I am created to do good works

Over the weekend I watched the film, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.’ I recommend that you watch it also. It is the story of Fred Rogers which if you are an American is a name you probably have followed since you were a child. Most famous for being the host of ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood’ which ran in the U.S. from 1968-2001. He died in 2003 aged 74yrs. A musician, puppeteer, writer, producer and Presbyterian minister but known for being the most empathetic individual who changed people’s lives for the good.

The film centres around a journalist named Lloyd Vogel who was not a nice man but was sent to interview Fred Rogers. Vogel’s view of the task was to demean it straight away. He was a judgmental, selfish and angry man prior to meeting Rogers but the film shows how he changes, simply because he meets a good man who did good works.

In one scene on the set of the programme, Rogers is kneeling before a troubled young boy with an oxygen tube attached to his nose, wildly swinging a toy sword as his parents look on in distress. Rogers kneels down looks him directly in the eye and gently, patiently, calms him with soothing words, and ultimately, the sword put aside, hugs him.

Watching Rogers interact with others and seeing how he meets people without judging them, Vogel is moved and begins to feel healed.

The world today sorely needs more of Rogers’ kind-hearted decency. Our world wakes in anger, in pain and fear. It needs disciples of Jesus who know they are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

We have not been put here to simply struggle, to be overwhelmed by life’s predicaments.

God has a purpose for your life and it is to do good works.

The ultimate is not just faith in Jesus, following Him and going to heaven.

It is also to do good to those here on earth.

Imagine for a moment if every disciple of Jesus woke today with one thought only and that is to do good. To alleviate someone’s hurt, to listen to someone, to kneel before a sword-wielding child with the soothing words to heal that troubled soul. Can you imagine if the Church during lockdown had an epiphany and came back to their buildings as a body more like the character of Fred Rogers?

The immature enter ‘their’ church and are more interested in ‘serve us’ than ‘service’. After a while they begin to say ‘it’s not working for me here.’ NO. The church was never meant to work for you.

The mature follower of Jesus stops asking ‘who’s going to meet my needs?’ and starts asking, ‘whose needs can I meet?’

You don’t need a title or a trophy to do a good work. You don’t need training to be nice to someone, to help them smile and to make life a little easier. You just have to think less of yourself.

You may be in a prison today but don’t allow it to dictate how you spend your life. Wherever you are you can do good to others and that is the calling on your life. Many years ago I buried a man who thought he would be healed because ‘God has something for me to do, I don’t know what it is yet Pastor but I know He will tell me.’ I buried him with regret that this man had not seen the importance of good works.

Let me finish poignantly by telling of a scene of Fred Roger’s show that was aired in May 1969. It was a year after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. It was a time of shameful racism when swimming pools were still segregated between white and black people. The scene has Fred Rogers soaking his feet in a child’s inflatable pool of water and then invites a black police officer to join him. Not only that but after they had soaked their feet they shared the same towel. Their casual intimacy exposed the bigotry of their society. A good work embarrasses the darkness.

In 1993, Rogers and the man who played the police officer, Francois Clemmons re-created that scene they had acted 24 years previously. But by this time the world had come to know of a secret that was not known in the first scene, that Clemmons was gay. The scene was also slightly different in that they not only shared a towel but Rogers took the towel and dried the feet of Clemmons himself. Seeing the imagery of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, he was moved by the scene and later said, “I am a black gay man and Fred washed my feet.”

In 2018, on being interviewed by a journalist, Clemmons said, “I carried the hope inside of me that, one day, the world would change. And I do feel that the world still has not totally changed, but it is changing. We’re getting there.”

It is true but we need to get there more quickly. All over the world we need the disciples of Jesus to do good works. We ourselves will face discrimination because of our faith. I recall the time I was in Pakistan being told the story of a great persecution on a Christian family because of a child in a school who drank water from the same cup of a Muslim girl, in a society where Christian schoolchildren still have to use sub-standard toilets than Muslims. In some sense there is an expectation of persecution for the faith. However, what is not expected and what must definitely stop is the hateful tribalism, the insidious superiority and the systemic racism that is seen across the globe to people who are different in some way than the other.

How can we stop this?

We can start today by doing good works to all people.

I Am A Poem

Paul is in prison but God is at work.

Wherever you are and whatever is happening, God is at work in you, right now.

