Last week as we studied Judges 2 we were challenged to think about how the people went after other gods and idols.  And we thought briefly about the idea of how we can have counterfeit gods and the sobering reality of the idols in our own hearts.  This is no novel idea.  The Reformer John Calvin said, “…the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols…”  But long before Calvin, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel said, “…these men have set up idols in their hearts.”  (Ezekiel 14:3).

The human heart takes good things and turns them into ultimate things.  Things like love, money, career, material possessions, family, success, culture, nation, sport.  Our hearts deify these things.  We look to these things for our self-worth, significance, security and true identity.  The startling thing is that anything can be an idol.  Most people know that you can make a god out of money, sex or power.  But the reality is that you can make a god out of virtually anything.  Anything can become a counterfeit god!

An idol is something you look to, for what only God can give.  Put very simply, an idol is anything more important to a person than God.  There are many idols in the Kingdom of Mourne because there are many people who have little or no real interest in God.  Think of the many, who, as you read these words, are lying in their beds or watching some programme on the telly, a clip on YouTube or sending some snapchat message to their friends.  Plenty of time for this, but little or no time for the living God!

But before dwelling too much on others, think about your own heart.  Remember the words of Colossians 3:1-5…

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

This passage speaks of setting your minds on Christ alongside putting to death the idols.  These two things must go together—a rejoicing in the Lord and a repenting of the idols.  Tim Keller says, “Repentance without rejoicing will lead to despair.  Rejoicing without repentance is shallow and will only provide passing inspiration instead of deep change.”

So let’s search our hearts, repent of our idolatry and rejoice in the new freedom found in the Lord Jesus Christ and His saving gospel.

“A survey of 1,250 teachers representing primary and secondary schools, academies and sixth forms has revealed the significant impact school pressure is having on pupils.  Many are turning to eating disorders, self-harm and drug use in order to cope.  It’s no surprise that increasing numbers of pupils are struggling with some of these issues; new statistics are appearing all the time reinforcing the message that more and more young people are in crisis and unable to cope with their emotions without resorting to hurting themselves and risking their health to make the situations they face more bearable.

Young people need to be reminded that education is important, but they also need to hear that their emotional wellbeing has more value that an A*.  Exams can always be retaken, but it’s much harder to rebuild damaged self-esteem or recover from the nightmare of an eating disorder or self-harm.  We can be aware of these issues, and make time to discuss them with our young people, but, more importantly, we can provide them with a loving and nurturing space in our churches and youth groups where there’s no pressure to be anything other than themselves in a world that demands so much more.  What a gift.” – Rachel Welch (Freedom from Harm).

Recently we have been trying to highlight the pressures that many young people are under.  Everyone has a responsibility to try and support—parents, families, friends, teachers, people in the church, youth leaders etc.

The local Church needs to be a safe place where youth can meet and share.  A place where they can be loved and nurtured.  A place where they will learn that they are accepted in Jesus and are safe in His strong and caring arms.  A place where they will be prayed with and for.

The times they are a changing!  Let us in this local church go out of our way to support and pray for our young people.  A Christian family and indeed a Church family is to be a place of refuge for children and young people.  A place where they will see good and godly example.  A place where they will be encouraged and protected.  A place where their God-given talents and gifts can be nurtured—that is why we are always very open to more young people being involved in music and singing!  A place where we can rejoice in the uniqueness that the Lord has placed in our children and young people.

May we earnestly seek and know God’s help in all of this.

The London City Mission, a Christian mission in our nation’s capital, has been sharing the Good News of Jesus with London’s least reached for the past 180 years.  The mission website describes the work in the following way:-

*COURAGEOUS—We work on the front line, taking the message of Jesus to London’s least reached.  Our missionaries help churches to open new doors.

*CARING—We’re here for the good of the people of London, bringing help to those on the margins and across ethnic groups.

*COMMITTED—We work patiently, and for the long term, seeking to be faithful to Christ.  This has been our mission since 1835.

*PERSEVERING FOR THE GOSPEL—London City Mission has an opportunity to serve God by seeking to extend the kingdom into the least reached parts of this city.

One of the challenging and commendable things about this work is how the Mission seeks to reach people on the margins.  In Luke 4 we read that Jesus stood up in the synagogue and quoted the words of Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor”.

