Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sermon: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 Walking Worthy in Hope

Back when I first felt that God was calling me to ordained ministry, there were a few big objections I raised straight away. For a start, I wanted to be a journalist, working in a newspaper, and was holding out for my big break. Well, as you can see, God overruled on that one, and made it clear that I should be ordained. But one of the other reasons I had, the one which stands out the clearest was this - I don’t want to be a minister, it would mean I would have to do funerals. Fast forward a few years to my first week as a Curate in Dundonald. The rector had just about sat down on the plane to head off on his holidays, when my phone rang. My first funeral would be a solo affair.

There’s something about death and bereavement that affects us. When it’s someone close to us, there’s the pain of separation. The absence of the person from the chair or the kitchen table. Perhaps the regret of things said, or unsaid. For everyone else around, there can be a feeling of helplessness - we want to help, we want to comfort, but what can we say? Everything sounds so meaningless, so empty. How do we cope? Is there something we can say?

God’s word deals with every part of our life. And in our reading this morning, God speaks to us about those who have ‘fallen asleep’. Now he’s not talking about the people who doze during the sermon. He’s speaking about Christians who have died. And the problem he’s facing is this: have the dead missed out on eternal life?

To grasp the problem, we need to remember the timeline. Paul had visited Thessalonica. He had shared the gospel for three weeks, then moved on. Throughout the letter he reminds them of things he has already told them. And he has said that Jesus is coming back to take us to be with him. In the time that Paul has moved on to Berea, Athens and Corinth, some of the believers had died. The church was doubly sad. Not only had their brothers and sisters died. That was bad enough. But to think that that might miss out on Christ’s return and all that lies after? That was even worse. So what’s the answer?

Paul’s answer is hope-filled grieving. Look at how verse 13 opens up. ‘But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.’ Notice that Paul doesn’t say ‘that you may not grieve’ full stop. He’s not saying that Christians shouldn’t grieve. It’s right and proper that we mourn the loss of loved ones (both in our family and in our church family). It’s only natural that we feel sad and miss them. But Christians will grieve in a different way to other people. ‘That you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.’

Perhaps you’ve been at funerals where there is no hope. They can be a wonderful celebration of a full life of achievements and personality, but it’s all there is. End of story. Nothing beyond. Nothing to look forward to. Christians should grieve - but not like that. Our grieving is to be hope-filled.

Now when you hear that hope-filled or (as we would tend to say) hopeful, you might think of lots of situations where it’s just wishful thinking. On Friday night, we were hopeful that there would be nice weather to show off Fermanagh to our visitor. It certainly didn’t seem likely. It was just wishful thinking. Is Paul saying that we’re to ignore reality and hope for the best, however improbable?

Paul says that hope-filled grieving is possible, because it is based on Jesus’ work and his word. First up, Jesus’ work. Do you see how the ‘for’ connects verse 13-14. ‘For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.’ We’ve already declared that we believe it in the creed. Jesus died, Jesus was buried, Jesus was raised on the third day. If that’s what happened to Jesus, then it will happen to those who are his. If God has the power to raise Jesus from the dead, he can do it for everyone else as well. Where Jesus goes, we go too.

On Saturday, we’ll get on a bus. Wherever the driver takes us, we’ll end up. Now, hopefully that will be Glenarm Castle, for Summer Madness, but it’s up to the driver. We’re connected to him. We’re with him. Where he goes, we go too. Jesus’ work gives us hope-filled grieving.

But Jesus’ word also gives us hope-filled grieving. We see this in verses 15-16. The word from the Lord says that we aren’t at an advantage over the dead. We aren’t going to be front of the queue and them straggling along behind, like in some of those zombie movies. There’s an order, a plan, a promise of what is coming. At the moment of the Lord’s return, there’ll be a cry of command, the voice of an archangel, and the sound of the trumpet of God. The three things announce his return. At that moment, ‘the dead in Christ will rise first.’

The dead in Christ - those who are in him (in the same way the Thess are described 1:1) - are raised first. They’ll not miss out. They’ll not be lagging behind for the joyful reunion of verse 17. ‘Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.’

The Lord is coming down, and the dead in Christ and we who are alive are going up, and we meet together. What a great promise this is. To be with the Lord forever. Without end. Whenever you go to visit relatives, there comes a time when you have to leave. Even if you went to stay with a granny for the whole summer, there comes the day when you have to go home, and go back to school. But this promise is forever. Always with the Lord and his people. All his people, those who at the moment are dead or alive.