God isn’t at work producing the circumstances you want; God is at work in bad circumstances producing the YOU He wants.

Let’s read what he says:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10

We get the word poem from the word Paul used, ‘workmanship’. It means ‘that which is made’.

So we know a poem is, ‘a piece of writing in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by particular attention to diction (sometimes involving rhyme), rhythm, and imagery.’ Think about how you are His poem …

God makes us and He uses us. He uses us and makes us.

Moses is remembered for the 40 amazing years of leading God’s people through the wilderness. But before that he spent 40 years as an unknown shepherd.

Joseph became 2nd to Pharaoh but before that he suffered for 13 years.

David became the most famous King of Israel but before he that he was in exile.

Paul in prison, the apostle with the greatest revelations has already known 3 years in the Arabian Desert. He is not attributing the prison to a work of the evil one. Disciples know that God is the active working agent in their life and there is no other, no schemes of man nor plans of Satan that can thwart the beautiful poem which God is producing in you!

An intriguing painting was once displayed at the Louvre art museum in France called “Checkmate”, painted by Friedrich Moritz August Retzsch. It is now said to be in private hands after being sold at Christie’s in 1999. This painting depicts 2 chess players, one is Satan whom appears arrogantly confident, and the other player is a man who looks forlorn. If Satan wins, he gets the man’s soul. According to legend, a chess champion visited the museum once and after studying the painting, noticed that the arrangement of the chess pieces were incorrect. According to him, the devil who thought he was winning, was in fact not winning. The man, who thought he was losing, was winning, because according to the pieces left on the chessboard, his king had one more move left, which would make him the winner of the game! He called the curator and they determined that the title didn’t fit the scene because the forlorn-looking player actually has the ability to defeat his opponent, though he obviously doesn’t realise it. The painting is a lie. His king can still make another move!

Disciples know that their King always has one more move.

The widow of a man from the Elisha school of prophets has lost everything and the creditors are not satisfied. They took everything apart from one small bottle of oil and now want the sons as slaves. Its checkmate. But the KING has one more move.

Thousands of people have walked miles and miles from home just following the Jesus’ team. They are now in danger of suffering through hunger. No one has enough money. There is only 5 loaves and 2 fish. But the KING has one more move.

On some people today checkmate has been declared. The person who wrote that is a thief, liar and a killer. But the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords has one more move.

There is still a move the King can make. It’s not over.

Pain is not bigger than purpose. The enemy’s best plot is not bigger than God’s purpose for your life.

He is the active agent in your life; He will never lie to you; He will never confuse you; He will never leave you; He will not renegade on His promise to you; He will not take back His gifts; He will never be defeated; He will never be too big for your problems; He will never be too small for your problem; He will never cancel your calling; He will never be overcome; He will never be too late; He is working in you. You are His poem!

You will never get to heaven and be met with an apology, ‘I tried my best.’ You are His work. His poem

We are God’s poem, His writing in our lives, His feelings and ideas with rhyme, rhythm and imagery! Isn’t that beautiful?!

I am of the Undeserving (part 4)

The final part of a simple thought that we are so undeservingly blessed because of who God is and what He has done for us through Jesus Christ.

Paul is writing from prison.

Under pressure. Opposed. Questioned. Yet overflowing with the riches of God.

We have undeservedly received the abundant benefits of God in our lives. Today we close the list that Paul spoke of in these verses.

“Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2: 3-7

Incomparable riches of His grace.  It means to excel, go beyond the mark and to surpass. With what? It is with Grace meaning loving-kindness and favour. An abundance of grace releasing the potential in the person. But there’s more …
Grace covers identity: Grace exposes the dark side of our lives, it is for Judas and Peter to say “yes I did that” but one of them could not accept that they had done such a thing and made things worse; the other accepted it and found their identity in grace. To live by grace means you are not denying or trying to forget the dark side of your life, but by allowing grace to expose it you find who you really are.

Grace opposes self-pity: Not that we end up depressed and whipping ourselves in a frenzy of guilt and shame over our sinful lives. Self-pity will never motivate you. Self-pity will not move you to grace any more than the victories, visions, successes and miracles will. Self-pity will keep you locked in failure, away from your home. Grace calls you to keep coming back to Jesus, let Jesus bind up the wounds, don’t let your self do it.

