Sunday, 11 December 2016

Romans 8:28-39 More than Conquerors

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Today, special occasion celebrating baptism of Logan & Summer.

We are entrusting them to God’s care, and praying that as they grow up they will come to know and love God.

Famous Chinese proverb states “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Today marks the first step for Logan & Summer on the journey of faith. Our hope & prayer is that as they grow up, they will discover for themselves the love God has for them, and the plans and purposes He has for their lives.

But what is a Christian?

Many people have the wrong idea about what it means to be a Christian, and how you become a Christian.  Being born in Britain doesn’t make you a Christian, anymore than being born in a MacDonalds restaurant would make you a hamburger.

Some people think a Christian is a good person, you might hear them say “I try to live a Christian life” – but what they really mean is “I try to be a good person.” But that doesn’t make you a Christian.

Some people say a Christian is someone who goes to church, which although vitally important, doesn’t make you a Christian. You can come to church & still not be a Christian.

Others would say if you’ve been baptised you’re a Christian, but although baptism is essential for Christians, baptism itself doesn’t make you a Christian.

No, a Christian is someone who has a relationship with God the Father, through Jesus Christ his son.  It is someone who has put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and who has made an active decision to follow Jesus. If we’re serious about following Jesus, it will affect every aspect of our lives, our relationships, what we do with our time and money, our priorities in life, and so forth.

And if we want Logan & Summer to grow in their relationship with God, then they’re going to need support and encouragement in this. That is why in the baptism service, the parents and godparents were asked will you pray for Logan & Summer, and draw them by your example into the community of faith, and walk with them in the way of Christ, and help them to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church?

Thinking back to the idea of faith as a journey, if you’re visiting relatives with your child, you don’t just put the baby on a bus or train by itself, and send them on their way, hoping they arrive safely at their destination, you travel with them.  The same is true in the journey of faith.

Not Alone – the Church

But we’re not alone on this journey.

We have God’s family, the church, which is why Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 talks about the church being one body made up of many different parts. We each have a part to play in God’s family, and every single member is important, from the youngest to the oldest. 

The point about a family is it’s a place where you belong, a place where you are known, loved, and supported. That’s why the church exists, so that we can encourage and support one another on this journey of faith. Because like any journey, there will be good times, when the going is easy, but there will also be times when the going tough, and that’s why don’t live our Christian lives in isolation, we are called to love, support and encourage one another.  That is why the author of the letter of Hebrews writes ‘do not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another.’ (Hebrews 10:25)

We also have God.

Not Alone – God

We have the gift of the Holy Spirit, dwelling with us. This is the presence of Jesus himself.

There is an old children’s song which goes ‘Jesus loves me! This I know, For the Bible tells me so.’

But as Christians the knowledge that Jesus loves us, comes not just from the Bible, but from the reality of God’s presence in our lives. 

In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

When we open our hearts to Jesus, he comes and fills us with the presence of his Holy Spirit. And with this comes the knowledge that we are loved, and forgiven, and the Holy Spirit helps us to know God personally. 

And as we experience the presence of God in our lives, there comes the reassurance that God is at work in our lives, and that NOTHING can ever separate us His love.

In All Things

Paul in our reading from Romans writes “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

God is concerned with your life and mine.  He's not a distant remote God, who stands from afar watching us as we struggle our way through life. But he is active in the affairs of our lives. In all things God works for the good of those who love him.

God loves us, and cares for us, and wants what is best for us. This doesn’t mean however, that we always get what we want. As a parent, I don’t always give my children what they want, because it is not always in their best interest, but I always try to do what is best for them.

Nor is Paul saying that if you’re a Christian you’ll be free from troubles, and that life will be easy, and that things will always work out the way you want. Life doesn’t work like that. We will still face disappointment, rejection, tiredness, sickness, loss, and death just like everyone else. In fact Jesus warned those that would wish to follow him to expect opposition.  ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.’ (John 15:20)

But what Paul writes, is that all situations and circumstances of our lives, both the good and the bad, God is not working to make us happy, but fulfilling his divine purposes for us & his world. 
Life is like a jigsaw puzzle, we often only see a small part of it, and the bit we do see doesn’t always make much sense. But God sees the big picture, He has an eternal master plan which he is working towards, which includes us.

