Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Palm Sunday - an all age talk

Mark 11:1-11

Draw a donkey (or get people to draw a donkey) using the letters D (disciples), C (colt), P (people), P (praise) and S (spread)

As you draw the donkey, tell the story as told by Mark.

'Jesus told two of his Disciples to fetch him a Colt. As they were untying the colt, the People asked them what they were doing (obviously the local 'neighbourhood watch'). They told them that 'The Lord has need of it and will return it'. As Jesus rode on the donkey, the people declared his Praises. They Spread their garments and branches on the road.'

So what is going on? Let's look at what the people say about Jesus.

1. They are saying that Jesus is coming in the name of the Lord (v9)
(draw the letter L)

In other words, Jesus is coming as the representative of God.

If the Headteacher at school stops you in the corridor as you are going into a lesson and tells you to ask another teacher to come and see him, you are sent in the name of the headteacher. If someone stops you in the corridor and asks you why you are not in lesson, it's OK because you're doing something in the name of the head. When you go to the teacher and say, 'Sir, Mr HT wants to see you', they leave because you've come in the name of the head.

Jesus came in the name of the Lord. Elsewhere Mark tells us that Jesus is not only God's representative, ambassador, but God's Son.

So if we wish to know what God is like and what God desires, then we can do no better than look at the one who rode into Jerusalem on a colt.

2. They are saying that Jesus is coming as the King (v10)
(Draw the letter K)

Jesus is coming as King of the Kingdom that God promised in the past. David was the great king of Israel.

This is political stuff. Jesus has come to bring God's Kingdom of righteousness, mercy and justice.

And the people recognise this. They declare his Praises. And they symbolically throw themselves before him, as they spread their cloaks on the ground before him.

3. They are declaring that Jesus is Saviour (v10)
(Draw the letter S)

Hosanna is both a prayer ('Save us Lord') and a statement ('The Lord saves').

It is a prayer because the people were in captivity both to the Romans, but also to the power of sin and death - and all the consequences that that brings.

But it is also a statement. Jesus is the Saviour. He had come not to defeat the Romans, but to defeat sin and death. And if you look here, we see how that salvation might look. This is a glimpse, a preview, a foretaste of what that salvation might look like. Creation serves him (in the shape of a Colt that has never been ridden before and the branches), the Disciples obey him, the People Praise him (worship and praise is so important. It's great when it is spontaneous, but it cannot always be spontaneous. We can praise him by using the words of a hymn or song, or - for example - the doxology 'Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit', or the words at the end of the Lord's prayer: 'for the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours'. Worship is what we are all about, and often when we speak the truth even when we feel nothing, we are then taken out of ourselves so that we can be lost in Him in joy). But the people not only praise him - they also Spread their garments in surrender before him and offer him their allegiance and their service.

And one day Jesus will return and establish this Kingdom. The victory was won when he died and rose again. He has come as Lord and King and Saviour. He will come as Lord and King and Saviour.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

on Boasting

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

There are times when we have to boast.

I was talking to someone last week who is looking for a job. She has not done an interview for many years. And she was finding it very hard: she was not used to blowing her own trumpet, to selling herself, to saying how great she was.

And sometimes as Christians we do struggle with the idea that there are times when we need to promote ourselves. We struggle with the idea of boasting.

And that should be the case. It may be necessary at times, but we need to recognise that when we boast, we become fools

Paul begins this chapter by saying: 'I must go on boasting'. He has begun boasting in chapter 10:7

But he recognises that although his boasting is necessary, it is actually 'a little foolishness' (11:1); he asks his listeners to 'accept him as a fool, so that I too may boast' (11:16). He finishes the whole section by writing (12:11), 'I have been a fool!'

Perhaps Paul would agree with Thomas Fuller who said, "Every ass loves to hear himself bray".

1.      We become fools because we usually boast in the wrong things:

Recently there were several politicians who boasted about smoking pot at university, how many pints they had drunk in the past, and how many sexual partners they had had. It was, to a point, refreshing to have people be honest. But they were perceived to be fools, because they were boasting about things that they should not have been boasting about.