Grace is honesty: An honesty that says we keep breaking the rules. An honesty that says “I am cautious to say God told me … Because I could be wrong.” An honesty that displays character and silences the tongue. An honesty that says I may never be the person I want or should be but God loves me now as I am.

And finally in these few verses:

Kindness in Christ.

This is goodness. It is kindness that is fit for use.

God is an upside down God. He is not where you may think He may be. He hangs around communities you would not want to go near. His kindness is amazing but it also offensive. It is not fair. There seems to be no justice.

It throws parties for sons who have wasted the inheritance.

It promises assurance to dying thieves who ask to be remembered in the next life.

It is found in defeat not victory.

It refuses to break the bruised reed that everyone wants to break or snuff out the smouldering wick that everyone sees as useless.

You may be hurting, beating yourself up, troubled in your heart, held in the addiction to sin, feel this is for anyone but you, but the call remains, ‘receive my kindness.’

I am of the Undeserving, part 3.

Have you ever been to a restaurant and the waiter just wasn’t happy to be there in the place where you had been so looking forward to enjoying?

Have you ever walked into a shop trying to buy something and the sales assistant not only didn’t believe in the amazing product but wasn’t interested in whether you bought it or not?

Have you ever walked into a Church and spoke to a Christian who had the most impoverished spirit, gloomiest face and who sucked the living daylights out of you and all of that in a simple ‘hello’?

The answer to all 3 is probably yes.

But not for this writer of Ephesians, who is stuck in prison, contained, locked down from all his desires and plans:

“Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2: 3-7

So what more undeserving riches have been given to us?

Saved by grace.

We have been rescued from danger by Him leaning towards us with favour.

Today, we carry the name above all other names.

The Apostle Paul tells us, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”. 2 Corinthians 4:10

A Saviour is one who intervenes, who steps in and rescues from either physical or spiritual suffering. We carry His name and His presence in our lives today. We may not have done much in our lives but He has done it all!

We believe that the Saviour can rescue us from the prisons and plans of our enemy: “My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies” Psalm 31:15

He is with us! Our Saviour is ready to save us time and again.

Raised up and seated with Christ.

PETER RANDOLPH, a slave in Prince George County, Virginia, until he was freed in 1847, described the secret prayer meetings he had attended as a slave.

“Not being allowed to hold meetings on the plantation,” he wrote, “the slaves assemble in the swamp, out of reach of the patrols. They have an understanding among themselves as to the time and place. … This is often done by the first one arriving breaking boughs from the trees and bending them in the direction of the selected spot.

“After arriving and greeting one another, men and women sat in groups together. Then there was “preaching … by the brethren, then praying and singing all around until they generally feel quite happy.”

The speaker rises “and talks very slowly, until feeling the spirit, he grows excited, and in a short time there fall to the ground 20 or 30 men and women under its influence.

“The slave forgets all his sufferings,” Randolph summed up, “except to remind others of the trials during the past week, exclaiming, ‘Thank God, I shall not live here always!’ “

And if you would describe your situation as a prison, this is not where you sit today. It wasn’t for Paul and it isn’t for you. You have been saved by grace, rescued raised with Christ! Amen!

I am of the Undeserving, part 2.

“Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2: 3-7

Look what has come to us!

Rich in mercy.

These words mean fully resourced and wealthy in the pity, compassion and readiness to help us in trouble.

What kind of God do you worship? An angry one? One to be feared? Does this fear make you think He punishes you and others? Is He a dormant volcano ready to explode? What you worship is what you become.

Psalm 113: 4-5 “God is higher than anything and anyone, outshining everything you can see in the skies. Who can compare with God …” He is high but he stops low.

Mercy is more than sympathy, pity and forgiveness. It is that but it rushes past and out of those expressions. It is possible to sympathise, have pity and even forgive without doing anything. Mercy needs an act for it to be mercy.

Mercy is not self-seeking or trying to win an argument or prove a point. It is not trying to gain but is in fact accompanied by losing.

Those who show mercy look weaker in our aggressive culture.  Mercy is needed today. But mercy has an enemy.

In an interview with a long-time friend, U2’s Bono, responded to the sometimes-stained reputation of the church throughout history:

“Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship”.  (Michka Assayas, Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas)

The enemy of mercy is performance.

Performance will never lead to true discipleship.

