Saturday, December 31, 2016

Watchnight Sermon: Philippians 3: 13-14 Pressing on

In a matter of minutes, we’ll be into the new year. For many people, that means that their new year’s resolutions kick in. I wonder if you can guess what the top resolutions in the UK are?

1. Lose weight. 2. Get organised. 3. Spend less, save more. 4. Enjoy life to the fullest. 5. Stay fit and healthy. 6. Learn something exciting. 7. Quit smoking. 8 Help others achieve their dreams. 9. Fall in love. 10 Spend more time with family.

I wonder if your resolution is in that list? Or maybe you’ve resolved something else? This time last year, a group of people resolved to read through the Bible in a year - and they’ve now done it (and are starting through it again tomorrow!). Perhaps you could join us this year - pick up a reading plan in the porch.

When you think of it, most resolutions bring about some sort of change - we say to ourselves, things are going to be different this year. Our resolutions make us say no to some things, in order to say yes to our target. So if we want to lose weight, we say no to the sticky buns and yes to the fruit and veg. Or we’ll say no to just dumping everything in a big pile, and yes to putting everything neatly in its place, if we want to get organised. It takes some effort, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

Well, in our reading tonight from Philippians, we find what looks like a new year’s resolution. Except, this isn’t just something to try for a week or two; this isn’t just for one year; this is Paul’s lifetime resolution. His ongoing aim:

‘But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.’ (Phil 3:13-14)

This is the one thing Paul does; the aim and direction of his life. His eye is on the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, he cannot wait to be face to face with God in heaven. As he presses on towards the prize, he cannot go in any other direction.

When I was learning to drive, I had a bad habit. When reversing, I didn’t shift around to look out the back window; I would try to use the mirrors. My poor driving instructor told me that I wouldn’t look out the back window when I was going forward, so why would I look out the front when I was reversing. There’s wisdom in that. Look the way you’re going! Or, as Paul says, ‘forgetting what lies behind.’

This past year may have been one of joy, or one of sorrow. You may have enjoyed everything about it, or struggled to make it to this point. No matter what, Paul urges us to (respectfully) forget about it. Don’t dwell in the past - either your successes or your failures. Don’t look backwards at things which can’t be changed.

Earlier in Phil 3, Paul tells us about his own past, his confidence in the flesh - how he worked so hard to earn his way to heaven with God. He thought he had it all, only to realise that it was all loss, rubbish (dung). Perhaps this year we’ve been trying to work our way into God’s good books; we’ve been putting our efforts into things that don’t profit. Listen to Paul: he forgets what lies behind.

Instead, he strains forward to what lies ahead. When I take our dogs for a walk, you would think that it’s them taking me for a walk. They don’t walk sedately by my side, no, they’re straining forward, almost pulling me along. It’s that sort of image Paul gives us of the one thing he does. He was probably thinking of the Olympics, the athletes straining forward for the prize. We watched the Rio games this summer, Usain Bolt winning even more gold medals. Even now, three and a bit years away, athletes are training to win gold at Tokyo 2020.

But our prize is more certain. The upward call of God is made possible through Jesus - our place in heaven is secured by his death for us. We receive his righteousness by faith (not by our works). Our future is secure; and so we can press on, straining forward to what lies ahead. As Paul puts it in verse 12: ‘I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.’

In verse 10 Paul tells us what this straining forward looks like - knowing Christ, and the power of his resurrection, AND sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. It’s not always easy to press on. And yet, with the prospect of heaven before us, it’s no wonder Paul makes this the one thing he does - forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

Will you make this your resolution this year?

This sermon was preached at the Watchnight Service in Aghavea Parish Church on Saturday 31st December 2016.

