A mystery man

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Melchizedek blesses Abram

Psalm 110:4, Genesis 14:17-24, Hebrews 7

Last week, in our Monday Bible study, we were looking at Romans, chapter four, where it speaks of Abraham who is the father of all who believe. And we discussed the importance of Old Testament characters. We can learn so much about the life of faith from these people. We also see parallels between these characters and aspects of the work and the ministry of Jesus Christ. At one time Christian scholars made a great deal of this phenomenon – calling these Old Testament characters “types” of Christ. They are an illustration of the fact that so much in the Old Testament points forward to the New. I thought it would be a good idea for us to look at a few Old Testament characters. There are so many we could look at. And indeed, we have in recent years looked…

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Call of Jeremiah

Jeremiah 1:1-10
“Don’t be a Jeremiah,” people sometimes say, meaning, “Don’t be negative, don’t be an old misery guts!”  Poor Jeremiah: he has the reputation for being the Sorrowful Prophet. It’s true that large sections of the book of Jeremiah and the book of Lamentations are very sorrowful, but that is understandable. You see, Jeremiah lived in difficult times, at the beginning of the 7th century  B.C. In the previous century the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been taken into exile by the Assyrians because of their unfaithfulness to God. Now the Southern Kingdom of Judah was going the same way. Neglect of God’s worship, the worship of other gods, and social injustice were going to bring God’s judgement on the nation.
Jeremiah was called to speak God’s words to these people and it turned out to be a hard task – “Mission Impossible”. The people did not listen to his message. They did not repent. Instead they abused and persecuted poor Jeremiah. In the end they had to go into exile in Babylon. Jeremiah was also called by God to pronounce messages of judgement on the other nations, including the proud Babylonians.
The Call
The Lord spoke to Jeremiah when he was still a young man, calling him and commanding him to be God’s prophet to Judah and the surrounding nations. We are now going to look at these words to Jeremiah and see what they might have meant to him. We will also see how they might apply to us today.
You see, we as Christians are also called to be God’s witnesses to the nations. Maybe not in the same way that Jeremiah was, as an individual prophet. But the Christian Church has a prophetic ministry in our day –  speaking to our nation and all  nations. And as individuals also we are called to exercise a certain prophetic ministry. Some people do indeed have a special gift of prophecy but I am not talking about that now. I am talking about the way that  all Christians are called to be prophets in that we are all witnesses to Christ. Under the New Covenant all the Lord’s people have the Spirit of the Lord and all are prophets.
Prophet, Priest and King
In Old Testament times there were three categories of people that were very important in the Nation: the Priests, the Prophets and the King. When Jesus came as the expected Messiah he embodied all three of these roles in his own person. As Messiah he is our great High Priest, interceding on our behalf or bringing us to God. As Messiah he is a great Prophet bringing  God’s word to us and showing us how we should live our lives. And as Messiah he is Lord of Lords, King of Kings, the Prince of Peace. Yes, Jesus in his own person embodies the three roles of Prophet, Priest and King.
But now that he’s returned to his Father in heaven he has left his Church on earth to fulfill those roles. We now are called to be prophets, priests and kings. He has given us his Spirit so that we can fulfill these roles. In a sense every Christian speaks God’s word to the world and therefore is a prophet. And every Christian has direct access to God and can pray for other people and intercede on their behalf,  exercising a kind of priestly ministry. And every Christian belongs to the Royal Family: we are sons and daughters of the Heavenly King. And so we all fulfill these three roles.
Three points
Let’s now look at God’s words to Jeremiah the prophet and see how they might apply to us as well. Like Jeremiah we live in the midst of a people who have neglected God or turned to other gods. Like him we live in a world of great injustice. We can learn something from his experience.There are three points for us to learn here:
1)  God knows and loves us, before we even exist