The church has rules. Christians have rules. Things we have learnt over the years that if we do them prove we are good.

We step into performance the moment we behave as if Christianity brings man to God.

Even that sentence may cause some of us to have to read it again as it appears correct!

But central to Christianity is the truth that it is the story of God coming to man, every other religion has it the other way round. Sadly the church sometimes follows suit. For we all like a good performance.

God stooped low and came towards us rich in mercy. He loses so we win. I am of the undeserving when I think of His mercy towards me.

Made us alive.

A person can be so selfish they are dead to the needs of others.

A person can be so insensitive they are dead to the feelings of others.

A person can be so hopeless they are dead to their destiny.

A person can be so afraid their potential is dead.

The ancient touch of Jesus has never lost its power. Your environment may be dead but God makes us alive.

When Abram took Isaac up the mountain for the sacrifice he said to his servants, “We will return.” He knew what God could do. When Abram took the knife why didn’t Isaac scream?

It was because though Isaac didn’t understand what was in his father’s hand he knew what was in his father’s heart.

In the heart of God is life, resurrection life. Though undeserving He made us alive in Him.

 

In all that we do, all that we say and all that we write, whatever the context of our life, if we have received mercy then let’s give mercy and if we have been made alive then let’s not cut people down. Let us live what we have received from Him.

I am of the Undeserving (part 1)

Paul is writing from prison.

Under pressure. Opposed. Questioned. Yet overflowing with the riches of God.

There is more! You have more to give!

There is more. Your experience of Jesus in the past, no matter how amazing, is just a part of what can be fully experienced. There is more.

There are things in you that need to be revealed. You operate out of these beliefs, values and goals. There is a hidden DNA in you that people only see the benefit of. Reveal what is hidden. What is most important in life? How do you do what you do? Why do you say what you say? Don’t give up, don’t back down, keep going, the missions is not over, speak again!

“Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2: 3-7

The wrath and grace are part of His character. Without wrath there is no grace.

BUT.

Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love.  BUT perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Psalm 73:26 “My flesh and my heart may fail, BUT God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

I’m in prison BUT
And what flows is a cascade of beautiful gifts and actions that God has done for us who deserved only wrath.
We undeservingly have received:

Great love.

The abundant supply of seeking the best for us. Abundant covenantal love that persistently pursues us despite what has happened.

In 1937, a man by the name of John Griffiths found a job tending one of the railroad bridges that crossed the Mississippi River. Every day he would control the gears of the bridge to allow barges and ships through.

One day John decided to allow his eight year old son Greg to help him. He and his boy packed their lunches with great excitement and high hopes for the future and went to work. The morning went quickly and at noon they headed off for lunch, down a narrow catwalk onto an observation platform about 50 feet above the Mississippi. John told his son stories about the ships as they passed by. Suddenly, they were jolted back to reality by the shrill sound of an engine’s whistle. Looking at his watch, John realised to his horror that it was 1.07pm, that the Memphis Express was due any time and that the bridge was still raised. He calmly told Greg to stay put and then ran back to the controls. Once there he looked beneath the bridge to make sure there was nothing below. As his eyes moved downwards he saw something so terrible that he froze. For there, lying on the gears, was his beloved son. Greg had tried to follow his dad but had fallen off the catwalk. Immediately, John realised the horrifying choice before him: either to lower the bridge and kill his son, or to keep the bridge raised and kill everyone on board the train. As 400 people moved closer to the bridge, John realised what he had to do. Burying his face under his arm, he plunged down the lever. The cries of his son were instantly drowned out by the noise of the bridge grinding slowly into position. John wiped the tears from his eyes as the train passed by. A conductor was collecting tickets in his usual way. A businessman was casually reading a newspaper. Ladies were drinking afternoon tea. Children were playing. Most of the passengers were engaged in idle chatter. No one saw. No one heard the cries of a heartbroken father.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.

The Son of God became a baby though he is a king.

The Son of God took an ordinary name though he has the name above all names.

The Son of God wrapped a towel around his waist and became a servant though one day every knee will bow.

The Son of God became obedient to death on a criminals low-life cross even though he sits on an eternal throne.

Jesus compromised his position for God so loved the world …

We live in a world of hierarchy, of positions of importance and I speak of within the Church.

Those with the biggest titles have the hardest task to compromise their position in order to save and demonstrate their love.

