søndag 24. januar 2016

Our God is the sovereign God

Isaiah 28-31

Last night I went walking with my dog, Eowyn. At one point in the walk I said to her “wait”. She obediently stopped running, and waited – and then the car went past. See, Eowyn is dumb with cars, and doesn’t see them as a danger. But I do. I know what’s best for her. She’s my dog. I bought her, I paid for her. She’s mine. And I look after her – I make sure she has food and water and a warm place to sleep.

But what if she doesn’t listen to me? What if she’s disobedient? A bad dog? What will I do? I will train her. I will have to punish her if the disobedience is big enough. But she could also be badly injured by running in front of a car because she didn’t listen. And if she’s being aggressive and biting people? Eventually I would have to put her down – she would have to die because of her actions, her choices.

It’s a bit like that with God and us. We belong to him because we are made by him. And if we are Christians then we belong to him again because we are bought by him, by his blood. We are his. But like a disobedient dog, we don’t listen. Often our lives look like they’ve been hit by a car - a mess! And the end result is: we’ll be put down like a bad dog. And that’s kind of the warning in Isaiah. God is warning his people to get right with him or face the consequences. He is exposing their disobedience in the evil things going on in society: rich oppressing poor, injustice, out of control sex, children being ignored, fake religion – people going through their religious duties but not loving God, greed, money, money, money, money, wanting more, never satisfied, and widespread drunkenness. All descriptions of Israel in 740BC – and which could equally describe Norway in 2016. Sex, greed, drunkenness, injustice, fake religion. These are our sins too.

Our journey through Isaiah has been a sobering one – that is, it’s made us sit up and say “woah”! Because we’ve been confronted by God – by who He is and how holy and mighty and OTHER He is. He is not some pet to be given a treat every now and again. He does not sit, longing to be with us, waiting for us to turn and give him some attention – the lonely god… Please love me. He is not a fool who doesn’t know when people are saying that they love him and doing all the religious rituals – but don’t actually love him.

No he is the Almighty God. His glory fills the Temple. The room shakes when he speaks. He is the God who is utterly sovereign over all things, over all nations – whether you are in Jerusalem, the very capital of the people of God – or whether you are in the farthest reaches of the desert, in the caravans of Dedan, hiding in the deserts of Arabia – He is still sovereign over you. Sovereign to judge. Sovereign to save.

He is God, the one and only. There is no other.

Since we’ve all probably forgotten a lot of Isaiah – I had before I started preparing this! – I thought I’d use this morning to cover the next couple of chapters as well as reminding us of what we’ve already learned, and some of the key themes, the big ideas, we’ve learned already from this amazing prophet.

1. God is God, and He alone is the sovereign God.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says” – how often do we hear those words in Isaiah, or “This is what the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, says”. The point is that it doesn’t matter what anyone else says. All that matters is what God says, because HE is the Sovereign Lord. He is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. His words are not mere words. His words are power.

I can say “I curse you!” – empty words. I can say “I bless you!” – empty words. My words, like yours, have very little power. But God’s words. Wow. What he says goes. When he speaks, it happens.

How often do we forget this, and think that my words matter, instead of God! Doh! The Israelites did! Look at 29:15 What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their evil deeds in the dark! “The LORD can’t see us,” they say. “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” 16 How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”? Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”?

He is the Creator. He is the Maker. They are created. They are made. He is BIGGER THAN THEM. They belong to Him, not Him to them. He is sovereign over them.

He is our Creator, our Maker. We, you and I, are created, made by God. He is BIGGER THAN US. We, I, belong to Him, not Him to me, us. He is sovereign over us.

What I have found most exciting, most thrilling, and most challenging – just really hard! – is the utter power that God has. I don’t like it. I don’t like that he is sovereign over me. I don’t like that he is more powerful than me. Because I want to be God! I want to decide the course of my life because I know better.
And I certainly don’t want him to sit in judgement over me!! I don’t want to be held accountable for my actions. I want to judge myself, thank you very much, because I like me, and I think I’m a decent bloke and of course I deserve heaven and every other good thing that comes my way.

But He is sovereign, not me. He is in control, not me. He is Creator, I am created. He is Lord. He is Master.

And that means we need to give an account to Him.

2. God is sovereign and so our choices matter

A massive point, in fact the main narrative, the main driving force of Isaiah up until now is that God will judge the nations for their wickedness and their rebellion against him. God is the judge. And he measures us by our response to him. Israel chose to disobey. And their choice matters. It has real consequences.

28:1What sorrow awaits the proud city of Samaria (the capital of Northern Israel) — the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel. It sits at the head of a fertile valley, but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower. It is the pride of a people brought down by wine. 2 For the Lord will send a mighty army against it. Like a mighty hailstorm and a torrential rain, they will burst upon it like a surging flood and smash it to the ground. So foreigners will come and take over the land and oppress the people. As v11says 11 So now God will have to speak to his people through foreign oppressors who speak a strange language!
(This is, by the way, why Paul says in 1 Cor 14 that we should not speak in tongues without an interpretation, because foreign tongues is a sign of judgement. Instead we should prophesy – that is share the gospel of Jesus in a way that is relevant and clear. Which is why we emphasise knowing your Bible, knowing the gospel so that you can prophesy and save someone, rather than speak in tongues and judge someone).

29:1“What sorrow awaits Ariel, the City of David. Year after year you celebrate your feasts. (Oh, they are religious!) 2 Yet I will bring disaster upon you, and there will be much weeping and sorrow. For Jerusalem will become what her name Ariel means— an altar covered with blood. 3 I will be your enemy, surrounding Jerusalem and attacking its walls. I will build siege towers and destroy it.

In Isaiah we see God seated on his throne examining the world, judging each nation. Remember chapters 14-24 where he goes through nation after nation, exposing their wickedness and giving his judgement? Each nation called to account. Each nation found guilty. It matters what we do. It matters how we are towards each other and towards God.

You see, God’s sovereignty – his control over everything - doesn’t mean that I’m not responsible for my actions. In fact, it means that I ultimately AM responsible for my actions and will be called to account. I will have to face up to what I have done. God sees right through our little religious duties – when we’re busy sinning over here. He is not fooled by our pretence of niceness at church - when at home we’re angry Dad, shouting at our children and our wife, abusing them with our words or worse our fists.
If we’ve learned just one thing from Isaiah it is that nothing escapes his gaze. He sees everything. Everything.