And yet I am not sure that we are that much different when we boast about our wealth, the famous people we know, honours or titles, qualifications, gifts, experiences, acts of valour (how many enemies we have slain, how big our church is)

When we boast about something we identify ourself with it. We say, this is part of me and I'm proud of it. Indeed I would go further and say that when we boast about something, we make that particular thing at that particular moment the most important thing in our life. What is it, at this particular moment, that I want you to know about me? I want you to know that I have a doctorate, or that I'm part of an extremely successful business/school/church, or that I can drink 10 pints and still put a thread through a needle.

And the reason that that makes us into fools is because if we make those things our ultimate hope, we are going to be disappointed.

2.   We become fools when we boast because we usually start to make claims that are not true.

There are times when we need to boast according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 11:18). There are times when we need to say, 'This is what I have achieved; this is what I have done; this is what I am good at; these are my qualifications'.

But when you have to boast of what you have done and can do, when you do have to sell yourself - speak the truth.

I remember with horror one interview when I was a fool. I was asked what reading I had done on the subject that I was applying for - Anthropology. I hadn't done any. But on the way up on the train I had looked at the back of a book by Margaret Mead. So I said, 'I've read this book'. And the next question was: 'What did you think of it'?

And even if what we say is true, we also need to watch out for exaggeration: things get bigger. The fish that we caught, the dragon that we faced, the miracle that we experienced grew bigger.

"An exaggeration is a truth that has lost its temper." Kahlil Gibran

"Some persons are exaggerators by temperament. They do not mean untruth, but their feelings are strong, and their imaginations vivid, so that their statements are largely discounted by those of calm judgment and cooler temperament. They do not realize that we always weaken what we exaggerate." Tryon Edwards

And as an aside: Do not boast about things that you would like to happen but have not yet happened.

In 1 Kings 20, there is the story of Ben-Hadad, King of Syria. He brings an army and surrounds Samaria, and claims that it already belongs to him. And Ahab, the king of Israel answered, Tell him, Let not him who straps on his armour boast himself as he who takes it off. 1 Kings 20:11

James 4:13-15, "Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin."

And yes, we do have to sell ourselves at interviews, and it is a form of boasting. In the Kingdom of Heaven we won't have to do it because we will see every person exactly as they are. But if you have to boast, then make sure that what you are saying is the truth. Otherwise we become a fool.

Paul writes (2 Corinthians 12:6),  '.. if I should wish to boast I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth'.

3.   We become fools when we boast because we usually boast to build ourselves up.

We boast either because we have such a self-inflated ego, or - and I suspect this is more true - in order to build up our self-identity. We want others to think better of us, so that we can think better of ourselves.

So in 2 Corinthians 10:12, Paul writes, 'When they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding'.

"There is nothing quite so dead as a self-centred man - a man who holds himself up as a self-made success, and measures himself by himself and is pleased with the result."
-- Wesley G. Huber, D.D.

Paul's boasting here is very different:

He has been forced to boast. He is not boasting because he thinks he is something good. He is not boasting to build himself up. Instead he is boasting in order to do what he believes God is calling him to do.

If you like, he has been put into an interview situation.

False apostles, false teachers have come to the church in Corinth. They've put themselves up for the job of church overseer. They have boasted. They have made big claims about themselves. They have spoken of the amazing things that they have experienced; of the astonishing miracles they have performed; of the astounding works that they have done; They have boasted of how important they are. And at the same time they have rubbished Paul.

2 Corinthians 10:10, "For they say, 'His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech of no account'."

(I like that. Paul could certainly write, but it appears that he did not have a physical presence and that he was not a great speaker (cf 11:6). People tend to think that you can only be big on the Christian scene if you can speak well. Think again.)

And the Christians in Corinth have been wowed by these false apostles.
And as a result they have listened to their message and they are beginning to believe a different message about Jesus to the message that Paul preached.

