you are missing out. Paul says to you - no matter what else happens whether you achieve anything much in your life, you haven't wasted it. You have got the point. A life centred on Christ is never wasted.

Look at other people with their cars, and houses, or degrees, or whatever. Not filled with envy, they are missing the point of life.

Now I want to say something to you who are Christians, and perhaps have been Christians for some time.

The second lesson to learn from this is this:

Keep your life centred on Christ
Sometimes we treat Christ like a fire escape. Its great we've escaped from Hell, and now we can get on with our lives. Yes we'll do a few things out of gratitude for him. And so often having been purchased an expensive set of glasses that help us to see what is really important in the world, we take them off again. And we pick up the worlds values and goals.

Paul is saying that to be a Christian isn't just a mere adjustment in our thinking or way of life, or to incorporate another element into our lives. Christ isn't an extra battery pack. Like playing some of the old arcade games, Donkey Kong, had to leap over barrels and climb ladders to rescue a princess. Along the way you could pick up a hammer and use it to smash the barrels that were being hurled at you. But you were still in the same game. Sometimes as Christians we live like that. We have picked up the secret weapon, Christ, but we're still in the same old game.

That's not what the Christian life is about.

That's not what Paul tells us here.

Look at v7 & 8

7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

In v7 Paul has been speaking about his attitude to the things that he lost in becoming a Christian. His conclusion was "I have considered them, and they don't compare." In v8 he wants to emphasise this, "Let me make it clearer - its not just the things that I lost out on when I changed my way of living that I consider loss. I still look at life and compare everything with Christ." The ESV accurately captures the tenses - "I counted" past tense, "I count" - present on going action. He is constantly looking at everything through these new glasses. And because of this continuously looking at the surpassing value of his relationship with Jesus he had a real life about him. You know there are people in our churches who in their day where real livewires for Christ, but now they have settled down into a routine and they have lost that zeal. Why? Because they have stopped evaluating everything compared to Christ. Other things have become important again.

Don't do it. Paul didn't do it. Listen to him in v10

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

And it doesn't happen when you get old. It happens gradually. Perhaps its happening to some of you at the minute. If I were to ask, you would tell me that Christ means everything to you, but when it comes to your plans for your life, what your goals are: Get married, get a job, get a house settle down, have kids. And perhaps these things are creeping up the ranking table again. Paul tells us, that this is not a temporary change of attitude, but a constant considering of everything. He wants us to be abundantly clear on this: Nothing is more important than our relationship with Christ.

Paul was a man who continually re-evaluated things - will this help to get to know Christ better? The key is not to look at things, but to look at Christ, and to see him for what he is. If he is wondrous, then we will not want anything to detract from that.

And if anything interferes with that no matter what it is we are to consider it as rubbish.

And how is it that we keep this perspective? Paul doesn't finish the verse focusing on what he does without, but he returns us to Christ. He calls us back to focus on what we gain in Christ.

Here is the ultimate goal that we have to keep in mind - we are here to know Christ. We are here to grow in our relationship with Christ.

Paul is writing this letter close to the end of his life. He is under house arrest. He is facing possible execution. And he writes to a group of young Christians who are concerned for him. And he tells them that because of the greatness of knowing Christ he has no regrets.

No regrets about losing his family.
No regrets about losing his inheritance
No regrets about being shipwrecked
No regrets about bring whipped and beaten
No regrets about the scars he has to bear
No regrets about following Jesus even though it meant that he was stoned, and left for dead. No regrets.
No regrets that it means that he is held captive
No regrets that it means he will probably be executed.

That's how you want to come to the end of your life - no regrets. You have allowed nothing to stand in the way of what you were placed here for. If you have Christ you have everything. If you don't have Christ, you have nothing.

And as he sits in that prison after all that has happened to him, and is happening to him, and will likely happen to him, he writes, "I still consider all these things worth nothing".