Because God is sovereign, I will be held responsible for everything I have done.
People often say Oh,l if God’s sovereign that means I’m just a robot, my choices don’t matter. No. Because God is sovereign our choices matter. They have meaning. The Human-etisk forbund says we give our own choices meaning. Really? You just self-validate? “I declare this means a lot!” It’s just a lot of empty words. Because if I can give “meaning” to anything I choose – then my choices don’t matter. I don’t really have a real choice.

Only with a sovereign God do we find human responsibility. Only with a sovereign God do we have real choice, with real consequences.

The whole of this first part of Isaiah, up to chapter 32, is pleading with Israel to make the right choice. Turn away from false religion. Don’t honour God with your lips but your heart is far from him – he’s not fooled by that. Repent! Turn to him. Don’t trust in Egypt to save you – your salvation comes from the Lord. Choose life! Choose him.

Some people call this choice “free will” but that’s a bit of wrong description. Often what people mean by free will is something outside of God’s rule, as in independent from God. And that sounds a lot like rebellion against God – another God. But there is only one. I think the Bible is clear that we do not have “free will” as in independent from God. What God says will happen will happen whether we like it or not. Just like we read the Israelites had a “Bargain to cheat death, but God says in 28:18 “I have cancelled the bargain you made to cheat death”! We do not have free will…but we do have real choice.

Unfortunately, although we are free to choose, we choose what we love. I have free choice between broccoli – or a chocolate. Free choice. But I’ll choose what I love! That’s why we have “free will” – but our will is bound. We can choose whatever we want but we only choose what is evil because we love evil and hate God. Because if we do not love God, who is good, we automatically love evil. Oh ,that doesn’t mean we all walk around cackling and rubbing our hands like villains in a children’s play – it means that we do what WE want to do. We decide what is right.

In the men’s Bible study we talk quite a lot about how annoying it is to be a Christian. How often the Holy Spirit says about our plans, about what we’re about to do, or say, or not do – ahem!. AAARGH. It is so frustrating. I want to do this – but I know it’s wrong. But I WANT TO DO IT! And then you (hopefully) humble yourself and follow the Spirit. Or maybe you don’t, and then you understand why he said don’t do it. When was the last time you sinned and thought “I’m so glad I did that”. It eats away inside of us.

As we’ve read through Isaiah we’ve been exposed. As God reveals the sins of the nations we’re horrified to see the same sins in our own hearts. As God pronounces judgement on them – well Isaiah shows us that we are completely lost. We are in serious trouble. We can’t be good enough to get ourselves out of it. We can’t be religious enough to get out of it. Israel tried it and God says “these people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (29:13). He’s not fooled!
We can’t follow the law well enough to get out of it. There is nothing we can do to avoid the judgement of God. God’s eyes are like laser beams which cut through any pretence of goodness we throw up and we are exposed. We’re like a deer caught in the headlights of a car - we are exposed, and in real danger.

That’s why when Isaiah sees God (back in chapter 6) what does he say “Woe is me! I am lost! I am destroyed” It’s terror. It’s fear, it’s realising that we are dangling by a thread over the pit of hell. It is the sword of Damocles. Remember the Sicilian legend of Damocles who seated in his position of power and prestige was told by the king to look up – and there above his was a sword held by a single thread of hair. At any moment could plunge down.

God is the only sovereign God – and he is our judge.

3. God is the only sovereign God – and so he can save whoever he wants to

In the midst of all this right judgment – we find amazing mercy. I found it particularly interesting in chapters 14-24 as he goes through the nations, cruel, evil, proud peoples – suddenly offered mercy. Even the Assyrians, known for their brutality – and they were the big threat to Israel at the time – God says that they, Assyria, together with Egypt – Egypt, where they were slaves – will be his people, like Israel. The two big baddies – will be called God’s people. Huh?

But even in these chapters we read of God’ surprising mercy time and time again. We didn’t read this, but look at 29:5 “But suddenly, your ruthless enemies will be crushed like the finest of dust. Your many attackers will be driven away like chaff before the wind. Suddenly, in an instant, 6 I, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, will act for you with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and storm and consuming fire. 7 All the nations fighting against Jerusalem will vanish like a dream! Those who are attacking her walls will vanish like a vision in the night.

And again in 30:19 O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.

And as we’ve been reading through Isaiah, we keep coming across this mercy, undeserved mercy, in the middle of all this deserved judgment. And it seems to be focussed on the promise of a child, a child who will rule in justice and mercy. A child born of a virgin, a child called wonderful counsellor, everlasting Father, almighty God. And as we read on we will meet in the second part of Isaiah this child, this person, this King, who is called the suffering servant as he suffers and bears the punishment his people deserve in order to save his people.

Those promises, that hope of mercy, is found in Jesus. He is the child born of the virgin, God’s own Son, come to earth to suffer and die.

You know, there are many ways we can try to escape from God’s judgment – but there is only one sure way. That’s what Isaiah is talking about in chapter 28 – where the Israelites have made a bargain to cheat death. 15 You boast, “We have struck a bargain to cheat death and have made a deal to dodge the grave. The coming destruction can never touch us, for we have built a strong refuge made of lies and deception.” They’ve found a way out, a way to dodge God’s judgement. But God responds 16 Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken. 17 I will test you with the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness. Since your refuge is made of lies, a hailstorm will knock it down. Since it is made of deception, a flood will sweep it away. 18 I will cancel the bargain you made to cheat death, and I will overturn your deal to dodge the grave. When the terrible enemy sweeps through, you will be trampled into the ground. 19 Again and again that flood will come, morning after morning, day and night, until you are carried away.”

Their shelter is rubbish. Their bargain to cheat death was false. There is only one sure foundation stone. There is only one solid cornerstone. And that is God Himself. And as we read on and see the story unfold, we see that gloriously fulfilled as God fulfils his promises. Yes, you really CAN trust God that he offers a way out of judgement. He can save you. Why? Because he himself came down from heaven, lived on this earth, and gave his life as a cornerstone, a sure foundation which will never be shaken. Jesus is our unshakeable foundation, our sure cornerstone.

