Keep on keeping on

1 Samuel 30:1–20, 23

The first law of spiritual success is to worship. Be a worshipper before everything else.
영적인 성공의 첫 번째 법칙은 예배하는 것입니다. 모든 것에 앞서 먼저 예배자가 되십시오.

The second law of spiritual success is to give thanks. Maintain at all times an attitude of gratitude.
영적인 성공의 두 번째 법칙은 감사하는 것입니다. 항상 감사하는 태도를 유지하세요.

The third law of spiritual success is to keep on keeping on. It is to persevere.

What is perseverance? Here are three definitions:

– Newt Gingrich
“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

– Jacob A. Riis
“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

– Albert Einstein
“Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working.”

The Bible shows us the example of David chasing the Amalekites. And Peter tells us in his letter why it is important: 2 Peter 1:5–8
“In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Perseverance in following Jesus, this Scripture says, is one of the qualities that enable us to live productive and useful lives. Or as Sir Winston Churchill said: ‘Never, never, never give up.’
Something the Bible teaches us is that when we ‘keep on keeping on’ God gives us the strength to continue. When we run out of our own strength to do his will, God will give us his strength. That is what we heard in our reading this morning. When David was desperate, he found strength in the Lord. Without God he couldn’t continue.
God’s blessing comes to us when we don’t give up but go beyond our own strength.
James 1:12 – “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
Hebrews 10:36 – “Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.”
Your spirit will flourish, if you persevere with following God.
Your spirit will not flourish, if you go to church, sing some songs, and think that in this you have completed your Christian duty. It is not easy to be a Christian. We need to persevere and persist in spite of all the obstacles. Our task is to lay hold of God’s strength and keep on going no matter what happens.
This truth is so clear that it may surprise you that some people give up. They find that they cannot persevere, and they quit before they have completed the race.
Here is an example: Every year in the United States four thousand new churches open their doors, and seven thousand churches close. Every month in the United States 1,700 pastors quit. Around the world, we have no idea how many people every day stop following Jesus. A report recently gave ten reasons for this failure to persevere, but this week and next I should like to focus on just four and look at some ways to keep on keeping on when it gets tough to be a disciple.
Reason number one for people falling by the way is that they become discouraged, because of the trials and tribulations, troubles and difficulties in their life.
Perhaps you have read the book The Road Less Travelled (아직도 가야 할 길) by psychiatrist Dr Scott Peck. He opens his book with the sentence ‘Life is difficult.’ Dr Peck says that coming to terms with that fact is essential, and in fact accepting it means the battle is already half won.
You may have noticed that problems and troubles never travel alone, but have a strange way of coming together in gangs. Or as Shakespeare put it: ‘When sorrows come they come not single spies, but in battalions.’ For all of us there are some days when just surviving is the best we can hope for, and excelling is but a distant dream.
And so it is that perseverance becomes essential. Perseverance is the key that unlocks the door of hope. Because life is so often tragic, and no one can fully explain why troubles come along in groups.
Jesus makes his followers a promise about troubles. In John 16:33 he says: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
If you ever hear someone boldly declare to non-Christians, ‘Come to Christ and you will have no more problems’ then please show them this verse. It is false advertising to say that.
What we are able to say with full confidence is this.
‘Come to Christ and you will have Jesus to help you face every problem.’
When you become a Christian, some problems increase. Some things get worse, not better. Family or friends may mock you for becoming a disciple. Your suffering may be completely without merit and totally undeserved. Job 5:7 says: ‘People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire.’
How do you explain the young mother bathing her two small children who slips on the wet floor and knocks herself out – when she awakes, both her children have drowned.
So many people today are so unhappy because they fail to realise what human existence is all about. So many people see life as something to be enjoyed. But it isn’t!
Life is a task that we have been assigned. We’ll never find meaning in our lives, we’ll never find happiness, while we neglect that task. Many people give up and lose their faith because when difficulties come they have the wrong view of life.
For example, there was a professor at a Christian university in America who was hit by a truck and had his leg broken. He announced afterwards that he was no longer a Christian, because he couldn’t believe in a God who would allow such a thing to happen.
Is your faith in danger, because you think God should spare you all difficulties and troubles in life? Can’t you see what an absurd world it would be if only people who were atheists had traffic accidents, caught colds or fell down stairs. And for people of faith the laws were suspended.

Of course God intervenes at times and he answers prayer, but he doesn’t suspend his laws on a whim.

When Jesus was nailed to the cross, the people said: ‘He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, “I am the Son of God.” ’

If it were the case that bad things only ever happened to people who don’t trust God, everyone in the world would go to church and everyone would ignore the laws.

