søndag 29. desember 2013

Glory to God!

We’re going to do something unusual today. I thought a great way to end this year and start the next one would be for us to lift up our eyes and see the greatness of our God. So what we are going to do.

We need to do this because we so often try to make God small (smaller) so that we can, you know, manipulate him to do what we want. You know those prayers you pray when you’re saying with your mouth “your will be done” but in your heart you’re saying “You better do this or else!”
We’re praying not in humble awe of our mighty King, but praying as a way to get points with God (doing our religious duty) so that we can cash them in and make him do what we want.

Our problem is sin, and sin is simply that we imagine that we are God in our own lives. “I am the captain of my destiny” – all that rot. Are we? Did you decide where you would be born? Who your parents were? Your intelligence? Your emotional disposition? Can you stop an earthquake? Quieten a storm? Heal a broken bone? So many things we just take for granted. So many areas where we forget we are so dependent on the grace of God – even in providing a community of people where we all work together. Just think about the road builders and the police and the firemen and the garbage collectors – imagine if they weren’t there. How would you be able to be captain of your destiny surrounded by piles of rubbish…on fire… with thieves and hooligans stealing your stuff? And no roads or electricity or water or sewage or shops or anything else?

Be thankful that God is God, and we are not! So let us stop pretending and lift up our eyes to our great God.

1. God is glorious. God is great!

As the weary pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem used to see the final mountains in front of them which they had to cross to get to the Holy city, as they used to say “I lift up my eyes to the mountains - where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2, NIV84)

Because our God, in his exalted greatness, looks down on us, sinful, small, dust – and speaks. And cares. And loves. And forgives. And enters this world himself as one of us in order to deal with sin once and for all. Yes, we have pretended that we are God. But we don’t need to pretend any more. We can bow our head before the cross of King and say “I am sorry”. And hear those marvellous words “You are forgiven! The price is paid. You belong to me.”
What grace and mercy!

We’re going to start in the book of Ezekiel. Open your Bibles to Ezekiel 1 (page 491) Eze 1:1 On July 31 of my thirtieth year, while I was with the Judean exiles beside the Kebar River in Babylon, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
The Israelites had rebelled against God, and been thrown out of the land. They were in captivity in Babylon, the enemy territory. This vision was given to them to show them that God is still God even in Babylon (even in Norway). And that God is the God of rebels, of sinners, of all those who are in need of forgiveness. He rescues sinners. He saves the undeserving!
4 As I looked, I saw a great storm coming from the north, driving before it a huge cloud that flashed with lightning and shone with brilliant light. There was fire inside the cloud, and in the middle of the fire glowed something like gleaming amber. 5 From the centre of the cloud came four living beings that looked human, 6 except that each had four faces and four wings. 7 Their legs were straight, and their feet had hooves like those of a calf and shone like burnished bronze. 8 Under each of their four wings I could see human hands. So each of the four beings had four faces and four wings. 9 The wings of each living being touched the wings of the beings beside it. Each one moved straight forward in any direction without turning around. 10 Each had a human face in the front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle at the back. 11 Each had two pairs of outstretched wings—one pair stretched out to touch the wings of the living beings on either side of it, and the other pair covered its body. 12 They went in whatever direction the spirit chose, and they moved straight forward in any direction without turning around. 13 The living beings looked like bright coals of fire or brilliant torches, and lightning seemed to flash back and forth among them. 14 And the living beings darted to and fro like flashes of lightning. 15 As I looked at these beings, I saw four wheels touching the ground beside them, one wheel belonging to each. 16 The wheels sparkled as if made of beryl. All four wheels looked alike and were made the same; each wheel had a second wheel turning crosswise within it. 17 The beings could move in any of the four directions they faced, without turning as they moved. 18 The rims of the four wheels were tall and frightening, and they were covered with eyes all around. 19 When the living beings moved, the wheels moved with them. When they flew upward, the wheels went up, too. 20 The spirit of the living beings was in the wheels. So wherever the spirit went, the wheels and the living beings also went. 21 When the beings moved, the wheels moved. When the beings stopped, the wheels stopped. When the beings flew upward, the wheels rose up, for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels. 22 Spread out above them was a surface like the sky, glittering like crystal. 23 Beneath this surface the wings of each living being stretched out to touch the others’ wings, and each had two wings covering its body. 24 As they flew, their wings sounded to me like waves crashing against the shore or like the voice of the Almighty or like the shouting of a mighty army. When they stopped, they let down their wings. 25 As they stood with wings lowered, a voice spoke from beyond the crystal surface above them. 26 Above this surface was something that looked like a throne made of blue lapis lazuli. And on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. 27 From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendour. 28 All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the LORD looked like to me. When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking to me.

What an amazing image. Frightening creatures. Eyes all around. Wheels. Darting forth like lightning. There is nowhere you can go to escape their gaze. There is no way to outrun them. They are all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful. And yet, they are nothing compared to the one upon the throne. They serve him, the LORD (Yahweh) Himself, the omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all- powerful), omnipresent (everywhere at once, nowhere where he is not)) God.

And then, seeing the glory of the Lord, Ezekiel falls to the ground, face down. How would you respond?

God is glorious. God is great!

2. God reveals his glory through speech

Note the goal of this vision: speech. The Lord speaks to Ezekiel.

As we saw a few months ago: God is a God who speaks. He reveals himself to us by His Word. He rules through His Word. He is His Word in the form of Jesus Christ – the perfect representation of the Father. To know Christ is to know the Father.

(Page 3) Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.” And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day.

God rules by His Word and reveals himself through his Word.

(Page 727) Heb 1 Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. 2 And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. 3 The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honour at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.

Jesus is the very Word of God, the final revelation. He is all we need. He is the greatness and the glory of God. Don’t be fooled, fobbed off by some cheap imitation of knowledge or revelation – he radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God. And we can know Him!