This is how we can have hope-filled grieving. It’s based on Jesus’ work, his own dying and being raised. And it’s based on Jesus’ word, his promise that all his people will be with him forever. Paul could have ended right there. It’s all we really need to know. But the last verse is the application. Here’s the take away, here’s the action, what we need to do based on what we’ve heard today. Here’s how we can comfort in times of grief. Here’s why I found that I was able to do funerals. Verse 18: ‘Therefore’ - because of all that I’ve said: ‘Therefore encourage one another with these words.’

When we’re in the valley of the shadow of death, the darkness can overwhelm. But with these words, we can encourage. A simple reminder of the hope that is ours. A pointer forward to the joyful reunion. The sharing of the promise that we will be with the Lord forever.

But this encouragement isn’t just for those who are mourning today (whether the loss was recent or a long time ago). There’s encouragement for each one of us as we face our own mortality. If the Lord doesn’t return in our lifetime, then we too can be assured that we will be raised to be with him. This promise is for you, if you’re in Christ, if you’re trusting in him. If you’re not, then why not come today, believe in him, and receive this great promise of hope.

Hope-filled grieving, based on Jesus’ work and word, brings us encouragement. May this be a word of grace and comfort, not just for us who are here, but for anyone we come in contact with.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 28th June 2015.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

You Never Miss The Water...

... till the well runs dry. You've heard the saying, but you don't realise its truth until it really does happen. 

This morning, it was fulfilled in the rectory. The tap was turned on to fill the kettle to make the breakfast tea. There was a weird noise, but no water came out. To be sure, I tried another tap, but the same lack of water was evident.

Checking the NI Water website confirmed the supply problem and their assurance that their staff was dealing with the issue. So that was good. But it was only then that I realised just how convenient the water supply normally is - and how much we take it for granted!

No water meant no filling the kettle, so tea was out. No diluting orange either. Pure orange and milk would do to quench immediate thirst. 

The dishwasher couldn't be turned on. Nor the washing machine. The shower was in doubt, in case the hot water tank emptied and caused an air lock in the whole system. Toilet flushes were carefully considered but hand washing was fairly essential. 

This morning I had planned to be in the study, doing sermon prep for Sunday, so it wouldn't immediately matter if I didn't get a shower, but how long could I wait? 

Thankfully, our lack only lasted until about 11.30am. The kettle was filled, and the first tea of the day was consumed, before grabbing a quick shower (in hope that the water wouldn't stop halfway through, just when I was about to rinse off my body wash!) normal supply had returned. 

Most days I don't think anything of turning on a tap and having clean, fresh water gush out. Yet many in the world only dream of such an experience. For them, water isn't so convenient, nor safe. Thirst is a daily reality. 

Perhaps you're like me, taking water for granted. This little experience made me think, and discover more about how Tearfund are helping to bring clean water to communities across the world. What a great work they're doing!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sermon: Mark 12: 38-44 The Widow's Mite

Quite often in newspapers and magazines you’ll find a particular type of article. As the writer surveys the latest trends or this week’s news, opinions are formed about individuals. And it’s normally called something like ‘what’s hot and what’s not’. In a fashion magazine, one famous celebrity might be ‘hot’ for wearing the latest style, whereas another celebrity has failed for trying too hard. In a sports magazine, the hat trick scoring cup winning captain is hot, while the player sent off will be a ‘not’.

It’s as if we have a league table, or a ranking system of people who are cool or important or life-changing. And it doesn’t just happen in magazines and on websites. It happens in real life as well. We make these kind of up or down judgements all the time, in all kinds of situations.

So when you meet someone, you might instantly make a decision about them, based simply on first impressions - what they look like; how they smell; how they speak. You won’t speak it out loud, you might not even realise you’re doing it, but you’ll find that you have made a decision about someone. And, although we don’t admit it, it can even happen in church. It was certainly happening in the temple in Jerusalem, when Jesus visited.

In the Bible reading we’ve just heard, the ‘hot’ and ‘not’ column would have been easily completed. What’s hot? The religious leaders, those high up in the grand scheme of the temple. And what’s not? Well, if people had even bothered to notice her, the poor widow would have been under the ‘not’ heading. But no one really paid her any attention. In the grand scheme of things, she wasn’t really contributing very much. It’s a wonder that they would even bother writing about this incident; it wouldn’t make any headlines; and yet it is included in scripture to show us that our ways are not God’s ways; that our ‘hots and nots’ aren’t his hots and nots. That God sees and God values the things and people discounted by the world (and even the church).