So when we in our Bible group moan about God messing up our plans to sin, and when we confess that we have sinned, and when we grumble about how we struggle to get it right – we do it not in terror but in joy. We are not afraid because we are loved. We are not guilty because we have been forgiven. Because we stand not on our own choices and actions – which have already been judged and found guilty – we stand on Jesus’ choices and actions – we’re shielded in him, we stand on his work, his life. And His life has been judged – and found to be perfect. And so we are perfect in Him.

That’s what being a Christian is like. We see the Lord. We are suddenly aware of the terrible danger we are in. That everyone’s in. The signs are everywhere. World is a mess. Our society is self-destructing. But we are oblivious. We are ever seeing, but never understanding….until God reveals himself. And then we are afraid for we are exposed. And we run to him “Woe is me, I am guilty, I am a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips!” And then joy of joys he comforts us: do not be afraid, you are forgiven. I have taken your place, I have taken your punishment, I have taken your judgement. I have swapped places with you, and you are righteous.

That is the hope of Isaiah. That is our hope.

1. God is God, and He alone is the sovereign God.

2. God is sovereign and so our choices matter

3. But, oh joy of joys! God is the only sovereign God – and so he can save whoever he wants to

søndag 17. januar 2016

How to store treasures in heaven

2 Cor 8:1-15, 9:1-15

So, last week we were challenged in our view of money. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-34 challenged us to store our treasures in heaven, where they are safe, not on earth, where moth and rust destroy. We were challenged to store treasures in heaven, serving GOD, not serving money (living for eternal rewards instead of living for the dump). And we were reminded that we can do this – store treasures in heaven by giving freely because our Father is in control. Don’t worry, says Jesus.

I used the illustration of a hotel room in London. If you had to live in London for three months, a year – but you could take NOTHING back home with you – but you could send your money back home. How would you live? Colleen said that was her exact situation when she lived in Japan for a while. She could take nothing back – so she lived like she was camping! Why – so that she had lots of money when she got back home! And she did. That’s our situation. This world is a hotel room. It is temporary. Let’s stop decorating our hotel room with junk that will be thrown away, and send our money home.

It’s quite a shift in perspective, isn’t it? And how does that work itself out practically? What does it look like to obey Jesus’ word on money? What will we do differently? What will our church look like?

This week we’re turning to God’s Word in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for some answers. Because the church in Corinth is in some ways a church like ours – particularly when it comes to money.
We will discover that

1. Generosity is a heart issue, not a money issue

2. Our heart follows our money, so decide to be generous, and you will be generous!

3. How to give

4. Practical matters

1. Generosity is a heart issue, not a money issue

Corinth was a wealthy town, and the church in Corinth was therefore a wealthy church. They’d enthusiastically promised to send a gift to the church in Jerusalem which was poor and suffering a shortage of food. But since making the promise with all eagerness, their enthusiasm had faded. Paul writes to set them right, to remind them of their privilege, and how much they have been blessed – blessed in order to share, to give, not to hoard. In fact, that was a standard problem in the Corinthian church – selfishness.

So he writes to them about their sister church in Macedonia. They were extremely poor – but gave generously. See, generosity – giving – is not a matter of how much you have, but a matter of our hearts.

Because 8:7-8 challenges us with this: we may excel in many ways – but if we do not excel in generosity is our love really genuine? Or are we excelling for show. 7 Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us—I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving. 8 I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches.

Giving – or lack of giving – exposes our hearts. Do we trust God? Do we live for the dump or for heaven? Where is our treasure? Do we really trust God to provide for us?

And it seems that the more we have, the LESS likely we are to give. So if you’re sitting there thinking “oh, it’s all right for HIM to give or HER to give – they’re much richer than us, we’ve only got so much. If I had as much as them I’d give loads and loads” – if you’re thinking that you are lying to yourself. It’s not true. If you’re not giving now, you won’t give when you have more. Why? Because it is an attitude of the heart, not of circumstances.

After all, if your income suddenly went down by 10%, would you die? No! You’ve still got 90% of your income to live on! You might have to cut back here and there but probably all of us would be ok. So if we can survive on 10% less – why aren’t we giving it back to God?

We can all give. If we’re not giving, it exposes our hearts. Our hearts are here – on earth, living for the rubbish dump. Our hearts do not trust. We are greedy money-worshippers and we don’t trust God. When I look at myself, that’s what I see. Guilty. Praise God that our salvation is not dependant on how we fail with our money, but on JESUS and his perfect life. As I said last week, remember as we go through this that if you are in Christ you are already saved, you are secure, his blood has covered your failures and sins. He has taken your guilt and shame! We will all be guilty. We will all be ashamed as we see how much we love money. We have all fallen short. But that’s why Jesus came. For people like us! So we can be set free from the misery of obeying the law – there I’m giving - and in joy GIVE because we want to be more like Jesus.

Paul, I think, could be writing to us. We are wealthy. We are blessed. Are we going to follow Corinth, or follow Macedonia? May we be known as a church that gives!

Why? Because this is what JESUS is like. Generosity is the heart of our God. 9 You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.

To be generous – to give – is to have the heart of Christ. May God soften our hearts and change us!

2. Our heart follows our money, so decide to be generous, and you will be generous!

Because it is a heart issue, it does not matter how much we give. We’re not giving because God needs the money! It matters that we give, and give in proportion to how much he’s given us. Giving is a blessing for us, not a help for God, or even a help for the church. So a child giving kr10 is as important as one of us giving kr10 000. His work does not depend on us. It is a privilege, a joy to be part of. But if we want to sit on the sidelines like a disobedient child – WON’T – we can. But we miss out on the fun.

9:6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.

How often have I disobeyed, not shared, --- missed out on joy of seeing someone come to Christ, missed out on the joy of witnessing to someone because I was afraid to trust. How often have I chosen to sin instead of to obey – and reaped misery instead of joy. We know these things. And the same applies to giving. When I hold on to my money I am holding back blessings from myself! I am the one who suffers!

What seeds am I planting? Where am I planting? For wherever I am planting, that’s where I’ll get a harvest. If I’m planting in greed and selfishness, that’s the harvest I’ll reap. My heart follows my money. Where I sow, I will reap.