2016 Books

Each year I like to keep a record of the books I've read, and pick my top five. As with last year, the blog book reviews dried up, but some reading continued, and in fact, more than last year! Here are the books I've read in 2016:

1. Do More Better - Tim Challies
2. Trusting God - Even When Life Hurts - Jerry Bridges
3. A Sweet and Bitter Providence - John Piper
4. Though He Slay Me - Jamie Freeman
5. James For You - Sam Allberry
6. Prayer - Tim Keller
7. Why Vote Leave - Daniel Hannan
8. To Fly To Serve - Adrian Reynolds
9. Christ and His People - Mark Ashton
10. Zeal Without Burnout - Christopher Ash

11. I Predict A Riot - Colin Bateman
12. Awe - Paul David Tripp
13. The Road to Little Dribbling - Bill Bryson
14. Why the Reformation Still Matters - Michael Reeves & Tim Chester
15. Rogue Lawyer - John Grisham
16. Paul - A Pastor's Heart - Paul Barnett
17. Go Set A Watchman - Harper Lee
18. Faith of our Father - Dale Ralph Davis
19. Driving Big Davie - Colin Bateman
20. The Imperfect Pastor - Zack Eswine

21. Let The Earth Hear His Voice - Greg Scharf
22. The Plausibility Problem - Ed Shaw
23. Belfast Confidential - Colin Bateman

My top five books for the year are:
1. The Plausibility Problem
2. Zeal Without Burnout
3. The Imperfect Pastor
4. Go Set a Watchman
5. The Road to Little Dribbling

Here are the links to previous years' book blogs: 2015 (21); 2014 (26); 2013 (45); 2012 (49); 2011 (37); 2010 (52); 2009 (41); 2008 (23); 2007 (78).

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sermon: Isaiah 9:6 Nativity Names

When a baby is born, there seems to be a few questions which are always asked. When was the baby born? How heavy was the baby? And what are they calling it? And so when you hear those details, they are committed to memory, to share with whoever asks those self same questions!

In our readings tonight, we hear of two birth announcements, both for the same birth. One is made after it happens, the way birth announcements normally work - when the angels announce the good news to the shepherds; but the other announcement was made about 700 years before the baby was born. Imagine, that those words of Isaiah were written down so long before the event, and yet he gets the details spot on.

Forget about what weight the baby was - it probably doesn’t matter. Isaiah focuses in on the important question - what are they calling it? In verse 6, we’re given the names of the child born to us, the son given to us. But these aren’t the usual sort of names you might hear in the school roll call; you wouldn’t get these names being shouted in the park or the playground. Speaking of unusual and rare names - it seems that the name Gary could become extinct: only 33 babies born in the UK in 2014 were called Gary. Us Garys are an endangered species!

But rather than being just rarely used, and unusual, the names we find in Isaiah 9:6 are unique names, names for only one person in the whole of history, names that wouldn’t fit anyone else. (You know the way some people say, oh, you look like a Gertrude, or you don’t look like a Colin...). Well these names fit this baby of Bethlehem. They tell us who is in the manger.

First up, he is the Wonderful Counsellor. Now, that’s not a lovely local member of the district council - this Counsellor provides wonderful counsel. He’s one who draws alongside, who stands with you, who provides wisdom, giving help in time of need. Remember when some of the crowds will leave when Jesus says some hard things in John 6? Jesus says to the twelve, will you also leave? Peter answers, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ If you’re wondering about the future; if you’re unsure where to turn; if you need some wisdom - come to the Wonderful Counsellor, the fount of wisdom.

This baby is also the Mighty God. This is no ordinary baby - this is God himself, stepping down to be born as a baby, still powerful and mighty. It doesn’t take long to think of the ways in which this baby will show his power - as he walks on water; as he calms the storm; as he drives out diseases, and makes the lame leap for joy. God has come near, and is lying in the manger. He is almighty, all-powerful, and can do all things. What is it you need him to do? Come to the Mighty God, the source of power.

Thirdly, we see that this baby is the Everlasting Father, or as some would suggest, ‘Father of eternity’. He is in the position of authority for all eternity. Indeed, as Isaiah goes on to say, ‘of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.’ We’re so used to things having expiry dates - the first mince pies that Tesco had on their shelves back in September would be out of date by now! We update our cars and clothes. But the kingdom of Jesus goes on for eternity, and we’re invited to be with him. Come to the Everlasting Father, and worship him now and forevermore.

The final name for the baby is Prince of Peace. The baby lying in the manger is the one who brings peace. That’s what the host of angels confirmed, as they sang ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ In a world of war, we long for the peace that he brings. Even in recent days, when we hear of the Berlin lorry attack; fighting in Aleppo in Syria; as well as the places that don’t make it into the news, or which we’ve simply forgotten about; we long for peace.