And this is who we know:

(Page 749) Rev 1:9 I, John, am your brother and your partner in suffering and in God’s Kingdom and in the patient endurance to which Jesus calls us. I was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus. 10 It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast. 11 It said, “Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” 12 When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. 13 And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. 15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. 16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.

Jesus, who beat death on the cross as he rose again! He is the First and the Last, alive forever, and holds the keys to eternal life. He is mighty, vast, powerful. Head and hair white as wool, eyes as flames of fire. A voice that thunders. Can you see him? Can you see him vast, huge, holding stars in his hands? Is he small in your mind? Make him bigger. Expand your mind. Try to grasp his vastness. Are you filled with awe yet? Make him bigger! Standing amongst the galaxies, holding stars in his hands. This is our God.
This is our gentle Jesus meek and mild, revealed in his glory and power – not as a servant, as he came, but now as KING!

Can you see him?

(Page 758) Re 19:11–16 Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. 12 His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. 13 He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. 15 From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. 16 On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

This is whom we serve. This is whom we pledge allegiance. This is our God. Our Lord and Master. His name is Jesus.

Psalm 8:1–4 (ESV, adapted) 1 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens…. 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the sons of men that you care for them?

Because the wonder of wonders is that he, this awesome, mighty God, is a God of love and mercy and compassion. This King shrunk himself down, humbled himself, even to death on a cross, in order to show his glory to worthless rebels like us – and to change us, breathe LIFE into us, transform us into objects of grace, a display case to his greatness, jars of clay with this treasure, the treasure of Chris’s Holy spirit within us. Hallelujah!

(Page 709) Phil 2:5–11 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. 9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honour and gave him the name above all other names, 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.

This year, let us remember that God whom we serve, and the message of hope and power that we have to share. I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the very power of God for salvation for ALL who believe. (Rom 1:16)

søndag 15. desember 2013

Big Question 4: How can I trust Christianity when the church has been so evil?

Isn’t Christianity evil?

It’s a good question.

Does it work? It’s the question of our age.
Like good, post-modern consumers we want to test the quality of the product or service we are about to commit to.

Does it work?

Does Christianity work?

The narrative in the world today is “no”. Christians are homophobic bigots, judgemental, obsessed with telling other people about sex, anti-science, and dangerous to society: after all, religion is the cause of most wars.

If we look around at our own town, and ask different non-Christians or even Christians about their experience of church and many have met exactly those attitudes. Many have been hurt by the church –judgmental or downright cruel people wearing a fake smile and a little halo while making them feel like dirt.

So that might be your experience. If it is, well done for being brave enough to come!

Now you’re may be expecting me to now go on and on about how the idea that Christians are evil is false, and spend ages trying to argue away the bad things that have been done in the name of Christianity and try and whitewash them so they are “good”.
If so, you’ll be surprised to hear that my first two points are

1. “Christians” are evil

2. Christians are evil

Great, sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Why be a Christian then? Because

3. Christians are forgiven

And finally we’ll stop looking at the evil things done by Christians, and look at the good things done by Christians.

4. Christians have been the biggest force for good in the world’s history

1. “Christians” are evil

You see, not everyone who calls themselves a Christian IS a Christian. Now this may be surprising. Surely if you say “I am a Christian”, then it’s true for you, and “who are you to say it’s not true?!”. But Jesus disagrees....

In Matthew 7:15 Jesus says “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, the way they act....On judgement day many will say to me “Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name”. But I will reply “I never knew you. Get away from me you evildoers”

You see being a Christian is not like being a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Crystal healer or a nihilist or even a Jehovah’s Witness. It’s not about subscribing to a philosophy of life, or doing certain religious rituals, or belonging to a certain group, or even “serving the Lord”. Surprisingly, as Jesus said, it’s not even about doing great miracles or casting out demons or prophesying. It is about KNOWING and BEING KNOWN BY God Himself.

We saw that last week, as Christian helped us answer the question “Why is Jesus the only way to God?”
Because, as Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”
Jesus himself is the way, the truth and the life – he doesn’t just tell us “this is the way”, he IS the way. Jesus is the only way to God because he is God.

Because the only way to know God is to…know God. Just like the only way for me to know you is to know you. I could talk to your friends, read your Facebook statuses, look at pictures of you – but I would only know about you, I would not know you. WE would still be strangers, not friends. The only way to know God, is to know Jesus.

That’s why simply saying “I am a Christian” is meaningless without the reality of relationship with the Living God. Ticking a box on a census form no more makes you a Christian than walking into a garage makes you a car!
Going to church on a Sunday, even going regularly, doesn’t make you a Christian. Jesus didn’t say “I am a truth” or “I can explain the truth”. He said he is the Truth. He is the Ultimate Reality at the centre of all of life. Jesus isn’t in the “Sunday” box which you can pick up when you feel like it. Becoming a Christian is giving up your LIFE to Jesus. Wherever you go, I go. Whatever you tell me to do, I obey. Whatever you say, I trust. I am yours. I belong to you.

This is very different to most religions, so it’s easy to be confused. There are also plenty of people wearing white collars and fine robes and big silver crosses and big hats - or torn jeans and a guitar and a soul patch and Chinese “Jesus” tattoo and an iPad with a cross on it – or a white suit and a big leather-bound Bible to wave from the front and never open. Plenty of those people around who look the part, but are anything but.

The most effective lies are those that are 90% truth. And there is a lot of that type of “Christianity” in the world, and has been in the past, particularly as Christianity gained political power.

In the film the “Book of Eli”, Gary Oldman’s character, the “Mayor” of the town desperately wanted the book of Eli (the Bible) in order to manipulate people. He wanted to wield it like a weapon. And the Bible has been misused and abused throughout history to get people to do things in “God’s name” which have nothing to do with God and everything to do with me and what I want.