When we think of the poor we think of the spiritually poor, but we can also think of the materially poor and the socially marginalized.  The Church sometimes is criticized for being “nice and middle class” and in many situations that is a fair criticism.  All I would say is that we ought not to forget people on the margins.  Who are the people on the margins?  Who are the marginalized and least reached in the Kingdom of Mourne?  Maybe it is people who are actually much poorer than we realise.  Maybe it is some people from different religious or ethnic backgrounds.  Maybe it is someone who is living very close to you.

Let us look on people with the compassionate eyes of Jesus.  Let us see people, whoever they are and whatever social condition they are in, as people just like us.  Sinners in need of a Saviour!

We talk about the good, the bad and the ugly.  We have once again seen the bad and the ugly this past week with the madness of the mass shooting in Las Vegas.  The utter madness of it all that one man could have so many guns.  The utter horror of it all that one man could kill and injure so many people.  The utter madness of it all that a sophisticated nation like the USA still allows the sale of so many weapons.  And this is just one example of the twistedness of our sinful world.

Look around the world—there is something terribly wrong…  is there not?  G K Chesterton spoke of original sin as the one Christian truth that can be verified by opening your eyes and looking anywhere in the world, any day of the week!

Turn on the 6 o’clock news…  pick up the newspaper—war, suicide bombs, ethnic cleansing, abuse of money, sex and power, theft, dishonesty and lies.  Look into your own heart and what do you see?  Do you see anything dark?  Do you see anything that you would rather not see, and with which you struggle.

What is happening around us (and within us) is just what those who believe in original sin would expect to see!

Jeremiah 17:9  “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”

You will not come to a true understanding of grace until you come to a true understanding of the state of your own heart.  The Good News only makes sense in the context of the bad news.

Our hearts are deceitful and sinful.  “THE HEART OF THE HUMAN PROBLEM IS THE PROBLEM OF THE HUMAN HEART.”      

But in the Gospel God gives us a new heart.  Ezekiel 36:26 says “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…”

Now that is Good News in this sad, mad and bad world!

On Thursday 21st September we gathered to unveil the plaque in memory of Robert Hill Hanna VC. Robert Hill Hanna, was born on 6th August 1887 in the townland of Aughnahoory, Kilkeel, to parents Robert Hill Hanna and his wife Sarah.

In 1905 he emigrated to Canada, settling in British Columbia, and worked in a lumber camp.  At the age of 27, he enlisted on 7th November 1914 in the Canadian Infantry, and was posted as a private to the 29th (Vancouver) Battalion.

On 21st August 1917, at Hill 70 Lens, France, Company Sergeant-Major Hanna’s company met with most severe enemy resistance at a heavily protected strong point, which had beaten off three assaults and all the officers of the company had become casualties.  Under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, Robert Hill Hanna coolly collected and led a party against the strong point, rushed through the wire and engaged the “enemy”, captured the position and silenced the machine gun.  This courageous action was responsible for the capture of a most important tactical point.  For this action he was awarded the Victoria Cross at the investiture at Buckingham Palace on 5th December 1917.

Robert Hill Hanna visited Kilkeel immediately after the investiture and received a rapturous reception at a public meeting in the Square attended by upward of 3,000 people.  At the end of the war he returned to Vancouver where he was manager of a logging camp until 1938.  Robert died in 1967 and is buried in British Colombia, Canada.

It was good on Thursday, with dignity, humility and respect to remember the achievements of one who grew up in this area and attended this meeting house.  And it was good for us to do this in the context of remembering the Supreme Hero and Supreme self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ for His enemies on that cross on a hill called Calvary.

Karl Marx supposedly said “Give me 26 lead soldiers and I will conquer the world” – meaning the 26 letters of the alphabet on a printing press.  He knew about the power of words.  As with other things in life, words have power to build up or pull down, to bless or to curse, to heal or to hurt.

In a nutshell, that’s what the writer of Proverbs says about words…

* There are words that bless and words that curse.
* There are words of wisdom and words of folly.

Listen to these wise words from the Book of Proverbs…

FOOLISH WORDS: Proverbs 18:7 “A fool’s mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul.”

HURTING WORDS: Proverbs 12:18 “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

 HONEST WORDS: Proverbs 12:22 “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.”