It’s very popular to say “follow your heart” – but actually our heart goes where our money goes. Take out your receipts and bank statements – what you’ve bought over the past month, where and how you’ve spent your money. What does that say about what you value? What does that say about your heart? Where have you sown?

Your heart will follow your money. If you want a heart for the church, send your money there. If you want a heart for missions, send your money there. Money first then heart. If you want a heart for Statoil, send your money there. You know if you invest in Statoil shares, suddenly you’re reading about Statoil, listening for news about Statoil, etc. Why? Because your heart follows you money. You’re invested. Invest in things that matter. If I give my money to gospel work… I’m interested in gospel work. My heart follows my money. So decide where your heart will be.

9:6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.

Oh you can manipulate people in to giving. The prosperity “gospel” is all about that. Give now and you’ll get so much more. What’s the motivation? The heart of Christ? Heavenly treasures? No! It’s earthly treasures. More. I give so I can get. And that’s not giving! Remember, giving is a heart issue. 7 And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

It is a heart issue. Decide to give. Decide to give cheerfully. Then give. Your heart will follow your money. And don’t worry – trust God. Look how the passage continues: 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 9 As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

Note God will provide for all our need – not all our greed (wants). But what joy to give away what we have been given – that our good deeds will be remembered forever. Wow.
10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. 11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.

You will find that the more you give, the more you will have. Because he who is faithful in little, will be faithful in plenty. But look at WHY we will be enriched in every way: so that you can be generous. When we get more money it is so we can give more away. And look also what happens when we give: we are enriched, not just with money, but in every way. Decide to give. And then give. And you will find that your heart will change, and you will start to become just a little more generous, a little more like Christ. Our hearts follow our money – where is your heart?

3. How much do we give?

8:12 Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. 13 Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. 14 Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.

This doesn’t mean wait until you feel cheerful, eager to give – you won’t. But as you give you will be filled with joy. And if you’re not filled with joy because you’re looking at your bank account and saying “oh, I can’t afford to give”, or “oh, I wish I hadn’t given so much this month” – then you’re spending too much!
That credit card is a constant temptation. Swipe it, it’ll be fun! And it never is! See, right now we have plenty. But we have plenty in order to v14 help those in need.
We have been given a lot, so we need to give according to what we have. Don’t go take out a loan in order to give – that’s giving what you don’t have! But give what you have. 14 Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. And don’t worry about storing up money for tomorrow – a rainy day – what if I need money in 10 years. Building bigger barns to stroe ever more grain. Then your turst will be in money. Trust God. As v14 continues Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. So give now, and trust God.

We are to look after our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need first. Then we must also look to the poor and needy who do not know Christ. As we give, we store up treasures for ourselves in heaven. It’s as if you have an account in heaven, and every time you give to gospel work, that account goes up. Every time you give to someone in need because of the love of Christ, that account goes up. Every time you share what you have, that account goes up. Every time you open your home and welcome people in, that account goes up. To God’s praise and glory.

And as that account goes up, we will become more heavenly-minded, more like Christ. Because our heart, our minds follows our money.

Whatever we have sent on ahead of us into eternity will last forever. It is secure. It will bring us pleasure and joy for all time. It will be celebrated for all eternity. It will be indestructible.

Giving is the way we convert our money to heavenly money. I want Real Treasure! Spending our money here, on shiny new things, is a bad investment. It will fail, will rot, will rust, and be thrown away. Investing in heaven… will never fail, will never rot, and will last forever.

God provides more financially not to raise our standard of living (spend more on us) but to raise our standard of giving.

When God provides more money we often thing “this is a blessing”. That’s true and Biblically – but it is equally true and Biblical to say “this is a test”.

People are giving sacrificially to this church. Each time we give we are part of what this church does. Every person encouraged to keep going in the faith. Every person who hears the gospel. Every life turned around. Every heart awoken to Jesus. That’s what we invest in, that’s our eternal rewards being stored up. It’s not just to cover salaries, and paper and electricity and a place to meet ho hum how boring. We invest in future glory! We’re sending our treasures on ahead of us – home! And each day brings us closer to heaven, closer to our treasures.

4. Practical matters

How much do I give? In the Old Testament, under the law, they gave a minimum of 10% of their income – but also could give a lot more with freewill offerings, thank offerings, etc. If you don’t know where to start, 10% is a good starting point. It is not a law 9:7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. You will not go to hell if you give less than 10% of you income. But… should we give less because we are now under grace and not law? Surely we should give at least that, if not more.

That still means we’re keeping 90% of the money God has given us! We need to ask ourselves the question “How much of God’s money should I keep to furnish this temporary “hotel room” – and how much should I send on ahead to my real home.”

But you might be saying 10%?! I can’t give 10%! I barely have enough as it is. Well, then we can think about managing our money better. This is where we come to words like “budgeting” and many people’s eyes roll over… but it’s just asking the question “What do I spend money on?” When you know that you can ask “Do I need to? Can I cut back? Can I save?”

You can get a rough idea from your bank – they often have a tool in the internet banking for visualising how much you spend. But get your bank statement and divide everything into categories. Some people find it helpful to visualise with monopoly money how much you spend on various things. Or take out your whole salary in cash and divide it up into everything you spend money on. This pile is house, this is food, this is electricity, entertainment, insurance. See what you spend money on.
Write down everything you spend – you may be surprised at how much you waste on quick meals or hotdogs or coffee to go or whatever.

Another area is fixed expenses like telephones, insurance, electricity, even bank fees. Those can all be reduced. Telephones – try Telipol Medium – it’s kr99 per month and should be enough for most people unless they’re really heavy users. Don’t use your mobile phone for long-distance calls. Use an internet call provider like Skype or Rebtel. With Rebtel you call a local land line and then it reroutes the call internationally. Saves a fortune.
Electricity – Gudbrandsdal Energi is one of the cheapest. Our local Rallarkraft is not bad either, and you support the local economy.
Food – write a list. Stick to it. Shop ONCE a week. You’ll save a fortune. Buy no-name products like First price. And shop at Kiwi or Rema : Meny Coop Spar Joker, even Bunnpris are all more expensive.