Like getting people to go to war. Right? “Religion is the cause of most wars”.
In the “Encyclopedia of Wars”, authors Philips and Axelrod chart the motivations for wars – among them religion.
Do you know how many wars were religiously motivated (where religion was used as the reason for war – and this is broadly interpreted): 123 wars.
That sounds like a lot. But there has been a total of 1763 wars! Meaning “religion”, even in its broadest interpretation, and that’s ALL religions, not just Christianity, is fairly insignificant as a cause of war (less than 7%). As the agnostic comedian David Mitchell said “People are just very good at finding reasons to kill each other, and I’m not convinced that removing one of the reasons (religion) will lead to any significant change”.

But there have been and are many things done in the name of the church or Christianity or “God” that are rightly condemned. The Spanish inquisition, burning “heretics” at the stake, indulgences, and so on and, of course, many of the wars in the name of God. These things are evil and opposed by Christians! And many evil things have been and are still done by people in the church hierarchy who by any stretch of the imagination could not be obeying Christ, and they should be exposed and punished. Think about the priests abusing children, and then the bishops covering it up. Think about the oily preacher in his white suit calling on people to “give generously so that God will bless you”. Evil men twisting the truth for their own gain. Their father is the devil, the father of lies.

“Christians”, the religious, churchians, or those simply using the name to achieve power – they are self-righteous, judgmental, evil people.
But so are real Christians. Because becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that all your selfish behaviours vanish. Oh no. Becoming a Christian means you start to realise how really sinful and selfish you actually are! It’s like when you’re up in the attic under the roof or something – it’s only when you come down into the light that you realise how filthy you are. That’s what it’s like becoming a Christian.

2. Christians are evil

The Bible’s pretty clear on this point. Christians are evil.
Eph 2:1-3 Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil...3 All of us used to live that way, following...our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
Rom 3:10-12 As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one. 11 No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. 12 All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.”
Gen 6:5 The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.
Rom 7:18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway…24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?

Christians do and say wrong things all the time, just like everybody else – and sometimes colossally wrong things. Christians can be liars, gossips, prejudiced, racist, bigoted, gossips, slanderers, evildoers, murderers, sexual sinners, and so on – just like everyone else in the world. We don’t magically transform immediately into Jesus. And so it’s not surprising that we manage to hurt outsiders and each other along the way.

The first step in becoming a Christian is admitting that you are a sinner, a rebel against God. And what we too often forget is that here is then no room for being judgemental (“den store pekefinger”) because we have been forgiven so much. Why should I look at the speck in YOUR eye when I have a LOG in my own? Particularly when we look at the lives of non-Christians.
Judgementalism, looking down on people, pretending we are better – that should have no place amongst God’s people.
So I want to apologise on behalf of the church for when we get it wrong, when I get it wrong. I apologise for when I have sinned, thinking myself better than you or you or you because I don’t do such and such a thing. I have forgotten that I am a sinner, saved by grace, and grace alone.

This means, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we need to work hard at loving each other and bearing with one another. This is a club for sinners, and we will sin against outsiders, and against each other – often without even realising it. Remember Eph 4:2–4 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.

We are sinners, and so we will sin, and hurt each other. But let us then be quick to forgive, because, even though Christians are evil,

3. Christians are forgiven

Eph 2:4–5 We were dead in our sins...But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)
Rom 3:21-22 No-one is righteous...But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him... 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
Gen 6:8 Everything we thought or imagined was only evil...But Noah found favour with the LORD.
Ro 7:24–25 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

God looked upon us in our filth – and He had compassion on us, loved us enough to become a baby and be born right into our filth. Not because we are loveable (or “worth it”) or our hearts reached out to him – we’re dead, whoever heard of dead people doing anything? - but because of His great love, of His great worth. Praise Jesus! We are sinners, yes, but we are forgiven sinners. What love!

Sin and forgiveness is a huge mindshift – and is often misinterpreted by non-Christians.

For example: homosexuality. Saying “Homosexuality is a sin” is not saying “we hate people who have same sex attraction”. In fact we love those with same sex attraction (we have to!) the same way we love those with opposite sex attraction (we have to!), while still saying that divorce is a sin, and sex before marriage is a sin, and sex with someone other than your spouse is a sin, oh, and by the way, lying is a sin and murder is a sin and gossip is a sin, and jealousy is a sin, and greed is a sin, and.... And all of us are welcome at the cross.

If you doubt what I say about the homosexuality thing, consider that the most conservative, fundamentalist wing of the church in England – has a gay man as the head of one of their most prominent organisations. And he’s been heavily involved in leadership there for 20-odd years. (livingout.org) Despite the media reports or the liberal smear campaign “Being gay” has never been an issue in the real church. Trying to twist God’s word so you can sin the way you want to – now that is an issue.
And if you are gay, you are most welcome here. You will be loved, you will be respected, you will be called upon to repent of all your sins, not just sexual ones, and salvation will be found in Christ, not in changing your orientation. We’ve definitely got it wrong when we end up preaching “be sexually attracted to women” as salvation instead of the glories of the cross!

This room is full of sinners. And praise God! The church is not a place for those who want to come and shine their halo, and have God bask in their glory – God coming down off his throne and saying oooh, well done. Many places are like that: get yourself cleaned up before you come to God. Do, do do. Jesus says “done”. “Come to me just as you are”, he says.

Christians are forgiven sinners.

Now, before we hit the last point let me sum up where we’ve got to: We know that being a Christian means knowing Jesus personally.
We know that many people have used the label “Christian” to do evil things, and many evil people have seen the church as a way to personal power and have abused that power.
We know that Christians have often messed up and sinned against those outside and inside the church – and will continue to do so. We’re not perfect! Yet!
And we know that Christians are forgiven by the mercy of God.

But, to come back to that quintessential post-modern question “does it work?” I want us to consider the impact of Christianity on our world today and throughout history.

4. Christians have been the biggest force for good in the world’s history

Imagine now a world without Christianity.