Jesus is in the temple, in the week leading up to the cross. Amidst the upheaval of the entry into Jerusalem, the cleansing of the temple when Jesus overturned the tables, the disputes with the religious leaders and everything else that was going on, Mark (and Luke) record the quiet action of a widow.

But before we get to the widow, we’re told what Jesus says about someone high up on the ‘hot’ scale of religion. The scribes were important people; they taught, and helped people know what God’s word said. Yet Jesus has a word about them: ‘Beware’.

Beware - it’s a word of warning, be aware of them, they’re dangerous, so be cautious. And why so? ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretence make long prayers.’

They look very good, and respectable, and important, but Jesus sees through their facade. They like the trappings of power and honour. They like to be made much of. But they use their power for themselves - devouring widows’ houses. Their religious acts, like long prayers, are just a pretence, it’s just put on. They should know better, and so ‘They will receive the greater condemnation.’

In the temple structure, the scribes were high up. But Jesus sees through the religious front, and sees their heart. As we heard in Mary’s song, those who think of themselves as important, high and lifted up are brought low; the proud are scattered in the imagination of their hearts.

To illustrate his point, Jesus sits down near the treasury. They didn’t pass a plate round, instead there was a big box, into which offerings were placed. Just think of the big glass bottles you get at flower festivals. But this wasn’t a silent collection in paper money.The offerings would rattle as they were thrown in. And here too, the comparison of ‘hot’ and ‘not’ was in effect.

The rich would put in large sums. You can imagine them having a bag of gold coins, taking time to through them in so that everyone saw how much they were putting in. Perhaps trying to make as much noise as possible so no one could miss how generous they were being. They were ‘hot’ - big givers. Important donors.

And then a poor widow comes in. She has no bulging money bag. Her purse isn’t full to bursting. She has just two small copper coins. You’d hardly notice. It was hardly worth her while. Her contribution seems measly. Incomparably little compared to these great givers. The comparison must have crossed the minds of the disciples. It might also cross ours, when the annual report comes out, and everyone’s giving is listed. Where do we come? Who do we think could have or should have given more? How much or how little someone gave.

Yet it’s the widow that Jesus draws attention to. In fact, he says that most startling thing. Look at verse 43. ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.’ Wise up Jesus. Catch yourself on. The bag of gold is more than two small copper coins. Think how much you could do with the big donations, while the coins wouldn’t buy you anything.

But look at how Jesus explains it in verse 44: ‘For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’ The rich could afford it, they wouldn’t even notice it was gone. But this poor widow, she holds nothing back. She gives all she has. Notice that she didn’t even give one and keep one, she gives both, everything.

This is living by faith. Declaring her dependence on God, trusting him for her needs. Keith Getty puts it like this in a song: ‘Now Jesus sat by the off'ring gate
As people brought their money:
The rich they filled the collection plate;
The widow gave a penny.
"Now she's outgiven all the rest -
Her gift was all that she possessed."
Not what you give but what you keep
Is what the King is counting.’

Here’s this upside down world that Mary sings about. ‘He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.’ God sees through our religious exterior. God knows the motive of our hearts. Your acts of faith might seem very insignificant to anyone else. You might not seem terribly important or influential in the world’s eyes.

Yet God sees, and God knows, and God rewards those who live by faith. You see, God doesn’t want just a bit of us. He wants all of us.

This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall on Sunday 21st June 2015.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sermon: 1 Thessalonians 4: 1-12 Walking Worthy in Holiness

Have you ever been driving off the beaten track, no signposts, grass up the middle of the road, and you come to a crossroads. You haven’t a clue where you are. You have to decide what to do, which road to take. How do you make your choice? Pick one at random? Take the one that looks the nicest? Follow your intuition? It’s one thing if you’re out for a Sunday afternoon drive, just exploring, and you know that sooner or later you’ll come back to a main road with some kind of signpost. It’s different, though, if you’re on your way to someone’s house for dinner. You’re late. You’re lost. You’d need some direction. Where to turn?

As we travel through life, we’re faced with all sorts of decisions about all sorts of things. Some people see those choices as whatever makes you feel good. You pay your money and take your chance. But oftentimes Christians want to know what God’s will is for them - who to marry, what job to take, and so on. Sometimes we get so worked up about knowing God’s will for every detail of our lives. In our reading today, Paul gives us what God’s will is for our life. In this passage, it’s not complicated - but working it out might not always be easy.

