How do you find authentic, deep, lasting fulfilment in life? Is it a dream or can it be a reality? The problem is after years of bombardment from the secular media and advertising we are confused, cautious, sceptical. The daily diet on the TV, on the bill boards, newspapers and magazines tell us unashamedly that freedom and fulfilment comes from indulgence, luxury, space, exclusivity. The subliminal messages tell us to indulge ourselves. Fulfil our desires. Pursue pleasure. Stay free. Protect my space. Minimize commitments. Given such messages, it’s easy to understand why many people are cautious about commitment – whether its commitment in marriage, commitment to a charity or community service, commitment to our Church. We fear commitment, obligation, being tied down, restricted. If I commit myself, will I end up enjoying it or regretting it? Will life really be more fulfilling? Or just more draining? Well contemporary medical research provides a conclusive answer. Dr Paul Pearsall, the psychologist, writes in his book The Pleasure Prescription (Hunter House, 1996) “Modern research shows one of the most pleasurable of all human acts is also one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and for others.
Gentle, caring selflessness results in significant health benefits.” In the mid 1980’s Allan Luks, author of, The Healing Power of Doing Good, conducted a survey of 3,300 volunteers.
When you find yourself in deep trouble, when the rubber has hit the fan, it really does not matter whose fault it was or what caused it. All you really want is someone to help, someone to understand, someone to get you out of trouble. You see dying people, broken people, hurt people, used and abused people, don’t need theological explanations, or self-help tutorials, they need practical help, not next month, not next week, but today, right now, this very minute.
In Matthew 15 we meet a mother. A desperate mother. A mother with a sick child. Imagine that you’ve carried this baby in your womb for nine long months. You’ve been through the excruciating pain of childbirth. You’ve nursed her, fed her, washed her, changed her. Watched her grow, take her first step, say her first word. You can still remember her first day of school. How pretty she looked in that dress. The first time you let her out of your sight. She’s your little girl.
From the early 19th Century right up to the First World War, the Tsarist Russian government relied heavily on foreign investment principally from Europe and America to fund their industrialisation. In 1913, for example, foreign investors held 49.7% of Russian government debt and owned nearly 100% of all petroleum fields, 90% of mines, 50% of chemicals and 40% of metallurgical industries. This amounted to the largest foreign in the world at the time. France was the major lender to Russia and French investors financed the creation of iron and steel industries and mining operations. In 1914, 80% of the Russian government debt was held in France and 14% in Great Britain… Devastated by losses during the First World War, Bolshevik revolutionaries overthrew the government on October 24, 1917. A year later, the Soviet government repudiated all bonds issued by the Tsarist regime and declared that all debts contracted by the Russian Empire were cancelled.
Finding their bonds now worthless, some people used them as wall paper, others just burnt them or threw them away. Virtually everyone had given up seeing their money again. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, Mikail Gobachov came to power and promised to honour any bonds that could be found. Newspaper adverts appeared. People were asked to search their lofts and deposit boxes. Those who had kept faith in the Soviet bonds were finally rewarded.
Romans 9-11 is a little like that. Paul is answering an important question. What about God’s promises to the Jews? Has God gone back on His word? Were they just paper promises? “No,” says Paul, “At the right time God will pay out on his covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and David.” As we read these chapters, we discover God has not forgotten them.
As we observed last week, John Stott, helpfully summarises the message of Romans 9-11 in this way:
Back in 1967, Nelson Bell, the editor of Christianity Today and father-in-Law of Billy Graham, wrote in an editorial for the journal,
“For the first time in more than 2,000 years Jerusalem is now completely in the hands of the Jews gives a student of the Bible a thrill and a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible.”
Eleven years on, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter, claimed,
“The establishment of the nation of Israel is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and the very essence of its fulfilment.”
45 years on, that seems increasingly hard to defend when Israel is acknowledged by many human rights organisations to be an ethno-nationalist apartheid state. This week, the US/Canadian denomination, the Disciples of Christ, became the latest to adopt a resolution naming Israeli apartheid, acknowledging that “many of the laws, policies and practices of the State of Israel meet the definition of apartheid as defined in international law.”
Do you know the most frequent command in the Bible? Do not be afraid. Why is that do you think? Because from the moment of our birth to the moment of our death, our default position is fear. That is why we fit locks on our doors, bars on our windows, security lights, CCTV, why we buy travel insurance, car insurance, indemnity insurance, home insurance, health insurance, life insurance, warranties, guarantees, virus software, backup hard disks, and in some countries more than others, purchase flack jackets, pepper spray, knives, hand guns, shot guns, and semi-automatic weapons. Fear is our default position.