God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,  before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Jeremiah was the son of a priest from Anathoth, a little village a few miles out of Jerusalem on the edge of the Judean Wilderness. He was just an ordinary young man. He was not from a special High Priestly family. You might think he was destined to a quiet life in his village, but God had other plans for Jeremiah. God was going to use Jeremiah as his mouthpiece to Judah and all the surrounding Nations –  even to the mighty Babylonian Empire.
For Jeremiah the realisation that God had set him apart and prepared him, even before his birth, for this role was to be a great encouragement. Later in his life he was to face tremendous opposition to his ministry, suffer severe mistreatment and persecution, but what sustained him was the knowledge that God had called him to do this work.
Now none of us are in the shoes of the prophet Jeremiah, but still as Christian people we have a kind of prophetic role. We are witnesses of Christ,  because he has called us to be his people. For us also this knowledge that God has called us and set us apart can be great encouragement in our times of difficulty or opposition. As we contemplate  whatever happens to us in life we are still able to say, “God has called me to be his child, he has put me in this position because he has work for me to do here. I have been born again of his Spirit. I belong to his Royal Family. I am called to be a prophet to the people around me. Jesus wants me to shine out as his light in the dark places of this world”.
God knows us and God loves us all. Before we even existed he loved us.
2) God does away with our excuses
Jeremiah’s response to the Lord was this:
“Ah, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.
But the Lord said to him, “Do not say, I am only a child. You must go to everyone I send you and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them for I am with you and will rescue you.”    (Jeremiah 1:6-8)
Like Moses before him and many after him Jeremiah did not feel up to the task. He was young and inexperienced. He  didn’t feel he could be speaking to Kings and Nations. What a huge task that was. But God said to him,  “I will be with you, don’t be afraid”. You see, “one with God is a majority” –  so Jeremiah hasn’t really got any excuse. If the Lord  was asking him to do it then the Lord  knew that it was possible. Jeremiah would have the strength he needed.
And it’s the same for us. If God is asking us to do something, whatever it may be – it might be to take up some new role, some new ministry, or to be used in some way or another – then it is no good us saying that we are unprepared, inadequate or unsuitable. The Lord knows what he’s doing. He knows our weaknesses yes, but he also knows  how to overcome them, or to overrule them, and he promises to be with us in all that we do. So then, let us take courage.
3) God equips his servants
If God calls us to do something some work for him, small or great, then he will equip us to do it.. He will give us all that we need
“Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me:
“Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
(Jeremiah 1:9-10)
These were tremendous words. God was giving incredible spiritual authority to Jeremiah. His words were going to affect nations. His messages of judgement and prophecies to the nations would proclaim God’s sovereign plans. In the rise and fall of empires God’s will would be seen, and Jeremiah was going to be God’s spokesman.
These words to Jeremiah may sound a bit over the top to us but the young Jeremiah needed this.  Nothing else would encourage and enable him quite like these words. Later in his ministry he did indeed witness the fall of the kingdom of Judah,  the defeat of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile.
Now, as I said just now, none of us are in Jeremiah’s position. God is not calling us to pronounce judgement upon nations, to uproot or destroy, but he still has work for each one of us to do.  (Sometimes it does involve destroying or uprooting that which is bad, and other times it involves  building up that which is good.) God calls us all to different ministries and roles within his church and within his world. My role is that of an Ordained Minister of the Gospel. Your role is quite different, but it is unique to you and only you can fulfill it. And so you must believe that God will equip you. He will give you the strength, the guidance, the grace, the courage and  the endurance for whatever it is he is calling you to do.
Some people seem to have indeed what you might call a ministry of suffering. They do really seem to be called to bear many crosses in their lives. Like Job they show forth God’s glory in the way that they endure. And God gives them the strength to do so.
God will equip you and me, whatever path in life he has chosen for us, as long as we are dedicated to him. As long as we know Jesus as our own Saviour in a personal way then we can take hold of these promises.  God will be with each one of us and will use us to build his Kingdom. Amen.