We can share tips like that with each other. But your money needs managing. You’ve been given that responsibility by God.

We can share things with each other. We can share/swap clothes – I know the ladies already do that a lot. Kids clothes and shoes especially! But for us guys – well, we normally wear clothes until they wear out – but we can share tools. Not every one of us needs every power tool known to man. I’ve got some tools I’d be happy to share: jigsaw, circular saw, a table saw, a nail gun. Wooo!
See where you can borrow instead of buy. Check finn.no for second-hand stuff instead of new. Even for Christmas presents!
I mean we can even share living areas. Share houses. Maybe you can put a brother or sister up in a room in your house or a flatlet (hybel). Think creatively!

As the old saying goes: A penny saved is a penny earned. Maybe we’ll change that to A penny saved is a penny that can be given away!

If we manage our money well we can spend less on our temporary hotel room here – and send more on ahead to our real home in the new Creation. Our heart will follow our money, so let’s look to send our heart to the right place. And remember that God has blessed us, enriched us in every way, so that we can be generous.

May God in His grace greant us hearts that are generous. Hearts that are like our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. May we praise him and give Him glory with our money as in every other area of our lives. And we will be filled with joy. The joy of giving. The joy of living Like Jesus. Amen!

søndag 10. januar 2016

Where your treasure is, your heart is (Matthew 6:19-34)

Matthew 6:19-34

This is an uncomfortable topic to talk about. We’re all greedy. We’re all guilty. I personally have found this a challenge to prepare because it has exposed my greed. Praise God that we are not saved by being perfect, but by trusting in the one who is perfect: Our Lord and Saviour Jesus, the Christ. Remember that as we go through this. The standard of giving and money management is much, much higher than we want it to be. We are, in fact, called to deal with our money the way Jesus would deal with his money! Just like every other area of our lives.

Our text today is part of the famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. This Sermon on the Mount comes to its main point in 5:48 “Be perfect because your heavenly father is perfect”. That is the standard. Not “pretty good” not “a decent bloke” – but we are called to God’s perfection, to his holiness, his righteousness. It makes a mockery of our efforts, doesn’t it? That’s why Jesus came! We will fail, we will fall short, we cannot be good enough for heaven. But he is.

So we will this morning be challenged by Jesus’ perfect way of dealing with money. It will raise a lot of questions which we will have to work through. But our salvation is secure. Because we have Christ’s righteousness. We have Jesus’ perfection. What we are talking about is the blessing and the joy of being more like Christ, becoming more the person we should be.

After all, when did you last sin and thought “I’m so glad I did that”? Never! But how often in obeying God do we find deep joy and blessing. Oh, obedience costs us, no doubt – but the joy and the blessing that flows from living God’s way in God’s world – well that makes the cost seem like nothing. As the Apostle Paul says in Phil 3:8 “Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

We’re going to spend two weeks on this. This week will challenge us, shape us, give us food for thought. This week is why. Next week we’ll look at how. We’ll also have some time for practical application – including how to save money, how to get control of your finances, how to budget – that sort of thing.
A lot of what I will say today is from this book “The Treasure Principle” by Randy Alcorn. It is an outstanding book which will change your view on money and giving to something much more Biblical! And will fill you with joy, not with misery. Randy points us back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-34, so let’s listen to Jesus:

1. Store treasures in heaven, where they will be safe, not on earth (19-20).

2. Store treasures in heaven, serving God, instead of being a slave to money (24).

3. Store treasures in heaven by giving freely - because our Father is in control (25-34).

1. Store treasures in heaven, where they will be safe, not here on earth

Matt 6:19–20 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.

Simple, isn’t it? It’s good investment advice. Do you want to put your money in the bank with a hole in its safe and no security procedures – or in a bank where it will be secure? Duh! So why do we waste our money on things that will fall apart and be worthless even within our own lifetime – instead of investing our money on things that will last forever.

This is part of a section in this Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is talking about heavenly rewards. This may seem a bit weird, a bit selfish even – but it is very Biblical. We are designed to pursue reward. Reward motivates us, keeps us going. Why do most of us work? Is it not because of the salary – the money – the reward we get? If I wasn’t being paid, would I drive to Kongsberg tomorrow morning and sit in an office for 8 hours? No way! But I am being paid – so I drive there and work for 8 hours to get my reward.

Jesus is saying make sure you’re working for the right reward. Everything we do is motivated by something. Let’s make sure our motivation is right.

Just have look back through the chapter. 6:18 fast in private – God will reward you. (Public – already got reward)

6:6 pray in private – God will reward you. (not praying for show – look how religious I am!)

6:4 Give in private – God will reward you. Not for self-glory – already got reward. (blowing trumpets!! Ha)

5:46 Love your friends – no reward. Instead be perfect as Father is perfect. Love your enemies is implied!

Look for the reward of being like Dad. Look for the reward of heavenly blessings.

And that’s true too with money. Look for the reward of heavenly riches, heavenly treasure.

You know, when we travel down to South Africa we don’t take Norwegian Krone. That’s useless there. We need to convert it first to South African Rands. What we need to do here is to convert our earthly money to heavenly money.

Because what if you knew that next week the Norwegian krone was going to halve in value – but the Swedish krone was going to rise in value. What would you do? You’d rush to convert all your Norwegian kroner to Swedish kroner.
Well, you know how much our earthly wealth is going to be worth? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Have any of you been to Goasholt – Notodden’s rubbish dump? I’ve been there many times with a trailer full of rubbish. And I see loads of stuff being thrown away – old fridges, sofas, beds, toys, games, furniture, doors, windows, building materials, bicycles... everything goes there in the end. Every single thing that’s been carefully manufactured, all bright and shiny in the shop, brought home to oohs, and aaahs, and at last. Now on the dump, rusted, broken. The building work so painstakingly carried out, everything straight, smoothed down to a fine finish – now crowbarred out, dumped on a truck, and tipped into the dump. EVERYTHING ends up there! The toys you fought over as kids, the sofa you argued about, the new dream car – all of it, one day, ends up at the dump.

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.