Look at verse 3. ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification.‘ God’s will is our sanctification. Now what does that mean? Sanctification is one of those churchy word that sounds great, but no one really knows what it is. It simply means the process of becoming (more) holy. And holy, or holiness (as we have in our passage) is being set apart. So God’s will for us is to be set apart (for him).

In nearly every home (although less so these days with the healthy eating advice), we have something that’s holy, set apart. If you still have a sugar bowl, then you probably have a spoon which is set apart, only to be used to lift the sugar from the sugar bowl. You don’t use it to put sugar in your tea, then stir it, then put it back in the bowl. You’ll get hard, brown lumps of sugar. The sugar spoon is holy, set apart only for the use in the sugar bowl.

In the same way, we’re holy, set apart for God. There are lots of things we could do, but we’re set apart to only do the things God wants us to do. Back at the end of chapter 3, Paul had prayed that God ‘would strengthen {their} hearts in holiness that you may be blameless...’ So now he gets to the heart of what that will look like. In verses 1-2, Paul reminds them that he had told them how to live and to please God, and they have been doing it, so now they should do it more and more. But remember that this isn’t a ten step programme to make God accept you. This is written to Christians who have already turned to God from idols (ch 1). This is how we’re to live when we are saved. Not how to live to be saved.

So what does holiness look like? What is God’s will for our sanctification? Paul breaks it down into three parts, which follow on from each other. The first is in verse 3. ‘that you abstain from fornication.’ Newer versions use the words ‘sexual immorality’. But the word Paul uses is ‘porneia’ - from which we get ‘pornography’. It’s any sexual activity outside of marriage. Christians are to be set apart for God, by being set apart for their own husband or wife - or in the absence of a spouse, to be celibate.

Following on from that - and in order to do that - we’re called to ‘know how to control your own body in holiness and honour, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.’ The world will be different, it burns with lustful passion - as is clear in so many ways around us. But we’re called to be different, to control our bodies in holiness and honour. You’re not responsible for what someone else does, but you are for yourself. Be self-controlled (one of the fruit of the Spirit). Take control of yourself - if certain situations or programmes or internet causes you to stumble, then deal with it.

Thirdly, ‘that no one wrongs or exploits a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things.’ A few years ago we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the ending of the slave trade by William Wilberforce. Yet today human trafficking still continues. Even in Northern Ireland, women have been brought to work in the sex industry. Exploitation continues.

We’re called to be different. That call is expressed in verse 7. ‘For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness.’ God didn’t call us to say ‘yes’ to lustful passions and impurity. He has set us apart for him. You see, this is God’s will, not just something Paul made up. This is God’s call, so we don’t reject human authority if we disagree - we reject God’s authority over the creation he has made. His holy will calls us, and wants to make us holy, separate, different. We’re called in his holiness, to be holy, by saying no to lust.

That leads us to ask the serious question - where do we get our values from? Who do we look to for approval? Whose pleasure are we living for? Our own? The world’s? Or God’s? As Paul writes to the Corinthians - You are not your own. For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19-20) To do this, what things will need to change? Who might you need to step back from? What do you need to stop watching or thinking about or doing? God’s will is for us to be holy by saying no to lust.

At the same time, God also wants us to say ‘yes’ to love. Look at verse 9. We’re getting into the season of school reports. We’re all different, but most of us probably had things we were good at, and then there was always some subject that said ‘must do better.’ Paul says in verses 9-10 that the Thessalonians are top of the class. In terms of love for the brothers and sisters, they don’t need to be told; God has taught them, and they are doing it. Full marks, top of the class.

But look at the middle of verse 10. Top of the class, but keep going, more and more! Verse 11 shows us how to love one another - but it might not be what we would expect. To love one another you would... fill in the blank. Did you say ‘to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands’? This is how Paul describes loving one another in this context. It seems that some people were expecting Jesus to return any day - so why bother working? They could exploit the generosity of their fellow believers and live off handouts. But Paul says the loving thing is to get on with your own work (if you’re able - 2The3), so that outsiders won’t be disgraced by your actions, and that you’re not dependent on anyone else.

God’s will is that we say yes to love. How can we grow in love for one another? What are the ways we can love each other, so that those watching on say ‘see how these Christians love one another?’

