Friday, April 19, 2019

“He’s got the whole wide world in His hands”

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Free from all blame, 1 Corinthians 1 verse 8
Sermon by Henk Moorman
 
 
 
I want to read a passage with you from the first letter to the Corinthians and I’ll begin at chapter one verse four:
“I give thanks to God always for you, because of the grace of God, which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him with all speech and all knowledge -  even as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you -  so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
 
This is, of course, a well-known passage.Iwant to focus on verse 8: “He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The King James version says: ”He will confirm you to the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
 
Blameless, without blemish, free from reproach and any accusations. In other words, spiritually mature and fully grown, so much so, that the enemy can’t find any weak spots, nothing with which to tempt you. He can’t get his claws into you, there is nothing there for him to zoom in on.
 
Of course the question now is, how do you get to that point? How do you get to the point where you are beyond reproach and completely blameless?
Well, we are conscientious people, so we try our best, don’t we? Because we want to reach that point where we are beyond reproach and blameless, so that the enemy can find nothing in us. We want very much to live according to God’s will. So what do we do? We do our very best, and work hard to achieve this perfect state.
 
Of course when I say WE I’m referring here to all the sincere Christians who are always doing their best to BE a good Christian. Not those who think that being a Christian means going to church once or twice a year, or at the very least at Christmas. No, now I’m talking about those people who want to put into practice what they believe. Whose aim in life is to live as they think a good Christian should. And there are many Christians who do do their very best to become blameless. They do away with everything in their lives that they think may be wrong, because……… well……… that’s what God wants, isn’t it?
Well, people in the world all around us certainly judge us according to how we live. When people criticise Christians you hear them saying: “Yes, they call themselves Christians and they attend church regularly,but………..”and then follows a long list of all the things they do wrong. And I’m not saying it’s wrong to do that.
It’s not wrong for people to expect you to be sincere and to practise what you preach, or to say: ‘You say you’re a Christian, so let me see it then. Show me’.
 
That’s not wrong. The question is, is that how you should go about it? Should you begin the process of becoming blameless by trying to do your best? If you want to be found without blame, and we have just concluded that that IS want we all want, does that mean you should start by trying to do your very best at all times in order to achieve this? Because in the passage we have just read, it says that being blameless is the OUTCOME, the RESULT of something. And then not the result of somethingyou do yourself. It is the result of something that the Lord does, THAT’s what it says.
 
So what should you do? How DO you become blameless on the day of the Lord? Well, you let Him sustain you. He will confirm you. THAT’s how it starts. And so it’s really quite the opposite. Becoming blameless, so that there is nothing in your life which the enemy can use against you, is not the result of your good works, it is the result of something that God does for you. HE sustains you. And this word that is translated as “sustain” also means to hold firm, to be enduring. And so it also means that you become trustworthy, faithful, pure and undivided. That is what God does for you, what he makes you.
Paul says it here in the letter to the Corinthians, “He makes you whole. No longer divided, but one, just as the Father himself is one and constant, always full of goodness”.
 
He makes you trustworthy. Trustworthy, so that people can say: “If he says that then it’s true, you can rely on him to tell the truth.”
He makes you trustworthy so that people can say, ”if he makes a promise, then he will keep it, you can rely on him to keep his word”.
 
But this process begins with God, with the Father, who confirms this quality in you, who sustains you so that you can become trustworthy and faithful. So that you can be true to yourself. All the time and in all circumstances. And in this way you become more and more like your Father, whose name is JHWH, “I am who I am”.
 
And that is what’s best of all I think, that God works on you developing fully as a person. This is a favourite subject of mine as you all know. Because in many churches you see that alot of Christians think that the ultimate that you can achieve, and what you consequently have to work hard at TO achieve, is that you become completely free from yourself, free from your human body and completely immersed in God, because only then are you really spiritual, at least that’s what they think. And then there are other people who see this outward appearance, as proof of a person’s spirituality.
They think that the fact that someone no longer has any control over what is happening to him, or what he is doing, somehow reflects the level of his spirituality. While all the time, right from the very beginning, it is the person himself, this very human being, that God is interested in. He doesn’t want you to be separated from yourself. It’s YOU He is interested in. He wants to create people, and not just any sort of person, but people like HIM, in HIS image.
 
And people, a person, that means you. A mature person with his or her own personality. And you can only become a mature person within a relationship. You can’t do it all on your own on your “desert island”. And that desert island could even be your life as you live it now. It doesn’t have to be something far away. As a person you can live all alone on a desert island, even if physically you live amidst lots of people. But that’s certainly no way to live. That’s not what people are created for. Which is why God is always calling to us: ‘Come to Me, let me help. Let’s work together. I am searching for you, a human being, I do not want to be without you, I do not want to be without you.’ And now put the emphasis on you. ‘ I do not want to be without YOU”.
 
So in a relationship you become a mature person, in relationships with each other, and with other people. ‘It is not good for man to be alone’. We read that on the very first page of the Bible. You need each other and you are given to each other.
And when it says: “God confirms YOU, then that means that he confirms your personality. He doesn’t try and makes someone else out of you, He takes your personality, He takes you as you are, and He makes something beautiful out of that. Your personality includes all your wishes and desires, your character and your qualities, everything. God works with that and confirms that in you. He sustains you and makes you whole.
 
And if you believe this, then you can start discarding all those strange ideas you hear, like this one for example: “If the Lord is really at work in your life then He will want you to do something that you don’t really want to, something out of character, that you are not good at. And the reason for this is, you think, that if you succeed in what you had to do, then it is God and not you who will be praised for what you have done because, well, it couldn’t have been your doing because you were no good at that particular thing. 
 
Now I wonder, however do you reach THAT conclusion? Just imagine: YOU are in charge and there is a job to be done. And so you look for people to hire to do that job. And you look among the people who are no good at the job that needs to be done, who have not studied for it and have no feeling for this sort of thing. THEY are the people you choose. Because if all does go well then it will be clear that it’s not the people who have done well, but you as the manager. So what do you think about that idea? How long will that go well?
I think any company working like this will become bankrupt very quickly indeed. And any manager who works like that will be the first to be sacked.
 
God is much wiser. He connects with the good things in you, all the wonderful characteristics and qualities that are in you. Everyone has their own particular good qualities. Some are good at one thing, and others are good at something else. He helps ripen these gifts and brings them to maturity. He confirms these qualities in you.
 
Take a look at your own life: take love, for instance. You have love, but is this love mature, is it fully developed, is it perfect? Well mine isn’t, I can tell you. But GOD confirms it. He takes this love that I have and makes it become completely trustworthy, whole and unchanging. So that, under pressure, goodness still emerges from you and me. And then if the pressure increases even more, goodness will still emerge from you.  That doesn’t mean being a ‘do-gooder’ at everyone’s beck and call all the time. That’s something quite different. You may be quite clear about what you want, and may make your boundaries clear too, when enough is enough, but no violent reaction will ever emerge from you……….. I know what you are thinking, “I haven’t got that far yet. God still has a lot of work to do on me before I will be like that”.
But it doesn’t matter, as long as you are open to criticism and advice.
Because if God is going to sustain you and make you whole and perfect, then it’s quite possible that He may say to you: “you are a lovely person, but there are things in your life that you should do away with, they are in the way”. And he may say to one person, “Stop playing the role of victim all the time, full of self pity, and thinking that it’s always someone else’s fault. Stop acting like this because it is like quicksand, you get sucked in, and don’t enjoy life any more and you use this role to manipulate other people”.
And to someone else He may say: “You mean well, but stop trying to run other people’s lives for them, and pushing them in a direction that YOU think is best for them. You don’t give them space. You mean well, but you are overwhelming and dominant. Don’t do it. Put it away, out of your life”.
 
So ask yourself this question: am I open for correction?
Because there IS immeasurable freedom in the Kingdom of God, there really is. But only if you are open for directions from the Spirit of God. And these directions can quite easily come to you through other people. Of course, you don’t need to accept correction blindly, just because someone says something to you. You have to put it to the test. You have to hold up your own actions and opinions against the light, the light of the gospel, and be open for conviction by God’s spirit. That’s why you received the holy Spirit.
 
Tell me, do you think you should be able to reveal God’s being in all its fullness in your own life? …..I don’t think that’s possible? God is so full of goodness and so infinitely loving, so incredibly creative. All these characteristics and qualities cannot possibly be revealed in one person. I think that’s why God created so many people, so that the many different aspects of His being can be revealed by many brothers and sisters.
 
I am convinced that God’s being will be manifested in those gifts and talents that make you so special. And if you fully realise that being blameless is the result of what God does in your life, then you will also understand that it can’t be the result of your own work. There are far too many believers who think it IS. They say ‘If I am to become perfect and without blemish, then I will have to cut this out of my life, and stop doing that, and that will have to go, and that’s not good enough”. And only when we have cut out all these blemishes and everything that’s not good in our lives, then and only then, will we have become the person God meant us to be, in his image.
 
Well, I don’t think it works like that at all, and even if you could achieve all that, you will have made a graven image, after cutting away at all these things in your life. And it says very early on in the Bible in the ten commandments, that you should not make any graven images. Stop trying to achieve perfection by cutting all these things out of your life, and let God do His work, let Him sustain you.
Of course if you are convinced that there are things in your life that are really wrong, then be consequent and resolute. But do it because God’s spirit convicts you, and because you WANT to, because you want to live a pure life. Don’t do things because other people say you should, or because you think it is something you OUGHT to do.
 
So begin at the right place. Don’t begin at the end, with what should be the end result, begin at the beginning. Begin by having the good qualities in you confirmed. So many people have missed out on that. In their youth, in their upbringing. Everyone needs confirmation, to know that you are good just as you are, to know that it is important that you are you, important that you were born and that you are alive now. That people like having you around. That is confirmation and reassurance. I think that’s why God begins with this. It is so fundamental. It forms the basis of the feeling of security in your life. That you have the assurance: ‘I am accepted, God says Yes to me’. ‘I believe in you’, He says.
 
So start there and let God into your life. Make Him part of it because He really wants that. He is not a distant God, one who sends you on your way saying: “people, here are the instructions and a map, and that’s the destination, I’ll see you there”. No, He is someone who goes WITH  you along your way, who goes through the deep valleys with you if necessary.
And if we look at the history of Israel, then you can certainly say that He goes with you, even if you go the wrong way, or take a wrong direction. Think of Israel who wanted a king so much, just like the nations around them… “Don’t do it” God says, “but if you want a king that much, then you shall have a king”. And God helps with something that he wasn’t planning to do. He doesn’t  say: ‘If that’s what you want then you can get on with it without me’. No, God is not like that. That’s big-hearted of him I think. And it also means that if at any time you do make a wrong choice, or take a wrong direction, you don’t have to worry that God will abandon you and leave you to your own devices. God loves you just as much; he loves you unconditionally. And he stays with you. Unless you state quite plainly and clearly that you don’t want God in your life. But I can’t imagine anyone saying that!
 
So start at the right place and join in the celebrations of being reunited with God. The Bible doesn’t say: “There is joy in heaven because someone has become without blemish and without blame”. But it DOES say “There is joy in heaven because someone has turned to God”. That’s what I think is so wonderful. God says “did you see that? Someone has found me. So there’s joy in heaven’.
 
So what about that ‘being without blemish’? Well, that will come later. You can be sure of it. Jesus says: “You will become perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect”.
And you can see that as a fact, or even as a goal. But actually it is a promise. You will become just as perfect as your heavenly Father. Hold on to that thought and let God sustain and confirm you. Then you will see that this promise will come true, that God will make his promise come true in you. God is looking for you, to help you, to make you perfect and whole.
 
So, it is important to be as a child isn’t it? Because we are talking here about God, our Father. And, of course, some people’s ideas about how a Father should be are better than others. But a Father is someone you can fall back on. Someone of whom you can say: ‘I’m a bit lost at the moment, but I do know that there is someone who will care for me, who is the rock on which my life is built. There is someone to whom I can entrust myself completely’. That idea, to be a child again like that. That’s how you should feel.
 
And I sometimes think that there are many Christians, especially evangelical Christians, who have skipped that bit. Did you have time to be a child after you were born spiritually? Or did you have to grow up quickly, and be strong and wage war, and bear responsibilities, more than you were able? After all ”we are the kings of God and we will defeat the whole army of the enemy”. Is there room for that child? To discover that it is not through YOUR strength of power that things change and the enemy is defeated, but it happens through the power of God.
And that is not a power with violence or force, but the power of his love and the power of his Light. He is all light, and that is what drives away the darkness. To be a child in the Kingdom of God is so important. Look at what Jesus says. His disciples were in a heated discussion and then they decide to ask Him: “Lord, who is the most important in your Kingdom?” Each one pictured himself sitting on the throne next to Him. And then Jesus says quite simply: “If you don’t become as a child, then you can’t come on the throne, what’s more you will not even enter the Kingdom”. That, it seems, is what it’s all about. Being like a child, that quality, that dependence on God.
 
It made me think of the parable of the father with the two sons. It’s usually known as the parable of the prodigal son. But there are two boys, two sons. And it says: “There was a man and he had two sons, a youngest and an eldest. And the youngest says at a certain moment: ’Now, Father, I’ve had enough of being here. Give me my share of the inheritance and I will leave’”.
Do you know what I noticed? The youngest son, the one who leaves his father, talks about his father all the time. “Father, he says, I want to leave. May I have my half of the inheritance? ”And when he is far away in a foreign country, eating the scraps with the pigs, then he says: ”I have a Father and he has men working for him, and they are better off than I am. I know what, I am going to go back to my Father and I shall say: Father I am not worthy to be called your son”. And when he comes back the first thing he says is : “Father! I’m back”. Read it again for yourselves. He talks constantly about “Father”. The other son, the eldest, doesn’t say the word Father once. So what is the difference between the two boys? The eldest lives as if he didn’t have a Father, as if he wasn’t the son. He lives as an employee, a servant. The relationship between the eldest boy and the father is as master and slave, as lord and servant. And the most the boy has achieved   -   he says so himself  -   is “Father I have never broken any of your rules”, in other words, I am without blemish, blameless. And then God says: Who asked you to be like that? Not me. (That isn’t written there. I’ve added that bit myself). But that’s what the eldest son’s life was like. His lived his life trying to please his father, trying to do all the right things: “If you asked me to do something I did it, if you forbade me to do something then I didn’t do it. I have never broken your rules”. He was without blemish, at least by the standards of a servant! But what sort of a life did he have, how much joy was there in his life? Not much. How much room for the other? Not much either, because when his youngest brother comes home, the father is overjoyed, but the eldest boy starts complaining. “Well, He’s killed a calf forhim but he’s never done that for me. And the father says, ‘My son, everything I have is yours. All you have to do is ask’. He never thought of that. But then a slave wouldn’t, because that is for the son. That is a good example of someone who has been trying all his life to become without blemish, to be blameless, and to do nothing wrong in order to please his Father, living how he thought he ought to.
And then you see a father who says: “My child, what are you thinking of? Everything I have is yours”. It had been all the time, but if you live like a servant and not as a son, then you willnever understand this. This eldest son denies himself the joy of the celebrations. He refuses to join in the festivities. He stays outside. His attitude makes him into an outsider where the joy of God’s kingdom is concerned.
 
Oh, I think everybody recognises some part of him or herself in these two boys. And for different reasons. I don’t think you should try to be like either of them. You may think you would like to be like the eldest son, because he stayed close to his father, but you wouldn’t want his attitude, the way he tries to win his father’s approval by doing what he thinks he is duty bound to do as a good son, to earn his inheritance, his own righteousness. Because then at the end of your life you might be tempted to say, I did it father. I did everything right, I am without blemish, without blame. If that were possible, then what did Jesus die for? The only reason that you can become blameless and without blemish is because someone else, Jesus Christ, to be specific, silenced the accuser once and for all, by being accused in your place, by taking the blame for you, thus making you blameless.
And the youngest son? You don’t want to be like him when he says “Father, I can manage without you, I am leaving”. But you do want to be like him in that he knew, wherever he was, I have a father and I can always go back to him.
And I think it’s a good thing for us to learn from the Father, and always be willing and able to say: “The door is open, I have been waiting for you all this time. I’m glad you’re back”.
 
People who say that the children of God aren’t perfect, are quite right. But those who keep on about it, well I think they need to go to the Father. Because He doesn’t go on about it. He says: I have accepted you completely just as you are. God’s love is unconditional. He doesn’t say: “If I act as if you have never done anything wrong, and pretend you have no faults, if I ignore all the bad patches in your life, THEN I can love you”. No, You have a God who says “I love you as you are, just as you are, right now. And as you are now, that’s good, and together we will work on more.
 
So, join in the celebrations, celebrating your reunion with God. Because why should it only be celebrated in heaven by the angels? Celebrate on earth too, in your own life and faith, that God confirms you and sustains you.
 
And then ONE day, the Father knows when, you will be able to say: I really look like my Father, I really do. There is no trace of darkness in me any more. I am whole, and good through and through, just like my Father. Just as pure as He is.
 
 BUT ……….. that is not the result of your own efforts. That is not the result of being  a member of a church for years, or going to church until you die, or attending all the meetings so that you can say: ‘Father I earned it‘. No, it is the result of something else. It is the result of the goodness and mercy that God has shown to you.
 
Many Christians who do not live like a son should, but like a servant, doing things because they think they ought to, are convinced that by doing their best they earn a reward. ‘The harder I work to serve God and keep his commandments, the purer I become and the more I earn his respect’. You see that clearly in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Those who worked the longest thought they had the right to more reward than those who had worked for a much shorter time. 
 
But that’s not how it works in the kingdom of God. With God you don’t get what you deserve. It may take a little getting used to, but I am glad to say you don’t get what you deserve, or even what you think you have earned, you get what you need. Andthat is much more that you will ever have earned. The first thing that you haven’t earned, but still get, is righteousness. You are without blemish and free from blame because God gave you your righteousness through his mercy. So I would say: accept the mercy of God, and go and live as a son.
 
Amen.
 
 
Shall we pray?
 
Lord, thank you that you are so full of goodness that it simply overflows. It pours out of you from all sides. Thank you that despite everything, we are infinitely good because you show us mercy.
I pray Lord that we will learn to accept and enjoy this grace that you give us. That we will come to understand it, and be liberated from living like a servant. Because there is so much more that you want to give us to enjoy. I pray that we will realise that too. Lord we bless each other with these thoughts for the days to come, because THAT is what will give us the strength to carry on.
 
Amen.