On the occasion of Sophie Goodchild's thanksgiving service

Great joy to celebrate the birth of Sophie.

And I’m going to speak to Sophie this morning, because at long last it will be a privilege to be able to speak to someone who will be able to appreciate what I say

Sophie, I’m basing what I would like to say on Isaiah 43

1. God made you.

You might think that your mum and dad had a say in your creation – and I grant that they had a little bit to do with it.

Verse 1 states:
But now, this is what the Lord says –
he who created you, Jacob,
 he who formed you, Israel:

God created Jacob and Israel. Jacob is another name for Israel. But Jacob was the son of Isaac who was the son of Abraham. And when God uses the name ‘Jacob’, he is reminding us that although Israel is a nation, Israel is also a big family: made up of the descendents of Jacob. So God is saying, ‘I created this family’.

And in the New Testament, we are told that God created all families.

So Sophie, God used your mum and dad, but ultimately he made you.

That means a great deal.
It means that you are not here by chance. You were not born now and to Ian and Kirsty by luck. You are not an accident created by two other accidents, who might one day meet an accident and have an accident.

A friend sent Alison a quote about the definition of atheism.
“The belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason whatsoever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs. Makes perfect sense.”

Sophie, the fact that you are created by God means you have an astonishing dignity. It means that you have a purpose and a destiny. It means that you matter and your life matters – not just now, but for eternity.

2. Sophie, you belong to God

God says, “I have summoned you by name; you are mine”

Again, God speaks this to this unique family, the people of Jacob. And in a special way the descendents of Jacob, the Jewish people, were and still are God’s chosen people.

But what God says to Israel 3000 years ago, God says to all people today: ‘I have summoned you by name; you are mine’.

We can spend a lot of time anguishing about who we are. We can spend much money trying to get someone help us understand who we are.
[Crocodile Dundee school of psychology. I tell Wally – he tells everyone else – and then it is no longer my problem; Don’t they have mates].

But actually, for £10 we can buy a bible. And the bible will tell us who we are, if we are prepared to hear it.

It tells us that we are each individuals created by God, known by name, and that we belong to him.

Of course that has implications. We are not completely free individuals; we cannot do what we want or live in the way that we want. We belong to God and therefore we are accountable to God. Equally we belong to God and therefore all the riches of God also belong to us.

In Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear (a toy astronaut) thinks that he is really a space hero. It is a belief that drives everything about him. Meanwhile Woody (a plush toy cowboy) shouts at him, "You're not a space ranger! You're an action figure—a child's plaything."

It is only when he fails to fly, that Buzz realizes the truth of Woody's statement. He is crushed. He hangs his head in resignation and despair, and he says, "I'm just a stupid, little, insignificant toy."

Woody later seeks to comfort his friend. He focuses on the fact that Buzz may only be an action figure, but that what give him value is that he belongs to Andy and he is dearly beloved by Andy. He says to him, "You must not be thinking clearly. Look, over in that house, there's a kid who thinks you're the greatest, and it's not because you're a space ranger; it's because you're his."

And when Buzz lifts up his foot, he sees a label fixed to the bottom of his little shoe. There in black permanent ink is the name of Andy. Buzz breaks into a smile and takes on a new determination.

We do not have Andy’s name written on our foot. We have God’s name written on our heart.

And Sophie, as for each one of us, there will come a time in your life when  you will, I pray, hear God call your name; and you will have a choice: To say, ‘No, I belong to nobody’. Or ‘Yes, I belong to the God who made me, who loves me and who has a purpose for me.’

3. This passage tells us a little bit about the reality of life.

We pray, Sophie, that you will live a profoundly blessed life.

But there will also be those times when life does the dirty on us. There will be times when it gets really hard.

These verses talk of how we will pass through rivers and walk through fire.

They were spoken to a people who were about to be conquered and defeated and go into exile. They would experience unimaginable cruelty and violence. They would be slaves in a foreign land for 70 years. It would seem as if God had totally forgotten, abandoned them.

I was reading in last weeks’ Times’ supplement about Ping Fu. She is a leading Chinese entrepreneur, now living in the US, and working on 3D printing. It spoke of her childhood. Taken from her parents at the age of 8 during the so-called cultural revolution, brought up as a state orphan in brutal conditions, forced to watch two of her teachers [one dropped head first down a well; the other ripped apart by four horses], she was gang raped and left for dead. More recently her husband of 18 years has walked off with another woman.

That is extreme and we pray that no one should ever experience anything like that. But for all of us there will be times when life is hell.

God never promises a pain free life. We live in a fallen world in which there is suffering. There will be times when we experience intense pain, physical and emotional. There will be pain when we suffer and pain when those we love, suffer.

It is the reality of life.

4. But Sophie, when life does get rough, we do not need to despair – because if we have turned to God, He will be with us whatever we go through.

‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you’

For the people of Israel, that was true. They did go into exile. But God was with them in exile. He spoke to them. He comforted them. And after 70 years, he brought them back home.

And if we have recognised that we belong to God, he has promised that he will never leave us. And even though there will be times when we are up to here and we can’t take anything else, and something else will comes along, he has promised that there is nothing that will separate us from him or his love.