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The Wisdom of Solomon

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King solomon


1 Kings 3:5-15

Seeing Barack Obama taking the oath at his inauguration the other day I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He has had a tremendous moment of triumph – the very first African American to become President of the USA –  but now the work begins. He is  a man of great idealism, but now his ideals will be tested by the realities of politics. Someone once said, “Politics is the art of the possible” ( actually it was Bismarck who first said this). You can’t be in politics if you are unable to compromise.
People’s  expectations of Obama are so high. He needs wisdom, and humility, and faith, to  bring him through. And we should pray for him.

I also couldn’t but help thinking of King Solomon who, you will recall, was in a similar situation and prayed that God would give…

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The Original Star Trek

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“We three kings of Orient are

Bearing gifts we traverse afar

Field and fountain, moor and mountain

Following yonder star”.

How familiar these words are and how natural it seems to refer to the Wise Men as three kings who came to visit the baby Jesus in the stable.

But when we look at what is written in Matthew’s Gospel we get something quite different. So many of our ideas of the birth of Jesus are based on the traditional Nativity Scene, with ox and ass standing by, and the Three Kings visiting the stable. But in the Gospel account you will find no mention of ox and ass, no little donkey on which Mary rode, not even any mention of a stable! (All it says is that he was placed in a manger because there was no room in the inn.) There is no mention of three kings riding…

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Holy Communion

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A prayer for the Ephesians

Ephesians 3 14-21
Psalm 1
(Sermon preached in the Brecon Presbyterian Church at my last service as a full time minister.)
Our reading from the New Testament contains a wonderful prayer which Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians. He has just been talking of the mysteries of the Christian Faith – how God has revealed himself to us through Christ, how we may approach God with freedom and confidence through Jesus. It is this faith which keeps Paul going through all his sufferings. And then he prays this wonderful prayer.
It’s a prayer which is relevant just as much to God’s people today as it was for them in those days. It’s a prayer we can make our own as we consider the church today.
This service is my final service in the pastorate as a full-time minister, so this sermon is a bit like a valedictory address (although I’m not going away). it could be my prayer for you, or your prayer for all of us, as much as Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians.
God the Father:
He starts by talking about God the Father:
Verses 14 and 15 – “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name”.
God is not just the Creator but he is also Father. He is Father of all that he has created. But in a very special sense he is Father of all those who come to him through faith in Jesus. We who believe in Jesus are all one family, although we may all come from totally different backgrounds. Even in this pastorate some of us are British-born: others from overseas. For some English is our first language: for others it may be Welsh or Nepalese. We are a congregation of different nationalities and different races, different social backgrounds and different ages. And we are all just a very small part of the whole family of God which stretches across the whole world. And more than that: part of it is already in heaven, maybe the greater part. But we are all one in Christ, all part of the Family of God, the Communion of Saints.
As I come up to my retirement my dear wife Jane is no longer at my side. But she is in God’s presence and still is part of God’s family with us. We are still in fellowship with her through Christ.
So let’s move on to the prayer itself. What does Paul say?
Verses 16 and 17 – “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
Paul prays that they might be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live the Christian Life. We all need the power of the Holy Spirit In Our Lives. We do not have the grace to live as followers of Christ without the Holy Spirit within our inner being.
As Paul prayed for the Ephesians so I pray that the Holy Spirit might strengthen you in your inner being.
Verse 17b  – so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
If we believe in Christ then the Spirit is in our inner being, and through that Holy Spirit Christ himself comes to dwell in our hearts.  I take this to mean that when we trust in Christ and what he has done for us on the cross, when we commit ourselves to him and invite him into our lives, then he actually does dwell within us through his Holy Spirit.
So as Paul prayed for the Ephesians I pray that Christ may dwell in all your hearts through faith.
And what effect does this have on us? It brings love into our lives:
Rooted and grounded in love
Verse 17b – “and I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints ….”
“Rooted and established” – actually I prefer the older term “rooted and grounded”. When you plant a shrub in your garden you root it and ground it in the soil. And you give it plenty of water so that its roots will grow and bed themselves in deeply.
Down at the Promenade here in Brecon, in the Recreation Ground,  a whole lot of trees were planted a couple of years ago. (They were planted by volunteers from the Nepalese community.) And the other week some of those trees we’re looking so dry that we were beginning to think they might not survive the drought. They’re only small and have not had time for their roots get to get really deep down into the ground. And so they were suffering the effects of drought. In fact one or two of them have already already gone brown and probably will not recover.
And so some of us who are members of the Promenade Pack (which is a Facebook group of dog walkers who take their dogs down there) decided to get together to water the trees. We did it late one afternoon.  I was drawing water with a bucket from the river and others were taking the water in cans around to the various newly-planted trees. I think we saved them. We’re hoping for a bit more rain now so we don’t have to actually water them again. But why am I talking about this? It’s an illustration.
Those trees did not have deep roots, they were not deeply rooted and grounded and so they were vulnerable. The very first Psalm  speaks of the righteous man as being like a tree planted by water whose leaf does not wither and who bears fruit in season.
The Christian who is rooted and grounded deep in the love of God bears the Fruit of the Spirit in his life. Through prayer, worship, Bible reading and partaking of all the means of grace we can become rooted deeply in Christ and bear fruit for him, even in times of difficulty and adversity.  The Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
As Paul prayed for the Ephesians so I pray  for you or that you may be rooted and grounded deep in the love of God and bear fruit for him.
Power to grasp 
Verses 18-19 –  “that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Paul says – and these are amazing words –  that we can grasp the dimensions of God’s love: the length, the breadth, the height, the depth. But how can this be?  Surely God’s love is infinite, how can we grasp it?
There is surely a paradox here. Paul is saying we can grasp that which is infinite. He is saying that we can know the love that surpasses knowledge. He is saying that we can be filled with a measure of the fullness of God! But we are not gods – surely we can’t partake of the Divine love!
No, not in an absolute sense. But in a relative sense we can grasp it –  because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. That means that God dwells within us. And so we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. We can take up as much of God’s love, power and grace as it is possible for a mortal being to do. I think that’s what Paul is praying for here. He knows that they cannot have all the fullness of God, nor can they have the absolute holiness of God, but he wants them to be as perfect as they possibly can be in this life. Be as holy as you can be, be as loving as you can be, grasp as much of the love of God as it is possible to grasp, be as full of the Holy Spirit as you can be full.
Okay, absolute perfection is impossible – our sinful nature still remains and life is constantly a struggle against sin – but we can go on in grace. We can become more and more sanctified, and this is what Paul is praying for the Ephesians.
And it is my prayer for each one of us that we will be,  be rooted and grounded in love and grasp more of God’s goodness and love in our lives as we go onward.
Let’s end this sermon with the wonderful words that Paul writes as a doxology at the end of this prayer:
Verses 20 and 21 –
“Now to him able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