When we started off, we were in the wee country roads with no signposts, facing a decision. Left, right, straight on? Going to a friend’s house, we’ll have their directions. As we come to those decisions, big and small, in our daily life, as we choose which way to go, we have God’s directions. God’s will is for us to become more holy, as we say no to lust and yes to love. We’re on a lifelong journey. We’ll sometimes take wrong turns. We’ll find ourselves at the same junction a few times. God’s will is for us to be holy. He is guiding us, restoring us, forgiving us, and encouraging us. And he will bring us home, if we listen to him.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 14th June 2015

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Sermon: Psalm 150: The W5 of Worship

The dockyard area in Belfast is becoming a place to go for a family day out. The Titanic Centre sits beside the Paint Hall where they film Game of Thrones. The Odyssey hosts concerts and ice hockey and all sorts of things. There's also an exciting science exhibition and learning centre which goes by the name of W5. But why is it called W5? Well, it's all about getting children to ask the W5 questions, made famous by Rudyard Kipling in his little ditty:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Now he throws how into the mix, but the W5 are who, what, where, why and when. For a few moments we're going to use the W5 as we think about Psalm 150, the very last in the collection of Psalms in the Bible.

So first up, who? We find the answer in verse 6: 'Let everything that has breath praise the Lord' Now you might be feeling a bit out of puff having sung all those songs thus far, but if you have breath in your lungs, then you are the who. The call goes out for everyone to praise the Lord. But it's more than just people. You see, the Psalm doesn't say everyone who has breath - it's everything that has breath. Every creature is called to praise, to join the chorus of praise to our God. Everything that God made is called to praise the God who made it. Who? Everyone.

What? Well, when you look at the Psalm, it's hard to miss the what, isn't it? In every sentence, on every line, the call comes to 'praise' or 'praise him'. We can even sneak in the 'how' question, as we see and hear the musical instruments joining the praise. It's as if there's a great crescendo as the instruments join in and become louder and louder - trumpet sound, lute and harp, tambourine and dance, strings and pipe, sounding cymbals, loud clashing cymbals. Who? Everyone. What? Praise the Lord.

Where? The answer comes in verse 1. 'Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.' The call comes to praise God in his sanctuary, his mighty heavens. Now that doesn't mean that we have to be in heaven to praise - everyone and everything can praise God who is in heaven wherever we are. No matter where you are, or what you're doing, you can praise God. Who? Everyone. What? Praise the Lord. Where? Everywhere.

Why? Look at verse 2. Here's why we're called to praise God. 'Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness.' Here are the two reasons to praise God. His mighty deeds - the amazing, wonderful, works of his power, to create, to save, to rescue, and to keep his people. The writer might have looked back to the Exodus from Egypt. But to the Passover and the return from Babylonian exile, we can also add the mighty deeds of the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. God has worked his mighty deeds to save us - which will lead us to praise him.

But the second reason to praise is 'according to his excellent greatness.' We praise God for what he has done, but we also praise him for who he is. When we think about God's greatness, it leads us to praise. Just think of God's goodness, love, grace, mercy, justice, compassion, kindness, his all-knowing, all-seeing, almighty all-powerful strength. We've already sung of all of those things. Reflecting on God's excellent greatness leads us to praise him. Who? Everyone. What? Praise the Lord. Where? Everywhere. Why? His mighty deeds and his excellent greatness.

When? When should we praise? All the time. For all time, and for all eternity. When we have been saved by God, gathered into his people, we are turned from living for our own glory and our own good name. We are gathered to join the chorus of praise, sung by all God's people. We're called to praise now, but we'll still be praising God forever.

Who, what, where, why, when. Praise the Lord. Will you hear this call tonight? Will you praise God, not just now in your songs, but in every moment of your life? Let's pray.

This sermon was preached at the Favourite Hymns Evening in Aghavea Parish Hall on Sunday 7th June 2015.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Sermon: 1 Timothy 6: 3-19 Godliness with Contentment

We’re in the middle of exam season, with the GCSEs and A Levels continuing for another couple of weeks or so. Some students might have finished, depending on their subjects and the exam timetable, but most are still working hard at the revision. It’s now 18 years since I was sitting my GCSE exams, and most of the things I learnt went in one ear (or eye), stayed in my head long enough to sit the exam, and then went out the other ear (or eye). But the odd time, a random line from one of the poems we learned in Mrs Carson’s English Literature class echoes round my head.

This week, as I was working on our passage of scripture, the line from the poem came back to me. I had to look up who wrote it - William Wordsworth (of the daffodils fame). He says:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.