And Paul is desperately concerned for them. He brought the good news of Jesus to them. He loves them. He does not want them to wander off on a path that will ultimately lead them to destruction (11:2-3).

So Paul, on this occasion, matches fire with fire. He starts to boast himself. He boasts:

a.    about the call of God on his life to be an apostle, about the authority which God has given him, an authority which extended to the Corinthian church. But it is an authority to be a servant of Jesus, to build people up and not destroy them (10:8)
b.    about being a better servant of Christ than the so-called super-apostles. He gives evidence, not in terms of what he has accomplished for Christ, but in terms of what he has suffered for Christ, and his love for fellow believers. The second half of chapter 11 is critical in our understanding of how we should measure success in the Christian world.
c.    about an experience that he has had. We read about that in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4. It is significant that Paul is very cautious when he boasts this. He describes it in terms of a third person, 'I know a man', although we know that it is him. And we need to remember that Paul was writing this to a small community of believers who he personally knew. I am not sure he would have written this if he had known this would be read by a multi national, multi temporal, multi billion audience.

But Paul recognises that in this boasting he is being a fool.

Brothers and sisters, there are times when as Christian believers we need to engage in this foolish boasting.

We may need at times to affirm our human qualifications (as Paul does in 11:22)
We may at times need to affirm the authority which God has given us to go to all nations and make disciples. And if God has called you to something specific you may at times need to affirm and declare that call.
We may at times need to speak of some of the things God has done through us
We may at times need to be prepared to speak of hardships that we have suffered for him
We may at times need to be prepared to speak of some of those moments when God has met with us.

It is foolish boasting, but because we live in this world, there are times when it has to be done. There are times when we do need to exalt ourselves for the sake of the message about Jesus.

Because there is a kind of boasting that is not foolish

2 Corinthians 10:17, 'Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord'.

We live in a world in which people boast about themselves, their achievements and their products.

Jesus Christ trumps the lot. He is our creator, our saviour, our lover. He is our past, our present and our future. He was before time began, he lived on earth as a human being. He died and rose again. He is the conqueror of death. He will come at the end of time to be our judge. And he is our source, our guide, our inspiration, our strength and our destiny.

When we boast in him we are no fools, for he really is our ultimate hope.

And Paul delights to boast in the things that make him look smaller and Jesus look greater.  Here is no superhero. Here is a man who, he writes, was so hated and hunted that on one occasion, he had to be let down out of a window in the town walls in a washing basket (11:32-33). That is not the stuff of super heroes.

That is why he has no hesitation in boasting about the things that make him look weak.

2 Corinthians 11:30, 'If I must boast I will boast of the things that show my weakness'.
2 Corinthians 12:9, 'Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me'.

And so here in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us that this remarkable vision that he had had would have made him conceited. It would have made him think that he was a cut above other Christians. So he immediately tells us about the affliction (we don't actually know what it was: It might have been a speech impediment, an eye problem, recurring headaches, a struggle with loneliness: it doesn't really matter), and he tells us that he prayed on three occasions - asking God to take the affliction away. But that prayer was not answered in the way that he desired. Instead God spoke to him and said, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'. And in v10, Paul goes on to mention persecutions, insults, hardships and - do you notice the last word - difficulties. In another translation it is the word 'calamities'.

Affliction, the sin of conceit, God saying 'no' to your prayers, hostility and calamity. It is not really stuff to proclaim if you want to make yourself look strong and good.

But Paul has begun to discover the reality that God can most use us when we are not strong but weak, when we are out of our comfort zone, when we are most dependent on him.

And Paul does not want to make himself look good.
He wants people to know that it is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is good.