Jesus has got a point doesn’t he? That new car? It will rust and break and will need insurance. Someone will chip it or bang it or it will be in a crash and 10 years from now it will be crushed into a little metal box. That new dress – dumped in a year for the next must have model. That new sofa – drinks spilled, food trampled in it, or the dogs jumps on it! Gone in 5-10 years. Rat race, indeed!

Now some stuff we need, yes, but what do we really need, what are we living for? How much are we pouring into a safe with a hole, a bank with no security, pouring into Goasholt, the dump – instead of into a secure investment with eternal rewards?

Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.

Whatever we have sent on ahead of us into eternity will last forever. It is secure. It will bring us pleasure and joy for all time. It will be celebrated for all eternity. It will be indestructible.

Now I hope I’ve set up in your mind the same tension I have in mine. I understand, I want to do that. How do I do that? How do I store up treasures in heaven? I want to convert my money to heavenly money. I want Real Treasure!

Well, the key is giving. Giving away our money is how we send it on ahead. And next week we’ll talk about how, and when, and why, and to who. We’ll talk about whose money it really is (hint: it’s not mine, and it’s not yours...it’s His). But I want us to let this principle, this idea, sink in. We need to be challenged on a deep level because everything in us and in our culture says the opposite. Spend now, get this thing, you’ll be happy. This is a good investment, ooh shiny thing.... But it is a lie. Any happiness is fleeting, gone in a moment. It is false treasure, treasure that blooms and fades like weeds in the grass. We need real treasure, treasure that lasts.

2. Store treasures in heaven, serving God, instead of being a slave to money.

24 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

We’ve maybe heard this so many times that we miss the surprising thing here: what Jesus calls money. A MASTER. We think of money and possessions – our wealth – as something we use. We control it. But what Jesus says is if our use of money is not under God’s mastery – then it is mastering us. Our money, our possessions, our stuff – ends up controlling us.

The extremely rich man Rockefeller died – and his accountant was asked how much money he left. “All of it”, was the answer.

Money is a terrible master – it promises everything, but in the end delivers nothing. It promises freedom, but delivers slavery. It promises light, but delivers darkness. An eye that is forever hunting for money, wealth, shiny things to have in your home – that eye brings darkness, a stingy and miserly heart – selfishness. But if our eyes are looking beyond us, to God, to others, our hearts are filled with light – looking to bless others with what God has given us.

Listen to this from The Treasure Principle
“Possession Obsession: There was a TV program in 1997 called Affluenza about the “modern-day plague of materialism”. Their conclusion? material wealth doesn’t make us happy.
Not convinced? What about all those stories of lottery winners a few years later. How often are they plagued by worry, wishing they could go back to their simple life.
Listen to these words from some of the wealthiest people in the world in their day (late 1800’s):

· W.H. Vanderbilt: “The care of $200 million is enough to kill anyone. There is no pleasure in it.”

· John Jacob Astor – richest man in America in 1848 “I am the most miserable man on earth.”

· John D. Rockefeller owner Standard Oil (Esso), world’s richest man: “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.”

· Andrew Carnegie, steel baron: “Millionaires seldom smile.”

· Henry Ford (cars): “I was happier when doing a mechanic's job.”

A friend of the author Randy Alcorn met someone they knew at the airport. He was looking troubled. “What’s the matter?” he asked. The man sighed “I thought I was finally going to have a weekend to myself. But now I have to go to Florida to supervise repairs on my house.” Dejected, he sat waiting to take off in his private jet.

Here’s a man with everything – but can’t even enjoy a weekend. He was enslaved by his possessions. We think we own our possessions, but they all too often own us. Material wealth, money, is a bad master, not worth serving, not worth pursuing.

Every thing we buy is one more thing to think about, talk about, clean, repair, rearrange, worry about, and replace when it wears out. Think about a car. Or a house! How much time and energy – never mind money – do we spend on those?

But what about our phones? Got to have the latest. Got to use it. Have you seen my new phone? And so on. We’re more excited about our phone than the gospel.
That’s not saying you can’t enjoy nice things – but where is our heart? Hold loosely to your possessions. Hold loosely.

And think about the impact buying that thing will have. Randy Alcorn gives the example of a boat. Buy a boat and you’ll have to justify buying the boat by using the boat. So you’re away on weekends on the boat. You miss church because of the boat. You can’t lead Sunday school because of the boat. You can’t give to church this month because the boat needs an overhaul. By all means buy a boat – but think about the impact. Think about where it will end up. Think about what it will do to you. Think about whether you are serving God... or serving money. Think about where your focus is. Here? Or there?

Suppose you had to live in London for three months. You’re told you can’t bring anything back with you - but you can send money back from London to Notodden. What would you do? Would you fill your room in London with expensive furniture and the best sound system? Of course not. You’d spend only what you needed to, sending your treasures ahead to your home in Notodden. What use the treasures in London which will just be thrown away?

If you live for the now you’re living for the dump, the rubbish heap.

He who lays up treasures on earth spends his life backing away from his treasures. To him, death is loss.
He who lays up treasures in heaven looks forward to eternity – he’s moving every day towards his treasures. To him, death is gain.
Backing away – you despair. Going towards your treasures – joy!
Are you despairing or rejoicing?

Heaven is our home. Send your money home, serving God – instead of being a slave to money and filling your hotel room with junk that you’ll leave behind!

3. Store treasures in heaven by giving freely - because our Father is in control.

I admit this is where I really struggle. I struggle with the “balance” of being responsible and looking after my family – and being generous and just giving money away left, right and centre. But I’m suspicious that maybe there shouldn’t be a “balance”. That maybe I should give and trust God. That’s what my wife keeps saying! (Although she also says hey let’s buy that <insert really nice, really expensive, item here> so... not quite sure how those go together!)