The baby in the manger is the one who brings peace, because he gave himself for us rebels, to bring us back to God and bring an end to our conflict. That’s why, on the night we remember his birth, we also make sure to remember his death. Peace comes through the death of the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah points us to the manger of Bethlehem, to the baby lying in the straw. But as you pause to remember, don’t just see a baby. Don’t leave him as a baby. BEcause this little baby is the Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God’ the Everlasting Father; the Prince of Peace.

The baby grew up to live and die to bring us peace; and reigns in heaven for ever and ever. Christ the king offers us his peace, as his light shines into the darkness of our hearts. As that John Lennon song suggests: ‘Merry Christmas: War is over, if you want it; war is over now.’

This sermon was preached at the Christmas Eve Communion in Aghavea Parish Church on Saturday 24th December 2016.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Carol Service Sermon: Matthew 2:11 Gospel Gifts

What would it have been like if it had been three wise women instead of the three wise men? They would have asked for directions; arrived on time; helped deliver the baby; cleaned the stable; made a casserole; and brought practical gifts.

Let’s face it, the three wise men don’t really seem very wise at all. I mean, if you heard that a friend or a family member had a baby, you wouldn’t stock up on gold, frankincense and myrrh, would you? They wouldn’t be top of your shopping list in Marks and Spencer. There are a thousand and one things that would be more practical and useful for a first-time mum - baby clothes, nappies, towels, bibs, the list could go on and on.

But in Matthew 2:11 we hear these words: ‘And going on into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.’ But why did the wise men bring these particular gifts?

Well, each of the gifts tell the story of the baby - these are gospel gifts. The first one is obvious enough - gold for a king. It was the question the wise men asked when they arrived in Jerusalem at the royal palace. ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?’ Herod wasn’t pleased by their question. He thought he was the king. But even from his birth, Jesus is king of the Jews. The gold shows that Jesus is the king.

Next, we have the Frankenstein, sorry, frankincense. This was a sign of divinity - the sign that this is no ordinary baby, that this is God who has come. You see, in the Old Testament, frankincense was used in the temple offerings. In fact, it was only to be used in the temple - you couldn’t buy it in Boots alongside the bottles of Dior or Old Spice. This baby is a king, but he is also God with us - as shown by the frankincense.

So what about the third one? It’s not a mirror (the thing you look at your face in); but myrrh - perhaps the strangest of the three. Sometimes you have to go into a Yankee candle shop. The blend of smells and fragrances can be overpowering. I find that if I take a deep breath and hold it as long as I can, I can just about survive until we’re out again. In those kind of shops you find all sorts of smells - the Christmas ones of cinnamon, or spiced orange, the regular ones like fluffy towels or lavender. But you definitely wouldn’t have chosen to buy a myrrh candle. Myrrh was the smell of death. It was used in the burial rituals, and 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes would be used when Jesus was buried after the crucifixion.

Even as a little baby, the wise men bring a reminder that Jesus was born to die. He would die in our place, to take away our sins, and to give us pardon and peace. This is the good news of Christmas, as the wise men bring these strange, and yet appropriate gifts. Perhaps they were wiser than we thought. And wiser still, they fell down and worshipped him. This baby, the King over us, who is God with us, who will die for us.

The gifts tell the gospel. Jesus is the king - will you surrender to him? Jesus is God - will you worship him? Jesus is the one who died and rose again for your sins - will you take refuge in his sacrifice?

As the bumper sticker says: ‘Wise men worshipped Jesus. They still do.’ This is how you can be truly wise this Christmas, as you receive God’s gift to you, and bow before him in worship.

This sermon was preached at the Carols by Candlelight service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 18th December 2016.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sermon: Matthew 1: 18-25 Jesus, our Immanuel

Over the last few weeks, a new advertising poster has popped up in Adelaide, Australia, to a mixed reception. There’s a pop-art style cartoon of a pregnant woman at one side, and the close up of a man’s face on the other. And in the middle, the caption says: ‘You’re engaged, your fiancee is pregnant, and you’re not the father. What a Christmas!’