But Jesus said, ‘Take heart’.

He said, ‘You will have troubles, but take heart’.

Jesus overcame all of his troubles and difficulties, including that little problem of death. Jesus overcame the world, and Jesus is able to provide us with the inner strength to overcome every obstacle that confronts us.

All you have to do is provide the willingness, and Jesus will provide the power.
If you are willing to persevere, Jesus will make sure that you can persevere.
The third spiritual law is to persevere. To keep on keeping on hand in hand with the one who has overcome the world.

We’ll look more at this law next week.

For now, don’t give in. Never, never, never give in.

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An attitude of gratitude

Psalm 103:1–22

The first law of spiritual success is to worship. Be a worshipper before everything else.
영적인 성공의 첫번째 법칙은 예배하는 것입니다. 모든 것에 앞서 먼저 예배자가 되십시오.

The second law of spiritual success is to give thanks. Maintain at all times an attitude of gratitude.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 –
‘Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.’

Sir John Marks Templeton was a British-American financier. He died six years ago. Sir John was a wealthy man who devoted his life to making money so that he could give it away. He gave away over one billion American dollars.

He had an unusual habit. Every morning he would of thinking of ways in which he had been blessed. In this way he cultivated an attitude of gratitude. What do you do first in the morning? Do you check the news and take in adverts that tell you that you’ll only be happy if you buy this or that product. Maybe you would find greater benefit in thinking of new things for which you can be grateful.

Focus on your blessings. People who make the effort to focus on the good things are healthier than those who don’t. It is a law of life.

Maybe you think you have so much wrong in your life, and so many problems surround you, that it is impossible to see anything for which you can be grateful. There are troubles to the right of you and difficulties to the left. Everywhere you cast your gaze there is nothing but darkness, and not one thing for which you can give thanks.

Stop right there. It is all a matter of perspective. For example, you could give thanks that you can see the troubles that surround you, because you are not blind. You could give thanks that you are not in a concentration camp.

1 Chronicles 16:34 –
‘Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Cry out, “Save us, O God of our salvation! Gather and rescue us from among the nations, so we can thank your holy name and rejoice and praise you.”’

In February 1944, Corrie ten Boom was sent to a Nazi concentration camp. She was put in a hut infested with fleas. Corrie confessed to her sister that, although she knew the Bible told her to give thanks for all things, she couldn’t thank God for fleas.

Much later Corrie learned that the reason she and her sister were not molested by the brutal guards was that the camp guards also detested the fleas, and so they wouldn’t enter her hut. Corrie then began to thank God for fleas, and to thank God that he had placed them in the hut to protect her.

Life takes on a totally new meaning when we strive to identify the hand of God at work around us; instead of focusing on the bad things, the works of Satan. We start to grow in the knowledge that God is good and he is victorious. Corrie always said: “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.” God can never be overcome by Satan.

The great London preacher Charles Spurgeon said: “It is a delightful and profitable thing to mark the hand of God in the lives of his saints and to observe his goodness in delivering them, his mercy in providing for them, and his faithfulness in keeping his promise to them. But would it not be even more interesting and profitable to notice the hand of God in our own lives?”

It pleases people when we show our appreciation for them, it also pleases God.

Psalm 107:31 –
‘Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. Let them exalt him publicly before the congregation and before the leaders of the nation.’

We should be grateful to the people who share God’s blessings with us, and give thanks to them even as we give thanks to God for his blessings. We do not want to be like King Hiram in 1 Kings 9, who complained when King Solomon gave him 20 towns as a gift.

Why spend your energy looking for the things you don’t have when there are so many things you do have?

If you are struggling to find the good things in your life, go back to this morning’s Bible reading and spend some time thinking about Psalm 103.

Praise is a volitional thing. It is an act of will. It is not an emotional event. Look at that Psalm. It opens with the words “Let all that I am praise the Lord.” Not just my feelings, but my mind and my will and my intellect. That is how and why we can praise God even when life is in the pits. And why it is not hypocrisy to give thanks when bad things are happening all around us.

The psalmist finds eight reasons to give thanks. Eight reasons to praise God. Divine benefits, forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, compassion, satisfaction and renewal.

His mind goes to work to identify the benefits, and then his feelings line up behind in a row like little ducks following their mother.

Colossians 3:17 –
‘And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.’

We lose so much when we lose sight of God in the midst of struggle.

