Archive Section III
THE JOY OF CHRIST
The First ILDS Sermon (Historical Paper)
The Transience of Feelings
The following sermon was the first ever preached in the former Independent Church, in Oxford, England, on 6 August 1987. The Oxford Branch was disorganised on 18 August 1988. The original references to, and citations from, Restoration scriptures have been left in although these are not accepted as scripture by the contemporary New Covenant Church of God.
Today I feel a bit like someone getting off an aeroplane in a new country for the first time and wondering if the holiday of a lifetime which has brought me to this country will live up to my expectations. But for those of you who are not travel-bugs it is not necessary to go abroad to have the sort of feeling I am trying to convey to you. Perhaps you have taken a car-ride to a zoo or to a castle. Last week the Prickett family visited a zoo in London and told me all about the wonderful day they had there, of all the animals they saw, and the displays. My family has just got back from Norway where we have seen old friends and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. We have all done something new and different, been excited and happy, and come away feeling the better for it.
The astonishing thing about those feelings is that they seem only to last for a very short time. I remember how excited my daughter was about going to Norway and indeed her excitement when she was there. In fact she was thrilled even when we got back home, recalling the air journeys, the ships we travelled on, friends we saw, and things we did. But within about a week the memeory of all of this began to fade, the excitement petered out, until our little Norwegian trip became all but forgotten. And I dare say that in a few weeks' time the Pricketts will forget all about their expedition to London Zoo.
It's strange, isn't it, the way our thoughts and feelings move around, excited and happy one moment, and then lonely and depressed the next? It's as though we have a need to find a steady and constant flow of happiness but that no matter how hard we try, we bob up and down like a buoy in the sea. It is the great human predicament.
When I was a teenager I was crazy about taperecorders. I'm sure each of you had something or other that totally absorbed your inner world -- football, music, cars, dancing, girl-friends or boy-friends, darts, and so on. I remember how for YEARS I saved up to buy myself a complete Hi-Fi system. I used to spend hours planning which amplifier, which receiver, which speakers, which reel-to-reel taperecorder, and which cassette deck I would buy. I was utterly absorbed in my quest to get a fantastic Hi-Fi system. And then, the day I had enough money to buy it with came...O the thrill and the excitement! I remember getting a Greenline bus in Guildford and making my way to Laskys in London to get my treasure. I'm sure I stretched my arms carrying all that stuff on the London underground, on the coach, and on the bus back home. I ached -- I was in agony, but I had a goal, and that goal was to get that Hi-Fi system and set it up as quickly as possible so that I could blast the house with my favourite music.
Setting the system up was great fun yet at the same time I was anxious to get it in action. Finally, it was done and I was hearing a sound that I had never heard before. I couldn't wait to get back from school the next day to hear my new Hi-Fi system.
My heart had been in this dream for years but within a month of having it my excitement gradually waxed cold and my fantastic Hi-Fi system was just another of those possessions I had which I took for granted and which no longer thrilled me.
The Illusion of Physical Satisfaction
I tell you this story today because it taught me a fundamental truth -- physical things don't satisfy for very long. People burn their lives up to get wealth or prestige and discover that at the end of the day that they are quite empty inside and don't understand why.
What is the treasure you are seeking after? Jesus truly said: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Luke 12:34). Where is your heart? What is your heart's greatest desire?
What are You Searching For?
The truth is we all have many desires in our heart, some noble, some not so noble, and some downright evil. Sometimes we may even desire the right things but for the wrong reasons. I suppose the question I am asking you is: What is your long-term objective? What are you looking forward to in your life?
These are on-going questions. No matter where you are in your spiritual growth you will always be needing to ask them. Our goals and objectives change continually. The man who has got the car of his dreams is soon looking forward to something even better. I remember seeing on the news recently a report about a French racing driver whose life was motor racing. He was injured in a crash, but did he quit for a more peaceful, safe life? No, he went in to power-boat racing and this time his luck didn't hold out. The treasure of his heart -- speed -- killed him in the end.
Many people realise towards the end of their life that they have chased after dreams that have either brought them emptiness, ruin, or depair...and sometimes they have not lived even to think about the real questions of life. I'm grateful that I haven't had to waste my whole life in order to reach the point where I can sit down and wonder what it's all about. Something special happened to me that changed my whole perspective on life, giving it meaning a joy. That special happening is what scripture calls the "born again" experience.
A Good Shakedown
The Lord uses all sorts of different ways to give us a good shake-down -- to make us think about things which otherwise we might not have done because either we were too lazy or because we were so wrapped up in our own worldly pleasures. He has used divorce, financial collapse, the death of a loved one, to name but three methods of bringing us to self-awareness. Some need more prodding than others to wake them up -- some need a gentle nudge, others an earth-shattering tragedy. In His wisdom He utilises natural events to bring to pass His righteous acts, and in a way that we do not always understand. And in so doing He enables us to see the best and the worst that is within us. On the surface such events may appear to be senseless, and even cruel, but when seen from the overall perspective -- when the needs of ALL concerned in these events are taken together -- we see a matchless wisdom and love. Like the scolded child who thinks mummy is cruel for wrapping him on the knuckles, we don't see until it is too late sometimes the fire we are about to jump into.