Now don’t worry - this isn’t a spoiler for the big storyline coming up in Neighbours or Home & Away. Because this isn’t a story from a made-up soap opera. This is real life - a story Jerry Springer or Jeremy Kyle would want to run on their TV show. Just think how tense an episode that would be.

‘You’re engaged, your fiancee is pregnant, and you’re not the father. What a Christmas!’

How would you feel in that situation? Angry? Confused? Betrayed? Whatever it is you’re feeling, it’s likely that Joseph was feeling the same way. You see, that poster in Adelaide is how an Anglican church is advertising its Christmas services. You’re Joseph - you’re engaged, your fiancee is pregnant and you’re not the father. What a Christmas!

This morning, we’re in Matthew’s gospel, as he begins to tell us of the Christmas story. He says as much in verse 18: ‘Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.’ But if you were to read this passage, and the next chapter, you might notice that he doesn’t tell us everything. Matthew tells us about the three wise men, but he misses out the bit about the angels appearing to the shepherds. He misses out the bit where the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and instead tells us the story from Joseph’s angle.

And from Joseph’s point of view, it’s not great. You’re engaged, your fiancee is pregnant and you’re not the father. What a Christmas! That’s where we find ourselves in verse 18. ‘When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.’

Now Northern Ireland can be fairly traditional in its views, and maybe Fermanagh even more so, but in Israel at this time, this was totally shocking. Mary is betrothed, engaged to Joseph, and yet, the signs are very obvious that she is pregnant. And then she has the cheek to come off with some story about the Holy Spirit making her pregnant? What does she take him for? A fool?

In those days and in that culture, Joseph would have had the right to have her publicly disgraced, and even stoned to death for unfaithfulness. But instead, having thought it through, he comes to his decision in verse 19: ‘And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.’

Now he has decided what to do, that’ll be it. Verse 20: ‘But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’

Mary had been telling Joseph about an angel appearing with a message that she would have a son by the Holy Spirit. It seemed unbelievable, but now Joseph gets the same message from an angel. The child really is from the Holy Spirit. Mary hasn’t been unfaithful.

As the angel continues to speak to Joseph, we hear two names for the baby that is growing in Mary’s womb. Now I’m not sure if Frainc and Amanda spent days or weeks or months going through baby name books to come up with Katie Tara, or if there’s a particular significance to her name.

But in the Bible, names are significant. They can tell you a lot about a person. And the two names that the angel gives to Joseph tell us just who the special baby is, and why he matters to us - not just at Christmas time, but all the time.

The first name is found in verse 21. ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’

The name Jesus simply means ‘God saves’. We talk about people being saved in all sorts of situations - when the lifeboat launches in the middle of a storm to save people from drowning in the water; when the crash barrier stops the car going over the edge and the people are saved; when the medics save a patient from dying.

But do you see why Jesus is given the name Jesus? ‘For (that is, because) HE will save his people... from their sins.’ Jesus is the Saviour, because he saves his people from their sins. These days we don’t really like to think about sin, or talk about sin, because it sounds so old-fashioned, so out of touch. But as we watch the news, or read the paper, or see life unfolding all around us, we see and know the effects of sin, in our own lives, and in everybody else’s.

In the beginning, God made a perfect world, and everything was good, good, and very good. But our first parents messed things up. They chose to go their own way; to do their own thing; to be like God - or in other words, to sin. And every one of us since has been caught up in their act of rebellion. It’s not just that we’re sinners because we sin - rather, we sin because we are sinners, it’s in our nature, it’s the way we are.

The lovely name of Jesus is so lovely because it speaks to us of his salvation - Jesus came to save us from our sins. He came to bear them on the cross, to die the death we deserve, to give us pardon and peace. Jesus is the Saviour.

But then in verses 22 and 23 we hear the other name for Jesus. As Matthew comments: ‘All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.’

Matthew remembers our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, and in its promise of a virgin conceiving and bearing a son, called Immanuel, finds the ultimate fulfilment in the events of the first Christmas. Why is Immanuel another name for Jesus? Well, Matthew tells us - ‘which means, God with us.’