A few weeks ago I received a text from a young man with a pretty serious form of cancer. He gave me permission to use this.

He writes, "Has been very bad week so far. I now have a clot in left leg so daily heparin injections for next 3 months :-( Having radiotherapy and chemo today and radio on Monday so probably too unwell to see anybody until later next week at earliest. Know that without His strength and all your prayers it would be beyond me. I'm having to be taken to appointments in a wheelchair too as can't walk more than a few feet as legs very sore. Christ is sustaining me, but it feels pretty close at times. All I can do is trust in Him whatever and give myself to Him and His mercy completely. I do struggle to do that at times but know that whatever happens He is above it all and ultimately in complete control."

There is a great promise in the bible: that nothing – not cancer or other illness, not trouble or hardship, not persecution, desperate poverty, danger or physical violence, not angels or demons - can separate us from the love of God.

[Philip Yancey wrote in his great book on prayer, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. Prayer offers no ironclad guarantees—just the certain promise that we need not live that mystery alone”.]

And we do need to remember that it is not just about this life. Probably because I’m about to hit a particularly significant birthday, I have become rather philosophical. The older I get, the faster the years seem to go by – and I think ‘I like this life; I don’t really want it to go. I don’t want to grow older’.

But then I remember that it is not just about now and here. There really is a then and there. And that actually is what this is all about.

There is that great hymn, ‘For all the saints’, which has the line, ‘We feebly struggle, they in glory shine’.

Sophie, it is, at times, incredibly hard – sometimes even more if you choose to follow the Lord Jesus – but it is worth it, and God will never leave us.

5. Sophie, this passage reminds us just how incredibly precious you are

Sophie you are incredibly precious to your family.
But you are more than precious to your God.

Isaiah 43:3-4
For I am the Lord your God,
Since you are precious and honoured in my sight,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in your stead.
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.    

It is a strange verse. God says here that his people Israel are so precious to him that he gives other people up for their sake.

But then we ask, are not the peoples of Egypt and Cush and Seba also beloved by God?
And the answer is ‘yes they are’, but, at this time, before Jesus, their ultimate blessedness depended upon the welfare of the chosen people of God, of Israel.

And the words that were spoken to Israel then, are now spoken to all who hear and receive those opening words of this chapter, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’

And these words are pointing forward to another sacrifice that is made – a sacrifice that is made for you, Sophie, and for each person here.

Because you are so precious and honoured in God’s sight; because God loves you so much, he gave – not other people for you – but he gave himself, when Jesus came, for you. And Jesus became a human being, and gave his life for us when he died on the cross so that we might know forgiveness and become friends with God. Jesus died for us, so that what is spoken here of historic Israel can be as true for us as it was for them.

Remember Sophie that you are precious, not because you are good or clever or beautiful or because ‘you are worth it’. The problem is that we will never be good enough or clever enough or beautiful enough to satisfy even ourselves, let alone God.

Reese Witherspoon, one of the most famous actresses in the world, said this about herself: 
“I don't watch any movie I'm in. It's horrifying. I'll just focus on something stupid like, "I hate my laugh. Why did I smile?" Sometimes I look at myself and think, "Dude, I have the biggest, goofiest smile on earth."

When she really wants to feel bad, she'll Google herself. She says,

"Only in very dark moments, moments of pure self-loathing, do I type my name into Google. You never read anything positive; you always go straight to where they say something nasty about you. You're fat, you're ugly, you're tired, you're worthless, you don't have a career anymore. It's just an affirmation of every horrible feeling about yourself.”

Sophie, I trust that you will be brighter, better and more beautiful than Reese Witherspoon. But even then you may still at times feel bad about yourself. We all do.

But when we do have times of self-loathing we need to remember that we are incredibly precious to God. How precious? Well, he gave himself for you.

How much does God love me?
[hold arms out].  Look at the cross of Jesus.

6. Sophie, you have an astonishing purpose

Isaiah 43 talks of how God will gather together all the people of Israel into one people. But then, he continues, he will gather (v7)

everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.

Sophie, you were not only made by God; you are not only deeply and profoundly beloved by God; you have been made for the glory of God.

You, and here I speak to everyone, were made to be radiant. You were made to be radiant with the beauty of God, to speak with the wisdom of God (Sophie, of course, comes from the Greek word for wisdom), to act with the love of God, to live the eternity and freedom of God.

If you allow yourself to bear the name of God, of Jesus Christ, you were made to be a mirror reflecting the glory of God.

It is why, I guess, we need eternity to become the people God meant us to be.
And here and now there will be many times when we direct the mirror of our lives not at God, but at the human cesspit of greed and jealousy and pride and self-reliance: and our lives will reflect a grim and foul picture.

But God will not let us go. We can always turn back to Jesus.

On one occasion Jesus went up the mountain to pray. As he faces his Father in heaven in prayer, he is changed. He shines with the radiance of the glory of God. And there are two people who appear with him. Moses and Elijah. And as they face him and talk with him, they too shine with a reflected glory.

Little Sophie, Ian and Kirsty, each person here, I pray that you, that we, will one day shine with the radiance of the glory of God.


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