For some reason we forget the good things that God has done, and then when new dangers come we find ourselves afraid. This is like the disciples. They were in a boat with Jesus just after he had performed amazing miracles and healed people. The weather got a bit rough and water started coming in the boat. Jesus was confidently silent in the back, sound asleep. What did they do? They forgot all that had just happened and they panicked. Jesus was not happy when they woke him up. He did not praise them for their quick thinking. He chastised them for their lack of faith.

What should they have done? Perhaps tell each other how wonderful, how marvellous, how lucky they were to have Jesus in the boat with them during a storm. We need to learn how to say, “We know nothing bad will happen with him in the boat. Praise God. Thank you for Jesus.”

Philippians 4:8 –
‘And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’

There is a branch of psychology called ‘Rational Emotive Therapy’. It is based on the truth that how we think affects how we feel. Change your thinking and your feelings will change. Change your feelings and your behaviour will change. For us it means that as we fix our thoughts on all the good things of God, we start to change.
All the good things we have such as air, water, food, energy, sight, hearing are not of our own creation. The beauty of the creation itself, such as sunsets and night skies.
2 Corinthians 9:15 – ‘Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!’
Think of all our spiritual blessings. Love, truth, angels, Holy Spirit, Jesus.
Jesus is a great example in this. He was always giving thanks. For bread. For healing.

Where we are going here is on a training course that leads us to give thanks for the things that most people cannot give thanks for. As we get better at gratitude we will become grateful for the hard lessons and see them as blessings. We shall be able – like Corrie ten Boom – to thank God for the fleas in our concentration camp. And even for the evil that other people conspire to inflict on us.

Because God turns it all to good. So we can give thanks for all things.

Romans 8:28 –
‘We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.’

Jesus is always in your boat. Jesus can take the worst thing that ever happened to you and make it into the best thing. Jesus can take death by torture on a cross and turn it into victory over all powers of evil, rising to life again.

Make this your prayer: “Lord thank you for letting this happen to me. I can’t wait to see how you turn it to good.” Even if you see it only from the next life, you will see it turned to good.

And that is our second law: give thanks. Maintain at all times an attitude of gratitude.

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Hope that comes from worship

Romans 8:18–39

You have many things to offer this world. You are passionate, energetic, intelligent, compassionate, and knowledgeable. You want to work hard and contribute to society, generate wealth, improve learning. You have a lot to offer this world.

Now, before you feel too good about yourself, let’s refine this truth by asking ourselves a difficult question. Ask yourself this: ‘Do I have anything of eternal value to offer this dying world?’ Think about this for a moment.

Do you agree with me that we have nothing of eternal value to offer this dying world, unless we are in a loving relationship with Jesus. I think we must start with this realisation. We cannot move on until we grasp it.

All of our work must flow out of a deep, loving relationship with Jesus. All of our work must flow out of worship. There can be no exceptions. There can be no rationalisations, no sophism. It is our first obligation. That’s why the first law of the soul is to worship God. Before we reach out to the world, we must reach out to God.

We are often in great danger of putting urgent duties before the important things. But who is it who has loaded us with so many impossible tasks to do before breakfast? It is not God who did this. We are loaded with tasks assigned by our inner compulsions. And these tasks are made heavier by the pressure of our circumstances.

We have to learn to see through this mist and identify what is important rather than merely urgent. Maybe you are saying to yourself right now that I’m overlooking the fact that work can be worship.

Paul says this in Romans 12:1 – “Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”

Yes, of course you can worship God by singing in the band, teaching a class, designing an aeroplane, welcoming people, preparing lunch, visiting the sick and so on. Yes, but the point I am trying to make is that is all starts with our attitude. It all starts with our heart.

We start with a heart of worship, and then our work can be done for God and can be an act of worship. Work can only be worship when you have the right attitude first. This is true however spiritual that work might appear to be.

Paul was a man who worshipped. Just before his mention of work as worship in Romans 12 is a passage of worship at the end of Romans 11. We can only imagine how Paul was worshipping God in prayer when he was caught up to the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12.

1 Kings 6:29 says that King Solomon “decorated all the walls of the inner sanctuary and the main room with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers.”

Well, you may say, that’s nice to know; but I’m not really into interior decoration. Tell me something important. OK, I shall. On the golden walls of the temple Solomon had these figures carved for a greater reason than that it was the fashion in those days and he thought they looked nice.

The palm tree is a symbol of work. The flower is a symbol of witness, spreading the sweet fragrance of God wherever we go. But in first place, of prime importance, are the cherubim. They are the symbol of worship. Worship was put in first place by Solomon at God’s instructions in the temple. And down the ages theologians have said the same thing, God wants us first and foremost to worship him.