God can even use the bad and difficult situations we face for good. For example, in the OT we read about Joseph. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, then rises to a position of responsibility, only to be falsely accused of something he hadn’t done, and thrown back into prison and forgotten about by everyone but God. But even in this difficult and dark times, God was at work, and put him in a place where he was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, which resulted in Joseph being given a position of responsibility that made him the most important person in Egypt after Pharaoh, so that ultimately God could use Joseph to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, including his own brothers. Although Joseph experienced kidnapping, slavery, false accusations, wrongful imprisonment, rejection & famine, God was at work in his life.

And because God works in all things, he is able to take and redeem our mistakes, the things we regret, the things we're ashamed of, and use them for good.


Yvonne Garbett - experience of alcoholism, now helping others with alcoholism.

Justyn Rees Larcomb - seemed to have everything, a great job in the city with a big salary, a lovely home, wife and children. But he got sucked into gambling, it started with a simple £5 online bet, but quickly got out of control, becoming a £10,000 a day addiction. He hid his problem from his family and his colleagues, but in the end lost his dream house, his job, his family & his reputation. He’d been a Christian for much of his life, but realized he'd neglected God, and turned back to God, and started to get help for his gambling addiction.   Slowly, with help and support from other Christians and charities that support people with gambling, he has turned his life around, and now helps others who struggle with addiction problems, including Gambling.

Gill Beasley - death of daughter Rachel 20 years ago, led her to found the Walsall MacMillan Cancer Group.

The promise that God works for the good of those who love him, doesn't mean that all that happens to us is good, but it means God is able to turn it around for good.

Nothing Can Separate Us From God’s Love

Paul goes on to write that for those who put their trust & faith in God, nothing at all will be able to separate us from God’s love.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[b]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[c] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Some years ago on a hot summer day in south Florida, a little boy decided to go for a swim in the old swimming hole behind his house. He dived into the cool water, not realising that as he swam towards the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore.

His mother in the house was looking out of the window and saw the alligator bearing down on her son. In utter fear, she ran toward the water yelling to her son as loudly as she could.

Hearing her voice, the little boy became alarmed and started swimming toward his mother. But it was too late. Just as he reached her, the alligator reached him. From the dock the mother grabbed her little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs. That began an incredible tug of war between the two.

The alligator was much stronger than the mother, but the mother was much to passionate to let go.
A farmer happened to drive by, and hearing her screams raced from his truck with his shot gun, and shot the alligator.

Remarkably the little boy survived, but his legs were extremely scarred by the vicious attack of the alligator, and on his arms, were deep scratches where his mother's fingernails dug into his flesh in her effort to hang on to the son she loved.

A local newspaper reporter came to interview the boy and asked if he could show him his scars. The boy lifted up his trousers, and then with obvious pride, he said to the reporters. "But look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms too. I have them because my mum wouldn't let go."

You and I can identify with that little boy. We have scars too, not from an alligator, or anything quite so dramatic. But the scars we have picked up through life, the hurts, disappointments, rejections, failures,. Some of those scars are unsightly and have caused us deep regret. But some wounds, my friends, are because God has refused to let go. In the midst of your struggle, He's been there holding on to you.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Mark 3:20-35 - Dealing with Criticism & Opposition

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Tonight I want to focus on the topic of dealing with opposition & criticism.

There will be times in our lives when we face opposition and criticism.

In fact Jesus promised those that follow him they’d face opposition.

“Remember what I told you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20)

There is a right way and a wrong way to deal with opposition & criticism. So tonight I want us to explore how to handle opposition & criticism by looking at the example of Jesus.

Jesus faces opposition

As Jesus’ ministry grew & developed, so did the opposition he faced. By the time we reach the beginning of chapter 3 of Mark’s Gospel, the religious leaders were ‘looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.’ (Mark 3:2). So when Jesus heals a man in the Synagogue on the Sabbath, “the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (Mark 3:6)

The Pharisees & the Herodians were not natural allies, it was an unlikely alliance. The Herodians were a Jewish political party that supported King Herod, who was the King put in place by the Roman Empire, to rule over Israel. The Herodians, by supporting King Herod, were supporting Roman rule of Israel, which brought them into conflict with the Pharisees who were opposed to Roman rule. This made it difficult for the Herodians and Pharisees to unite and agree on anything, but one thing did unite them—opposing Jesus. Because King Herod himself wanted Jesus dead (Luke 13:31), as did the Pharisees.