‘Come down’ is the call of the Spirit. It is down where Jesus is.

There are no adulations and commendations in this place. This place is painful, it is sacrificial, it is very risky and you know people will talk about you. But they do not know your motives, they never know why, only a few know that you came down because you love.

I was helpless.

We were nearly there. Salzburg, Austria was the destination. I was 14 years of age and on a school trip by train having a wonderful time. We headed through Germany and pulled into the station at Munich ready for the final leg. Not one for listening to instructions I along with a small group of students remained at the back of the train, only for that carriage to become the front in Munich. So as the other students set off in one direction we also followed for a short time but unbeknown to us there had been another engine connected to our carriage and some extra carriages added behind us and very soon we veered off into Switzerland. We didn’t realise it until we got off the train in its final destination of Zurich. The train journey to Zurich was lovely. The six students had a great time. We were laughing and looking out of the window and thoroughly enjoying our journey going in the wrong direction. Even when we got off the train and seeing the sign of Zurich because our geography was rubbish we didn’t think it wasn’t Austria. There had been no ticket inspector, no guidance along the way, just us with our joy and freedom totally unaware that we were heading in the wrong direction. The story does have a happy ending!

The Apostle Paul after a glorious exuberant burst of praise in chapter 1, now brings us crashing to the floor, only to build a new crescendo again of the beautiful work of Christ.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Ephesians 2:1-3

It’s like Paul is reminding us of where our position was prior to meeting Jesus.

We followed a way.

All of us, not just the Gentiles, but the Jews also. All of us, not just those first generation followers, but those born into the Christian faith. All of us were dead, helpless and oblivious in the following of a way which was heading in the wrong direction. We may not have been miserable and in pain but we were heading towards it and we may have given such misery and pain to others along the way.

We lived for this world.

This present age is dead compared to the age to come. It seems a long time ago when we were deeply concerned about our oceans and plastic; the disintegration of the family; poverty and foodbanks; morals; it isn’t and these problems are still in this world as we contend with covid-19 and address racism and discrimination again because we failed to root it out.

We had someone at work in us.

There was a boundary that should not have been crossed (transgression) and a mark that should not have been missed (sin) but we all have done it. Do you know the uncomfortable feeling of walking into a room and the atmosphere was toxic? You could taste it. The corruption from governments, through the media moguls and even to abusive pulpits is stained by the ruler of the kingdom of the air, Satan. A corrupted spirit at work behind people corrupting them to be even more corrupt is our greatest enemy that leaves us helpless and dead.

Now for the important point. Paul says two important words: “you were”.

He is reminding them of what they were and not what they are now. So we need to call out loud and clear and begin in the Church because we are guilty of hypocrisy if we do not.

THIS IS NOT THE WAY. You may be enjoying yourself. But you can feel good and be going in the wrong direction. LOVE GOD LOVE OTHERS. Anything else is not the way.

THIS IS NOT THE WORLD TO COME. Why should we be concerned about how we live and we treat others? Why should we break up the foundations of our lives and the Church? Why should we deconstruct? Why should we root out all prejudice for example? It is because none of this is in the new world to come. We should live as citizens of the new world in this present one.

THIS IS NOT THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Speaking the truth, if not done in love, is the work of a different spirit and of course so is withholding the truth to benefit. A leader recently said, “How would I describe this Church? Toxic!” I was speechless. How can a church be poisonous? Maybe some churches should not congregate post-lockdown. Everyone seems to be talking about viewing figures of our brilliant church online programmes. It has its place for sure. But let’s focus on the viewer who spotlights our lives and not our programmes.

But this isnt now. Is it?

This is what we once were.

You were.

I Was Helpless.

 

I am not afraid.

“… far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:20-23

Paul’s experience of Christ was unlike the disciples. They shared his earthly life and witnessed his death and resurrection proving his Messiahship. For Paul it was the other way round. His transformation on the Damascus Road was His first recorded encounter of Jesus as the exalted post-resurrection, ascended Christ. What blew his mind was that the pre-existent Son of God would incarnate himself to this earth.

We also carry in our lives the exalted Christ. That is our foundation of our life.

Last night I woke up from a dream. I’m not sure what I was doing crawling underneath a house. I couldn’t do that in my house. But I was frightened underneath there. The foundation of the house wasn’t a great place to be.