 GENTLE WORDS: Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

 WISE & APT WORDS: Proverbs 15:2 “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge…” cf 15.23

HEALING WORDS: Proverbs 15:4 “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life…”

 Consider the acronym—THINK

 T—is it true?  H—is it helpful?  I—is it inspiring?  N—is it necessary?  K—is it kind?

 Let’s sincerely and deeply repent of our wrong and inappropriate words and language and by the grace of God see our lives, churches and community changed.

IN FARMING AND GARDENING, the grower seeks to create the right conditions for growth, but it is God who makes things grow.  IN FAMILY LIFE, parents seek to create the right conditions for healthy development of children and young people, but it is GOD who makes them grow… physically, mentally and spiritually.  Children and young people must be made alive by God (REGENERATED) and the Holy Spirit must work spiritual growth in them.

THE HOME is the primary place for the Christian upbringing of our children.  Parents are teachers and coaches!  Part of Christian discipleship is the giving of Christian instruction and guidance to the next generation in the home.  It is a shirking of responsibility to pass it on (as many do) to the Church or the School!

Tim Sisemore (in a book called World Proof your Kids) says, “It is time to rise and defend our churches and particularly our children.  It is paramount for us as believers to return to the offensive in our parenting and nurture of our children.”

TODAY, we gather to give thanks for the HARVEST OF THE LAND.  Let’s also work for a HARVEST OF THE HOME.  Let us sow and water and work to the end of seeing our children and young people influenced for God and for good.

* Pray with and for your children

* Read the Bible with your children

* Show your children unconditional love

* Be an example to your family

* Bring your children to church… don’t just send them

Ephesians 6:4  “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

I can think of situations where children are grown up and have followed in their father’s footsteps in sitting loose to the things of God.  And the fathers deeply regret the poor example they have given to their family.  That’s a poor harvest!  We reap what we sow!

So let us prayerfully sow in spiritual things and look to God for a spiritual harvest in our families.

“Discipleship—for super Christians only?” – from an article by the late Dallas Willard in his book “The Spirit of the Disciplines”…

“For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian.  One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship.  Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit and teachings as a condition of membership—either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or local church.  Any exception to this claim only serves to highlight its general validity and make the general rule more glaring.  So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional.

Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have not yet decided to following Christ.”

“But the cost of non-discipleship is far greater—even when this life alone is considered—than the price paid to walk with Jesus.  Non-discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil.  In short, it cost exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10).  The cross-shaped yoke of Christ is after all an instrument of liberation and power to those who live in it with him and learn the meekness and lowliness of heart that brings rest to the soul.”

We continue to think in the mornings on the theme “Sin and its Cure”.  Here are words from the late Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones from one of his sermons on the subject of sin… and in particular how MOST PEOPLE DO NOT TREAT SIN SERIOUSLY…

“It is sufficient for our immediate purpose that we should say that they all, in some way or another, do not view it deeply and profoundly.  They all regard it lightly and are thoroughly optimistic, therefore, as to its treatment.  Regarding it as they do as a mere weakness, or some mere negative phase in the history of mankind, or as something which is to be explained entirely in terms of culture or lack of culture, its eradication is to them obviously a matter merely of training and of time.  They cannot see any need or necessity, therefore, for the kind of salvation taught in the Bible, a salvation demanding an atoning sacrifice and which is so pessimistic with regard to man as to use a term like regeneration with respect to his nature.

If the problem is simple, the solution also will be simple and there is a sense in which it is utterly impossible for a man who has not seen the nature of sin to believe in and to accept the gospel offer of salvation.  For to him the latter seems extravagant.  The modern man not only does not see sin as it is from the standpoint of God, he fails also to see it as it is from man’s standpoint.  He not only does not know God, he does not even know himself.  The trouble is that we all by nature refuse to face honestly the problem of ourselves and our own inner nature.  We argue about our ideal selves instead of our actual selves.  We refuse to face the naked truth of our own hearts as they are.  If only we faced the truth about ourselves we should soon be right on the question of sin, we would soon realise its terrible and awful nature, and above all, its terrible force and power.”

Over the past number of weeks at the Thursday Midweek Fellowship we have been thinking about the theme of “Seeking after God”.  That is a basic but vital part of Christianity.  A W Tozer once said, “When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than GOD himself.”