Let me show you how this applies:

If something is spinning, that can't take anything on board unless it is centred on what the top is centred on. If you put anything off centre the top with not spin properly. All that we do in life has to be centred on Christ otherwise we too will spin of course.

We need to ask the question what impact will this course of action have on my walk with Christ?

What are your goals in life? If the whole universe revolves around Christ? What does your life revolve around?

You have received the greatest thing in the universe. Christ. Is he still the greatest thing to you? Are you still looking at everything and holding it alongside Christ, and evaluating it? Or have you taken off those glasses, and are you looking at things as the world looks at them?

· Will taking on this job give me time to be at church, at the midweek? Or does this company expect me to work every hour of the day because the company is no1.

· If I pick this university course and have to go away from home, is their a good church nearby that I can be involved in, not because of what I can give, but because I need to be fed and encouraged.

· Do I stop going to Sabbath school because everyone my age has?

· If I share a house with these people who aren't Christians - how good will that be for me?

· If I take this job in the summer, is it because money is more important to me, than going on Go Teams, or camp?

· If I take this job - will the people I work with pull me down, and take me away in my walk with Christ?

· If I watch this TV programme late tonight, does that mean that I am not going to be able to spend time with my Saviour tomorrow before I head out?

· Will this job mean that I'm not near a church?

· What gifts has God given me that I could use - now where could I use them, that's where I'm going to be.

· Am I planning to head off around the world? What churches will I be visiting on the way - so that I can have fellowship and teaching?

· If everything is meant to revolve around Christ - what are your plans for this year as a Christian - what areas are you seeking to grow in, what areas are you seeking to develop in?

Two great lessons - from this craggy old man its worth it and its always worth it. But he has more for us.

Two great outcomes

The impact of a Christ-centred life
There is this idea in the church that unless you are going to be a minister then nothing else is that important. Don't make an idol out of ministers. The RP Church doesn't need ministers. It needs people like you who will be fired up for Christ to go out and live your lives everywhere, so that Christ is seen to be magnificent, that following Christ means that you have got something no-one else has. When people see the values that you have then they will know that Christ is precious. They will see how unaffected by the rat race you are.

That's what this church needs. People who live out Phil 3:8 in their schools, in their friendships, in their work places, in their universities, everywhere. How we spend our money, how we talk, what's important to us.

The outcome will be that you will lead eternity effective lives - what you do in Christ will last forever, what you do outside of Christ will never last.

The Reward of a Christ-centred life
This could all sound like a real burden, but look at the language Paul uses.

"gain Christ."
Later on - "to win the prize"
Earlier in epistle "To live is Christ, to die is gain"

Hebrews 11:26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.

Revelation 22:12 "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.

There is a great reward in a Christ-centred life. To life for Christ here is to store for yourselves treasure in Heaven. More than that, it is to enjoy Heaven before you get there. To know Christ is Heaven, to be used by Christ in the work of his kingdom is joy beyond measure. And you can have a measure of that now.

And so often as Christians we rob ourselves of this. We're like someone who buys the latest digital camera, and then pokes their eyes out. How sad. If only we could see Jesus for who he is, and see what being with Jesus really means, and how wonderful being a Christian is, and to know his power at work in us, and to know that what we do will last forever - "What we do in life echoes in eternity."

You will enjoy this life immensely. Wholehearted commitment brings God's wholehearted approval.

I worry about some of you. I worry that some of you are in a very dangerous category. There is a reward for those who live in wholehearted commitment to Christ. But there are two Bible passages that speak of two other experiences on the day of judgment:

Matthew 7:21 "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Some of you think you are Christians, but maybe you aren't. You think that because you made a profession that that's it. You're free to live your life the way you want. I wouldn't be so sure.