Today I write to those who are in Christ, you have more than knowledge of Him. He is more than a name. He is precious to you. You have surrendered your life to Jesus. You belong to Him. He is in your life and His presence is greater than the one outside of you. God gave you a new foundation of life and that is the exalted Christ. Why be afraid?

He is far above all.

He is above every name.

All things are under His feet.

He is head over all things for us, the Church.

He fills all in all.

Now, when you are in a prison or trapped under a house for that matter, this revelation is crucial to you not only surviving but thriving.

What appears to be ruling your life today? Which Caesar has sent his minions to encamp on your territory? Has a throne been established? Has there been an authoritative positioning through sickness, financial burden, grief and hurt and stress?

No matter how powerful the seat is, God brings down such rulers from their thrones! He does it through the exalted Christ!

You may be facing many attacks today of the enemy. The powers are never far from us. They plague us and never leave us alone until we rise in the authority Christ has given us.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

I Am Powerful

I Am Powerful

 

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know … his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead …” Ephesians 1:18-20

Now thank we all our God

With heart and hands and voices

Who wondrous things hath done

In whom His world rejoices

Who, from our mother’s arms

Hath blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love

And still is ours today.

This hymn was written around 1636 by Martin Rinkart.

But more of that in a moment.

You may have heard the folklore surrounding Poland’s famous concert pianist and prime minister, Ignace Paderewski. Paderewski experts say the story may have been inspired by a poster during World War II that promoted a meeting in support of the Polish Relief Fund.
Paderewski is said to have organized the meeting.
The poster included a sketch of Paderewski next to a boy at the piano. Here is the story:

A mother, wishing to encourage her young son’s progress at the piano, bought tickets for a Paderewski performance. When the night arrived they found their seats near the front of the hall and eyed the majestic Steinway waiting on the stage.

Soon the mother found a friend to talk to and she being distracted didn’t notice her boy had slipped away. When 8pm arrived, the spotlights came on, the audience quietened and only then did she notice the boy on the stage sitting at the bench innocently playing Chopsticks.

His mother gasped, but before she could retrieve her son, the master appeared on the stage and quickly moved to the keyboard. “Don’t quit – keep playing,” he whispered to the boy.

Leaning over, the master reached down with his left hand and began filling in the bass part. Soon his right arm reached around the other side, encircling the child, to add a running Obbligato. Together the old master and the young novice held the crowd mesmerised.

Paul, in prison, prays that they may know His power.

At that time Gnosticism had infiltrated the Church and it still remains in some places.

A Christian Gnostic was someone who said all may believe but it’s the elite who know. It’s a lie.

An act of faith in the biblical tradition is always undertaken in an environment of knowledge and cannot be separated from it. The knowledge that God is carrying the weight of your life. It is to know the Master surrounding us and whispering in our ear daily, “Don’t give up, keep playing.” And as we do something beautiful emerges as He augments and supplements our efforts by his creative power.

The same power that reached down into the pain and emptiness of death is known by us! The Church has enough preachers who teach their church members about power and healing; power and answered prayers; power and provision; power and faith; power and blessing. All these are excellent topics. But the pews teach the pulpit more about the power of God. They know the power of God which reaches down into the pain of their prison; despite my MS; despite my deserting father; despite my emphysema; despite my cancer; despite my divorce; despite my grief; despite the Alzheimer care I continually give; despite my disappointment and sadness, I am here. And I know the power of God who reaches down into my struggle and raises me up.

Where is the power of God today? He has gone low, very low, into the evils of racism and discrimination, the disease of hatred and slavery, into the darkness where humanity is humiliated by the elite.

We experience the power of God as we become incarnate, as we get our hands dirty, and hold up the poor, the powerless, the marginalised and the weak. When we stop being silent or distracted or instead of becoming opinionated we become hidden in the graves and the prisons of the broken. Divine power is found in graves.

Let me take you back to the beautiful hymn that we all will have sung at some point in our lives.

Surely this was written in time of great blessing?

Martin Rinkart was a pastor at Eilenberg, Saxony during the 30 years war (1618-1648). Because Eilenberg was a walled city it became a severely overcrowded refuge for political and military fugitives. As a result the city suffered from disease and famine. In 1637 a new disease hit the city and 8,000 people died including Rinkarts wife. As the only surviving minister Rinkart buried 4,400 people sometimes as many as 40 or 50 funerals a day.