We exist in a world where we are faced with numerous choices. They are before us all the time. Some of the bigger choices we make in life are not infrequently the result of little choices we have made on the way. They say that history turns on small hinges. Well, our own destinies turn on the little choices we make in life...every single one of them. Each wrong choice limits our options later on whilst each right choice makes for an easier future. Though we do not always have very much control over our circumstances -- unemployment, war, famine, inflation, or whatever -- we DO have control over what we ARE. We can blame Politician X or Army Commander Y for bad government or cruel leadership, but we cannot blame them for what WE FEEL or THINK. If I hate a particular person it is not because that person has MADE me hate him, but because I CHOOSE to hate him. It doesn't matter if the objet of our hate is a Hitler or the local tax man because our hatred is our CHOICE. Thus the outer world may often be beyond our control but our inner world certainly isn't.
Jesus said: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matt.6:19-20).
The Purpose of Mortality
What Jesus means by this is that the only goal worth working towards, and the only treasure worth seeking, is that which you can realise and take with you into eternity. You came naked into this world and you will leave it naked. And, moreover, this world is only a SHORT part of your life -- you lived before you were born and you will continue living when you have died.
We are here in this world for one purpose, and for one purpose only -- to see if we will be obedient to God. We have been allowed to "do our own thing" to the extent of even ignoring God altogether because the love of God is non-compulsive -- we are free to be whatever we want to be, and to do whatever we want to do.
Ask anyone what they most want in life and they will say it is to be happy. Unfortunately that is where the agreement ends -- happiness, some say, is lots of money and lots of women. Others, that being good and living decent lives is happiness. It may surprise you to learn that both are wrong. O, to be sure, the latter is better -- far, far better than the former -- but even that is only an artificial type of happiness. Joining Friends of the Earth, CND, Pro-Life, Save the Children, Amnesty International, or some other cause won't bring you that treasure that you can take with you to heaven, good and worthwhile though these activities may be. It is a noble and good thing to want to right bad social conditions, to fight injustice, and to campaign for peace, for Jesus Himself said that His disciples would be doing these things, not only out of love for their fellow man, but out of love for Him also (Mosiah 2:17/1:49). Jesus was indeed concerned about human justice, the environment, righteous government, poverty, and so on, but all of these things were seen in the wider context of what He called SALVATION. He was concerned not only with improving the lot of suffering mankind -- who, by the way, had created their own mess -- but with the CONDITION of man IN THE NEXT LIFE. We may get good government, social justice, a clean environment, and the abolition of hunger -- though I very much doubt it -- but, as one prophet said anciently: "...if (we) repent not, and remain and die enem(ies) to God, the demands of divine justice will awaken (our) immortal soul(s) to a lively sense of (our) own guilt, which will cause (us) to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and will fill our breast(s) with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire whose flames ascend up for ever and ever" (Mosiah 2:38/1:83-84).
Who Can Change Human Nature?
I said that I believed that it was unlikely that politicians, and men and women of good will, would solve the planet's ills -- but perhaps I should be more direct and say that I KNOW they will not be able to. And why? Because they lack one fundamental key -- THEY CANNOT CHANGE HUMAN NATURE. All of man's good works and intentions will, in the end, get him nowhere; clear one slum and ten will arise in their place. Bring financial prosperity to end the evil of poverty and all you get is social decay -- drugs, immorality, murder and anarchy. Changes in the physical world do not change man's nature -- they merely provide different sets of circumstances in which to sin.
There is only one way that human nature can be transformed into something lovely and stable, and that is by a man or woman accepting Christ into his or her life, and having a determination to be obedient to all of God's commandments. Of ourselves we do not have the power to reform our sinful natures, but Christ does. He is the path to happiness, the embodiment of truth, and the source of all life. Or as He Himself put it: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6).
I stand before you today and confidently affirm that if you will put your whole faith in Christ, He will bring upon you a joy and contentment that the world can NEVER give you. Study the scriptures and pray often, that the awful truth of your fallen nature may be revealed to you so that in becoming aware of your sinful state you will find a desire to turn to Christ with your whole soul for cleansing. I would particularly invite you to read the first five chapters of the Book of Mosiah in the Nephite Chronicles over this coming week -- but not just read, but study, meditate, ponder, and pray over -- for they contain fundamental truths concerning human nature and how we are to get right with God. They contain that great sermon of King Benjamin and the Nephite people's response, for when they came to a realisation of their awful state -- as we all must -- they cried out:
"O have mercy and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may have forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things...And after they had spoken these words, the Spirit of the Lord came down upon them, AND THEY WERE FILLED WITH JOY, having received a remission of their sins and having PEACE OF CONSCIENCE because of the exceeding great faith which they had in Jesus Christ..." (Mosiah 4:2-3/2:3-6).
There is no progression in the Gospel for us until we have been born again -- that is, convicted of our rebellious and carnal nature, and then redeemed by Christ through an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Today we stand at an important crossroads in the life of this Church for God has revealed anew the fullness of the everlasting Gospel and established the New Covenant upon the face of the earth in these last times to prepare for the return of Christ. But unless we are all born again, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we shall be profitless servants and we shall go nowhere. Jesus must be enthroned as the Lord of our hearts, the king of our desires, and the treasure which we want ABOVE ALL ELSE -- more than wife or husband, children or parents, wealth or fame, entertainment of pleasure -- for He is the source of all that is good, noble, virtuous, peaceful and satisfying. In Him we have our being. He is My Saviour and I will serve Him to the end of My days as a minister of the Gospel, because He is my life.
If any of you want to know how to receive Christ into your lives, or to receive Him more fully, please see me afterwards. This is the Lord's Covenant Church, of that I bear witness, and we have been given sacred custody of it. I pray that you will be renewed and quickened by the Lord, that you will have desires to serve Him with all your souls so that we can establish a Branch that we can honestly say is His. To that end I bless you all, and may His countenance shine upon you and His peace be around you this day and forever more. Amen.
This page was created on 5 July 1998
Updated on 9 March 2001
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