Now, why does God want this so badly? Does he need it? Is he egotistical? No, that only shows our self-centred way of thinking. The biggest benefit of worship is ours, not God’s. When we enter into worship we open up a channel of communication with God, and God uses that channel to come to us and give himself to us.

Selwyn Hughes says that most personality problems arise from a failure to truly worship God. He says that people with deep emotional problems generally do not know what worship is.

If you doubt that God is completely good, if you harbour any suspicion about God’s goodness, you will be unable to worship. You cannot worship God unless you trust him. You may be able to stand up and sing songs of praise with everyone else, but without trust you cannot worship. A major reason for distrust of God is ego, but so many people use other reasons as an excuse. They say they have been hurt in the past and so now they are unable to trust God.

Ego means we believe our interpretation of events rather than God’s. When a bad thing happens to us, we lose trust in God. Instead of doubting our eyes, we doubt God. Maybe in God’s eyes it was actually a good thing. You have to be humble to worship God.

We are called to trust God – even when it makes no sense. And to doubt our own intellect – especially when it makes perfect sense.

The concept of God that you nurture in your heart is essential to your ability to worship. If you have a faulty concept, it will be hard or even impossible to worship God. There are people who, for example, falsely see God as distant and judgemental and punishing. Some falsely see him as always criticising us for lack of prayer, lack of love, lack of Bible reading. And some people falsely see God as a critical ogre.

We need to see God as he really is – patient, loving, trustworthy, kind, generous, good and reliable. Doubts and misgivings will sabotage your attempts to worship.

God is most definitely good, and you need to be convinced of this. But you mustn’t think that because he is good he will do things the way you want.

There are many people who have given up on God, and say it is because God failed to keep his promises to them. But in most cases God never made such promises. The promises were imagined by people who did not understand God. Bad things are constantly happening to good people. Faithful people die of cancer, are injured in car accidents, have their children kidnapped, or suffer abuse and persecution.

But unless you realise that however unsafe it is to follow God, God is always good, you will struggle to worship him.

You are guaranteed to have spiritual problems when you think that what you can do for God is more important than what he has done for you. Or to put it another way, you’ll always have trouble if you put work before worship.

1 John 4:19 says – “We love because he first loved us.”

Service is good, but not at the expense of worship. We are not working to be saved. The Bible calls for us to be holy, not to be managers. Pastors and missionaries are particularly vulnerable to this trap, feeling pushed on by all around to be more active. And that leads all to often to burn-out or a nervous breakdown.

In the Message translation of Matthew 11 Jesus said: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Don’t you like that image of ‘the unforced rhythms of grace’ instead of work. When service is first, we get caught up in defending and promoting our own point of view. We fight for recognition and praise from others. And we easily abandon projects.

When worship is put first, those things don’t matter. We are saved from them. God is our whole reward. Everything we do is for him. We’ll never be tempted to give up because other people don’t approve of what we are doing, or value it.

You will find that purity of motive, tenacity of purpose, indifference to reward, and self‑effacing service are traits of people who worship first. And who serve second, based on their worship of God.

Yes, Solomon’s temple had palm trees and flowers. Yes, we must work and witness. Yes, we must always start with the cherubim. We must always begin with worship.

Worship is the first of the spiritual laws. When we worship, then we can bring beauty to this ugly world. We can spray heavenly perfume onto this world of decay. We are called to be worshippers.

The first law of spiritual success is to worship. Be a worshipper before everything else.

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Worship the Lord

Job 1:9–20

I suggested to you last week that there are spiritual laws, just as there are physical laws.

I suggested that just as it is impossible to suspend or amend a physical law, it is also impossible to suspend or amend a spiritual law.

They are always in force, all the time. Imagine if the law of gravity worked only sometimes. If you never knew whether putting your foot down would stop you falling, or it would send you soaring into the air.

Just before he died in his seventies of a terminal illness, the theologian Selwyn Hughes tried to distil his list of 50 or so great insights into a handful of core ‘laws’. He came up with seven, and it is these seven that I want to share with you over the next few weeks.

I believe that if you apply these laws to your spiritual life you will see fruit. If you live in violation of them you will see troubles.

Those things that matter most must never be at the mercy of those things that matter least. So let’s start with the most important law first.

Worship is our top priority.

Someone once said of their Sunday gatherings, “We have good preaching here, good music and good services; everything always has to be upbeat. But we are so preoccupied with praising God that we have no time to worship him.”

As we talk about this law today, we are concerned not so much with corporate worship as with a life or personal worship.

Worship is not praise. They are different things. Praise is appreciating God for what he does, while worship is adoring God for who he is. Worship is to be in awe of God.