1 Corinthians 3:11 For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Is what you are building going to last?

Assurance and reward in scripture are only promised to those who seek him with all their heart.
John Piper writes: "For me as a boy, one of the most gripping illustrations my fiery father used was the story of a man converted in old age. The church had prayed for this man for decades. He was hard and resistant. But this time, for some reason, he showed up when my father was preaching. At the end of the service, during a hymn, to everyone's amazement he came and took my father's hand. They sat down together on the front pew of the church as the people were dismissed. God opened his heart to the Gospel of Christ, and he was saved from his sins and given eternal life. But that did not stop him from sobbing and saying, as the tears ran down his wrinkled face-and what an impact it made on me to hear my father say this through his own tears-"I've wasted it! I've wasted it!"

This was the story that gripped me more than all the stories of young people who died in car wrecks before they were converted- the story of an old man weeping that he had wasted his life. In those early years God awakened in me a fear and a passion not to waste my life. The thought of coming to my old age and saying through tears, "I've wasted it! I've wasted it!" was a fearful and horrible thought to me."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Food for thought - Does God believe in Irish People?

(My local newspaper column)
Sunday evening saw the first of a three part series "Is there anyone out there?" in which Anna Nolan looks at the state of spirituality in Ireland.

Taking to the streets of Limerick she asked if Irish people believe God really exists. One bookie was so certain that God doesn't exist that he offered odds of a million to one! He isn't the only one that is fairly sure that God either doesn't exist or is irrelevant. I remember seeing a leaflet some time back that claimed that 140,000 Irish people claimed to be atheists or non-religious, that's roughly the size of a county.

I always find it interesting that these programs are often made more for entertainment than for any serious purpose. They play with serious themes, but only succeed in trivialising them. Seldom do you see anyone interviewed that has something substantial or convincing to say. Those who do believe are often made to look foolish. It is made to look as if there is no evidence at all for God, whereas it more likely simply reflects the producer's bias - they didn't want to deal with anyone who had something coherent and rational to say.

The most direct proof for the existence of God is Jesus Christ. His existence is a historical fact. The facts of his life and the historical reliability of the gospels have yet to be seriously challenged, despite the efforts of popular writers such as Dan Browne in his "The DaVinci Code" (More of which in a later article). Jesus' claims to be God the Son, are well documented. His death is a historical fact. The evidence that he rose from the dead has proved to be a rock on which many serious-thinking atheists have floundered. That leaves us with a choice, in the words of Irish author CS Lewis:

"I'm trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say.

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice: either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool; you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Perhaps a more significant question to ask is not, "Do Irish people believe in God?", but "Does God believe in Irish people?". Because, after all, we can sit with our head in a bucket and believe that it is nighttime, but that doesn't change reality one bit. If God exists then no amount of hiding will change that.

Mark Loughridge is the minister of Milford Reformed Presbyterian Church and Letterkenny New Life Fellowship.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Link fixed

I think the link to "My King" should work now. You might have to right-click and select "Save-as" to download the file.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

I wish I'd said it - My King

I heard this years ago, and was reminded of it today as I worked on a sermon. I went looking on the web, and guess what? There it was. It's from almost a namesake - Dr SM Lockridge, and I wish I had said it! You can read it below, but trust me its well worth the listen (here).

My King was born King.
The Bible says He's a Seven Way King.
He's the King of the Jews - that's a racial King.
He's the King of Israel - that's a National King.
He's the King of righteousness.
He's the King of the ages.
He's the King of Heaven.
He's the King of glory.
He's the King of kings and He is the Lord of lords.
Now that's my King.

Well I wonder if you know Him. Do you know Him? Don't try to mislead me. Do you know my King?

David said the Heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament show His handiwork.

My King is the only one whom there are no means of measure can define His limitless love.
No far seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shore of supplies.
No barriers can hinder Him from pouring out His blessing.

Well, well, He's enduringly strong.
He's entirely sincere.
He's eternally steadfast.
He's immortally graceful.
He's imperially powerful.
He's impartially merciful.
That's my King.

He's God's Son.
He's the sinner's saviour.
He's the centrepiece of civilization.
He stands alone in Himself.
He's honest.
He's unique.
He's unparalleled.
He's unprecedented.
He's supreme.
He's pre-eminent.