At that time Eilenberg was probably one of the most insignificant cities in the world.

Rinkart was there and Rinkart wrote Now thank we all our God.

Sometimes the insignificant is meaningless and painful and confusing, but it is there that God must be known and as He is then His power is experienced.

I Have Hope

She did it first on 16th November 1952. Charlie Brown explains to Lucy: “All you have to do is hold the ball. Then I come running and kick it.” She’s not so sure. “I don’t know if this is such a good idea.” Charlie Brown comes running, but, at the last moment, Lucy pulls back the football, explaining to the prostrate kicker: “I was afraid your shoes might be dirty, Charlie Brown. I don’t want anyone with dirty shoes kicking my new football.” He tells her: “Don’t you ever do that again! Do you want to kill me? This time, hold it tight!” She does, so tightly, he kicks a ball, which doesn’t move, and tumbles onto his back. “I held it real tight, Charlie Brown.” He laments: “I’m not going to get up. I’m going to lie here for the rest of the day.” Lucy would continue some variant of the football snatch in almost every subsequent year of the strip, all the way to 1999. The same would happen nine times in animation. Drawing the strip for the last time, Charles Schultz said that he realized, sadly, that Charlie Brown would never kick that football, but, he also thought, having him succeed would have been a disservice to the character.

Are you living with hope of kicking the ball?

Maybe you wake up today and you can describe your situation as a prison. Paul, the prisoner, encourages the saints to know hope.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you,” Ephesians 1 v18.

This is a real, tangible, definite, guaranteed hope in Jesus. All of us need times of reawakened hope in Jesus where we begin to hear again the voice of the Spirit, “You are worth more than this! You have not been put on this earth to go under and stay under, to be overwhelmed and eaten away at the predicament you have found yourself to be in. You were created for something much better.”

Not that you should be free of problems and the many difficulties of this life, for your time on earth can have many challenges. But you are worth more than what those challenges can cause in you. You are worth more than just accepting that your life consists of isolation, rejection, defeat, disillusionment, anxiety, frustration, lack of self-wroth, loss of identity and the list goes on.

Do you need to begin again to put your hope in Jesus?

Priest and theologian, Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) said this of hope, it “expects the coming of something new. Hope looks toward that which is not yet. Hope reaches out beyond ourselves to a power beyond us. Hope is grounded in the historic Christ-event … and as a dramatic affirmation that there is light on the other side of darkness.” (in Seeds of Hope)

After quitting school early and a brief time in Europe working as a Red Cross driver taking soldiers to the frontline he returned to Kansas to become a cartoon illustrator. But he lost his job because the editor claimed he had no imagination. How wrong that was! He headed out to Hollywood and had failure after failure with his ideas. Universal stole his ‘Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’ idea and MGM rejected his talking mouse and his ‘Three Little Pigs’ never saw the light of day. But he kept going. Half the audience walked out of his ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’; ‘Pinocchio’ was a financial disaster; in fact all the classic films that I grew up on and which broke record after record at the Oscars and which billions of people have now watched was only possible because one failed man held on to hope. Of course the man is Walt Disney (1901-1966); the Walt Disney Company is estimated now at around $130 billion.

February 1st 1975, a famous prisoner, Nelson Mandela (who spent 27 years in prison) wrote to his wife Winnie, “You may find it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative features in your life, but the 10th attempt may yield rich rewards. Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying. … No ax is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise and win in the end.”

Hope is more than optimism. There may not be any hopeful aspects of a situation which optimism clings to. But hope is found not in a situation but in a Saviour.

Hope is more than being positive. There may be no moving forward, no direction and no increase. But hope is found not in progress but in a Person.

In his book ‘Deserted by God?’, Sinclair Ferguson shares the following story:
“The first physician to die of the AIDS virus in the UK was a young Christian. He had contracted it while doing medical research in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. In the last days of his life, his power of communication failed. He struggled with increasing difficulty to express his thoughts to his wife. On one occasion she simply could not understand his message. He wrote on a note pad the letter J. She ran through her medical dictionary, saying various words beginning with J. None was right. Then she said, “Jesus?”
That was the right word. He was with them. That was all either of them needed to know.

Hope has a name and that name is Jesus.