It would not be a world at peace since 93% of the world’s wars have had nothing to do with religion. In fact, since Christians are commanded to be peacemakers, there would probably be far more conflicts. Take South Africa, for example: Mandela’s presidency ushered in peace, reconciliation, deep sacrificial forgiveness. Why? 27 years in prison in which this firebrand founder and head of the military wing of the ANC, in his own words, “never missed a Bible study or a church service”. 27 years, week in, week out, seeing Jesus, being challenged by the One who said “Father, forgive them”

In a world without Christianity, much of the world would still be unknown to us. The maps would be dark, because many of the world’s great explorers were missionaries, seeking to obey Christ’s commission to take the gospel to the world. They recognised that people are people no matter how “savage” they may be.

There would be no universities – certainly not as we know them today. Aristotle taught that knowledge came through a deductive process of the mind, not through experimentation, and he supported a pantheistic world view—with gods controlling nature and the universe and fighting – so the universe was inconsistent and untestable. Christianity taught that there was one God, a rational being, who was consistent in the way he ran the world. He was knowable and his world was knowable.

Bishop Robert Grosseteste, first chancellor of Oxford University in the 13th century, proposed the scientific “experimental method”. 300 years later, the devout Christian Francis Bacon, began recording results of his experiments, and scientific methodology began to be more widely accepted. The underlying philosophy behind our modern science is Christianity! No Christianity, no science.

There would be no hospitals – certainly not public ones, and there would be no nurses. Florence Nightingale was an upper class lady of privilege moved to compassion by the plight of the soldiers in the Crimean War, and considered it her Christian duty to get in and serve these soldiers, commoners!, washing them, binding their wounds, caring for them. Nursing was founded.

There would be no orphanages. For what other world view could motivate men like George Muller, who single-handedly cared for over 10 000 orphans in order to demonstrate the love and power and compassion of God?

Prisons would be dungeons where people are sent to die.

There would be no justice system to speak of.

There would still be slavery: it was first banned by church council in 1157. The battle against slavery had to be refought in 1800s by William Wilberforce and other Christian parliamentarians. And indeed, today “human trafficking”, slavery, is raising its head again as a huge problem, and Christians are rallying together to fight it.

Polygamy (many wives, one husband) would be the norm.

Women would have no rights – children even less. The concept of equal rights is found in Genesis 1 where male and female are created equal. Jesus treats women with great respect, and even includes them as part of his group of close followers – unheard of in those times. Even more scandalously, he allows children to come to him, and says that the disciples should be “like these children”.

Tragically, it would be a world without Manchester United, the world’s greatest football club! The clubs, United among them, started as a way to keep young men out of the pubs and doing something productive.

In our beautiful land, unwanted children would simply be abandoned in the forest to die – and that would be seen as perfectly normal. It was so normal that Olav the holy the first Christian King of Norway had to outlaw it on pain of confiscation of property – that is: if you kill your child, you will lose your farm. It stopped shortly after that. Without Christianity we would still be killing our children today – particularly those with defects or disabilities. Imagine that, just killing a child because he’s disabled.
Looks like we need another King Olav.

Music and the arts would be a shadow of themselves, Architecture would be stunted.

Leadership would be by might – the idea of servant leadership, of the leader who cares for his followers, started with Christ, and was ridiculed for hundreds of years. But now it’s part of our culture.

Most people would be illiterate, and most countries, tribes and people groups would not have a written language at all. Bible translators have had to create written languages from scratch on hundreds occasions – and the big push to educate people was so they could read the Bible. Those in power did not want to educate people – why give away power? The church disagreed.

Does Christianity work? Look at the track record (the whole track record). It works!

But more importantly than that: it’s true. It works because it is Truth. It works because Jesus is real, because he rose from the dead, because he is seated upon his throne. The church is not dead because he is alive and has a job for us to do as everything rushes toward the Day he returns, a Day of fire and judgement, terror and fear – and a Day of joy unimaginable for those forgiven sinners who bear his name: Christians.

Rejoice, Christian, for Jesus is Lord!

søndag 8. desember 2013

Why is Jesus the only way to God?


Who is Jesus?

Merry Christmas

Isn’t Christmas wonderful? It’s the time to celebrate the birth of sweet baby Jesus. The only person ever born with a halo, Christians or not we all put out our nativity scenes. Shepard’s, angels, oxen, donkeys, Mary, Joseph, baby-Jesus.

It’s so nice, it’s so inoffensive, it’s so harmless. It’s a socialists dream!

What happened to the sweet baby Jesus?

But then Jesus had the audacity to grow up, and just like all children growing up He wasn’t so sweet anymore. As a child but especially as an adult, He started running around fulfilling prophecies about Himself. Making even the most so-called God-fearing Christians in church choke on their tea. With what He had said and done. He starts making outrageous statements like the one in today’s passage.

I am the way, the truth and the life

What is so outrageous?

You might think, well open your bibles on John 14:6-7 and see for yourselves, Page 648 in the back of the church bibles.

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

Where has all the niceness gone`?

It was so nice ,the miracle of Immaculate Conception (Mary getting pregnant without ever having sex) Jesus teaching wise and good things, Jesus dying for us. If we give the gospel, a quick a shallow browse I think most people would agree that: This Jesus is remarkably easy to digest. He is downright likeable, He is nice, and He is so good with children. He teaches people to not be naughty but play nice.

So WHY did He have to go ahead and say something like that, He was doing so well; riding donkeys handing out fish and walking on water, why did He have to go and ruin it all? Jesus was the perfect mascot for niceness.

Until we actually READ WHAT HE WAS LIKE, what he actually said. And then we are forced to conclude either this man is out of His mind. Or He speaks truth.

Jesus existed. He was historical. We know what he said and did.

Jesus is either of vital importance or of no importance at all. And just like that, our one politically correct human right of being neutral is pulled away like a rug under us. We cannot stay neutral to Jesus; we are either for Him or against Him.

He said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

The context it was said in

These words are being spoken during the last supper. He told the disciples plainly that He was the Messiah. He was the Savior who had been promised by God as early as the fall of man. Jesus had told His disciples that He was going away and that they could not follow Him there.