The first responsibility of every Christian is to worship God, but we don’t really understand what worship is. It is the first law, and violating it puts our spirits at risk.

When Satan tempted Jesus, part of it was to do with worship. Luke records the conversation in chapter four of his Gospel, starting at verse five:

Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ ”

Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6:13 but there are many Scriptures that say the same thing. The Bible bulges with them, from Genesis to Revelation. We are told by God to worship.

In our reading this morning we heard how Satan attacked Job, and then Job worshipped. When Abraham takes his son out into the desert to sacrifice him on God’s orders, he says in Genesis 22:5 that it is for worship.

Deep in our hearts we all have a desire to worship God, because God designed us for worship. God created us to be able to freely and intelligently worship him.

He didn’t create us to work for him. How often to we take converts and try to mould them into workers for the kingdom, instead of first teaching them how to worship.

Only after people have learned to worship do we allow them to work. Take our musicians for example. They have to demonstrate spiritual maturity on a daily basis to join the band and to stay in the band. They are not in the band because they are good at music, though that does help. The real test is, do you worship God in your private life and in your public life.

This is because God’s first interest is not hiring labourers to work in his fields and bring in the harvest. God’s first interest is restoring his relationship with us.

In John 4:23, when he was talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus said: “The time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.”

Jesus then adds an instruction: “God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

You cannot serve God until you worship him. You cannot go to China as a missionary until you have learned first how to worship as Job did when Satan was given freedom to attack him. Any work we do without first being worshippers will be straw work and it will be consumed by fire on the day of judgement.

But I deeply believe it is right. When my worship dims, things go less well; and when my worship brightens, things go better.

Do you remember the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10? Martha thought work was the priority, while Mary saw another priority. Jesus always knew the difference between urgent and important.

He said, ‘Mary has chosen the better thing.’

And to Martha he said, ‘Only one thing is needed.’ Jesus points out that although the work is important, it isn’t the thing that is needed. We too must learn from this lesson.

Worship is more important than work.

I find it tragic when I see people working really hard for God, obsessed with working for God, more interested in their work for God than they are in God himself. There are people who are so preoccupied with the mission of the Messiah that they have almost forgotten about the Messiah whose mission it is. Others are so in love with the words of the Messiah that they spend less and less time with the Messiah who spoke those words in the first place.

Where is your heart? Who or what are you in love with?

Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 28. This is after Jesus has been crucified and resurrected. He is about to leave this world and his disciples. The 11 disciples are following Jesus’ instructions to go to a mountain, when they see him. They start to worship Jesus there on the road in Galilee. He comes up to them as they worship and he says: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The important point here is that they worshipped first and then Jesus came to these worshippers and gave them instructions. If you aren’t getting clear instructions to go and do, maybe you still have to learn how to worship.

Worship God for who he is. Develop a profound sense of awe. Put these things first and the work will follow when God decides you are ready.

Please take a moment this week looking at how you spend your time, how much of it you spend in work for God and how much in work for worldly things, and how much in worship. Please be honest with yourself. I think you will know in your heart already what the answer is. And if you have someone who loves you enough and knows you well enough, you might ask them to be honest with you too.

Next week we’ll spend some more time looking at the spiritual law of worship. I hope you will have prepared yourselves by trying to worship more.

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What goes up must come down

Romans 8:1–14

Do you remember the story about Sir Isaac Newton?

He was lazing under a tree on a warm day in England when he saw an apple fall.

Isaac watched idly as more apples fell. It was nothing remarkable, apples have been falling from trees since the dawn of time. Everyone knew apples fell. But Isaac was a clever student and he started to wonder why apples always fell perpendicular and never went sideways or up. Instead of being satisfied that it was so, he wanted to understand how it was so.

That was the start of his theory of gravity. These days we call it the law of gravity.

Why is it that we call it a law? We do so because it has no exceptions. Gravity always works. It is what keeps the earth in perfect orbit around the sun. It is what keeps your feet on the ground. It is what keeps your food on the plate. It is why when you step off a cliff you will always fall to the bottom of the cliff.

Another thing we know is that the law of gravity didn’t take effect when Isaac Newton first described it. It worked when no one knew about it just as effectively as it does in our days, when all schoolboys learn the story of Sir Isaac Newton.

Belief in the law of gravity is not required for it to function. Neither is necessary that you understand the law for it to have effect.

It is the same with other laws. For example: “Due to ever‑increasing entropy, you can’t return to the same energy state. Energy concentrated in one place will always flow to places of lower concentration.” That’s the second law of thermodynamics.

The job of science is not to invent laws, but to describe them so that we can use them. When we know the laws we can, for example, build computers, cars, trains and planes.