Because I honestly don’t know if I trust God, really trust God, to provide. The closest I came was moving to Norway. I was as disobedient as Gideon and put out my own “fleeces” for God – but he didn’t give me any assurance. He said “trust me”. So I did. And we moved. But we moved to my parents which is quite a big safety net. SO, yes, we trusted, but... how much. But listen to what Jesus says here: 25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? ...32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Do I trust God? I don’t know. But CAN I trust God? The answer is a massive YES! He already knows all that I need. He provides for birds, he clothes lilies – how much more valuable am I. OOOH, but I don’t know how he’s going to provide for me. Well, do you know how he clothes the lilies or provides enough food for the birds? No. But look at them happily chirping away, lilies, looking mighty fine.
Because if we’re all focussed on the here and now, scrabbling for survival, we’re acting like... pagans. We’re acting as if God is dead, or that he doesn’t know us and love us. We’re acting as if he’s not our Father. Isn’t there great freedom in this verse? Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Or as I grew up with it: Seek first the Kingdom of God, and its righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Brothers and sisters, may our hearts be longing for heaven. May our minds be single-minded, focussed on the Kingdom of God, and its righteousness. And that means our money – God’s money given to us to look after – will start to flow into the Kingdom as we give with great joy, looking toward our reward.

I hope you, like me, have been challenged, deeply shaken, by our view of money. I hope you realise how much treasure we have stored here – where it will fade away. May the Spirit work in our hearts this week to make us more like Jesus, whose eyes were fixed on heaven and whose treasures were there. The joy that was before him drove him on. By his grace, may we all become a little more like him this week. May God have mercy on us all!

søndag 3. januar 2016

Vision 2016

Romans 1:15-17

Happy New Year! The new year is a great time to look back on the year that has passed, and think about the year that is to come. It’s a time when people make New Year’s resolutions – promises to change things to set a new course, a new vision for the year.

And that’s what we’re going to do this morning. We’re going to spend some time thinking what our mission is as a church: why we are here and what we are here to do. Then what God has done for us in the past – and I’ve asked a few people to share their stories. And, based on that, sketch a vision for 2016.

Firstly, then, our mission. And our mission is defined for us not by us, but by God.

1. Our mission is to share the gospel: Romans 1:15-17

My text for this morning is one of our core texts in this church: Rom 1:16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. And it continues in 17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

That is why, v15 Paul says he is eager… to preach the Good News.

This church was started in faith that this verse is true even here in Norway: that the gospel, the Good News, is for everyone – the secular Norwegian opposed to the gospel, the confused Norwegian who’s met religious people who call themselves Christians and has met the wagging finger and harsh judgment, the foreigner who grew up Muslim in Africa, or in Afghanistan, or the religiously persecuted from Africa, or the Catholic looking to know Jesus without all the extra stuff the church puts in the way, or the religious person who’s grown up in church but hasn’t been gripped by the gospel and doesn’t know Jesus, or the Buddhist looking for the highest Truth – the Truth that can really set you free, or the Hindu looking for the One true God above all gods. Whoever we are, whatever our background, the gospel is open to us. And if we can be saved, so can our friends and neighbours. No matter their background, no matter what they’ve done.

That is why Jesus came. That is the Good News we have! Everyone, ANYONE, can come. No matter your background, your tribe, your family, your culture, or even your past. What you have done does not matter. Because look at v16: the good news about Christ, the gospel, saves everyone who DOES THINGS FOR GOD – NO! Saves everyone who believes. Who believes. V17 expands on that This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith.

It is by faith. Faith is another word for trust. Every time you sit on a chair you have faith. You trust that it won’t collapse under you! Faith is not some mystical ooooooohhhhmmm spiritual feeling you need to generate. Faith is trust. And it’s not blind faith. We trust based on the evidence – we see God’s truth in the Bible. We know that is reliable. We see what God has done in the lives of the people around us – we’ll hear from a few people in a few minutes what God has done. It’s encouraging, and builds up our faith. They trusted in Jesus. I can trust in Jesus. Faith is trust. Do you trust in Jesus to take away your sin and make you righteous? Do you trust in Him to make you a child of God? Do you trust Him with your life, your words, your thoughts, everything you are and will be? Then you have faith.

God’s job in salvation is to provide everything. Our role is to trust. Our salvation is not based on how good or bad we have been. No our righteousness (goodness) comes from God. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. God makes us right based on what JESUS has done. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how good you’ve been or how bad you’ve been – it doesn’t matter. God declares you right by FAITH. Look again at v16. It says the Good News about Christ is the power of God at work, saving everyone. The gospel is the power for salvation. v16 does not say “your past actions have the power to save you” It does not say “your family connections have the power to save you”. It does not say your worldview or your religious beliefs have the power to save you. Not even your sincerity. Or how hard you try. YOUR efforts aren’t part of the gospel!

It is what Jesus HAS DONE, the Good News about CHRIST, which is the POWER of God to save you. In Him the power lies. Not in me. Not in you.
You see the gospel is not a self-help program. It is not 10 steps to a better you. It is not a way to get the things you want from God the great genie in the sky. The gospel is not, primarily, about you. It is about Jesus. It is about what he has achieved. It is his death on the cross that saves us. It is his resurrection that brings us new life. Our role is to trust. To surrender ourselves to God. To say “I have sinned against you, rebelled against you. I want you to save me. I want to belong to you. I want you to be my God, my Master, my King.”

The gospel is, at its heart, a swap. We get his. He gets ours. We swap our rebellious, sinful, destined for death life – for Jesus’ indestructible, eternal, righteous Life!
And when we get that new life. Wow. Things start to change within us. We are made new. We start to become new people. We start to live righteously. But again it’s not through our own efforts, but through the power of God. We simply have faith. Like a small child we take our fathers hand and allow him to lead us safely across the road, or through the dark forest, or wherever we need to go. That’s why v17 says As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”. We never move away from faith. We’re not saved and then good luck, the rest is up to you! No, the righteous (those saved by Jesus) have life now. How? Through faith. Not through effort, hard work, sincerity. All rubbish if it’s not by faith.

God works within us and starts to change us from the inside out. God saves EVERYONE, ANYONE who believes. Look around this room. We’re everyone. Different backgrounds, different nationalities, different sins! But God has saved us, not through our power, but through His. Isn’t he great! Isn’t he wonderful! Praise God.

Our mission is to share the gospel. Because the gospel is powerful. This church is a testimony to that power.

2. Looking back on what God has done through his powerful gospel in Rock International Church

This church is a testimony to his power. It was planted in weakness. We started the church at the wrong time in the wrong place with the wrong leadership – from a human point of view it was a failure before it even began (and a few people told us that).

