søndag 27. september 2015

Isaiah 2: One Day, two outcomes

Isaiah 2

What does the future hold? It’s a question we ask often, particularly like now, when things seem to be changing.

There’s a lot of fear about the future. I hear things like “All these Muslim refugees coming in – they’ll ruin our country”. “The oil price falling, people are losing their jobs, the Krone is falling in value. What’s going to happen?”

What does the future hold?

Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you. I can tell you the future. I can tell you what will happen. We will be judged. Within our children’s lifetime. Unless we turn our hearts back to God.

And the church will continue anyway, no matter how it is persecuted, attacked, torn down, burned or destroyed, or even ruined from the inside it will endure. God’s word will go out into the nations.

And on one Final Day, God will be elevated to the highest place, and everything else that tried to take His place will be brought low.

How I know this will happen? The same way you know it will happen. Because it has been revealed to us by God, through the mouth of Isaiah the prophet. We know the future, and the future is secure.

1. The future is secure.

Is 2:1 This is a vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: 2 In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’s house will be the highest of all— the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship. 3 People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem. 4 The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. 5 Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

This is a great prophetic vision, isn’t it? This is the kind of prophecy we like! It’s even the inspiration for the song “Down by the riverside” where the chorus is “I ain’t gonna study war no more”. Imagine a world with no more war. Where weapons like swords are instead made into tools to make food (ploughshares, whatever that is!). Instead of wasting time fighting we’ll all be pulling together to make a better life.
That would have been good news for those in Judah, for their whole life under king Ahaz especially seemed to be war, war, and rumours of war. And it’s good news for us too. Because we are in a time filled with war, war, and rumours of wars. A time when the future is uncertain. And Isaiah assures us that God’s plans are still in motion. God is still on the throne.

Now Biblical prophecy is a weird thing because although it’s pretty straightforward and clear, it often talks about 3 or 4 events at the same time.

It’s like looking at a mountain and its foothills straight on versus from the side. Straight on it looks like one continuous slope rising up to the top. But from the side we can the up and down up and down as the slope rises and falls on its way to the top. The easy walk we thought we had is actually MUCH longer. Ever had that when you’re out hiking?

Prophecy is like that. When we read it here it seems to be talking about one event. But because we are in the middle of the foothills – here - we know what has already come before, and what is still to come. The 3 events Isaiah is talking about is: the return of Judah from exile in 538BC, the coming of Jesus, his death and resurrection and the birth of the church in around AD38, and the second coming of Jesus on 27th September 2015. Well, maybe not – but it could be. He comes like thief in the night. Are we ready?

Ok. The first foothill is the return of Judah from exile, and this was for those Isaiah was preaching to during his lifetime. The Jews of Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel.

Isaiah had already warned them of the judgement to come in chapter 1. They are sinful people, dumber even than oxen or donkeys because even oxen know their master – but Judah does not know the Lord. They are being battered and bruised and will be surrounded by their enemies. In fact, in not too many years they will be destroyed by the Babylonians. You can imagine the confusion of people in those times. But why is this happening? Are we not the Lord’s people? What does the future hold?
Well, Isaiah, being a prophet, prophecies which is explaining what is happening now theologically (i.e. from God’s viewpoint). He explains that if we reject God then he will reject us. He explains that empty worship provokes God to anger. What does he want with false religion?

And in this chapter Isaiah warns that all the high places – those places where they used to worship idols, false gods – they will be destroyed. It is their sin which is bringing this judgement upon them. But God has not abandoned them. In chapter 1 we read the amazing words “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.” (v18). God will wipe away their sins! And now we read that he will establish Jerusalem forever and it will be raised up and the word of God will go out into all the world. For the devout Jew who loved God this must have been soothing cream for the soul. Because they would have looked at the country around them, ignorant of God, defiling his ways, worshipping idols – and they would have despaired. God will judge! Repent, you fools! Turn back to Him! Oh, Norway! Repent before it is too late! Repent and accept his forgiveness.
But the devout Jew would have another worry. What is going to happen to God’s promises to bless the whole world through Abraham’s descendants? Have we messed that up with our sin? Have we condemned the whole world?

And so comes this soothing word: God will be raised up. His word will go out from Jerusalem. Comfort when the Assyrians come and surround Jerusalem. Comfort when the Babylonians come and TAKE Jerusalem. Because all is not lost.

We in 2015 have a huge advantage over our brother in the faith in 720BC. Because we KNOW how God fulfilled his promises to them. We know that King Cyrus sent back all the Jews to Judah and rebuilt Jerusalem, the Temple and the walls, through Ezra and Nehemiah, just as Isaiah predicted in Isaiah 44 and 45. But that was only partial fulfilment. Wars had not stopped. The word had not really gone out.

And so we get to the second foothill, the second level of prophecy: 400 years after Jerusalem was restored, the Word of God appeared, born as a baby to Mary, his mother. Jn 1:14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. Jesus, born as a man, yet fully God, washed our sins white as snow in his own blood as he gave his life for us on the Cross. On the mountain of the Lord, the city of Jerusalem, there the Word came.

And from there the Word went out as Jesus ascended and the Spirit came down and the church was born. Just as predicted in v3 the word has gone out to all the nations. 3 People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem. People from many nations – just look around this room – go to mount Zion, the mountain of the Lord, where we see our King on the Cross. We come to the house of Jacob’s God, the Temple: Jesus. The house of God, the Temple, was where man could meet with God. But Jesus replaced the physical Temple – now anyone anywhere can meet God through Jesus, man and God united. As the Scriptures say, through his body on the Cross we were reconciled to God.

And so we also live in an age of partial fulfilment. The word has gone out and the Lord is lifted up in churches across the world – but the other high places are still there. There are many other “gods” still worshipped today. War is still a daily fact. We are on the slopes of the great mountain, the final prophecy.

We have seen the first two levels of prophecy fulfilled. So we can be certain of the final level of prophecy, which for us is still in the future. We await the final fulfilment, the Day when Jesus will return, this time not as the Suffering Servant, but as the King of Kings. And on that Day every name, every god, every philosophy, every thing that has raised itself up in place of God – they will all be brought low. God will be glorified, and no other. On that day the city of God will come down from the Heavens, shining like the stars. The Lord will call his people out from every tribe and tongue and nations, and we will worship him day and night. There will be no war, no famine, no sickness, no death. Sin will be destroyed forever, and none will ever rebel against the Lord again. Harmony will reign.