You all know this. It is obvious, isn’t it.

When you know the laws of aerodynamics, you can overcome the laws of gravity and get a heavy chunk of metal to fly people safely around the world.

But did you realise that it is the same with spiritual laws. Just because someone says ‘I don’t believe in that stuff’, it doesn’t mean that the rules have been overturned for them. Their inability to understand doesn’t negate the law.

Anyone with a postmodern way of thinking may struggle with this, but we have to admit it is true. A law is not a law because we say it is, nor by saying so can we invalidate a law. God created the laws when he created everything else.

Do you remember our reading this morning from Romans chapter 8. We use the New Living Translation and I really like this translation of the Bible, but on this occasion it is less than helpful in the way it translates verse 2. Let’s have a look at it.

This is how it reads in another translation, the ESV: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

Where the NLT has ‘power’ the ESV and NIV have ‘law’. In the Greek original the word is ‘nomos’, which means custom or law or command.

The Bible says there are spiritual laws. It says specifically in Romans 8 that the ‘law of sin and death’ is less powerful than the ‘law of the spirit of life’. If you know, and live according to, the laws of spiritual life there is great benefit. It says the power of the Holy Spirit in you is greater than the power of sin in you. Are you overcome by sin? Then you need to have the power of the Holy Spirit to set you free. It’s a law. There isn’t another way. Good intentions won’t work to overcome sin. Pretending that sin doesn’t exist won’t work either.

Maybe you have seen evidence of the spiritual laws in your own life, or in the lives of people around you. Perhaps you have seen the law at work in someone who refuses to forgive. As night follows day, when you choose to not forgive someone for the offences they have committed against you, there are consequences that bring inner disruption and disease. When bitterness and resentment are allowed to remain in the heart, then it is a law that degeneration will follow as surely as a fallen tree will rot. You can cover up the evidence all you like with fine clothes and make-up and material success, but the law is the law all the same. It is as reliable as gravity or sunrise.

To succeed in business you will need to do business according to the relevant laws, such as ‘the law of supply and demand’, or ‘the law of diminishing returns’.

If you are going to succeed in your spiritual life, you have no choice but to do it based on the spiritual laws that are revealed in the Bible.

Water is always H2O, and it will never be CO2. And so with the spirit. There are no moral holidays. You obey, or you are broken.

Do you think it is OK to cheat, if you can get away with it? Do you think it is OK to be immoral, if you do it in another city and the pastor never finds out? No! No one ever gets away with anything in the moral universe.

Numbers 32:23 says: “If you fail to keep your word, then you will have sinned against the Lord, and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” Please notice that it says here that your sin will find you out. It doesn’t say your sin will be found out. Think about that.

Your sin will effect you, it will change you, it will bring rust and corruption and decay.

If you don’t get rid of the sin in your life, you will suffer as a result. This is a law. Over the next few weeks I want to talk about some of these laws so that you can live a better life and have more spiritual success.

You see, we cannot manipulate life and make of it what we want. We are free to choose, but not free from the consequences of our choices. If you go against the spiritual laws, you will lose every time. There will be misery, frustration, wreckage.

You cannot live a greedy lifestyle, for example, and then demand entrance to heaven. You cannot argue with Jesus that he should let you in because, although you broke the spiritual laws, you still believed in God.

But if you obey the law, and you struggle with all ‘his’ power at work in you, giving the Holy Spirit full control, you will reap the benefits.

The law isn’t going to change, so you had better adapt. Now we all know we live in the age of grace, not legalism. Romans 6:15 is quite clear on this. So it may seem unwise to talk of laws this way, but it seems to me to be the most useful word. I am not suggesting a life of trying to obey every commandment, but that the commandments reflect the spiritual laws at the heart of the universe. These same laws that God placed in our hearts when he created us.

If you want success in life, you have to live in accordance with these laws.

And what is success in God’s eyes? God says in Joshua 1:8, “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”

1 Samuel 18:13 “Finally, Saul sent him away and appointed him commander over 1,000 men, and David faithfully led his troops into battle. David continued to succeed in everything he did, for the Lord was with him.”

Success is a moral thing. It is not material abundance, but purity and obedience and closeness to God. There is no way to succeed except by living in harmony with God’s laws. So you need to learn the laws, and live according to them. You need to dive deep into the words of this book (the Holy Bible) and obey all of it.

Next week we shall start by looking at ‘The Law of Worship’.

Remember, everything you do matters. The spiritual law is always in effect.

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We are born sinners

1 John 1:510

You are a royal priest. Please do not forget that.

You are a citizen of the holy nation of heaven.