Just imagine the tension. The disciples got more and more confused, and agitated. They knew something was going to happen, but they did not know what. Although Jesus kept telling them that, He was going to die, and rise again. I bet Jesus could feel the tension too, He basically said, I am going to my Father’s House preparing places for you to stay in; I will come back for you when everything is ready. When I do, we will never be apart again. So don’t worry about me, you know by what way I travel and where I am going.

It must have perplexed the disciples hearing what Jesus said. Thomas was the one voicing their concerns when he said “No, we don’t know, Lord,”, “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus replied; “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me”

We’re going to have a look at what the bible says about Jesus, and if His claims stand the test of time.

I Am the WAY

Jesus said I am the way. He did not claim to know or teach a secret cure, He IS the cure. He is the only man who has ever had a perfect intimate relationship with God. By that I mean; Jesus was the only person who didn’t sin, He lived a perfect life. Jesus’s relationship with God, and His knowledge of God was not corrupted by sin, since he had none. There is no other way to God. I am the way is not everyone gets through Jesus eventually – He is not an idea, He is a person. Only by KNOWING Jesus can we come to God.

I Am the TRUTH

Jesus said I am the truth, He said to those who believed in Him “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Being the truth Jesus heals the sick, He heals possessed by casting out demons, He brings people back from the dead, He saves people from sin-controlled lives simply by speaking the truth. Jesus is the truth. He said to Philip that anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. Jesus is the true image of the Father. Jesus tells us that if we are faithful to His teachings, the truth (Jesus) will set us free from our slavery under sin.

Jesus is THE truth. No there is no other truth Hut him. He is the revelation of the Ultimate Reality. Being the truth, Jesus is the Centre of the universe.

I am the LIFE

Jesus said I am the life. Jesus is life, because He was never subject to death, He made death, His subject to. Why because when we read in the gospels, Jesus always had power over death. Jesus brought a young girl back to life after dying, He brought Lazarus back from the dead, being dead for several days. Lazarus had already started to smell. Even more awesome is that when Jesus died, God raised him from the dead.

Which proves that even as dead, death had no hold on Him. It would have ended ironically if He weren’t God. The man who brought Lazarus and the little girl back from the dead, would meet His end at death. It would have med it quite clear that it was all a fraud, and what we believe is be wrong. And all of us who work in ministry would have wasted our lives teaching rubbish. However, we see that it’s contrary, Jesus did rise, so that those who are in Him (those who repent of their sins and seek Him (God)) will be risen to eternal life. That is why He said, I am the resurrection and the life.

HE is not just the life bringer but he is life. He sustains all things, He gives us every breath – but he is also our eternal life. Only because what Jesus did for us on Calvary can we have eternal life.

A personal savior, a personal cure.

Jesus is the cure to our Human condition, only by knowing Jesus can we get to God. We can’t achieve it through, sitting with our legs crossed going ahmmm. We won’t achieve it facing a certain direction, praying. We won’t get to God our own way if we make up our own gospels and rules, giving ourselves the opportunity to become God’s and saviors of other planets. We can’t even do like the scientologist and try to pay our way to enlightenment. Jesus is personal ,and we must know Him in that way.

He is the Truth not ideas about truth!

Being the truth Jesus, heals, cast out demons. He does this because He Is who He Is. The truth is realized through Jesus, not trough us realizing ourselves. Whether it is trough money, spirituality, sex or the Eurovision song contest. We are not the Centre of the universe, Jesus is, and only by getting to know Jesus can we know the truth. And only the ultimate truth that Jesus is can set us free from sin, our cruel and horrible master.

Marked for death!, but granted life

We are marked for death, because of our sin. We are so corrupted by our sin that, God can smell it, it’s actually so evident that sometimes we can almost smell it ourselves. Only trough turning to Jesus, repenting of our sin can we experience His resurrection, into our eternal life. Only His blood can clean the stench of our sin, and rise us from the death. To get to God we must live the same perfect life, and die the same perfect death Jesus did. And the only way to do that is to have a personal relationship with Him! We won’t have a chance for a new life in my name, not even in the name of love. Only in the name of Jesus, can we experience a new life. In this life and the next.

The theoretical other way

Jesus said that He was the only way to God, but there is actually another…. Be perfect. Before God sent His son Jesus to the earth to die for our sins, the only way to be right with God, and to have a relationship with God was to obey the Law given by God. The Law consists of 613 laws, among others the 10 Commandments. So to be perfect per definition would be to always obey the Law of God. To make it even clearer, to be perfect you can NEVER have broken any of His laws, from the beginning, you must have kept all 613 of them.

When an expert in religious law asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, He replied.  “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

If our love was perfect, we would obey the law.

Ironically if we loved God perfectly we would keep His Commandments, but we don’t. We follow our own sinful hearts, we don’t trust God. And that is evident when Christians try to be righteous according to the Law by their own strength. We have all met them; either the think they are better than everyone else, or they are so down trying to carry the Law by their own strength.

Be perfect like your Father in Heaven is perfect.

Jesus even tells us to be perfect just like God, and if there is one thing that is sure; it is that we’re not perfect. It’s one of the most common excuses when we mess up isn’t it; “give me some slack I’m not perfect!” We’re not even perfect like our better halves, how then can we be perfect like God, it is impossible. That means that we can’t deserve salvation.

We’ve effectively sawed off the branch we’ve been sitting on, by trying to come up with a clever way to deserve God’s grace. It is impossible. Simply because we are sinners, we don’t even measure up to our own expectations. How can we measure up to Gods, when fulfilling all His commandments is the absolute minimum of what He expects of us. And if we do not even meet His lowest expectation. What happens, well if we break God’s commandments, we are sinners. And if we are sinners we are perishing! For the wages of sin is death, and everyone has sinned. We have all fallen short of God’s glorious standard, we can’t meet God’s standard. So is that it then, are we doomed?

Well as always, there is more! We cannot meet God’s glorious standard, but… wait for it… Jesus can, because He alone, carried the full weight of the Law !