That is the future, and the future is secure. God has kept his promises in the past, and will keep them in the future.

Given that that is the future, how should we be living now? If we know that future is secure, how does that change how we live today?

5 Come, people of Notodden (and Bø, Kongsberg, London and Cape Town), let us walk in the light of the LORD!

The future is secure. But for who? For those who belong to the Lord.

2. The future is full of terror!

In v5 Isaiah pleads with the people: Come let us walk in the light of the Lord. Because he’s speaking to a people in darkness. V6For the LORD has rejected his people, the descendants of Jacob,

Why? Because they’ve rejected Him, their God.

V6 because they have filled their land with practices from the East and with sorcerers, as the Philistines do. They have made alliances with pagans. 7 Israel is full of silver and gold; there is no end to its treasures. Their land is full of warhorses; there is no end to its chariots. 8 Their land is full of idols; the people worship things they have made with their own hands.

We saw last week that an idol is not just a statue that you worship (something physical) but can be anything that you put before God. For example, at one point I had made an idol of marriage. I wanted to find a wife, or at least a girlfriend who could one day be a suitable wife! – that would bring me happiness and fulfilment. I put my trust in that. That was what was driving me. I started demanding that of God and getting angry when he didn’t meet my demands. The irony is that made me entirely unsuitable to be a husband! Imagine being married to me when I expected you to satisfy my deepest needs – the needs that only God can fulfil! Ugh. So one day God called me to repent of that. I had to say to God, “if you want me to be single, I am OK with that. You are the boss of my life, not me. You are my source of satisfaction, my deepest delight, and no other.”
And once that idol was smashed, the Lord clearly thought I was ready to get married. 2 months later I met Debby, and 11 months after that we were married!

But idols. What do we place our trust in? Money? Things? Our reputation? That’s a big one I think. Why are we so often quiet about the gospel here in Norway? We’re worried people will think we’re weird. Our neighbours will peer strangely at us, treat us differently.

We need to remember that the future is full of terror for anyone who worships idols. Because those idols will fall. And if you’ve built your life on those idols. Oh, it hurts. God will be glorified and no other.

9 So now they will be humbled, and all will be brought low— do not forgive them. 10 Crawl into caves in the rocks. Hide in the dust from the terror of the LORD and the glory of his majesty. 11 Human pride will be brought down, and human arrogance will be humbled. Only the LORD will be exalted on that day of judgment. 12 For the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has a day of reckoning. He will punish the proud and mighty and bring down everything that is exalted. 13 He will cut down the tall cedars of Lebanon and all the mighty oaks of Bashan. 14 He will level all the high mountains and all the lofty hills. 15 He will break down every high tower and every fortified wall. 16 He will destroy all the great trading ships and every magnificent vessel. 17 Human pride will be humbled, and human arrogance will be brought down. Only the LORD will be exalted on that day of judgment. 18 Idols will completely disappear.

It’s a very clear picture isn’t it? Every idol, every philosophy everything that has raised itself up against God will be shaken down. Like a massive earthquake everything will be shaken and flattened until nothing remains – except the Unshakeable One: Christ himself. He will stand secure. The mountain of the Lord will stand like Mount Kilimanjaro, rising from the African plains, but higher, loftier, exalted!

In the Lord’s mercy he often shakes our idols. I know a number of you have been through that painful but ultimately freeing experience. Some of you trusted in your own performance, keeping the rules. God shook that up. Some it may be the idol of family. Some of you even lost a baby – and that forced you to your knees, to look up to God. Some it was trusting a job or a career. Some it was security, feeling safe. Mia is going through a testing of health – where does she find her security? In her health, or in the Lord? Is she afraid of death because she actually doesn’t trust God – or not? In Mia’s case, this time has shown to all of us that she really does trust the Lord. When the dreaded C-word “Cancer” was spoken, there was tears, yes, but also a deep trust, a deep peace.

A number of years back I went through a terrible experience. I discovered the dead body of my classmate. And that experience was like a wrecking ball that just smashed through my carefully built life. I didn’t really know the Lord then. I said I did, but my life was my life – until suddenly confronted with the finality of death. In front of my face, there was my friend. BAM!
It felt like I was standing in front of my life that I had built – and everything was smashed. Except the foundation I was standing on. And I realised that foundation was Jesus. At the end of the day, nothing else will last, nothing else will stand. In that moment I stood on this empty place where my “life” once was, and realised that he filled it. Christ was there, Christ is enough, Christ is sufficient. He was all I need. I would like to tell you that there and then I totally gave myself over to the Lord – but I can’t. Because I am a subborn and hard-hearted fool, it took another 8 months and another great move of the Holy Spirit to bring the right response. I praise God for his grace!

But there will come a day like that for all of us. On the last day everything will be shaken, and only what we have in Christ will stand. When your life is shaken, what will stand?

søndag 20. september 2015

Isaiah 1: judgement on the covenant people of God

Isaiah 1

Imagine if music had no bass line. Imagine if drums did not exist. What would music sound like? Tinny, lacking depth. Unsubstantial. No drum beat to stir the blood. No great deep bass rhythms pulsing, inspiring.

So much of the “gospel” today seems to be tinny, lacking depth. That’s why we’re going to read Isaiah. Isaiah tackles the great bass notes of the gospel. I have been really looking forward to this book.
We’re going to let the Prophet Isaiah be our guide to the depths of the knowledge of God. Let his drum beat stir our blood as he gives us a vision of God. God, our God. Frightening, powerful, awesome. He is holy. He is other. He is not fooled by pretence. He is not impressed with religious activity. He is the impartial judge of all. And He is the compassionate God. Slow to anger. Abounding in love. He cares for and loves his people. That is the God we serve.
And more than that – he is the God who comes down. Isaiah is the Messianic prophet – of all the prophets he speaks most clearly of the coming of Jesus and his salvation work. We will be amazed, particularly after we’ve battled through chapter after chapter of right judgement on the wickedness of the nations, we will be amazed to find, at the end, mercy. That our great King, our great God comes as a servant, as a servant to suffer in our place, so that he can justly, rightly, show us mercy. Is 53:5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all.

That is what’s in store for us the next few months. It’s going to be awesome! We won’t be reading through every chapter. So why don’t you make Isaiah your book to read through over the next few months. Read a chapter a day.