Jeremiah 9:23-24: Thus says the LORD: Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Setting priorities for the Church - some reflections

Our starting point is our parish vision statement. We seek to:

  • Worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit
  • Teach the bible
  • Grow people in faith, love and understanding
  • Equip people to serve
  • Introduce people to Jesus so they can meet him and discover forgiveness and eternal life

1. Centrality of worship and prayer

So many things we could be/are doing: music, tourists, fabric, community work - but the priority is worship: worship of the God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The key: those times when we meet together to worship: to praise God (in music or words), to seek him and to receive from him (in word and sacrament)

My deep desire is that for every person in our churches, coming to our churches, worship and prayer would be the most central thing in our life.
The priority which shapes everything else.

So even though evangelism and social work come very high up my list of priorities, worship is more important for me. Mission and service flow out of worship; real worshipers become natural faith-sharers and servants. [2 Cor 8:5, 'First they gave themselves to the Lord and then they gave themselves to us']

So Sunday services, midweek services, staff prayers, the parish prayer meeting are central.

We seek to make our times of worship together

  • God focussed and God honouring: it is about Him and not about us.
  • Faithful to what we have received - from the historic Church (scriptures and the creed), the Church of England and from our own evangelical tradition (although I keep trying to include elements from the Orthodox tradition!)
  • An opportunity where people can meet with God that is different to everyday life; offering space to go beyond ourself and the immediate, to be and pray; a place where we can learn to receive from God.
  • Relevant to the people who are meeting together. People are not going to make radical jumps that make them feel uncomfortable or out of place. So each of our services have a different feel (BCP, informal, traditional, youth services)
  • Transforming. Each service should take us on a journey - from rebellion to obedience and love; from self reliance to dependence on God; from self justification to resting in the forgiveness and love of God; from being crushed by the mundane to praise of the transcendent God;
  • A mould for the daily life.

We have seen growth in our services [numbers do matter - because it is about people meeting together to honour the Lord Jesus Christ. Having said that, numbers should not be our success criteria. A truly faithful church may well not grow numerically. There may well be times of pruning.]

The most encouraging area of growth has been the growth of the 9:30 service from about 30 to currently over 110.

Why? I have no idea! [BBC programme 'Orbit'. Reporter was saying that you need 3 cycles to be in the right place to get an ice age!]

  • We are an urban centre (so have greater resources than those in rural areas)
  • We clarified the focus of the service - from being 'for' children to being 'for' families. (Helped by Warren's 'Purpose driven church')
  • Faithful people: praying and serving.
  • Community that is outward looking (hospitality, coffee in town after the service).
  • A building that is big and cold, but which is also easy and safe to come into.
  • A freedom to experiment (within safe limits) - something new
  • Use of technology - so that people feel that this is something that is moving and changing
  • Consistent regular leadership - people know what they expect to get.

2. Working with what we have

Artists sculpting look at the material and try to see what it is showing. 'Looking at the angel that is trying to get out'.
Carpenter: works with the grain

1. People: what are our skills, interests, desires, dreams, visions (eg. little church promoting the big journey)?
Allow people to have their head. For me, part of leadership is about seeing gifts in others and encouraging people to use them - and also helping it all slot together: image of leadership - captain on a ship.

2. Community: what are the traditions and strengths of the area in which we serve?
Traditions of the area: Bury St Edmunds - conservative; traditional church still works here among many people; weddings, baptisms (thanksgivings) and funerals.
Traditions of the churches: theological, musical, liturgical
Of course some of those traditions are not currently helpful. For SM, the fact that we were trying to pretend to be the cathedral was not helpful.

3. What openings are there? We often struggle to get people to come into the churches, but schools and residential homes are often asking us to go into them. Other opportunities: civic services, Christmas, occasional offices, tourists. Work with those openings and shape them.
Illustration of church putting major resources into 'outreach' teams and seeing little fruit, but having significant numbers of newcomers coming through the door. Should they put resources into welcoming new people?
Sometimes openings come in the shape of problems: eg. St Mary's Hadleigh porch project

4. Buildings: people love their church building. They can help and hinder.
SM - beloved by people in the town. Visitors [sought to increase visitor numbers] and concerts. We now have a gospel display, and a place where people can pray.
SP - beloved by the people who worship there. Made it more flexible: LIFE exhibition; holiday club. But it is off the beaten track and closed during the week.
Hyndman Centre (a community centre) - massive resource for mission. If 12000 visit SM each year, 30000 go to some event in the Hyndman Centre. People who came to recent evangelistic talk (3 out of the the 4 of them) came because of contacts through the Centre. But we are not making enough of it: my wish to put in a community worker

We begin to do what we can where we are with what we have got.