We’ve looked at the passages showing us who Jesus is, and through this we’ve seen that Jesus really is the way, the truth and the life. And now we’ve seen that we cannot according to the bible make our own way to God. There is but one way left, there is but Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life, no one can come to the Father but through Him! So isn’t it arrogant claiming this about Himself? Well… no, not if it is true.

I am Johanna’s husband.

I am Chris, Johanna’s only husband. Is that not arrogant of me to claim, well yes it is, if it isn’t true, if I can’t prove it.

To prove that, I have a certificate of no impediment, which is an official document from Norway and Northern - Ireland confirming that neither Johanna or I are married to anyone else, I have a certificate of marriage confirming that on Wednesday July 21. 2010 Johanna and I was lawfully declared husband and wife. I also have a ring to show people I am married, but the best part is that I have Johanna my wife that I can physically show you, to prove that I am Johanna’s husband.

What the bible says about Jesus.

The same way we have the bible, the word of God. We believe that it is true, because of faith, because of the evidence, and because of the experience of the holy spirit. And if the bible is true, then what it tells us about Jesus is true. Jesus was the only son of God, He came from Heaven to earth. He lived a perfect life, a life without sin. He came to earth to die for our sins, and that is what He did on Calvary. He took our sin, our punishment and our diseases with Him up on the cross. He lived a perfect live, and He died a perfect death. Because He had no sin of His own, death could not hold Him, Jesus conquered death. So when we die, if we are in Christ. We will die a perfect death, after living a perfect live.

Why you might ask? Because of Jesus, when we repent and turn to Him. His death for our sin is made valid for us, and though we sin, it doesn’t kill us because Jesus has already dealt with our sin on the cross.

So does that mean that Jesus died for everyone?

Yes, Jesus did die for everyone who has ever lived, and for everyone who is ever going to live!

Does it mean that everyone is going to be saved?

Everyone who repents and turns to Jesus (believes in Him, that He is who He says He is) will be saved.

What about other religions; Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, Mormonism?

Only those who put their faith in Jesus will be saved.

What about our church?

Our church does not have an exclusive cross over our threshold and you will be saved deal with God. Only those who put their faith in Jesus will be saved.

So what are you going to do?

So turn to Jesus He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, nobody comes to the Father but trough Him! To know Jesus is not to sit in a bench and hear someone talking about Him, to know Jesus is as to know any other person. I know Daniel because I spent time with him, I know that he likes star trek better than star wars, I know that he’s not very fond of sugar. I also know that he is man who is really truly burning for Jesus. I don’t know this because I’ve heard someone say this about him. I know this because I have spent time with him, and talked to him, and experienced him. And it is the same way to know Jesus, we need to spend time with Him. Not just hearing what, me or anyone else says about Him. We need to pray (talk with Him), read the bible (get to know who He is, and His persona) Jesus is personal, He is not some lame theory, nor is He made up person. He is real and He wants to have relationship with you. I don’t know what you do or don’t believe. Whether are here looking or want to prove once and for all that there is no God. For many it is helpful to believe in something, it makes our lives easier. Whether it saying we all have to find our own way to God, or my way is the only way. Or even there is no God I believe in science. The truth is that there is only one way to God, and there is only one way to be forgiven for your sins. And that is trough Jesus Christ. So we’re going to finish with a prayer now. I am going to pray out loud and you can pray this silently to yourself, if you want to become a Christian. This is the day the Lord has made. And He has made it so that we have another chance to repent of our sins, turn to Him and believe.

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for dying for my sins, and making a life with you possible. I know that I am a sinner, and that I am lost without you. Forgive me, my sins, and help me believe in you. Turn my heart towards you, and help me to be more like you every passing day. I believe in You and want to be Yours, in your glorious name I pray Amen.

If you have prayed this prayer and want to become a Christian, or if you just want to know more about Jesus. Come see either Daniel, Jack or myself after the service. We’re going to stay for coffee and have time for you and your questions.

søndag 1. desember 2013

How can a loving God allow suffering?


For most of us - probably all of us – here this morning, this question is not some academic exercise. We’ve all experienced suffering. We’ve all been through something that causes us to ask “Why me, Lord?”

We had been married for 5 years, and were expecting our first child. Debby was 10 weeks pregnant. We were excited! We were moving to Cape Town to be near Debby’s parents. Debby had gone on ahead, while I was still in London finishing up at work and church. And then I got a phone call. The baby’s dead.
I was staying with friends from church on a sofa-bed in their lounge, I was a sick as a dog with gastric flu, I was 10000kms away from my wife with still another two weeks to go before I could see her, and my first child had died in the womb - and Debby was extremely sick because of it. It was not a high point of my life. It was deep waters.

You have probably gone through something similar. Maybe it is the death of your first child, or a stillbirth, or an abortion. Or maybe it’s watching a loved one get sick and suffer with cancer or some other disease. Or have them fade away with Alzheimer’s. Or Parkinsons. Or suffer with M.E.

Perhaps it’s a loveless marriage. Or an abusive relationship. Or loneliness.
Or even deep frustration with yourself. Why am I like this? Why do I annoy people so much? Why do I take pleasure in hurting others?

Or perhaps it’s experiencing some great disaster – like the recent typhoon in the Phillippines. Or living through war. Some of you have had run for your lives, leaving everything you knew and loved behind. One of my friends, Johnny, left his country running for his life. His best friend was running next to him – until he got shot in the back and collapsed. Johnny just carried on running, running, running until he found refuge in South Africa, about 3000kms away.

Is there any hope? Is there any answer in the Bible? And is that answer REAL. Can I feel it here? Not just some theory in my head – but deep at the core of my being – is there comfort?

Well, there are countless stories of Christians under great persecution and suffering who respond with compassion and love. How do they do that? Their love for God grows under suffering. They radiate love, even while being beaten, sometimes to death. How is this possible?

Bishop Hugh Latimer in England in 1555 while being burnt alive with his best friend, Ridley, says “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God's grace shall never be put out.”