This morning we start at the beginning in chapter 1 where we’re briefly introduced to Isaiah, and then he starts to sketch out the great themes of his message: Humanity is on trial and found guilty, but even Sodomites (the worst sinners) can be forgiven – so choose today between death – or life!

1. Who was Isaiah?

These are the visions that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. He saw these visions during the years when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah.

Isaiah prophesied 700 years before Christ – about 3000 years ago! He prophesied to the Southern Kingdom of Israel called Judah. Around 200 years before Isaiah, the 12 tribes of Israel had split apart into two separate kingdoms: the 10 of the tribes were in the North and called themselves Israel. The Northern Kingdom turned against God very quickly, had evil king after evil king, and was eventually destroyed during Isaiah’s lifetime, in 722.
The remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, made up the Southern Kingdom, called Judah. Judah remained loyal to the kings in the line of David, and the capital was Jerusalem, where the Temple was. They fared better than Israel, but idolatry – living life trusting in things other than God, or ignoring God – idolatry was always a problem.

And so Isaiah is sent by God to prophesy to them. Unfortunately we nearly always associate prophecy with “God told me to tell you” or “You’ll meet a tall dark handsome stranger soon”. That’s not prophecy. Rev 19:10 says that the heart of prophecy is clear witness about Jesus. True prophecy is not about us, but about God – what he is doing, how we should respond. He explains what is happening now theologically. How do we as God’s people understand the world around us? That is the prophet’s job. Part of preaching is prophecy. In the Bible studies we prophesy when we apply the word to our lives. And Isaiah is a great prophet. He drives our vision upwards, challenges us to see God at work, see what he has done, see what he is doing, see what he will do – and trust God’s word. It is in Isaiah that we read God’s word will not return to him empty but will do what he has sent it to do.

Let us listen to the Word of God.

2. Humanity on trial

2 Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the LORD says: “The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me. 3 Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care— but Israel doesn’t know its master. My people don’t recognize my care for them.” 4 Oh, what a sinful nation they are— loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the LORD. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

It is a cosmic court case. Listen to the charges: God’s own people, the people who know God, have seen God’s power, have, in their own history, experienced God’s amazing rescue – they have forgotten him, rejected him. How incredible! Even oxen and donkeys, dumb as they are, know their master. But the nation of Judah? No.
The nation of Norway…?
We who have experienced the blessings of God now reject him. And the blame - like in Judah, who was supposed to be a shining light to the nations but instead was just the same – the blame lies with us, with the church. We have compromised and turned our back on the Lord and on his word. Where is the voice proclaiming the gospel? Where are the Christians living holy lives? Let us look to ourselves, examine ourselves, and resolve to follow Christ, to proclaim Christ.

But why? Why do we sin? Like the donkey or the ox we should understand that to sin just hurts us. We should know by now that just like there are physical laws in the universe, there are moral laws. The moral laws are expressions of God’s character – and that’s the way the universe is designed to work. Norway is a country that is pleasant and good to live in because we largely follow the moral laws. Do what is right. Obey the law. Respect each other. Work hard.

But if we break the moral laws there are consequences. We know this. When we turn from honesty to lying – the country becomes full of corruption. When we work for selfish gain and use power to crush the weak – the country is a horrible place to live. We are opening our borders to people fleeing from countries like this – why on earth are we here in Norway going the same way. We turn our backs on God and we think there will be no consequences?

Look to Judah! Look at v5-10 5 Why do you continue to invite punishment? Must you rebel forever? Your head is injured, and your heart is sick. 6 You are battered from head to foot— covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds— without any soothing ointments or bandages. 7 Your country lies in ruins, and your towns are burned. Foreigners plunder your fields before your eyes and destroy everything they see. 8 Beautiful Jerusalem stands abandoned like a watchman’s shelter in a vineyard, like a lean-to in a cucumber field after the harvest, like a helpless city under siege. 9 If the LORD of Heaven’s Armies had not spared a few of us, we would have been wiped out like Sodom, destroyed like Gomorrah.

The country is suffering. This was probably during Ahaz’s reign, when he’d closed the Temple, and encouraged everyone to worship idols. The country was almost always at war. But inside the country was not much better. Corruption. Abuse. Fraud. Ignoring God has consequences in this life as well as the next.

They are battered and bruised – yet they do not turn to God. Stubbornly they go their own way. As CS Lewis once wrote “Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf generation”. It is His judgement on us when he allows us to do what we want – remember Romans 1:18-31? Whose fault is it when things go wrong?
It is ours. Whose fault is the Syrian refugee crises, the war in Sudan, the child abuse in Norway? It is ours. We have chosen to do what is evil. And God has given us over to our sins and the consequences of our sins.

You know, Hell is nothing more than the absence of God. We say to God “I don’t want you” and eventually he takes us at our word. He does not sit there laughing as he throws people into flames. Flames, hellfire – is just a visual image of the suffering we will endure if we reject God forever. This worst of this bruised and battered world is nothing compared to the reality of Hell. Because unlike in Hell, here God is still at work, there is still hope. As long as the person is still breathing, because Jesus is still on the throne, there is still hope.

But hope is not found in false religion. It is not found in empty rituals. Going to church will not save you. Being good will not save you. You own actions will not save you. Only God can save you.

Just look at the devastating words in v10-16. 10 Listen to the LORD, you leaders of “Sodom.” Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.” 11 “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the LORD. “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? 13 Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting— they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. 14 I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! 15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.

I get angry when I see everyone dressed up in their bunads and suits for a confirmation or baptism (dåp eller konfirmasjon), or even a wedding or a funeral. I hear the words of Isaiah 1 echoing in my head. Is this not the ultimate rejection of God? Is it not blasphemy when we dress up in our finest and go through religious rituals and say the name of Christ and say we belong to him when in reality we don’t care?

During Apartheid in South Africa a book was written called “Cry, the beloved country”. The horrors of Apartheid were tearing the country’s soul apart. I am desperate for my country Norway. I weep for her. Our empty religion is spitting in God’s eye. How much longer will he put up with us?

Do you think God is pleased with a church that ignores his word? After the recent vote, we need clear teaching on sex! God’s word on sex is this: Men: have sex, lots of sex with the woman you are married to. Women: have sex, lots of sex, with the man you are married to. And that’s it. It’s easy! Sex works that way – every other form of sexuality is a sin, it will not work, and it is rebellion against God. So, if you’re sinning sexually, repent. That goes for the man having homosexual sex just as much as for the man having sex with someone else’s wife.