Well, He's the grandest idea in literature.
He's the highest personality in philosophy.
He's the supreme problem in high criticism.
He's the fundamental doctrine of proved theology.
He's the carnal necessity of spiritual religion.
That's my King.

He's the miracle of the age.
He's the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him.

Well, He's the only one able to supply all of our needs simultaneously.
He supplies strength for the weak.
He's available for the tempted and the tried.
He sympathizes and He saves.
He's strong God and He guides.
He heals the sick.
He cleanses the lepers.
He forgives sinners.
He discharged debtors.
He delivers the captives.
He defends the feeble.
He blesses the young.
He serves the unfortunate.
He regards the aged.
He rewards the diligent and He beautifies the meek.

Do you know Him?

Well, my King is a King of knowledge.
He's the wellspring of wisdom.
He's the doorway of deliverance.
He's the pathway of peace.
He's the roadway of righteousness.
He's the highway of holiness.
He's the gateway of glory.
He's the master of the mighty.
He's the captain of the conquerors.
He's the head of the heroes.
He's the leader of the legislatures.
He's the overseer of the overcomers.
He's the governor of governors.
He's the prince of princes.
He's the King of kings and He's the Lord of lords.

That's my King. Yeah. Yeah.
That's my King. My King, yeah.

His office is manifold.
His promise is sure.
His light is matchless.
His goodness is limitless.
His mercy is everlasting.
His love never changes.
His Word is enough.
His grace is sufficient.
His reign is righteous.
His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Well. I wish I could describe Him to you, but He's indescribable. He's indescribable.

Yes. He's incomprehensible.
He's invincible.
He's irresistible.
I'm coming to tell you, the heavens of heavens cannot contain Him, let alone a man explaining Him.
You can't get Him out of your mind.
You can't get Him off of your hands.
You can't outlive Him and you can't live without Him.

Well, Pharisees couldn't stand Him, but they found out they couldn't stop Him.
Pilot couldn't find any fault in Him.
The witnesses couldn't get their testimonies to agree.
Herod couldn't kill Him.
Death couldn't handle Him and the grave couldn't hold Him.
That's my King. Yeah.

He always has been and He always will be.
I'm talking about He had no predecessor and He'll have no successor.
There's nobody before Him and there'll be nobody after Him.
You can't impeach Him and He's not going to resign.
That's my King! That's my King!

Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.
Well, all the power belongs to my King.
We're around here talking about black power and white power and green power, but it's God's power.
Thine is the power. Yeah. And the glory.
We try to get prestige and honour and glory for ourselves, but the glory is all His.
Yes. Thine is the Kingdom and the power and glory, forever and ever and ever and ever. How long is that? And ever and ever and ever and ever. And when you get through with all of the evers, then,


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Book Review - Why does being a Christian have to be so hard?

Why does being a Christian have to be so hard?
Peter Golding
Evangelical Press

Don Carson was asked recently, "14 years ago you wrote a book on suffering and pain. Since then you've come through a lot of suffering yourself - would you change anything you wrote?" Carson's answer was most revealing, he said, "No, the whole point of the book was to get certain biblical truths thoroughly in place before you get kicked in the teeth, because if you live long enough you will suffer. If you don't have enough biblical thinking in place before things happen then you will suffer additionally from all the unbiblical fears and anxieties."

Now that's wise!

That's what this book by Peter Golding is like. When someone becomes a Christian very often things go smoothly for a time. But then trials come, and very often, no matter what stage we're at the in the Christian life, we can wonder, "What is happening?", "Has God abandoned me?", "Am I a Christian at all?", "Did I do something wrong?". And if we have not taken God teaching on board beforehand we will struggle.

Peter Golding focuses, in part, on the greatly ignored doctrine of adoption, which has a mine of blessing for struggling saints. He does so by taking us step by step through Hebrews 12:1-13 (also a book we often pass by) and gives wise pastoral council and demonstrates to us from scripture what is happening in trials and testing times.

