Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Strength, wisdom, perfection and love

Sermon by Reverend Tony Bethke

Ephesians 3: 14 – 21

  1. that you may be strengthened in your inner being.
  2. that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
  3. that you be rooted and established in love.
  4. and grasp the fullness of Christ’s love.
    The Saving love of Jesus
  5. filled with a measure of the fullness of God’s love.
But notice that prayer doesn't change God, it changes us:
vs 14 I bow on my knees,
vs 16, to be strengthened,
vs 17 and grounded in love,
vs 18 able to begin comprehending his love,
vs 19 knowing the love of Christ, (Christian Assurance)
vs 20 His power at work in us!

"Prayer does not change God, it changes us!"

Harry Emerson Fosdick told this story:

His father said to his mother as he left the house one Saturday morning: “Tell Harry that he can mow the lawn today if he feels like it.” Halfway down the path he turned and added: “Tell Harry that he had better feel like it.”

We’re taught that we don’t know God if we know Him only as an authority figure, that we don’t know God if we only know Him as One who cares and loves. He is a God of Justice and Love.

The Bible teaches that we don’t know God if we know Him only as an authority figure and don’t know God if we only know Him as One who cares and loves. (Grace).

We don’t know God unless His authority and His love has captivated us.

Until knowing God and living under His love and authority becomes a way of life and not an obligation imposed on us by the Church or by fear of death, God does not become a reality.

Until we truly know God, His love and authority at work in us, and our way of life is not an obligation imposed on us by the Church or by fear of death, He cannot become a reality.

The wonderful thing about God is that nothing can separate us from his love. Romans 8: 38 – 39.

So, we truly know God when His authority, power and love has captivated us and we begin to obey him.

Notice too how Paul, quite unconsciously mentions the the Trinity in this prayer:

v14: “Father”!

v16: “Spirit”!

v17: “Christ”!

v19: “God”!

To truly understand the Trinity Carlo Carretto says, “we need loving communication, the presence of the Spirit….only God can speak about himself and only the Holy Spirit, who is love, can communicate this knowledge to us….The Holy Spirit is the fullness and joy of God.”

Ultimately God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are continually at work in us to complete the work God began in us at our conversion!

How would the Church and the world look if we were all rooted and grounded in the love that is beyond our understanding?

A veterinarian’s 3 year old daughter loved going to the zoo and when her father stretched out his arms one day and said, "I love you this much" she said, "Daddy, I love you all the way to the zoo!" It is a two hour drive to the zoo and that was as far as her mind could take her.

A doxology ends the prayer. From it we get a remarkable idea of what God can and wants to do in and through us.

Strengthened in our inner being; rooted and grounded in love; trying to grasp the love of Christ which is beyond our understanding; filled with all the fullness of the creator of the universe!

Jesus, whose "power is at work within us is able to accomplish immeasurably more than all we can ask for or imagine"......which is illustrated by the feeding of the crowd in John's gospel.

What does it mean to belong to a God who is able to increase our resources?

My prayer for myself is that God's power would work in me to such an extent that I would be able to do the unimaginable - that he would give me the grace to have faith when all my outward crutches have been removed.

For me, the unimaginable is:
  • To know the love of Christ in such a way that it sustains me in love for others even when they hate me, abandon or are absolutely unlovable. 
  • To be held in the love of Christ even when all material and physical comforts have fled. 
  • To stand firm in faith even when I'm being encouraged to curse God and die. 
Father, through your Spirit, give us that strength in our inner being. Christ, dwell in us and cause our roots to search out the Living Water and to discover that our foundation is in you alone. 


Monday, 17 August 2015

Be filled with the Spirit

Sermon by Reverend Tony Bethke

Ephesians 5: 15 - 20

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is."

Paul teaches believers to live wisely and productively, investing in eternity and remaining in relationship with God, knowing his will. Rom 12: 2. A work of the Spirit.

What does it mean to live wisely?

Wisdom is not intellectual knowledge but a way of life that begins with knowledge about God and leads to avoiding all that displeases him.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

A juggler was driving to his next performance when he was stopped by a traffic cop. "What are these matches and lighter fluid doing in your car?" asked the cop. "I'm a juggler," the driver answered, "and I juggle flaming torches in my act."

"OK!" said the doubtful cop. "Let's see you do it."

The juggler got out and masterfully juggled the blazing torches.

A couple driving by slowed down to watch. "Wow," said the driver to his wife. "I'm glad I stopped drinking. Look at the test they're doing now!"

There is a difference between being drunk on alcohol and being filled with the Spirit. The question is, who or what is the controlling influence in our lives?

Drunkenness affects one’s behaviour and character. Moderation is what we need.

An Evangelist once said, "All Word and no Spirit and you dry up. All Spirit and no Word and you blow up. Equal parts of Word and Spirit and you grow up!"

Speak to one another with psalms hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Worship has everything to do with an encounter with God. That means worshipping a God who is in the present and who responds by helping us to think and act differently to the world!

Catechism: What is the primary purpose of a Christian?

It is to worship God and enjoy him forever.

Worship helps us to express our emotions towards a loving God who enjoys our praises.