But one thing we got right: we trusted in the power of the gospel to save people and change lives. That’s not saying we were brilliant – it was pretty obvious that the ONLY strength we had was His strength. When you’ve got nothing but God it’s easy to recognise God!!

We held our first service on Sunday 1 July 2012. It was in our lounge. There were only 5 of us – my family and one other! But God was faithful. As we trusted him, he started adding to our number, yes, but also grew us. If you want to grow quickly, serve in church! I have grown more in these past 3.5 years than ever in my life!

But think back! 5 people in a lounge. What weakness. And I preached a sermon that took me two days to prepare. Seems idiotic. But… where’s the power? The power is in the word of God. The power is in his gospel. So preaching the word and Bible study were what we threw our efforts into. Every Wednesday and every Sunday a small group of people gathered around God’s Word in faith. And we started seeing miracles. People who could never be saved… were saved. People started growing in maturity. The church became a family – people loving each other, looking after each other. People were witnessing to their friends and neighbours, their family. People finally threw off the burden of guilt they were carrying around. People stopped trying to earn their salvation by good works – and trusted in Christ’s good works (And then, filled with his love, they started doing the good works they wanted to do but kept failing to do! We need God’s power to live like God’s people).

And that’s kept happening. God keeps his promises. By Dec 2012 we had moved out of our lounge and into Krona. We were about 10-15 people meeting each week. By 2013 we were 15-20. In 2014 – we were still 2014. Why? Because I took my eye off the ball. I lost my focus on evangelism. Apologies, church! But the Lord is the Chief Pastor, the Head Minister of this church and he had a little word with me and brought it to my attention! And 2015, wow what a year that has been! We’re now 53 regulars (20 children, 33 adults) – and what God has been doing amongst us is so encouraging. People have been growing, and the best thing about being a leader is that you see it- you see God at work in people! So I wanted to share that encouragement and joy with you. So I’ve asked a few people if they would share what God has been doing in their lives in 2015, and what the church has meant for them. As you go you grow! I’m going to ask them all to come up, and then share one by one. So: Peter, Tori, Martin, Frode, Torgeir, over to you. I said they could share in English or Norwegian.

Hva har Rock Church betydd for deg? Hva har du lært om Gud/deg selv/ andre igjennom dette året? Hva er største endring i deg fra før du gikk I Rock til nå?

Isn’t that brilliant! Let’s pray. Father, thank you for the gospel. Thank you that the gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe. Thank you that anyone can be saved. And thank you that you don’t just save us, but you make us your children. We belong to you. And you grow us, change us, make us more like you Son. Thank you for saving Peter, Tori, Martin, Frode, Torgeir, and making them more like your Son, Jesus, our Brother. Thank you Father! Thank you Holy Spirit that you are at work in all of us here, making us more like Jesus. As we think now about 2016, we are excited to see your power at work in our friends, neighbours, work colleagues, and family members. Thank you that you can turn the hardest hearts, hearts of stone, into hearts of flesh. Thank you that ANYONE can be saved. We praise you Father. Amen.

Our mission is to share the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation. We have seen in the life of this church the power of the gospel. Now as we look to 2016

3. Looking forward to what God will do and can do through his powerful gospel in Rock International Church in 2016 and beyond

1:16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. 17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

As we look around at our friends, family, work colleagues, neighbours, we might find many hard hearts. We might find real “sinners”. We might see horrible people who don’t deserve the gospel. We might find failures. We might think “It is impossible for them to be saved”.

Well, look at v18. This tells us WHY the gospel needs to be by faith and nothing else. V18 But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

The “but” there is actually the word “for” or “because”. We need the gospel because we are sinners. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot earn our salvation. For everything we do, even the good things, are tainted, marked, by sin. We are sinners and sinners sin. It should not surprise us when we look around at the people we know and see sinners. Those are the people Jesus came for. That’s why the gospel is by faith! So let’s get out there and share the gospel. This church must be filled with the misfits, the outsiders, the failures, the sinners – oh yes, and the “good” people who’ve got it all together – but reject God. The gospel is for everyone. This church is for everyone. This church is for sinners.

If we do this, if we stay focussed on sharing the gospel, we will see great miracles this year. God will do what he said he will do. We will see people saved. We will see people grow. And we ourselves will grow. Commit yourself to the Lord and to his ways. Commit to get to church, get to Bible study, and you will grow. Let us say with Paul For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. In fact, let’s say v16 together: For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.

One word about growth. It is painful. It will be uncomfortable. New people will come in and we’ll have to make room. It will mess up our comfortable little family. But this is why Jesus came, and this is why we will follow in his footsteps: to seek and to save the lost.

This year we are going to launch a Norwegian service. We will probably have to move venues – if just for the Sunday school! We will need more of us to get involved in serving at church. We need more of us to keep sharing the gospel. To keep praying, humbling ourselves before God. Some of you will be leading Bible studies. You will be meeting 1to1 with people, reading the Bible. Leading Uncover. Praying with each other. Getting involved in each others lives. Perhaps looking after children. Helping people practically. Look where you can serve your brothers and sisters and do it. Look where you can love your non-Christian friends. I am not the church – you are! Each of us has been chosen by God to serve him, and we’ve been given his Holy Spirit so that we can serve. So look where you can serve, and do it!
Isn’t this exciting! I am thrilled about 2016! This is going to be a great year!

We’ve grown from 5 to 50 in 3 years. But there are over 12 THOUSAND people outside these walls who need to hear this message of grace. There are atheists and Muslims and confused people. There are people who think they are Christians but carrying around a burden of trying to be good enough for God – they’ve never really understood the gospel (or maybe they’ve never heard it!) What sweet relief when you can come with the true gospel. Who can you reach? Who can you share the gospel with? Who will reach? Who will you pray for right now?

Yes, it would be more comfortable for us just to play church here on a Sunday, just us few, us happy few. Focus on our needs and forget everyone else. But our saviour went to the cross. We follow him, and we give everything.

Are you ready for 2016? It’s going to be a fantastic year. God is at work amongst us. Our Senior Pastor Jesus is building his church, growing his people, gathering in the lost. Let’s share about him, knowing there is POWER in the gospel. When we talk about Jesus, the Holy Spirit shows up!

2016 is going to ROCK!