How is this possible? There are three things that these Christians had a firm grip on.

1. A firm grip on God’s sovereignty

2. A firm grip on our sinfulness

3. A firm grip on God’s grace.

1. A firm grip on God’s sovereignty

Sovereign means “in charge, in control”. It is having supreme power to rule. When we speak of God’s sovereignty we speak of his absolute control over everything that happens. A breath is not taken, a hair does not fall outside of his control. Is 42:5 God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out. He created the earth and everything in it. He gives breath to everyone, life to everyone who walks the earth.
In fact, it is only by his power that the universe is sustained. Hebrew 1:3 The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. The universe, life as we know it, is sustained (kept going) by his word.
And Acts 17:24-26 says that God’s rule extends to all the nations: 24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
He is in control.

Some of you have come here today angry with God for suffering in your life or in the lives of those closest to you. Why me, Lord? Why them Lord? Why?

That’s a good question. And you’re asking it of the right person. Why, God, is there suffering? We are supposed to ask that question, we’re supposed to ask it of God, and we are supposed to listen to His answer.

The Bible is very clear: God is in control of this world. He is sovereign.

Many Christian or semi-Christian groups have made a real mess of this question of suffering. Let’s take the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an example. This is a group that claims to love the Bible – but when the Bible disagrees with their own ideas they simply change the Bible. It’s a cult, a false religion. They say this: “Earthquakes, wars, famines, and disease – these are some of the things that Jesus foretold would mark the “conclusions of the system of things” in which we now live. Of course, those events are not acts of God. Neither Jesus nor his Father, Jehovah God, is responsible for them.”

Shame, poor God, we need to defend him. It’s our fault, they say, not his. Naughty us. Good God.
That’s their answer? If God’s shoulders are not broad enough to bear the problem of pain, then what use is that God? Who needs some bearded old woman standing on the sidelines wringing his hands and going “oh no”.
How could you believe any promises of salvation, any deliverance, any relief from suffering from such a weak God?
“Jehovah” doesn’t seem to be able to fight his way out of a paper bag, let alone defeat sin, defeat death, hurl the devil and his army into the lake of fire for all eternity, and rescue men and women from eternal torment. We need Rambo, not Mr Mom! We need the hero who can break into the enemy camp, punch the baddy in the face, and rescue all the prisoners. “Get to the choppaaa!”

No, in the Bible we meet a God who is GOD. Who is sovereign, glorious, and dangerous. He is dangerous to those who cross him, rebel against him, refuse to obey him. But to those who turn to him, who ask him for forgiveness, he is their strength and hope, their very life.

So, if God is in control, if he allows these things to happen, how can we believe in such a God? Isn’t it better just to say “I can’t believe in a God who allows....” That seems like a rational response, it may even be a common response- but actually when you think about it, it is the most bizarre response!
It’s like a kid being disciplined by his Dad – I don’t like what my Dad is doing now so I will decide he doesn’t exist. Fingers in ears, eyes shut. But Dad is still very real! You’ve also wished away the one person who can deal with the problem of pain.
Because wishing away God doesn’t solve the problem of suffering. It makes it worse. Remove God, and all of life becomes meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Then we are no more than, as Richard Dawkins said, the product of selfish genes.
It leads to living for today – grab what you can because you only live once. Look out for number one. And, ironically, that kind of self-focussed living always ends up causing suffering.

We see it in our own society – so many people in relationships only for what they can get out of it. What kind of relationships does that produce? Ones where people are at war, pulling and tugging and manipulating to get the most out of the other person. It’s the get –rich-quick of relationships. And it doesn’t work.

Turning our back on God, pretending he doesn’t exist, doesn’t help matters at all, but leads us further in the wrong direction. No, the question of suffering must be laid at his feet, and I think the more important question, the question we really want answered: is there any hope? Any relief?
By the way, if you want to know why we can trust what the Bible says about God, go onto our website and read or download to listen to last week’s talk on “Can I trust the Bible?”, the first in our short series of Big Questions. www.rockchurch.no

No, God is there, and he is in control. Why then are things so bad? Why does he allow these terrible things to happen?

Before we can get to the hope, the rescue, we have to make a stop at the next thing these Christians filled with joy even in terrible circumstances understood. They had a firm grip on God’s sovereignty, and they had:

2. A firm grip on our sinfulness

Rom 3:10–11 As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one. 11 No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God.”
We don’t believe that. We think that we are morally neutral people – or even good people – who stand at crossroads and choose. Maybe we’ll admit we’ve made some mistakes, but because we are L’Oreal people living in a make-believe L’Oreal world, we think “we’re worth it”.
The truth is that we have rebelled against our Creator. Everything we do is an offense to him. Our problem is that we think we are good people who deserve that everything goes our way. We refuse to admit that the problem in our lives might be us.

I think it’s quite easy to see that there is a problem in the world. That people act terribly around each other. That our default seems to be conflict. Across the world, in every town, there is conflict. In every family, there is conflict, fighting, arguing. No matter which race, which language group, which religion, which area, which gender – there is conflict. Put humans together, they will fight.

We see it. But when it comes to ourselves, we suddenly don’t! It’s like the driver survey in the UK where more than 80% of the drivers rated themselves as “above average skilled” at driving. My driving’s perfect, it’s everyone else that’s at fault!

That conflict is caused by sin. And sin is trying to take God’s place. “I will rule my life, my way”. And so when you don’t do what I want you to do, then there is conflict. Because you’re pretending to be God, and I’m pretending to be God – so when we meet, who’s going to be God?
In that sense the answer “suffering is our fault” is correct. We have sinned, we have tried to rule the world and ourselves our own way - and sin has released all sorts of terrible consequences.

We live in a marred masterpiece, in a cracked universe. Like a shattered windscreen the cracks of sin are everywhere. Our world is broken. Our hearts, the very core of who we are, are broken.