In our three-part journey though Romans 8, following the Revised Common Lectionary, we have so far discovered three of our freedoms as Christ followers: Freedom from Judgement. Freedom from defeat. Freedom from discouragement. The fourth freedom? Today we are going to explore freedom from fear.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)
Gentle natured Gregory, passed into eternity, aged 69, forgotten and alone in a cell of the women’s jail in Dade County, Miami. Married four times with six children he had once been a celebrity and successful paediatrician. But Gregory succumbed to alcoholism and his license to practice medicine was suspended. Haunted by self-doubt and unable to live in the shadow of his father, he had died known as Gloria in a women’s jail, in high heels, a transvestite. When he was just 19, Gregory’s father blamed him for his mother’s death from cancer and did not speak to him for ten years before killing himself in precisely the same way Gregory’s grandfather had done before him. In 1936, Gregory’s father wrote a short story, ‘The Capital of the World’ about a Spanish father who tried to be reconciled to his son who had run away from home to Madrid. Now remorseful, the father took out an advert in a national newspaper “Paco meet me at Hotel Montana noon Tuesday, all is forgiven, Papa.” Paco is a common name in Spain, and when the father goes to the square he finds eight hundred young men names Paco waiting for their fathers.
Except on Easter Day, “upon which another anthem is appointed’, every single morning of the year, in every parish in England, all God’s people should gather together to encourage one another with the words of the Venite, exultemus Domino– ‘O come, let us sing unto the Lord’.
Well, at least that was what Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformers intended, which makes this psalm – Psalm 95 the most frequently and most widely recited hymn in the world.
Indeed, Psalm 95 has been used in daily worship for at least 1,600 years and probably for much longer. Around 320 AD, Athanasius wrote: “Before the beginning of their prayers, the Christians invite and exhort one another in the words of the 95th Psalm.” Not surprising therefore, Peter Toon observes, at the beginning of the English Reformation, this “Invitatory Psalm” is described in the Primer (1543) of Henry VIII as “A Song stirring to the Praise of God.” And what a stirring summons it is! In the Booke of The Common Prayer (1549), Psalm 95 is very near the beginning of “’An Ordre for Mattyns dayly through the Year’. From then onwards Psalm 95 was a required part of Morning Prayer or Matins.”
In 1948, a young 21-year-old Wheaton College student named James wrote in his journal, “I seek not a long life, but a full one, like You, Lord Jesus.” A year later, against all advice, he became convinced that God was calling him as a missionary to Ecuador. That year he wrote in his diary, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’ Jim spent most of 1952 in Quito, Ecuador, learning Spanish and orientating to a new culture… Since college days he had been fascinated by a remote Stone Age tribe known as the Aucas. Jim knew that they had a deserved reputation for killing anyone, Indian or white, who dared to intrude into their land. Nevertheless, he began praying for them and was determined to reach out to them. In September 1955 a pilot with the Mission Aviation Fellowship, Nate Saint, spotted from the air a small Aucas settlement. On Sunday morning January 8th 1956 Nate went up alone and spotted a group of Auca men walking towards their camp. He flew back to the beach with the good news and radioed their wives. “A commission of ten is coming. Pray for us This is the day.” Together they all sung the hymn:
“We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender, Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise. When passing through the gates of pearly splendour. Victors, we rest with Thee through endless days.“
A while back I experienced one of the most restful weeks of my life. We spent a few peaceful days by the shores of Loch Ness. The area is very isolated with slow, windy, single track roads. Not a problem because we saw very few cars. The house used to be hotel and I can see why it ceased trading. It was two miles off the single track B road that runs along the shore between Inverness and Fort Augustus. Nestled by a small loch and surrounded by hills, there was no TV reception and my mobile phone didn’t work either. We saw very few people but lots of sheep and goats. The nearest shops were miles away and going to buy a newspaper or supplies was a treat. It felt very isolated.
Time seemed to slow down. Everything revolved around day light, eating, sleeping, feeding the animals and the weather, and there was a lot of that. I am sure I could have got used to it with more time – it was tempting – but every time I opened my mouth, it was obvious that I wasn’t a local. Rich in history, the road and forts along the geological fault line that created Loch Ness – Fort William, Fort Augustus, Fort Urquhart, Fort Gorge, remind us of the attempts by the English to tame the wild Celts. On the 16th April 1746, the last battle on British soil took place nearby at Culloden Moor.
Mark Carney, the former Bank of England governor, recently issued a warning that climate change poses a huge risk to global stability. At a gathering of leading insurers at Lloyd’s of London, Mr Carney pointed out that the rapid increase in weather-related catastrophes was causing a spike in financial costs. But he also warned that the challenges currently posed by climate change “pale in significance compared with what might come”. He said our generation has little incentive to avert future problems. Ironically, insurers are among those with the biggest interest in climate change as the syndicates operating at Lloyd’s, the world’s oldest insurance market, are the most exposed to disasters such as hurricanes and floods. Mr Carney said the after-effects of such disasters were likely to grow worse:
“The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come. “The far-sighted amongst you are anticipating broader global impacts on property, migration and political stability, as well as food and water security.”