We are also drawn to one another. It engenders true fellowship and a desire to live for God in the world.

We must remind ourselves that if we feast on Sunday and fast for the rest of the week, we become weak by Wednesday and starved by Saturday. If we feast on Sunday and eat junk food (foolish behaviour) for the rest of the week, we will be spiritually sick by Wednesday and violently ill by Saturday.

Worship is the heart, mind, soul and spirit of our connection to the holy. Jesus told u to worship God in this way: “Love the Lord your God….Worship should be full of wonder (mystery), joy and certainly shouldn’t be boring. It should lead to loving action!

Being filled with the Spirit and singing? How often I wonder if we could only get people to celebrate in church as they do at parties. Apparently being foolish is more attractive and more fun.


Jesus said, "Those who eat of my flesh and drink of my blood abide in me and I in them." Perhaps the most NB thing the Spirit does is to draw us to Jesus (Prevenient grace) and enable us to abide in Him to be grafted into the Vine.

Jesus lives in us, takes up residence in our spirits and promises not to leave us. Paul says “…those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. The Spirit himself

testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Rom 8: 14, 16.

There is a story about minister walking along the beach with his small son. The boy questioned his father

about Sunday's sermon. He said, "Dad, I cannot understand how Christ can live in us and we live in him at the same time." A little way down the beach, the father noticed an empty bottle with a cork in it. Taking the bottle, he half filled it with water, re-corked it and flung it out into the ocean.

They watched the bottle bob up and down, he said, “The bottle has some sea water in it but it is also in the water. That’s how Jesus lives in us and we in him!”
See John 14: 16, 17.

To be filled with the Spirit is easy, all we have to do is ask. Of course the experience that precedes this is to be connected to Jesus, i.e. to be converted and committed to His way, his truth and his life. Luke tells us in 11: 9 – 13

Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.

Let us ask him to fill us now!


Jesus: Liar, Lunatic, Legend, or Lord?

Sermon by Reverend Tony Bethke 

John 6: 35, 41 - 51

C.S. Lewis, in his book "Mere Christianity," said this about Jesus: "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg - or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us."

The seven I am sayings of Jesus:
  • To the crowds in Galilee after the Feeding of the 5000
    6: 35 – Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."
  • To "the Jews" in Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles:
    8: 12 – Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." 
  • To "the Jews" just after Jesus gives sight to the Man Born Blind 10: 9 – "I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." V11 “I know my own and my own know me,"
    10: 11 –"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."
  • To Martha of Bethany, just before Jesus raises her brother Lazarus back to life:
    11: 25 – Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,"
  • To his disciples at their last meal together (the "Last Supper Discourse"):
    14: 6 – Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." 
  • To the disciples in the upper room.
    15: 1 – "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser."
    15: 5 – "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
  • Jesus says of himself "I Am" (Gk eimi) 45 times in John's Gospel. 24 of these are emphatic, explicitly including the pronoun "I" (Gk ego eimi – bold), ego is not necessary in Greek grammar. Therefore, Literally Jesus is saying, “I, I am!” 
Up to v.34 although they ask for a sign, the “Jews” are enthusiastic and want “this bread”, but from that point onwards it was an upward struggle for Jesus to convince them that he was the Messiah.

What Jesus was saying was scandalous to them and seems to have been interpreted as cannibalism. These were veiled statements with regard to Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, and they simply misinterpreted his words. The statements were not about the Eucharist - formalised a long time after.

This is really the crux of the matter, either He is who he says he is or he’s a liar, etc!

In a film based on Ernest Hemmingway's story, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" there’s a scene in which two men discuss the difficulty of finding meaningful goals in life. Both are hunters, both of them know what it is to pursue something, yet neither has found what will really satisfies.

One man tells of an incident, which provides the theme of the story. One day while he was high above the snow line of Mt. Kilimanjaro he found the remains of a leopard, frozen to death in that most unlikely place. The two speculate about what the leopard was doing at that high altitude and conclude that whatever it was, the leopard was seeking the wrong thing, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and it destroyed him.

The implication is that this is the way it is for humans as well: we aspire to something, pursue it and if it is the wrong thing, or if it is sought in the wrong way, it leads to destruction.

It must be obvious as we consider the seven “I am” sayings of Jesus that in him we will find what we need.

Consider: He is the doorway to life, he offers bread, light, the way, the truth and the life. He is the good shepherd! He is the vine and we are the branches and at the end of life there is the resurrection.

Years ago, Harry Emerson Fosdick was a tourist in the Middle East. He was invited to give an address at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, where the student body comprised people from many countries and sixteen different religions. What could one say that would be relevant or of interest to so mixed and varied a group? This is how Fosdick began: "I do not ask anyone here to change their religion; but I do ask all of you to face up to this question: What is your religion doing to your character?"

This was a call to consider one of the great issues of religion, of belief, of life, and ultimately of Christian character. Emerson once said, "What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear a word you say." Jesus said, "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." By this he meant that those who appropriated his spirit, i.e., fed upon him as the bread of life, would find, thereby, a fulfilment and satisfaction no other means could give.

We find our life and satisfaction in Jesus the Christ!