He cuts through the simple solutions to problems, "Just pray about it", and gives good instruction - "[that] is not the New Testament method of dealing with trial and affliction, which never makes prayer and substitute for thought." And Golding does just that; he helps us to think biblically about these issues.

This is not so much a book on the problem of suffering in general, but pastoral advice to believers on how to prepare and cope when problems come. For that reason it is worth reading.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

God's Providence

The small boy stood peering over the counter in the sweet shop, his mum busy looking at cards and flowers. Stretched out before him in magnificent array was an endless selection of midget gems, bon-bons, pear drops, fizz bombs and every other sweet imaginable.

The sweet shop owner looked at him and said, "Son, take a handful"

The lad looked longingly, but stood with his hands in his pockets. "Go on," said his mum standing nearby.

Still he stood with hands buried deep within the recesses of his trousers.

The owner took a bag and scooped a handful himself, and reached to him, "Here, take these, from me to you."

As they went out the door his mother asked, "Why wouldn't you take a handful of sweets yourself son?"

The little lad replied, "He had bigger hands mum."

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." - 2 Cor 9:8

So often we worry about the future, we worry about coping, we worry about what to say if someone asks us about the gospel. And we forget that our God has big hands. He gives his people all we need. At all times. For all situations.

So often we try with our hands, instead of going to the one with bigger hands. "You do not have because you do not ask" - James 4:2

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Food for thought - Suicide

(My local newspaper column)

It is with a growing sense of sadness that I write this column this week. Could any right thinking individual listen to the reports of suicide after suicide in our own county and not be burdened by the awful hopelessness that must overwhelm a man or woman, or young person so much so that they wish to take their life?

Can anyone fathom the thought processes and burdens that lead someone to this chasm of despair? Yes, I believe there are people who know exactly what it feels like, because they are standing on the brink of that chasm themselves.

It is to you I write this column. What has a minister to say on this subject? Is he going to lecture us?

What else can a minister say except what is in the Bible? So what does the Bible have to say on this subject?

"I have had enough, Lord. Take my life." Those were the words of Elijah the great Old Testament preacher. He knew what it was to stand on the brink. Job too wrote, "Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb? For now I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest." An unknown troubled soul wrote in Psalm 13, "How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?". And in Psalm 116 another who knew the long dark nights of the soul wrote, "Death had its hands around my throat; the terrors of the grave overtook me. I saw only trouble and sorrow."

God's word does not paint a rosy picture of life. It deals with the harsh realities that we have to live through. And it provides hope where hope was gone, and promise where once there was only despair.

Suicide is often seen as the only way out: the only way out of a miserable existence, the only way out of love's shattered dreams, the only way out of pain, the only way to escape the hurt of the past or the burden of the future.

God, on the other hand, is portrayed as the one who shapes the future for the good of those who love him.
God is the one who can deal with the hurts of the past. A friend of mine, who has come through a past so horrendous that few of us could imagine, said of what God had done for her: "My past is my greatest asset in his hands." What had driven her to despair had been turned around by God and was now a means of bringing hope and blessing to others.

God's word shows us that we need not go through this life alone, that we are not made to go through this life alone. It holds out to us the promise of strength for every situation: "I can do all things through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). It holds out to us the promise of conquering our past, rather than letting the past conquer us: "in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:39). It holds out to us the promise of hope: "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).

The song writer in Psalm 116 who wrote, "Death had its hands around my throat; the terrors of the grave overtook me. I saw only trouble and sorrow" also went on to write immediately,

"Then I called on the name of the Lord: 'Please, Lord, save me!'
How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours!
The Lord protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death, and then he saved me.
Now I can rest again, for the Lord has been so good to me.
He has saved me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
And so I walk in the Lord's presence as I live here on earth!"

This life is not easy, but we do not have to live it by our own strength. We can have the almighty power of God to help us. That's what Elijah, Job, and many others have found.

If anyone reading this wants to talk confidentially, please feel free to get in touch.