If Jesus is God saves - and he, Jesus, saves his people from their sins, then that means that God himself has appeared. Jesus is ‘God with skin on’, as a Sunday School child once said. God is here. God is with us. That’s the message of Christmas - that God is with us.

Always and forever, God is with us. As we come shortly to baptise Katie, this will be our prayer - that she will grow up to know Jesus as her Saviour, and as her always with us God. But it’s not just something for Katie; it’s something for each one of us, as we gather here today.

Jesus is God’s gift to you this Christmas. He can and will save you from your sins - by taking away your burdens, and the weight of a guilty conscience, by giving you a fresh start as you trust in him.

And as you do that, as you trust in him, as you lean on him with all your weight, then you’ll discover that he is Immanuel, God with us, that he is always with you. That (as he has promised) he will never leave you or forsake you. Even if everyone else deserts you; even if you will spend Christmas Day by yourself - God is with you.

The poster’s slogan still reads ‘You’re engaged, your fiancee is pregnant and you’re not the father. What a Christmas!’ But instead of the angry face you might have expected on Joseph, the poster shows him smiling, excited, joyful - because this is the real Christmas - Jesus, our Immanuel - the God who saves us from our sins is the God with us, now and forever.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 18th December 2016.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Sermon: Romans 8: 31-39 More than conquerors

A few weeks ago, I managed to tick something off my bucket list - to ride the train from Coleraine to Londonderry, and enjoy the spectacular views along what Michael Palin has described as one of the best train journeys in the world. That’s a fairly leisurely one, compared to another target - to climb to the top of Cuilcagh, and stand on the highest point of Fermanagh (and Cavan!). To get up there, even with the new walkway, will take effort, but it will all be worth it, to see the view from the top.

Now to get to the top of Fermanagh would be one thing, but how much better to get to the top of Everest? Well, in a sense, that’s what we’ve been doing these past weeks as we’ve journeyed through Romans 8. A number of commentators remark that Romans 8 is the Mount Everest of the Bible, the high point of the truth of Christianity. Well now we reach the summit, the pinnacle of what it means to be a Christian.

So far we’ve seen that to be a Christian means no condemnation - we already know the end result, the verdict has already been passed. To be a Christian means living as a child of God, as the Spirit confirms who we are as he dwells in our hearts. To be a Christian means living with hope-filled hearts, as we long with creation for our renewal and redemption. To be a Christian means living by the Spirit’s help in our prayers, and taking refuge in the truth that God is working in all things to fulfil his good purposes for us - to make us like his Son.

It’s as if we’re going up and up, the summit of the mountain rising before us. It’s like an orchestra coming to the climax, the music getting louder and louder. And Paul in verse 31 brings us to today’s passage as he writes: ‘What then shall we say to these things?’ How do we respond to all we’ve heard? How do we summarise it all?

Here’s how Paul does it. You might have heard of the kids’ science centre in Belfast, W5. It’s dedicated to getting kids asking the 5 W questions - who, what, where, why and when. Well here, Paul asks 4 W questions - all starting with the same W. They’re there in verses 31, 33, 34 and 35. He asks over and over - ‘who’. And each time, the answer is the same. The answer is ‘no one’. But it’s as if Paul is playing the ‘yes no’ game - you know the one, we play it sometimes at youth fellowship, where you’re not allowed to say yes or no, and if you do then you’re out of the game. Well each time, rather than simply saying ‘no one’, Paul gives us a fuller answer, directing us to who God is, and what he has done for us.

So let’s dive into the passage, or lace up our walking boots and climb higher and higher as we stand on the solid rock of Christ, this Mount Everest of his love for us. Verse 31 is where we find the first question:

‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ That ‘if’ isn’t there to make us wonder if God is for us or not. This isn’t something that is in doubt for the Christian, for the one who trusts God. Rather, it’s asking, if this is indeed the case, if God really is for us (and he is!), then who can be against us? Who can oppose us?

And perhaps at times you might be able to supply a list of people who might be against you. You may even find that most people are against you! But Paul says, why would that matter, if God is for you? In the early church, a bishop by the name of Athanasius defended the orthodox teaching of the Trinity, while a number of church leaders embraced the Arian heresy (which taught that Jesus wasn’t fully divine). Some came to him and said, look, Athanasius, the whole world is against you, to which he replied, ‘Then Athanasius is against the world’ (Athanasius contra mundum). He knew that God was for him, so he could stand against all who opposed him.