Writing in the early 1800s, Wordsworth laments the greed and busyness of business, getting and spending we lay waste our powers. Now if he thought that back then, what would he make of our consumer society today? Shopping channels dedicated to making you part with your money for a bargain knife set or his and hers watches. Adverts on most of the other channels designed to make you want a newer, bigger, better version of the things you already have, which work very well - phones, cars, perfume, you name it, they’ll try to sell it. Tailored internet adverts, where Google read the mail in your email account and your browser history and then sell you the things you’ve been thinking about buying - all at a special price.

Wordsworth’s words are worth much as they diagnose the problem of a consumer society. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. Many today would agree, and misquote the Bible as they try to figure out the problem. So they declare that ‘money is a root of all kinds of evils’. They see money as the problem and some form of socialism or communism as the solution.

But that just won’t do. You see, the Bible doesn’t say that that money is a root of all kinds of evils. It says in verse 10 that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. Money itself is neutral, something we use to conduct business, to be paid and to buy goods and services. It’s the love of money, the desire for more, that is a root of all kinds of evils. Because then you make it your god, the thing to be worshipped, the thing to serve. Dreams become schemes to make more and more.

For Wordsworth, the escape from this getting and spending lies in pagan Greek mythology, getting back to nature. But the living God tells us here in his word that the answer to greed and getting is found in a very different practice. It’s not something that sits naturally or easily with us - in fact, a Puritan preacher wrote a book in the 1600s describing it as the Rare Jewel - Christian contentment.

Paul has sent young Timothy to be the church leader in Ephesus, and he writes this letter to encourage him, and remind him what he should be teaching the Christians in that church. Throughout the letter, there’s an emphasis on godliness, of becoming more like God when you have been saved by God. It’s applied to various situations, and in the last chapter, Paul addresses the problem of false teachers, who don’t hold to the gospel. Instead, they reckon that godliness is a means of gain. They look at ministry as a way of lining their pockets and becoming rich.

Look at verse 6. ‘Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.’ See how Paul turns that around? The false teachers reckon godliness leads to gain. But the great gain in godliness comes when you’re content! Paul tells us why: ‘for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.’

When a baby is born, it has nothing to its name (and maybe doesn’t even have a name, immediately). However hard she works, for as long as she lives, whether she makes a fortune or dies in debt, she cannot take anything with her. It’s like the TV quiz ‘The Chase.’ No matter how many thousands the team have accumulated, maybe £60,000, the chaser catches them in the final round and the money drops to £0.00.

Paul says that the great gain of godliness is contentment. What does that look like? ‘But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.’ Enough to live on, enough to get by.The Bible challenges us today, on this gift day, is enough really enough for us?

The next two verses highlight the dangers of the love of money: it’s a snare and a diversion. ‘Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare...’ As Admiral Ackbar in Star Wars would say: ‘It’s a trap!’ You don’t realise until you’re caught, and then it’s too late. So late, that ‘some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.’

There is great gain in godliness with contentment. As we come towards a close, Paul applies this contentment in two ways. For Timothy, the man of God (and for all of us), he is to flee these things and instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. It’s a bit like the Stranger Danger advice given to children - if there’s a danger, then run away. Get away from whatever or whoever is leading you astray. So if you feel the love of money is attempting to take you, then get away from it. Take hold of what you have - eternal life, stored up, safe, which isn’t affected by your bank balance or your stocks and shares portfolio.

But Paul also applies this contentment to ‘the rich in this present age.’ (17) Don’t be haughty, proud, or thinking that you are someone because you’re rich. Don’t set your hopes on the uncertainty of riches (as the mortgage ads remind us, the value of investments can go down as well as up). Instead, set your hope on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

So if God has given us everything, then we have those things to use in his service. Do good. Be rich in good works. Be generous and ready to share. Use your wealth in this world, not for yourself, but to store up treasure in heaven, as you take hold of that which is truly life.

The reformer Martin Luther once said that the last part of a man to be converted is his wallet. If we’re so used to living for ourselves putting our own needs first, then it’s not surprising that it’s difficult to change our thinking and our way of living. The desire for security is always strong. Being financially responsible is a good thing. But our ultimate security lies beyond this life, where pounds and euros are as useless as monopoly money would be in Tesco.

God gives us everything. It’s all from him. And it’s all for him. Practice contentment (enough is enough) and generosity (towards others), as we take hold of that which is truly life, and hold loosely the things of this world. Then we will find that rare jewel of Christian contentment, and discover the great gain that can be found nowhere else.

This sermon was preached at the Gift Day service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 7th June 2015.