John Piper, in his book Desiring God said, “This is a serious book about being happy in God…  The older I get, the more I am persuaded that Nehemiah 8:10 is crucial for living and dying well: “the joy of the Lord is your strength”.”

Richard Baxter, a godly Christian pastor of a bygone age prayed “May the living God, who is the portion and rest of the saints, make these our carnal minds so spiritual, and our earthly lives so heavenly, that loving him, and delighting in him, may be the work of our lives.”

D A Carson from his book entitled A Call to Spiritual Reformation says, “What is the most urgent need in the church of the Western world today?…  The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God.  We need to know God better…  One of the foundational steps in knowing God, and one of the basic demonstrations that we do know God, is prayer.”  Carson goes on to say, “Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray.  We do not drift into spiritual life…  What we actually do reflects our highest priorities.”

#The challenge for each Christian is obvious.  The daily need to carve out space where we will be still before our heavenly Father, to worship Him, to seek His face and call upon Him for the challenges of daily life and the matters that weigh upon our hearts.

2nd Peter is a book that basically calls Christians to MATURE AND GROW UP IN THE FAITH.  That is a realty important subject for a number of reasons, one being that growth is essentially an evidence of life.

Christianity in Ulster has too often been characterised by what is termed an “easy believism.”  People who profess to have been saved, but there is not too much evidence of a real change in their lives from day to day.  That is a problem because it brings the Gospel and the claims of the Gospel into disrepute.  If we profess, then we need to let the fruit be seen.

Jerome, one of the early Church Fathers said, “Happy is he who makes daily progress and who considers not what he did yesterday but what advance he can make today.”

“The best of all tests of growth is a man’s attitude to God.”  D Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Bryan Chappell, in his very good book, “Holiness by Grace” says, “Spiritual change is more a consequence of what our hearts love than of what our hands do.  The spiritual disciplines are important, but not as important as developing a heart for God.”

So for all of you who profess the Lord Jesus Christ.  The prime issue is not so much your “doing”, but your “being”…  not so much what you do, but what you love.  Your love for the Lord Jesus will be the thing that changes you most from day to day.

It is always a fresh revelation of the amazing grace of God that enables us to change and to grow.  So we pray for the Holy Spirit to stir up new affections within us.  God’s grace enables us “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  (Ephesians 3 : 18-19).

You know what a cross hair is. It is a very thin wire or thread that is seen when you look into a microscope or telescope. It also refers to the crossed lines used to aim a gun! Do you realise that Christian leaders are very often in the cross hairs of Satan? Pick up your Bible and read Luke 22:31—”Satan has asked to sift you (plural) as wheat”

Someone has put it this way—Satan preys on leaders and Satan prays against leaders. It’s a pretty sobering thought and downright scary if it were not for what we read in verse 32 of the same passage. Jesus said, “But I have prayed for you”. Praise God for that! Satan is praying against me but the Lord Jesus is praying for me.

So here is another reason why we must all BE AWAKE AS WE APPROACH THE MISSION. SATAN HAS LEADERS IN HIS CROSS HAIRS! So what are we to do? Let me make some proposals in light of this reality…

1. If you are a leader you need to commit to the primacy of prayer and God’s Word.

2. If you are a leader you need to commit to intercessory prayer for the people in your group, organisation or district. Pray for them by name, one by one.

3. If you are a member of this Church, you need to be praying for your Pastor and the elders. They desperately need your prayers. Remember—they are in the cross hairs!

The Lord is praying for His people and His people ought to be praying one for another. And as we come close to the Mission, let us continue to pray for our speakers, Revs Scott Woodburn & Albert Baxter. They are also in the cross hairs!

On Thursday night we will meet again for an extended time of prayer. People can of course come and go as suits. Please plan to be there. There will be opportunity for public prayer as a group. There will be opportunity for silent prayer as a group and individually. We really need to get over our avoidance of the prayer meeting. It is not for some elite group or super spiritual group in the Church membership. It is simply a place for Christian believers to meet and ask their heavenly Father for grace and help in time of need for life in general and as we come close to the Mission.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

While there is a place for guilt, it is not a great motivator in the long run.  It is my view that sermons and challenges that aim to make people do things out of guilt are usually limited in their success.