In this business, you do need to do a bit of sailing. See where the wind is going and go with it - but watch out that you are not being led by a gust.

3. The importance of belonging (the centrality of relationships)

  • People matter: pastoral work matters. See crisis moments as moments when people can grow
  • Development of community: via task orientated groups and fellowship groups (e.g. home groups; lunch and chat; tea and chat; choirs; bell ringers, youth group, welcomers/sides person/steward team, Sunday school team, holiday club, toddler group, events for children, St Mary's wives). Developing those communities so that, whatever the task, Jesus Christ becomes the rock on whom they stand.
  • Development of identity in relationship: We need to begin with how people see themselves. How do they identify themselves and others? As newcomers to Bury or not; as people who have children and at what stage their children are at; as members of St Mary's or St Peter's. Begin with those identities - but, through prayer and teaching, encourage the development of our new identity in Christ. Offer opportunities for people to think outside their own boxes (eg.  occasional parish services, parish retreat or weekend.
  • Key of encouraging people to work together: choirs singing together, holiday club, LIFE exhibition
  • Community based evangelism: our experience with Passion for Life (a proclamation based mission) and our own CL mission (a community based mission). Most effective P4L events were not the evenings with a preacher but a sporting quiz evening with speaker. For our own CL mission, we used existing groups: eg. choir, lunch and chat to put on an event and also have a speaker. The most effective tool in helping introduce people to Jesus have been the Alpha or Christianity Explored courses.

4. Let God be God

  • Don't worry if we can't be/do all things. Focus on one or two things that we do well (eg. teaching, music, youth work, work with older people.)
  • Don't worry if we don't have all people at all the events all the time - creche/children/teenagers/young families/singles/mature families/ elderly. Be faithful, do what we can, and take steps of faith. Remember there are other churches who will reach the people who our church cannot. 
  • Don't despair. Pray and wait. We believe in a Lord who was crucified. It looked as if he had been defeated and it was all over. But it wasn't. 3 days later he rose from the dead.

Let God be sovereign. He can look after his Church.

The centrality of prayer and worship (the Russian example).
The call is to be prayerful and faithful. God grows His Church in His way.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The blessing of giving

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

We continue to talk about giving, and over the last two weeks and this week we are asking people to reconsider our giving: what we give to the church, what we give to other Christian ministries, and what we give to people generally in need.

My apologies to those who have recently joined our churches, or who are visitors. We do mention giving in our preaching here: the bible speaks quite a bit about giving; but we are not usually as full frontal as this.

And we have seen the following principles
1. God is love, and God's nature is to give.
2. This is really simple. If the Spirit of God lives in us then we will desire to give. If the Spirit of God does not live in us then we will not desire to give. The more that we allow the Spirit to work in us, the more that we will desire to give. The work of a pastor in a church where people are filled with the Spirit is not to get them to give, but to stop them from giving recklessly.
3. The greatest act of love is not the act of sacrificing ourselves to save another person from physical death. We are of course to show such acts of love. But the greatest act of love is to sacrifice ourselves to save another person from eternal death. The greatest act of love that you can show another man or woman is to sacrifice yourself to give them the opportunity to learn about and to meet this God who loves them.

Last week we looked at the widow who gave 'everything' she had to the temple. We considered that we are to give not out of our abundance but out of our poverty. And we saw that we were never created to grab for money, to grip on to money but to give.

Today we look at the blessings which come when we give

When we give we are blessed, others are blessed and God is blessed.

1. When we give we are blessed:

'Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully'.