And Paul gives us the evidence for God being for us - ‘He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’ God the Father gave up his beloved Son, he did not spare him, as a sign of his love and attitude towards us. He will surely give us all things. So who can be against us? No one, because God is for us.

Question two: Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? And again, you might think, plenty of people, who know all sorts of things about us. But once again, our eyes are drawn to God, to what he has done and is doing for us. ‘It is God who justifies.’ That is, it’s God who declares that we are in the right with him. We have been declared ‘not guilty’ by the judge, the charges won’t stick. So who shall bring any charge against us? No one, because God has justified us.

Question three: Who is to condemn? And you might have a list of possible candidates, people who pass judgement on you or what you have done; perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of someone’s stinging words. But do you see how Paul answers this one? Again he draws our eyes to what God has done for us. ‘Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.’

We’ve already seen that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and here’s why. Jesus is the one who could condemn us. He lived the perfect life; he obeyed where we all failed; he set the standard, and so could condemn us.

But as John 3:17 puts it: ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ Jesus has died for us, been raised for us, is at the right hand of God for us, and is praying for us. By his life, his death, his resurrection, and his continuing ministry for us, we are under no condemnation. No one else’s opinion really matters! So who is to condemn? No one, because Christ died and lives for us.

Three questions down, one to go, and this is the big one, the last step to the summit. This is where we might stumble, might struggle to see it, and yet this is the pinnacle, the very top of all the truth, the secret of the Christian life. Here’s the question: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’

And straightaway, Paul gives us a list of possible contenders. ‘Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?’ And these might be the things that would make you question whether God loved you. Or perhaps you can come up with another situation, where it might seem like God had ceased to love you, that you had been cut adrift from God’s love.

That’s why Paul quotes from Psalm 44 here - ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ In context, the Israelites weren’t suffering because they had turned away from God - they might have seen some sense of justice in that. No, they were suffering, being slaughtered, because they loved God. ‘For your sake’.

But isn’t that the point? The very things that might seem to point to the absence of God and his love, are actually the things that prove God’s love. The times when God might seem to be furthest away are actually the times when God’s love is the nearest and most precious. It’s what makes us more than conquerors - winning when it looks like we’re losing. Knowing his love more when it would appear that he is absent from us.

So who can separate us from the love of Christ? Paul gives us a list - a list of things that he is sure cannot do it. ‘For I am sure [convinced, absolutely certain] that neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

Think through that list. Take time to read it over carefully later on after you get your dinner (and resist the urge to have a snooze). Think - is there anything at all that could separate me from Christ’s love? Not death nor life - so whether I’m living or dead, Christ loves me. Angels can’t affect his love for me, neither can rulers - the people in charge of the country, the Queen, the Prime Minister, even Donald Trump. Anything happening now, or anything happening in the future (and your past is already dealt with). Not the powers - spiritual powers, demons. Neither height nor depth - things high or low, whether we’re up or down. Now even if you think of something outside those categories, the last one will cover it: ‘nor anything else in all creation.’ Nothing at all. Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus.

Four ‘Who’ questions. Each one answered ‘no one’ - because of all that God has done. And these four truths, this Everest is yours today, ‘if God is for us’. Perhaps you’ve been discouraged, facing opposition, or charges, or condemnation, or wondering if you’re beyond God’s love. Climb onto the rock of Christ, take in the view, and stand firm on God’s love. Find encouragement as we meet around the Lord’s table, as we recall his love for us.

Maybe you find yourself on the outside looking in. It’s like walking past a house and smelling a delicious meal being cooked, and you wish you were inside enjoying it. You wish you had all these blessings, and knew the love of God for yourself. Well, just step inside. Receive these promises as you turn to Christ, and realise what he has done for you, and trust in him, and revel in his love. Come today.

Who can be against us? Who shall bring any charge against us? Who is to condemn? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? No one. We are more then conquerors, because he has loved us. He loves us. He will always love us.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 4th December 2016.