When it comes to witness and evangelism, trying to do these things out of a sense of guilt will not get us too far.  Trying to witness and evangelise out of a sense of love is a different kettle of fish.  Love for the Lord and love for other people.

So tell me – are there people on your heart, for whom you are praying, and hoping to invite to some of the mission events?  All you can do is pray and invite.  And leave the rest to God.

One of the things that we need to think about and prayerfully develop is how we become more of a CARING FELLOWSHIP.  That is actually the theme within PCI for 2015.  We need to really look out for one another and for outsiders.  Welcoming and looking out for the stranger is part and parcel of Christian hospitality.  Recently I heard of someone who came to N. Ireland from another country.  This person had brought gifts to give to those who would show hospitality to them and maybe invite them out for a meal.  They didn’t need to use the gifts because nobody in “Christian” N. Ireland invited them!

There are quite a few in this area who have come to live here as “strangers” in our midst.  Are we concerned for them?  Are we praying for them?  Are we trying to get to know them?  If a group of them came to our church, would we warmly and sincerely welcome them?  I sincerely hope so.  But the truth is that they most likely will not come unless we invite them.  And that means YOU, not the person beside you!

Do you know what is a great evangelistic tool?  A smile! A friendly face.  Is there someone lives near you from another country?  Get to know them.  Talk to them.  Invite them into your house for a cup of tea.  Pray for them.  They may not end up coming to the mission in 2015, but you will have begun a friendship that can be used mightily of God.

Let’s ensure that on the judgement day, nobody can point to Kilkeel Presbyterian Church and say, “They weren’t interested in me”.  Let’s work and pray to ensure the “wee meeting” is known far and wide as a welcoming and caring fellowship, both before and long after the mission.

Take a few moments over the next couple of days to pause, reflect and pray about the Christmas message—use the following to help you…

“Inevitably, though, a search for Jesus turns out to be one’s own search.  No one who meets Jesus ever stays the same.  I have found that the doubts that afflict me from many sources—from science, from comparative religion, from an innate defect of skepticism, from aversion to the church—take on a new light when I bring those doubts to the man named Jesus.” (Philip Yancey)

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessing of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in.”
(Phillips Brooks)

Church leaders in the West tend to view the growth of the church and the implementation of mission in terms of strategies and methods.  The back-and-forth between advocates of missional, incarnational ministry, and attractional ministry underscores the different methods and tools available to church leaders who seek to be faithful to the Great Commission.

While not detracting from the importance of measuring strategies and goals in seeking to fulfil Christ’s commands, we must not lose sight of the fact that far more important than having a plan is relying on a Person.

Both commissioning texts in Luke-Acts focus their attention on the need for the Holy Spirit.  Jesus’ command to the disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Spirit underscores the truth that, apart from supernatural intervention, the disciples are powerless to accomplish the task Jesus has given them.

Likewise today, our reliance on the Holy Spirit can be measured not by the number of books we read and strategies we implement, but by the time and energy we spend in prayer for the Spirit’s power and work to be manifested in our lives.  Relying on the Spirit does not negate the importance of planning and prioritizing and strategizing (as is evident in the way the apostles make plans as they take the Gospel to the nations), but it keeps methods and tools in proper perspective.

In conclusion—It has often been said that we set the sail, and God sends the wind.  One of the most important ways we can apply the commissioning texts of Luke-Acts is by remembering our utter need for power from on high as we seek to live in light of our identity as Christ’s witnesses.

JEREMIAH “the weeping prophet”
Jeremiah’s history covered a span of 40 years—from his call in the 13th year of King Josiah (~627BC) until the fall of Jerusalem (586BC).

In those 4 decades he prophesied under the last 5 kings of Judah—Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah.  While he preached his messages from the Lord, important personalities and events were shaping history beyond his native Judah.  The mighty empire of Assyria was on the decline and the Babylonian empire was on the rise.

Into this changing world, Jeremiah preached his message of a Sovereign God coming in judgement on His people because of their idolatry, immorality and neglect of His Word.

Yet his message of judgment is shot through with hope.  The key message of hope in Jeremiah is the so-called Book of Consolation (chapters 30 to 33).

Here is something for you to do this afternoon or in the coming days.  Take 20 minutes and READ through chapters 30-33.  Give thanks for the wonderful message of God’s grace and comfort in the midst of challenging judgment.