What does that mean?

I do not think that it means that if you give you will become rich.

The story is told of the man who stood up in church and said, 'I only had £10. I gave it all away and the Lord gave me £100. I gave it all away and the Lord gave me £10000. I gave it all away and the Lord gave me £100000. I gave it all away and that is why I now stand in front of you a multi-millionaire.' And a little old lady sitting at the back of the church said, 'Go on. I dare you!'

I would love to be able to say that if wish to become rich then you all you need to do is give to the church or to the work of the gospel. But I can't.

Look at the great men and women of God: the greatest of them had nothing. Jesus Christ; Paul the apostle; Augustine; Maximus the confessor (he ended up without his hand and his tongue); CT Studd - gave up his inheritance and estate in order to become a missionary in China; Mr Teresa (when she died she left 2 saris and a bucket).

Someone said, 'If you give 10% of your income to the work of proclaiming Jesus Christ, I can guarantee you this: you will be 10% poorer.'

What then does this passage mean?
Is not Paul saying that if you give abundantly God will give back to you abundantly.

Well yes and no!

First of all, remember that Paul is talking to the Corinthian church. He is writing to them as a community and not as individuals. If there is a promise of blessing of material abundance, it is a promise to them as a community. Within that community there will be rich and poor - but as we have seen earlier in this passage, if this really is a community in which people have given themselves to Christ, then the rich will desire to share what they have with the poor, so that there is equality. (2 Corinthians 8:14)

Think of the first Christian community: they sold their goods so that those in need were supplied.

But, secondly, in what way - if we give abundantly - will we be given abundantly?

Look at verse 8: "God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times - and this is the key bit - 'you will abound in every good work'.
And in verse 9 he continues. He quotes from Psalm 112 which describes the blessed, the fully happy man or woman. And among other things we discover that he or she
is generous: "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor". But note how it continues, 'his righteousness endures for ever'
And he echoes that in the next verse: 'He will .. multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness'
And going on, 'You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way'

So if you give, what is that God will give to you?

He will give you grace: and grace here is another word for more of the Holy Spirit, more of the love of God and more of the wisdom of God. And he will give you grace so that you will be able to give: more of yourself, more of your money and more of your stuff.

In other words, and this is a profound spiritual principle, if you begin to give of what you have and what you are, then God will indeed bless you and give you the deep desire to become more like him and to give more of what you have and what you are.

You see we come back to what we said last week: we were made to give, and the more we give - of our money, our stuff, our homes, our time, our gifts, our very self - first to him and then to others - the more we become like God and the more we discover what true life, divine life, eternal life is all about.

People say that God is no person's debtor, so if you give he will give back to you. But hang on a minute. What can we give to God? God has already given us all things. I am simplifying it a bit, but it is like the RBS who has been given billions of pounds by the government, giving £1000 back to the government and saying 'You are now indebted to us'.

In the Old Testament people were sacrificing cattle to God, and they are saying, 'God, we have given you this, and you now owe us one.' But God says, 'Hang on a minute. The cattle on a thousand hills are mine. I don't need your cattle. They're my cattle anyway. I don't owe you anything. What I want from you is a sacrifice of thanksgiving, of gratitude'.

We do not give in order to become rich here.

We give in order to become rich in the things of God: righteousness, generosity, self-giving love. We give in order to become rich there. As Jesus said, 'Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven'.

2. When we give others are blessed

a) The people who hear about the gift are blessed and encouraged.

The churches in Macedonia are encouraged by the gift of the churches in Achaia (Corinth), and vice versa. They are not encouraged by the size of the gift, but by the willingness, the desire to give.
Why does that encourage people?
Because it means that the grace of God, the Spirit of God is active.

But there is a flip side to this. When people in churches do not desire to give, it is profoundly discouraging. It means that either the Spirit of God is absent or, and this is more likely, we have allowed other things to come in and crush the Spirit.