The “Open church” are fools. The church has always been open to homosexuals, because engaging in homosexual sex is sinful, yes, but so is lying, gossiping, viewing porn, cheating, etc. And the church has always welcomed sinners! If no sinners were allowed in the church none of us would be here. Of course, maybe the church here in Norway has been closed to homosexuals. Maybe they’ve engaged in false religion and put up false barriers and made new laws. Well, then the church needs to repent. The way forward is repentance and apology – it is OBEYING God’s word, not disobeying God’s word and saying hey, sexual sin isn’t a sin any more, God’s changed his mind.

True churches have always accepted homosexuals. As an example: the head of the Proclamation Trust in England, and senior minister of St Ebbes church in Oxford, Vaughn Roberts, is a homosexual. And he’s a fantastic Bible teacher and a brilliant church leader. We have his books here on the book table. Having sinful urges, desires, wants – that’s normal for Christians. That’s not a sin. Disobeying God – that’s a sin. Otherwise the church is just full of empty ritual. Just like v10-15. And God hates it.

No! We, the church, must proclaim God’s Word – there is power there. For a Christian church is our lifeblood! It is here we hear the Word taught every Sunday. On Wednesdays we learn how to read the Bible for ourselves. (It does worry me that so few men are in the Bible study. Because I know it is not because we know the Bible so well!)
But there is no point in coming to this church if you’re coming just for show. There is no point in coming if in the rest of life you are ignoring God or actively disobeying him. The word is to be heard and obeyed.

Humanity is on trial, and found guilty. But amazingly, God’s response is to hold out hope. God’s response is to promise mercy for those who turn to him.

3. Even Sodomites can be forgiven!

In provocative – rude – language, Judah was described as Sodom and Gomorrah, the towns which were so sinful that not even 10 good people could be found, and so were destroyed by fire from heaven – although Lot and his family were rescued. Running away Lot’s wife looked back longingly - and turned to a pillar of salt. Sodom and Gomorrah are the epitome (the top) of sin. And that’s what Jersualem has become! But God still holds out hope. Look at v16-18 – amazing verses!

16 Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. 17 Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. 18 “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.

v16-17 is what is called repentance. Turning away from evil and truning towards God. It is the words with which Jesus began his ministry “God’s kingdom is here: Repent! And believe in the gospel (Good news).” Repent. Give up your evil ways – follow God’s ways. And then believe. For the Jews in Isaiah’s time – trust God’s word in v19. Somehow he will make their scarlet (red) sins, white. They did not know how God could do that – they just had to trust that he could. That if they repented and followed Him, He would forgive them. We, however, know how. The Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah was our Lord and Saviour Jesus. And through his suffering, through his blood shed on the cross, our sins have been washed away. By his blood, our blood guilt is erased.

19 If you will only obey me, you will have plenty to eat. 20 But if you turn away and refuse to listen, you will be devoured by the sword of your enemies. I, the LORD, have spoken!”

There are only two ways to live. And we can be certain of blessing if we follow God, and certain of judgement if we do not. Why? Because he has said it. I, the LORD, have spoken

And when he speaks, things happen! “Let there be light!” anyone?

V21-31 are a stark reminder and summary of what we’ve just read. What will Jerusalem do? Will they continue to rebel – and have the Lord as their enemy (v24 Therefore, the Lord, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the Mighty One of Israel, says, “I will take revenge on my enemies and pay back my foes! 25 I will raise my fist against you). Or will they repent and be restored?

God’s fire will be raised against his people, and it will burn away the unrepentant, the empty religion, the mockery of those who claim to worship God but do not. And God will restore those who belong to him. There will always be a faithful witness to Him, because he has said it. Jerusalem will not fall until the coming of the saviour. And after Jesus, the church is the faithful witness, and the church will never be destroyed, not even from the inside. The church can never be completely corrupted. For we belong to the Lord. 25 I will melt you down and skim off your slag. I will remove all your impurities. 26 Then I will give you good judges again and wise counsellors like you used to have. Then Jerusalem will again be called the Home of Justice and the Faithful City.” 27 Zion will be restored by justice; those who repent will be revived by righteousness.

One day the slag will be melted down and restored. One day we will see the Heavenly Jerusalem, the true City of God. One day all of God’s people from every tribe and nation will be gathered in joyful celebration and worship. And until that day, there will always be God’s purifying fire, washing clean his people, sustaining the witness of the church.

God’s word is trustworthy and true. What he says will happen, happens. Isaiah questions us: “Do I trust God’s Word?” Or am I just an idolater, pretending to belong to God with my empty religion while my heart lies elsewhere?

Do I trust God’s Word? What about financially? Am I generous? Do I give to gospel work? Do I trust him to provide for me? Or is my faith elsewhere? In NAV? In my qualifications? In my skills?
What about my time? Do I trust Him with my time? Do I give up time willingly to read the Bible, to pray, to share the gospel?
What about my reputation?

Friends, do we really trust God? Our idol worship might not be as obvious as Judah’s – we don’t have physical statues that we worship – but it is just a real. What do we place our trust in other than God? The Norwegian state? Our own abilities? Things?
What do we run after, what consumes us? The easy life? Comfort? Sex? Relationships? Being popular? Being liked? Having the best stuff? Buying shiny new things?

As I look into my own heart I see so many idols. So many idols that need to be exposed, broken down, and replaced with love for God. Like Judah, we are corrupt idolaters. And the Lord is calling us to task. Let us repent! Let us run to him and say “I am so sorry, Daddy”. Let us run to him in confidence knowing that his word is true: that those who turn to him in repentance will be forgiven, and we know what Isaiah could only dream about: because our Lord himself came as a servant to die in our place so that we who turn to him, we ugly idolaters, can be called children of the living God. Amen!

søndag 13. september 2015

Basic parenting 101 or “How to cope as a parent!”

Parenting and the glory of God

According to “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy has replaced the Encyclopaedia Galactica as the store of all knowledge and wisdom because it is cheaper and has the words DON'T PANIC written in large friendly letters on its cover.

Now, the Hitchhiker’s guide may be fictional (made up, fantasy), but we do have a book of Wisdom, all the wisdom we need as parents – and it probably could come (or should come?) with a cover which has the words “Don’t Panic” written on it in large friendly letters.

Parenting is tough, and it’s easy to panic. How will my kids turn out? How should I parent them? Am I scarring them for life? Why are they so irritating? Why do I love them so much? Why do I hate them so much?

When I found out I was going to be a Dad – whew. All sorts of emotions and thoughts ran through my head. And one of them was, indeed, panic. What am I supposed to DO? You get all these voices saying 10 things to be a great Dad, or 5 things to avoid unless you want to scar your children forever, or your culture or tradition saying this is THE RIGHT WAY to raise children or You have to do this or put them in this program or that course for them to achieve their full potential...

That’s why when we come to the Bible it says “Don’t Panic”. God is in control. He is the ultimate Parent, the First Father. Don’t Panic.
And the Bible explains why your kids are so annoying and difficult – and why they are so wonderful and a joy and delight. And it tells us what we need to BE as parents, rather than a list of do’s and don’ts. And so there is great freedom in being a Christian parent. Relax. Trust God. Obey Christ, behave like a Christian towards your children. Pray. Trust God. Trust God.

Children are not machines. There is not one way to handle them. They are each unique, each different. They are people.

1. Your children are made in the image of God (just like you)

Open your Bibles to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and chapter 1.

Ge 1:26–27 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Whoever we are, whether we are a woman or a man, adult or child, black or white – we are all of great worth, of infinite worth. For we are all created in the image of God. We were created to reflect God!

And this value is given to us at conception. Come with me to Psalm 139:13–16 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous—how well I know it. 15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. 16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

Jeremiah 1:5 “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.” And Isaiah 49:1 “The LORD called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name.” That’s also why it is right to grieve a miscarriage. Our first baby miscarried and we named him and held a small personal funeral ceremony for him.

What does this have to do with parenting? Children are made in the image of God. They are each a unique creation. They are not a part of you. They do not belong to you. They belong to God. They are given to you to look after for a while. But they are His.

Ps 127:3–5 (NLT) Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him. 4 Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. 5 How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!

Children are a reward. A delight! We rejoice over our children! And whether they are Downs, or a genius, whether they are good at maths or struggle with 2+2, whether they can speak eloquently or run fast or speak in grunts, whether they are good-looking or a bit plain – they are made in God’s likeness and they reflect something of the divine.

In our society we don’t believe that. We believe in utilitarianism and evolution: those who are useful, those who are strong, those who are wanted, are those who are valuable. 90% of Downs babies are killed before they are born. Most children with disabilities detected in the womb are simply wiped out, eradicated, murdered, before they’ve taken their first breath. We are saying that disabled people have no place in our society. They are unwelcome.

The Bible says no. They are welcome. They are of infinite value because they carry the divine spark. And, lest we forget, all of us exit this world disabled – either through accident, our bodies all smashed up, or through disease, our body or mind destroyed, or through old age, wasting away in our body or mind. Perhaps that is why we try to erase them, because they remind us of our dependence. We are all dependent on God and dependent on each other. The disabled person has a head start on us – he understands what dependence means. The rest of us fool ourselves for a while that we are independent. The disabled says “help me”.

So your child, whoever they may be, is a gift, a reward, a delight in the eyes of the Lord. He or she is a precious creation. Remember that.

Children are made in the image of God (just like you).

2. Your children are sinners (just like you)

To be a parent is to be filled with joy. And to be a parent is to suffer. Both of those are true. It is both frustrating and uplifting. It is a paradox – at times the best thing ever, and at times the worst thing ever. Why?

Because parenting involves dealing with raw unfiltered people. As adults we learn to hide our true thoughts and feelings, or at least filter them – this one is good, this one is bad. Should I kiss my wife – good. Should I throw a tantrum – bad.

Kids don’t have that filter. They don’t hide things. It just all spills out.

Your kids may be made in the image of God – but that image has been marred, scarred, by sin. Yes your delightful little angel of a child is a sinner. He may look like an angel, but he is depraved: sin runs through him like a virus. He does not seek God, does not love God… just like you and just like me. Your angel is still a member of the human race. He’s a sinner. And sinners sin. Don’t be surprised by that.

Our hearts are bent. We want what is wrong. And we don’t want what is right. No parent teaches their child to be rebellious. Or to lie. Or to cheat. Or to punch their brother in the head. That comes naturally. The modern idea that people are inherently good is just absolutely ludicrous. It is so dumb. It’s just wishing!
Have you ever MET another person? Have you met a three year old? They’re charming – and then something doesn’t go their way….!

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there were 12 little boys and 12 little girls. These 12 little boys and 12 little girls were all aged around 3 years old.

The 12 little boys and 12 little girls were let loose in a playground without any supervision.

Peace reigned.

The little boys all co-operated together to build a large and detailed sandcastle. There was no fighting, shouting, shoving or pushing. Boys waited their turn to use the spades or the buckets. No-one smashed down the sand castle, or threw sand into someone's eye, or put a bucket on someone else's head - really hard.

The little girls also played quietly, sharing their toys, and patiently waiting their turn on the swings, or on the slide. No-one pushed past each other, tried to grab someone else's toy, or screamed or cried when they didn't get their way.

Life was idyllic.

Then one day "society" decided to assert itself, in the form of adult supervision.

Insidiously, they began to spread evil amongst the children! The children started to have selfish thoughts, they began to grab each others toys and shout "MINE!".

Soon, all too soon, chaos reigned, as "society" poisoned these poor innocent children.

The inherent goodness of these 12 little boys and 12 little girls was soon ruined beyond repair.

And they all lived unhappily ever after.

Well, that’s the fairytale our society likes to tell. The inherently good fallacy. That society (or parents) is to blame for me doing wrong. Not me. What a fairytale.

The Bible’s picture is much more realistic. We are inherently selfish: that is, we think first and often only of ourselves. We are self-worshippers. God and or others come second to us. We are on the throne. We rule our lives. The Bible calls this selfishness sin, because we are not supposed to be on the throne. God is on the throne.
This is why your kids struggle to obey you. Because they are busy pretending to be God – I am on the throne. And then you come along and tell them what to do. Nobody tells God what to do…. Fight.

Your children disobey you. Your children argue and fight and are nasty not because you’re doing something wrong – but because they are human beings and doing what comes naturally. Sin is the root cause of these behaviours. Your kids disobey you because they are sinners.

I remember once shouting “What is wrong with you?!” to Kaleb. He said “My heart is bent.”

So true. Your children are made in the image of God (just like you). Your children are sinners (just like you).

3. Jesus Christ is the key to parenting

Our kids are sinners, and so parenting often feels like a fight! But fight you must. Bad parenting is giving up!
Part of the job of parenting is teaching this sinful selfish person how to be unselfish and care about others. How to teach the bent heart to be straight. Listen to these words from Proverbs (wisdom words).

Pr 19:18 Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives.
Pr 22:6 Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.
Pr 29:17 Discipline your children, and they will give you peace of mind and will make your heart glad.

How do we discipline them? Well, it is actually not so much what we say but what we do, what we are. What is said does not have the weight of what is done. Children will do as you do, not do as you say.

Pr 14:26 Those who fear the LORD are secure; he will be a refuge for their children.
Pr 20:7 The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them.
r 23:24 The father of godly children has cause for joy. What a pleasure to have children who are wise.

Godly children come from godly parents. Why? Because the godly father (or mother) understands that the child’s heart is just as sinful as his own. And he knows that manipulation and reward and punishment only go so far – that the key to godly children lies with Christ. He is the only one who can turn a heart around. Only Christ can straighten a bent heart.

Eph 6:1-4 Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. 2 “Honour your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: 3 If you honour your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

Our role as parents is to help our children understand themselves – understand why they do the things they do. We help them see sin in all its ugliness. We don’t cover it up, but show it to them. When they sin and when they are sinned against – by their friends, classmates – and very importantly, when we sin against them.
“You see, what Daddy did then was wrong. I’m sorry I shouted at you.” Or “I’m sorry I ignored you”. Or “I’m sorry I said your drawing was stupid. I sinned against you – I was thinking of myself”. Or “I sinned by losing my temper. What you did was wrong, but I let my anger get control of me, instead of controlling my anger. This is why we need Jesus. Only he can forgive us, make us right with him. And he loves us, just as we are. We’re accepted.”

In our family it is safe to sin. Grace is always available. Forgiveness follows swiftly. Repentance is called for and accepted happily. It is not cheap to sin – there are consequences, punishment – but we understand that we will sin against each other. We are quick to forgive. Quick to admit when we have done wrong.
At least, that’s how it should work. Sometimes we don’t get it right. But the gospel is at the heart of our family. We are forgiven sinners.

Parents in the Old Testament were given these commands, which I think sum up very well the centrality of the gospel in our families, in our parenting.

Dt 6:20–21 (NLT) “In the future your children will ask you, ‘What is the meaning of these laws, decrees, and regulations that the LORD our God has commanded us to obey?’ 21 “Then you must tell them, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand.

Tell your kids the gospel. Tell how we have been rescued by God.

Dt 6:7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.

So through all of life we speak about the gospel, about the Lord – in discipline, when we’re driving along in beautiful Telemark – easy to say wow, look what God has made. Or God was just showing off when he made Telemark! Why do people do the things they do. When friends or classmates are horrible – we talk about sin and forgiveness, and how God has forgiven us so we can forgive others. Why bad things happen in the world – we explain how they are a sign of judgement – a warning to repent. How we need to repent. The power of saying sorry. All areas where we can talk to our kids about Christ.

So that’s just in everyday conversation. But it’s also good to set aside time to read the Bible and pray with your kids. For example every night I read the Bible to them. From about age 3 I’ve read the “adult” Bible to them, basically because stories aren’t edited! They get to see humanity in all its good times and bad times. We see murder and war and rape and incest and sin – and obedience and celebration and joy and marriage. The whole range of life – and God is God through all of it. The danger of reading children’s Bible’s is that all the “nasty” bits are taken out – which leaves children with the wrong impression that God is only God of the good!

Ps 34:11 (NLT) Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the LORD.

Ps 78:4 (NLT) We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD, about his power and his mighty wonders.

One last point before I finish. I just want to point out that spiritual leadership of the family is NOT “womans work” – but it is the task given to the father (did you notice that in Ephesians 6?). Of course, mothers are called to teach their children about God in all of life – and generally they will do most of it since they’re with the kids more. But Fathers, it is your responsibility. How are you looking after you wife spiritually? Are you leading HER well? Fathers, take ownership of your family’s spiritual needs. You are the spiritual head. Are you getting fed? I notice there’s far more women coming to the Bible studies than men. Do you men think that you know the Bible well enough? Or have you not understood the responsibility that God has given you? Own this. Love your kids. Be a father. This means you need to spend time with your kids. Get to know them. Listen to them.

And if you don’t know how, don’t know what – we’re a community. Watch how others do it! Ask for advice. How did you deal with this? You are not alone.

To sum up then: Basic parenting? Remember they belong to God. Remember they are made in his image. Remember they are sinners. Remember only the gospel has the power to save them. So show them Jesus in your words, your actions, your life. Love them like Jesus.

In other words be a Christian towards you kids.
And trust God with your kids. He is sovereign over them as well. Don’t panic. Don’t panic!

søndag 6. september 2015

The secret to a happy marriage and great sex

What does it mean to have a Christian marriage? To be a Christian wife? Or a Christian husband? Is there any difference between a normal marriage and a Christian marriage? Can you live together as Christians without being married i.e. is there such a thing as Christian co-habitors (“kristen samboere”)?

And what about sex? What does it mean to have Christian sex? Does that mean you only have sex on a Sunday, only use the missionary position, turn out the lights, and think about theology? Can we serve God even with our sexuality?

To understand marriage and sex, we need to understand two things, two fundamental truths about marriage:

The first thing you need to remember about your nagging, manipulative, argumentative wife is this: that she is made in the image of God. She may behave like a devil sometimes, but she is still someone made in the image of God. She belongs to Him, and should be treated like someone who is made in the image of God… just like you and just like me. We are of infinite worth because we are God’s creation, made to reflect him. Don’t forget that.

The second thing you need to remember about your beautiful incredible wonderful wife is: that she is a sinner. She may look like an angel, but she is depraved: sin runs through her like a virus. She does not seek God, does not love God… just like you and just like me. Your angel is still a member of the human race. She’s a sinner. And sinners sin. Don’t be surprised by that.

Open your Bibles to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and chapter 1. While you’re doing that, let me just say that the same goes for husbands (image of God, sinners), but you ladies have already understood that. That’s why I use the male perspective because if I speak from the women’s perspective the guys will think “oh ,this is for the ladies” and stop listening! So, I’ll spell it out for us guys, and trust that you ladies will be perfectly fine.

Ge 1:26–27 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

So we are equal, both male and female created in the image of God. And that gives us great worth as human beings. Whether we are Downs syndrome, terminally ill, damaged in a car accident, have a mental illness - whether we are a woman or a man, black or white – we are all of great worth, of infinite worth. For we are all created in the image of God. We were created to reflect God!

What does this have to do with marriage and sex? The person you are with is made in the image of God. They bear his likeness. They reflect his glory. Be careful then how you treat them. They are not a toy to be played with. Or a game to be manipulated. Or a punching bag. Or something to be thrown away when you’ve finished using them.

Likewise, you too are made in the image of God. Aren’t you worth deep commitment?

This totally changes how we relate to each other every day. Every day you deal with God’s image bearer. Every day you bear God’s image.

Turn to 1 Corinthians, chapter 6.

1 Co 6:18–20 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.

We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We are not just animals. The chorus of a popular song goes “Baby you and me we’re nothing but mammals, so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery channel”. Really? Is that it?

That’s what our society wants us to believe,. Sex is natural, yes, normal, yes, and without any moral structure apart from “do you feel like it?” No. We’re just evolved animals, and so we can behave like animals. (Actually I thought the point of evolution was to improve, not regress to a more primitive state…)

We have a dog. And she was recently on heat (løpetid) – when they are ready to mate. Her vagina swelled up to about four times the size, she produced a huge amount of sexual pheromones, and all the male dogs in the area were extremely interested in her. My sister’s dog, Rock, was suddenly very excited when she came near him. Normally he growls at her – but now Oooh. Then her heat was over…. And it’s back to Grrr.
Now, we’re not like that are we? That’s not how we’re made. We’re made in sex to become one flesh, one new person, a deep intimacy. We’re not like dogs, or we shouldn’t be like dogs, just see a vagina, mate, leave! Listen to Gen 2:24-25 This is why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. 25 Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.

The Bible has a high view of sex, a high view of the body, and a high view of our worth as people. That’s what God says about us. Shouldn’t we have the same view?

It is because we are not just animals that we get married. That we actually make a promise: an agreement to be united no matter what. To say that we are one flesh, not just two bodies slapping randomly together then drifting off to slap together with another body. It is saying “You matter. You are important.”

As Christians we have another, even higher reason, for marriage. It is found in Ephesians 5 where we are told that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Your relationship should reflect that deep trust and submission and love and sacrifice and deep intimacy that we have with our Lord and Saviour. Women should love and treasure and submit to their husbands – that means respect the husband’s leadership - like the church loves, treasures, and submits to Christ.
In our society submission is a dirty word, often associated with abuse. But that is not the picture here. Here it is joyfully giving yourself to someone who you know loves you and wants the best for you. It is being vulnerable with another. Entrusting yourself to them. Marriage is vulnerability – opening yourself up to another. For the husband is called to give of himself completely to his wife, to give up his very life for her sake, just as Christ gave up his life for the church. And the wife is to trust the husband, placing her life in his hands, that he will love her like he should.

It is radical! So not Politically Correct. And so, so beautiful to see. A Christian marriage where the husband and wife honour and treasure each other. Where the wife submits to the husband and the husband submits to Christ by loving his wife and giving up himself for her. It is a stunning picture of Christ and the church. And it is beautiful.

And that’s why Christian sex is sex inside of marriage. There is no such thing as Christian sex outside of marriage. Because that is denying who we are. How can you join yourself together with someone you’re not joined together with? That’s closer to being masturbation – self-sex – than real sex, an intimate joining of a husband and wife.

But remember that marriage is simply coming together before the community and promising to be faithful to each other under God. And that’s it. It’s not a big white dress and decorations and all the other cultural things that go along with it.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with all that, but if that’s the reason you’ve put off getting married and you’re now living in sin... forget the culture, obey God, and we’ll all pull together and give a very special Rock Church wedding that will be just as valid in the eyes of God as the fanciest wedding i Nidaros Cathedral! Talk to me afterwards if you want to do that! J

Ok, so a high view of humanity and a high view of marriage. Is that the secret to a happy marriage? Well, it’s part of it, but no. Actually the secret to a happy marriage is... Jesus.
But I need to explain the problem with marriage first before we get to the solution.

2. Problem with marriage is sin

The most common reason given for divorce (or why people who’ve been living together and having sex with each other “break up” – which is pretty close to divorce given the implied commitment you’ve made) is “irreconcilable differences”. That is: we couldn’t get along. We just didn’t love each other any more. Like love is some ethereal feeling that floats through the air. Love, my friends, is a decision, not a feeling. Love is a decision, not a feeling – which is why Jesus can call us to love our enemies. That’s a decision.
So, if you’ve fallen out of love with your wife. If things have got so bad that you hate your wife, that she has become your enemy – well, you Christian, are called to... love her. Ouch.

Anyway, why do we get to this point when things “just fall apart”? Why do we start hurting the ones we love, and destroying our closest relationships?

It is sin. The root of sin is selfishness. And that is the root cause of all divorce and all break-ups. Someone is being selfish – most often, both people! Maybe one more than the other. But it’s selfishness. I’m not getting what I want out of you. You’re not meeting MY needs. You’re not doing what I want, behaving how I want, giving me the freedom to do what I want. It’s all me, me, me.

My kids like to film themselves with the cameras on our phones and tablet. Debby pointed out to me the other day when they watch themselves there is utter delight and admiration in their eyes. They’ll just be going boodeboo into the camera and they watch themselves like they’re giving an Oscar-worthy performance. They love themselves. They worship themselves. They are the centre of their universe. And we’re all the same. We just hide it better. How often in a conversation are you just waiting for the other person to shut up so that you can say YOUR much more interesting words.

We all are self-worshippers from the day that our mother Eve decided to disobey God and obey herself. She was going to decide, not God! She took God off the throne, and put herself on it.

But we’ve all dutifully followed in their footsteps. We swap out God for ourselves on the throne. And we will crush anyone who gets in the way of us getting what we want. That sin, that selfishness, infects everything about us, especially our relationships. Some of us close up, close off, so we don’t get hurt, and live parallel lives with our spouse. Living together, but apart, desperately lonely, but starting a new relationship is too much trouble so we stick with the old one. But marriage is one flesh, deep intimacy, Christ and the church. So how do we get that? How do we fix things?