The reason Jesus faced so much opposition & hostility in his ministry, is because he challenged the authority of the ruling religious and political elite, and exposed their proud attitudes and dishonourable motives.

Why we face opposition

There are many reasons why we might face opposition & criticism. Jesus faced it for doing what was right, even when that meant making himself unpopular amongst certain sections of society.

If we’re going to face opposition and criticism, let’s make sure it’s for doing the right thing, not the wrong thing. 

Mark 3 – Family Conflict

In our reading tonight we see that Jesus faced opposition not only from the teachers of the law, but from his very own family.

‘Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”’ (Mk 3:20-21)

Mark doesn’t tell us where this event takes place, but it is likely to be Capernaum, and possibly Peter’s house. Jesus gets falsely accused of being “out of his mind” by his own family, in other words they accuse him of being deluded, crazy, mentally unstable. Even Jesus’ own family were slow to understand who he was and what he had come to do.

Criticism & opposition from family in my experience always hurts the most, because they are the ones we are closest to, the ones whose opinions usually matter the most, and therefore their criticism always cuts the deepest.

And one of the most difficult places to be a Christian witness, is amongst our family, because they know us the best, and because they know what areas of our lives fall short of Christ’s ideal, and get to see us at our worst when our guard is down. And for those with husbands, wives or children who are not Christians, it is challenging, especially if they are actively hostile or opposed to your Christian faith. Family members require the most patience.

This is something Jesus had to face. In the Gospel of John, we read that at the start of Jesus’ ‘even his own brothers did not believe in him.’ (John 7:5).

When faced by hostility or opposition from your family members towards your Christian faith, it’s important to stay true to your faith, and don’t respond negatively to the attacks that may come.
As Christians we are being changed to become more and more like Jesus every day. In Col 3 Paul talks about taking off the old sinful self and putting on the new godly self. This new godly self is characterised by patience, love, kindness and so on. So pray that they will see something of Christ in you, particularly as you become more like him. The hardest thing to argue against is a changed life!

Show them what it means to be a follower of Christ by the way you live, through the love and care you show them, in the way you treat others, and your attitude to work and recreation, and especially in the way you handle conflict within your family. Families do fall out from time to time, and have their disagreements. Learn to handle disagreement well. Take time to listen, Paul in Ephesians writes “In your anger do not sin” Ephesians 4:26.  Seek to be a peace maker. Listen to your family, discuss things reasonably, try where possible to come to agreement, and above all demonstrate God’s love and compassion, and when you get it wrong be prepared to say sorry and to seek forgiveness.

And when you do have an opportunity to speak about Christianity be gentle and gracious rather than confrontational. Ask God to give you the right words. It is far better for you talk about your own experiences and understanding of Christianity than to challenge them about their understanding of Christianity. Remember - you are not the one whose responsibility it is to convince them of the gospel - that’s God’s. Your responsibility is to present Christianity in the most compelling way you can.

Although Jesus faced problems with his family, they did eventually come to recognise him for who he truly was. In Acts 1:14 that the followers of Jesus joined together ‘constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers’, and James the brother of Jesus would go onto become one of the leaders in the church in Jerusalem.  So if you face conflict or misunderstanding from your own family, don’t despair & don’t give up.

Religious Conflict

As well as difficulties with his family, Jesus was also accused by the teachers of the law of being possessed by Beelzebub. “By the prince of demons he is driving out demons” they claimed (Mark 3:22). They couldn’t deny his miracles, they were evident for everyone to see, so they tried to attack him personally by discrediting.

How we respond to criticism

How do we respond when face opposition or criticism, or are accused of something we haven’t done?

  • Angry “How dare you say that…”
  • Defensive “That’s not true…”
  • Go on the attack “That’s rich coming from you….”
    • Winston Churchill was attending a state dinner with Lady Astor, who was compelled to listen to Churchill talk on a great number of subjects, all of them at variance with her own strongly held views. Finally, no longer able to hold her tongue, she said, “Winston, if you were my husband, I would poison your coffee.” To which Churchill immediately replied, “Madam, if I were your husband, I would drink it.”
  • Withdraw into self/get depressed – people who seem to accept criticism rather well on the surface while internally beating themselves to a pulp – putting yourself down & being overly hard on yourself.
  • Quit “Why bother…?”
  • Revenge – looking for an opportunity to get your own back on the person who has upset you
  • Acceptance “That’s fair…” – you might feel put down by the remarks, but you accept them, and may want to seek further clarification.  