It is important for you to know your identity in front of God as his son or daughter and a disciple of Jesus.

But if we only focus on the good news, we miss a crucial part of the picture. You are a sinner. So this morning I want to remind you of what that means.

Sometimes I hear people say things such as, “God made me this way.” Most often it is used to explain why they have a particular personality trait. So for example a person might say, “I’m a naturally creative person, it’s just the way God made me.”

Sometimes however you will hear a person use it as an excuse for a problem with their behaviour. They will say something such as, “I know I’m lazy and selfish, but that’s the way God made me.”

Is that true? Does the Bible say we are all born exactly the way God meant for us to be?

No, it doesn’t. The Bible says that when God created the first human beings they were very good. They were exactly how he wanted them to be and he was very pleased. Very soon after that however we are told about the fall of man. Since then all men and women have been born with sin, and so instead of blaming God for the way you are you should be blaming Satan.

You should say, “I know I’m lazy and selfish, it’s because Satan made me this way.”

You are a sinner. We are all sinners. No one has ever been free from sin except Jesus. It is a tragic truth that every little baby is born a sinner. And we, though we are Royal Priests, are also sinners.

Romans 8:23 says: “We believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.”

Now let’s think for a moment about what the Bible means when it uses the word ‘sin’. We can get confused. When I studied physics in school I was taught that light was a wave and learned about light waves. I accepted that until the same teacher tried to teach me that light was not only a wave but also a particle. Now I was totally confused. How could light be both a particle and a wave?

Sin is a bit like light in this respect. Sometimes the Bible talks about sin as doing something against God’s will. So for example 1 John 5:17 says ‘All wicked actions are sin’. Sin is an action. We learn that we sin when we break God’s law. And we do good when we obey God’s law. When we only think this way we start to believe that a baby who has done nothing at all in it’s life must be free of sin, and must be the way God created it to be. We start to see following Jesus as all about learning how to do only good things, and avoid all the bad things.

But the Bible also talks about sin as being like a stain on your spirit.

So for example Mark 7:20-23 says, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” So sin isn’t an action, it is the state of your being. And Ephesians 3 says “All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature.”

Sin is our nature. It is our character. From birth we are stained by sin and slaves to the devil. Jesus came to set us free. We are not born the way we are because God wants us that way. We are reborn through Jesus because our first birth was the work of the devil.

This is really important. It means that we are not sinners because of the bad things we have done. It means we are not saved because of the good things we are doing.

Ephesians 2:8 says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”

In John 8:31-32 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

As Royal Priests we have to understand both meanings of sin. We have to resist the temptations that come from within to do vile things. And we have to spend time with Jesus as we allow him to change our hearts and minds. He is giving us a new nature that is free of sin. He is washing us clean. He is changing us and purifying us.

Sin is both doing and desiring. It is both action and nature.

Jesus said clearly that if it is wrong to, for example, commit adultery then it is wrong to desire to commit adultery.

For the truly repentant, our identity is in Christ, and we have left behind our wicked practices and our former identities, receiving by the grace of God a “new nature” in Jesus (Colossians 3:10) and becoming like him.

You may have noticed that there is not any ranking of sin. There is just sin. Either you are stained by sin or you are perfect. None of us is a worse sinner than any other, however bad you think you are. To God, you are just another sinner like the rest of us.

In Galatians 5 Paul lists ‘Envy’ next to ‘Drunkenness’, and ranks ‘Anger’ alongside ‘Selfish Ambition’. Immorality is just as bad as murder. It is all listed as the fruit of our sinful nature. This is followed by a list of fruit that will grow when we receive our new nature.

Galatians says the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants.

I want you to understand the prevalence of sin in your life. I want you to understand that it isn’t by good actions that we stop being sinners.

And so when the Bible suggests how we should live and what we should avoid, it isn’t talking about regulations to follow that will ensure entry to heaven. The Bible is helping us by these rules to learn to recognise and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit within us.

We don’t go to heaven by our deeds, and we don’t get sent to hell because of our deeds.

When you hear rule or law, think guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Next week I plan to start a series on the seven laws of spiritual success. These laws are ways in which we can live so as to allow the Holy Spirit to guide every part of our lives.

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Harmony is part of discipleship

Ephesians 2:1122

Last week we learned that we are foreigners and strangers. We have lost our worldly nationality and now belong to God’s holy nation. This world is not our home. We are no longer Korean, Chinese or British, or any of those other nationalities that the world has made, we are now citizens of God’s holy nation and we are royal priests.

Great! But look around the room at the other citizens of the holy nation. You are a royal priest, and look at that person over there. They are also a royal priest. How often do you talk to them?

Do you know the expression, ‘Birds of a feather flock together’. It is a folk truth that means our instinct is to gather with people who are similar to us. And we tend to avoid people who we think are different. Look at the people you never talk to, even at lunch, and the ones you always sit next to.

But you and I, we are not normal. We are not ordinary people to follow our instincts. We are royal priests. We are disciples of Jesus. We should behave as his disciples.

Paul reminds the Ephesians in today’s Scripture of how the Jews thought about them. ‘You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews,’ he says. In those days there were two groups of people, those who were saved because they were circumcised Jews and all the rest who were Gentiles and heathens. One group was connected to God as his chosen people, the other group was hopelessly lost.

The instinct of these two groups was to avoid each other. Paul says, a ‘wall of hostility separated us.’

If you look at the plaque in front of the Vision Center you will find an inscription. It tells of a wall of hostility in Jinju Church. In 1909, there was a crisis in Jinju Church that threatened to destroy it.

At that time in Korea, butchers were a despised class. Some butcher families in Jinju became Christians and started to attend services. The gentry who were attending in large numbers immediately withdrew, and refused to sit in the same building as the low-class butchers.

Two young women, Nellie R. Scholes (넬리 스콜스) and Mary Jane Kelly, steered the divided Christians of Jinju through this crisis and were very largely the catalyst for breaking down this class barrier in the centre of the province. From that time on, we have all worshipped together.

Nellie gave her life for Jinju, dying in 1919. Mary spent 34 years here and died in 1964.

[Article in Korean and English about Nellie Scholes]

It is as Paul explains to the Ephesians; in Christ’s kingdom the barriers are removed.

Paul says, ‘He united Jews and Gentiles into one people’. And he adds, ‘Christ reconciled both groups to God’.

Because of Jesus, everyone can have a relationship with God. Butcher or gentry. Jew or Gentile. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.

Instead of Jews and Gentiles we only have disciples, Christians, royal priests. And so verse 19 says that not only are we citizens of God’s holy nation, we are also “members of God’s family”.

To get to the point at last, we are not a room full of individuals. As living stones in the structure of the church and members of the same family, we are related to each other.

God’s plan of salvation doesn’t only restore our broken relationship with him, but the broken relationships we all have with each other. And so when we read descriptions of heaven we find every tongue, tribe and people united in praise of God.

This is God’s new family, it is the church, where all members live as one in perfect harmony. It is what Jesus prayed for us. This is how disciples are to live. This is what we are calling others to join.

But how much of a reality is it when you look around this room at the people you almost never talk to or share with. Jesus says the example of our unity and harmony is a light shining to a dark world, it is his promise to them of salvation for everyone. Because we are his body, the church.

This fellowship is a glorious example of unity among people from around the world. But we need to make more of an effort at the areas where we are weak. It’s not wrong that we have different groups for children, grannies and youth, but it would be wrong if we never mixed with people from the other groups. If we only spoke to those just like us even though we aren’t hostile to others.

What we have to examine is our attitude more than our actions.

Here are some verses that say something about your attitude to the other people in this room. And by extension to all the other living stones who make up your family.

“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” (Romans 12:10)

“Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people.” (Romans 12:16)

“Accept each other just as Christ has accepted you.” (Romans 15:7)

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (Colossians 3:13)

It’s all about your attitude. It is so important for us to all make a commitment to each other. To be devoted to each other no matter how different we are. To live in harmony no matter how annoying we are. To accept each other when all of our instincts say to reject. To bear patiently all the people who frustrate us.

This is not easy. These things go against our nature. But our old nature is worldly and born of sin. Our new self has a new nature that we must put on.

We need to start here, regarding everyone in this room as a precious brother or sister. But we don’t stop here, we extend to the whole of our family. When we go down to lunch in a few minutes we mustn’t split up into groups. But we go down instead of eating alone here, because we want to be with our family members.

I think you will say we don’t have a problem with this. But don’t make excuses. God is asking you to examine your heart and see if there areas where you can do better. Please be extremely serious about the need to change your attitude. Do you have an attitude of care and concern, warmth and love. We must because Jesus has united us as family and these are the attributes he wants his body to display. This is what Jesus wants his church to look like. This is not a dream for the future, it is supposed to be the reality of today.

The kingdom of heaven has come upon us. We are royal priests and we are one family.

Look around you again and determine in your heart to get to know all of these brothers and sisters, not just the ones you feel comfortable with. Let’s want what God wants and work with him for it. Because we are disciples making disciples. We are royal priests. We are family.

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