And there is no way for us to see our brokenness – other than by seeing our brokenness. Like a cracked pot – you don’t know it’s cracked until the crack is visible.
And so God gives us over to our sins in order that we might SEE that we are sinners, and so repent and believe. Rom 1:18 But God shows his anger from heaven against all the sinfulness and wickedness of people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. How? V24 explains So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired.

God allows us to sin, to experience the consequences of our sin, in order to reveal to us our brokenness, our rebellion and our need for a saviour. CS Lewis aptly described pain as God’s megaphone to a deaf generation. Our fingers are in our ears and God will shout to get our attention!

It’s like being a father. There are times when you let your children do something or experience something that you know will hurt them (for a short while and in a limited way) in order to teach them a much more valuable lesson or save them from a much worse experience. My Dad said that I used to always want to touch the fire. They warned me repeatedly, but that just added fuel to the rebellion – closer and closer my hand crept. Until he grabbed my hand and held it close to the fire. “No, Daddy, no!” “Do you understand now how dangerous that is.” Big eyes “yes Daddy”.
The embarrassing thing is that I was 15 at the time! (haha!)

This is what we see with God. His view is on eternity – eternal salvation. There is a reason Jesus, the most loving man who ever lived, spoke about hell and judgement more than any other topic, and said if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matt 5:29-30). It’s meant to shock us. It’s meant to wake us up. What does this momentary and light suffering matter compared to the weight of glory in eternity!

And it is momentary and light compared to eternal suffering with no hope of relief! It is limited as well – God allows only a third of the disasters, only a third of the wars, only a third of the famines, a third of the evil in our own hearts to run rampant (that’s clear from Revelation). He holds back the torrent of evil and allows only a small trickle, enough to wake us up to the real danger we face

Is 42:23–25 (NLT) Who will hear these lessons from the past and see the ruin that awaits you in the future? 24 Who allowed Israel to be robbed and hurt? It was the LORD, against whom we sinned, for the people would not walk in his path, nor would they obey his law.

Suffering is for us to learn, to understand. To open our eyes.

Disaster strikes! Why? To wake us up to the eternal danger we face. Like being rugby-tackled by your friend just before you jumped off a bridge – the tackle may hurt for a moment, but he saved your life!

This world we live in is broken – and its brokenness drives us to Jesus. To survive the pain of this world, we need to have a firm grip on God’s sovereignty, we need to have a firm grip on our sinfulness, and, finally, we need to have:

3. A firm grip on grace

I began by sharing the story of my baby that died. It was deep waters. Separated by 10000 km. It is events like this that can break even the strongest of marriages through broken hearts. But Christ was with us. He carried us. Both Debby and I felt his presence so clearly, independantly. He was right there with us, in our pain, in our suffering, just as he has promised. “I will not abandon you”, he says. “I will be with you even to the very end of the age”.
When I think back on that time when we lost our little baby Zoar (that’s what we called him) it is not with grief and sadness but joy. Because God was with us.

You’ve probably heard that Jesus is called “Immanuel”. You might remember that from the Christmas stories. But did you know that it means “God with us”. It’s astounding! Think about it. God became a baby, grew up to become a man, lived life among us, and not as some great man of privilege, but an ordinary man, a working man, a man with mother and father and brothers and sisters and sickness and hunger and emotions and loss and pain. He knows us. He’s right with us in the blood and guts and pain and anguish of life. The incarnation (God becoming man) is supremely important for the answer to this question of suffering. For he is with us.

But more than that. Because him being with us was not simply to identify with our pain, as amazing and wonderful as that is. (Don’t they say a problem shared is a problem halved). He did not come to simply offer a therapeutic shoulder to cry on, so we could sing “nobody know the trouble I’ve seen; nobody knows but Jesus”. No, this is more the undercover secret agent who goes in to destroy the enemy base than the counsellor in her office.
Jesus came in order to die. Jesus came in order to take the punishment we deserve, and thereby unlocking the gate to eternal freedom. He who had no sin took the blow of sin so that we who have sin can be treated as if we were sinless. It’s a swap. Jesus came to destroy sin. And by destroying sin, he destroyed the consequences of sin: pain, suffering, death. All defeated. All under his feet.

That’s why we make such a big deal of the cross. Because we can debate theology all we want, but what matters is the reality of God’s presence with us. That on the cross God is right in the mess of sin and pain with us, that on the cross he has borne our pain, and on the cross won the victory so that one day all things will be set right for those called by him to love him and trust him and who have had their sins covered by him. That can carry us through the darkest of nights.

He can carry us through the darkest of nights.

Is there any hope for me? Is there any hope for my loved ones? And the answer is: there is. But only in Christ.
There is no hope apart from the cross of Christ. But at the cross – oh there is hope, there is comfort, there is joy everlasting. Whatever your burden, bring it to the cross.

Perhaps you aborted your child: there is forgiveness at the cross.
Perhaps you have abused a loved one – emotionally, physically, even sexually: there is forgiveness at the cross. And the strength to make right with the one you have abused.
Perhaps you have gone through terrible pain, experienced abuse, had to flee for your life: there is comfort, there is acceptance, there is love and understanding at the cross.
Perhaps you are worn down by everyday life, depressed, each day grey and dreary as the next: there is LIFE at the cross.
Or perhaps you are a good person, who needs nothing: then there is shelter at the cross from the judgement to come. For the next time Jesus returns it will not be a servant but warrior, and the only reason, the ONLY reason we are still living in this groaning suffering world is so that people like us have time to repent and turn to him. Because once he returns, times up, and there will be no more Sunday school Jesus, but instead the Warrior God who will strike down his enemies and as Revelation puts it: will crush them in the winepress of his judgement. Seek shelter at the cross. Or not, it’s your choice.

God is sovereign.

We are sinners.

But there is great hope: the grace of God at the cross of Christ: There is forgiveness at the cross. There is comfort at the cross. There is life at the cross. There is shelter at the cross. And there is hope, a sure hope everlasting, that suffering is forever defeated at the cross.