How does Jesus respond?

Learning how to handle criticism well is very important.

  • Be open
    • No one likes to be criticised, but sometimes we need to listen to what is being said.Even if it hurts, we need to ask ourselves is there any truth, or justification in what is being said about me or to me? Constructive criticism intended to help & encourage is important and necessary. It gives us the opportunity to learn something about ourselves and to grow. Imagine what would have happened if when learning to drive I never listened to the instruction that my driving instructor gave because I felt I didn’t need to listen to him. I wouldn’t have passed my test & would be a danger to myself & others on the road. I am grateful for those who have taken me to one side, and out of love (VERY IMPORTANT) have told me things that at the time might have been hard to listen to, but helped me to grow.
  • Try to understand
    • Sometimes we can be attacked or criticised for no apparent reason, or it comes out of nowhere – someone suddenly snaps at you, and when that happens it hurts. But it helps to try & understand the other person. For example I’ve come to realise that when I am tired or stressed, I get very irritable & impatient, and I tend to take this out on my family. When others criticize us, think about what they’ve gone or are going through right now, because they might be anxious or hurting. For example when Jesus’ family accused him of being “out of his mind” – this might have been an expression of their concern for Jesus. Maybe they feared that as his fame and popularity grew it was bringing him into conflict with powerful and influential people and they were worried about the situation getting out of hand, so they wanted to try and protect him. Or maybe they were concerned that with the pressures ministry was placing on Jesus, he wasn’t taking care of himself, not finding time to eat and this was affecting his mental stability. Sometimes the criticism we receive, says more about the person doing the criticising than the one being criticised. For example, it might be that the person criticising you is worried and anxious about something, they are fearful about loss or failure, or feel insecure, or feel threatened in some way.
  • Focus on facts, not personalities
    • Doen’t denigrate those who attack him - Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2When Jesus was being accused of being “out of his mind” by his family, and when he was told they had come for him, his response is to redefine what it means to be part of his family. “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk 3:34) Jesus is not excluding or rejecting his earthly family, or saying they are not important, but teaching that a relationship with him is open to all people. And that when we become followers of Jesus, we are given another family, a spiritual family, and the relationships are ultimately more important and longer lasting in this family than those formed in a physical family. And when Jesus is accused of being possessed by “Beelzebul” by the religious leaders – Jesus’ doesn’t get drawn into a personal slanging match, but focuses on the heart of the issue, exposing their faulty logic and the truth of his own source of power. “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.” (Mark 3:23-26)
  • Keep to the issue, don’t get side tracked.
  • Think Before You React
    • “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19-20)
  • Doesn’t get pulled into unnecessary arguments – sometimes the best response is no response. When Jesus was on trial before Pilate he made no reply (Mark 15)
  • Respond Gently  
    • A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov. 15:1)
  • Put your life and reputation in God’s hands.
    • It’s easier to do this when life is going well and you have no problems, no worries, and everything is right in your world. It’s a lot harder to put your life in God’s hands when you feel the pressure of constant criticism. But that’s when we most need God’s help. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
    • Jesus when unfairly accused:
      • didn’t hurl insults.
      • didn’t retaliate.
      • didn’t curse and swear.
      • made no threats.
      • What was his secret? The answer lies in the final phrase of verse 23-“He entrusted himself to him who judges justly." 
    • F. B. Meyer wrote: “We make a mistake in trying always to clear ourselves. We should be wiser to go straight on, humbly doing the next thing, and leaving God to vindicate us…. There may come hours in our lives when we shall be misunderstood, slandered, falsely accused. At such times it is very difficult not to act on the policy of the men around us in the world. They at once appeal to law and force and public opinion. But the believer takes his case into a higher court and lays it before his God.”
  • Forgive


  • Think to a time when you have faced opposition, criticism or been falsely accused. How did it make you feel?
  • Why do you think Jesus faced so much opposition to his ministry?
  • How you normally respond to criticism & opposition?
  • Ways that we can better respond to criticism & opposition:
    • Be open
    • Try to understand
    • Focus on facts, not personalities
    • Be completely humble and gentle; 
      • be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
  • Think Before You React
    • “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19-20)
  • Don’t get pulled into unnecessary arguments
  • Respond Gently 
    • A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov. 15:1)Put your life and reputation in God’s hands.“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:21-23)
  • Forgive