Well, the thing that went wrong was that we swapped out God for ourselves. What we need to do is swap God back onto the throne. Then we have his power – his Spirit in us. Which will enable us to open up and be vulnerable because He loves us. We can forgive because he forgave us. We can stop sinning – well, stop sinning as much – because he has defeated sin and given us a new heart. We can’t do this. But Jesus can. That’s why he came.

3. The secret to a happy marriage is Jesus

Jesus solves the fundamental problem with marriage – and indeed selfishness. Because he, and he alone, can swap us out with God. That’s what he did on the Cross. He swapped places with us. He took our life, our sin, our selfishness – all that mess that kept us separated from God and gave us his life. His relationship with God. And as our relationship is fixed vertically, that fixes our broken horizontal relationships. If you want to fix your relationship with your wife you need to get right with God.

Why? Because he fixes our problem of selfishness. Let me illustrate. Each of us has a little score-keeper. A little man (or woman) inside, keeping track of all the times you’ve been nice or generous or given up your thing for your wife’s thing. And eventually, he wants payback. Look at this scorecard you say – you owe me. Unfortunately your wife also has a scorecard – and hers says that YOU owe her! You don’t see all the times when she’s put herself aside for you…
FIGHT! My score is the right score. What have you ever done for me? It’s not FAAAAAAAIR!
Do we ever grow older than three years old actually….?

Now, that’s what happens when you keep score against your wife. But as a Christian we are called to serve Christ and so love our wives. Your scorekeeper has to keep score against Jesus, not your wife. Instead of saying “I’ll do this for you because I love you” say “I’ll do this for you because I love Jesus”. That way when the scorekeeper demands payback – he demands it from Jesus! What have you ever done for me?! Oh right. Eternal salvation, reunited with God, taken all my sins. Sorry about that, I’ll just go right on being unselfish.

Jesus enables me to love my wife like I ought to. He is the key to a happy marriage. Not one filled with selfishness, but with self-sacrificial love.

Think through your relationship. Think where you need to give areas over to Jesus. Where you need to repent of keeping score. And then go to your wife, talk about it, apologise, repent.

Right, now how does all this affect sex? Just a few minutes to end on sex.

4. Good sex is not about technique but relationship

My wife and I have great sex. Nobody can beat our making love. No-one. Why? Because sex is about knowing and honouring the other person. However “skilled” you may be at self-centred sex – you can never come close to the intimacy, the joy, the sheer oneness of even clumsy honeymoon sex. The great thing is: that’s as bad as it gets. Honeymoon sex is the worst sex you’ll have. Because as time goes by you really get to know each other, also sexually. What you like and don’t like, you know the other person’s body, how they respond to certain things. And you’re both safe. You’re in your safe place with your safe person who you can be totally free with. Now that’s great sex. For 15 years we’ve been becoming experts in sexual pleasure, specialising in each other. That’s unbeatable.
No illicit affair, no one-night stand can ever get close to that. It’s like comparing a bag of smelly garbage to a gourmet meal – a perfectly cooked steak. That’s how far apart they are. Don’t be fooled, God is no killjoy, He invented sex. He wants us to enjoy it. But you can’t enjoy it any other way except his way. It just doesn’t work any other way.

We all know about the physical laws in the universe. Like gravity. You throw an apple in the air, an apple will come down again and go splat on the ground. And however much you want the apple to fly up into the air and go on flying upwards… it won’t.
In the same way God has designed moral laws into the universe. And however much you may want sexual pleasure to be found outside of sacrificial, Christ-honouring marriage – it won’t. It may fly for a little while like the apple, but all too soon… splat.

So sex is for marriage. Oh no. That means sex once a month with the lights off. No. If you’re married and you’re not having sex regularly – you need to repent (unless there’s some good medical reason – and then get that sorted out). We are commanded to have sex often.
1 Co 7:3–6 The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. 5 Do not deprive each other of sexual relations.

Sex binds us together, keeps us together. It also helps us sort out issues in our relationship because it’s hard to be intimate and vulnerable if there’s something between you. So regular sex keeps our relationship on track.

How often is often enough? Twice a day? That’s up to each of you, but remember that you are to fulfil the other’s sexual needs. Personally I think less than weekly is far too little. Again, talk together and honour Christ with your sexual relationship. As often as you are physically able. Basically we should be thinking as married couples how can we have more sex.

What can you do as a married couple? Well, that’s pretty much up to you and your imagination. We’re free to enjoy each others bodies sexually with our spouse as long as they are comfortable with it. Talk to your wife. Ask her what she would like to do sexually. Tell her what you would like to do. Try it out. If it works and you enjoy it, great. If one of you thinks NO! Then don’t do it. In other words, be a Christian in the bedroom. Gentle, loving, respectful, God-honouring.

I don’t think anal sex falls into that category as it is physically damaging – our bottoms are not designed for sex and the muscles get torn and damaged with anal sex.
Violence during sex is not appropriate either – is that honouring her in the image of God? Does that make you feel safe? No.
Inviting other people in to join you in sex is not on. This a joining together of a husband and wife into one flesh. There is no room for another person in that one flesh. This also includes sharing sexual or naked pictures or videos of you or your wife with other people. Do not take nude pictures and share them on the internet or with your friends. Remember that both of you belong to God are made in the image of God.

I’m going to end there. Feel free to ask questions afterward. I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic. If you have a personal matter to discuss you can discuss it privately with me. Believe me, I will not be shocked. I’ve been in ministry for a while, grown up in a ministry family, and have heard nearly everything. Rape, abortion, sex with loads of people, adultery, same sex attraction, people who aren’t having sex with their spouse, porn addicts, you get the idea.

Remember that you will not be judged. If you belong to Christ, your sins, past, present and future, are covered by His Grace. And if you don’t belong to Christ, none of that disqualifies you from receiving his grace. Go to Him, and be made new!

So. We are made in the image of God. Later tonight when you get undressed take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror. Look and say “I am made in the image of God.” “I am made in the image of God” and again “I am made in the image of God”. And if you are a Christian say “I belong to God. I am not my own, I belong to Jesus.” Every part of me – include my sexual bits. I belong to God. Father please help me honour you with my body.

If I’m married, have sex regularly. If I’m not married, honour God with my body, and don’t give my God’s image bearer to anyone else.