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Stairway to heaven

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Genesis 28:10-22

“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, brothers, sisters all.”

These are the words of a children’s song which perhaps some of you sang in Sunday School. The story of Jacob’s Ladder is a popular one in Sunday Schools – I remember hearing it as a child. It has also inspired hymns:

O God of Bethel, by Whose hand
Thy people still are fed,
Who through this weary pilgrimage
Hast all our fathers led.

A lonely exile

It’s the story of a young man away from home for the first time. He had left home in a bit of a hurry – in order to escape the wrath of his brother. For Jacob had stolen  his father’s blessing from  his older brother Esau.

Let’s make no bones about it: Jacob was a cheat. Even at birth he was gripping the…

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Salt and Light

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( Talks given at a service for all ages at the Brecon Presbyterian Church)

Talk (A)

Have you ever heard someone say, “He’s the salt of the earth”, and wondered what it meant? Usually it means a good and reliable person. Did you realise it comes from the words of Jesus? Yes Jesus told his followers they were the “Salt of the Earth”. What on “earth” did he mean?.

Think about salt – it’s very useful stuff. [Hold up salt pack]. You can put it on the roads to melt ice and it has so many other uses. Here are some of them:

Essential to our health

We have all been told to eat less salt in our food today. That’s because too much salt is bad for you – it sends your blood pressure up. But doctors know that not enough salt is also bad. Low sodium levels can…

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(A Family Service at the Brecon Presbyterian Church, June 12th. 2011)

Talk (A) – The coming of the Spirit of God

Today is Whit Sunday or the Day of Pentecost.


Now Pentecost means “fifty” in Greek and it’s the name the Greek-speaking Jews gave to  the Jewish feast of weeks, which happens fifty days after the Passover.

Jesus died on the cross at the time of the Passover and came alive on the Sunday. Then over the next forty days he appeared to  his followers. After the forty days were over he returned to his Father in Heaven. This is what we call the Ascension and we celebrate it forty days after Easter Sunday. It always happens on a Thursday. Ten days later we celebrate Pentecost or Whit Sunday.

Just before Jesus went back to heaven he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the…

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Called by name

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Samuel and Eli

Names are funny things –  although perhaps it’s that people are funny about names! Often, when I visit people in hospital I have difficulty finding the patients – they are in hospital under a different name from the one I know them by. You’d be surprised how many people use their middle name in everyday life, but on all official records  are known by their first name. And then some folk like to be called by a name they have chosen for themselves or by a nickname.  I wonder how many of you here are known by a different name than the first name on your birth certificate.

Names are very personal and the closer you are to a person the more free you can be with their name – changing it perhaps to some shortened or diminutive form.

What about our relationship with God then? If…

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