So in 2 Corinthians 9:1-5 Paul is not above calling the believers in Corinth to account. He says 'You said you would do a collection, and I've boasted about how keen you were to do this collection - and I don't want you to be humiliated, and I don't wish to be humiliated'. In other words, he is saying, 'Don't let me down; don't let yourselves down; don't discourage the other churches by being people who say we desire to give, but then not giving'.

And we do need the courage and the encouragement to carry through those good resolutions that we make.

The problem we face is this: You have given yourself to Jesus and the Spirit of God is living in you. You desire to give. You decide that tithing would make a good principal for your giving. So this is my income: 10 bananas, and I put aside 1 as my tithe. This is my giving pot.

But this is also the easiest pot to take things from. [Take bites from that banana as you mention different things]. There is an amazing offer on a new outfit or sofa or larger TV or a holiday. The toilet springs a leak and has got to be mended. The price of filling up the car goes from £70 to £80. And at the end of the week, month or year - all that is left is [hold up a banana skin!]

If you desire to give, treat that which you have decided to give as literally sacred. Put it aside at the very beginning. Treat it the way that the government treat your PAYE tax, or the way you treat your rent or mortgage. Do it. Obviously if things get difficult, you will need to rethink what you can afford to give the following week, month or year.

Do whatever you can to help you plan. Sit down, try and work out a budget. If people go to CAP, when they are in debt, that is the first thing that they will help you do. Ask yourself, 'What do I need?'. And if you wish to give make that the first claim on your money and not the last. That is why the money goes out of our account by standing order at the beginning of the month. It is no longer there, so I can't buy the latest gadget even if it is amazing and will help my life so much and is on special offer!

And let us encourage each other. Not by the amount we give, but by the fact that we want to give, we desire to give - and that we actually do what we say we will do.

b) The people who receive the gift are blessed.

In the case of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, it is the believers in Jerusalem. v12, 'For the ministry of this service is .. supplying the needs of the saints'. And Paul goes on to talk about how the people receiving the gift give thanks to God for the givers and pray for them.

In our case, we are asking people in our churches to give so that the people of Bury St Edmunds are blessed, and so that the people of the wider church, here in Suffolk and beyond, are blessed.

A few figures from last year

3. When we give, God is blessed

God is blessed

a) because the gospel, the good news of Jesus is proclaimed.

I've been very struck this time reading through 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 at how the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the message of Jesus Christ, is linked in with this theme of giving.

The giving of money and the proclaiming of the good news of Jesus go hand in hand.

So when Paul sends Titus to the Corinthians to help them with the collection he sends with Titus (2 Corinthians 8:18), 'the brother .. who is famous for his preaching of the gospel'. In other words, he sends with him a well known evangelist. And I assume that someone famous for his preaching of the gospel, does exactly that when he comes: preach the gospel.

Even here, in what could be seen as a purely humanitarian cause, the message of Jesus is proclaimed.

Why? Because when people receive Jesus, they receive the Spirit of God and they begin to desire to give.

And that is made clear in 2 Corinthians 9:13. The reason that the Corinthians gave was because of their 'submission flowing from [their] confession of the gospel of Christ'.

b) Because when we give, people turn to him in thanksgiving (v12).

Alison and myself give great thanks to God for those who have given so that we were able to work in Russia with CMS, and so that I can be released to be a full time minister in the Church of England. We thank God for you.
And I hope that you have had the experience also of being on the receiving end of unexpected and yet needed gifts.
The problem is that most of us play it so safe financially that we do not know the dependence on God, or the joy that his provision can bring. The prayer that he taught us to pray daily does include the line, 'Give us today our daily bread'. For many believers that has been a genuine prayer. And when God answers it, there is great joy and sincere thanksgiving.

But when we give, praise is also given to God (v13): praise for the way that he transforms sinful men and women. They will praise him, because through Jesus, he has changed our lives. They will praise him because he has turned us from people who naturally want to grab onto money and grip onto money, into people who are learning to love, who are learning to live and who are learning to give.

'Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift'