Commands and Promises

With Bishop Ken Clarke

Tuesday 8 August

When Archbishop Ben Kwashi’s plane was delayed, Bishop Ken stepped in to share during the Tuesday evening celebration at NH2023. Ken is a Hollywood man and then studied in Trinity College, Dublin. He has been in ministry for many years from Dublin to Coleraine to Cavan and in South America. He is now “refired.”

I am passionate about New Horizon one of the things that thrills me about this event is that it is the people of God gathering for Bible teaching and worship across the generations, across denominations and more.  It is strategically so important and such a blessing. It is one of the treasures of the Christian community in Ireland (not just Northern Ireland).

Reading from Matthew 28: 16 – 30

Matthew 28: 16 – 20

It is a real incredible privilege to be sharing with you tonight form God’s word. I believe God has a sense of humour because Archbishop Ben Kwashi and I have been friends for years.  We look forward to Archbishop Ben to arriving and arriving safely.

Can I share with you what one of my treasured possessions?  It is a little piece of paper. One of my heroes is a man called Canon Bill Benson. For the 15 years, we were here I found him a constant encourager.  He told me a little poem and I asked him to write it down.  This is his handwriting

Tell my people when I die  not to shed their tears for when I’m dead I’m no more dead than they have been for years.

The important thing is where we are going and who we are going with. In our local church, do we have any sense of purpose and vision? What are our priorities and more importantly, what does Jesus the head of the church, want our priorities to be? We should not be God’s chosen frozen or His sleeping saints or even dead like the poem.

The first command you have just heard – Make Disciples.

The Lord told us to go to all the world. We are to make disciples, we are to baptise and to teach. When people think of the church, do they think of God’s promises and God’s commands or do they think of a dusty book?  I believe the most important book for us is the Bible. The word of God tells us that Jesus wants us to be a church that is making disciples.

Some people think it is ABC – attendance, buildings and cash. They see the church as a social club.

But we are God’s people. We are God’s peculiar people and let’s be honest some of us are more peculiar than others. When we become God’s people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation… then lives are changed and whole communities are changed.

This is not a choice. This is a clear command of Jesus, “Go make disciples”. How important is making disciples in the local churches that you and I are part of?  In some churches there hasn’t been a new disciple in decades. Are your churches places that welcome others? There are huge challenges for the church in our post Covid culture.

But I believe there are also massive opportunities in our society that is marked by stress, depression, tension and loneliness. Into this there comes a community of people who have good news of hope and of transformation.

It is exciting to be in God’s church. It is exciting to be a disciple of Jesus. God knows the weaknesses we feel at times. He knows that we are human beings and we need His help. We cannot do this on our own. Look at this wonderful promise of His. Do everything I commanded you and surely I am with you in this. You are not alone.

Some years ago I read a story about a son who was blind. In his teenage years he became so rebellious and rude. His dad decided he would be tough on him.  “Son I want you to get up a ladder and paint a widow.”  Even though he was blind, the son loved a challenge but as he went up the ladder, he was terrified. Do you know what brought about a total transformation in his life? He discovered that right behind him on the ladder was his dad, ready to catch him if he fell.

Whoever we are, if we are a disciple of Jesus, whatever we are facing, not least in this kingdom task of sharing the good news, He is with us.  Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

You are not just ordinary… you have an extra ordinary God who is in you and with you. The kingdom of God advances one by one. It doesn’t matter if you have big gatherings, it is always one by one. When you and I go about sharing the truth and grace of Jesus, we are just like Jesus.  How often He had time for the one.  Jesus focused on the individual, the Good Shepherd is willing to leave the 99 sheep for one that is lost.

I have found it so encouraging to know that Jesus is with me always, whatever it is I am facing. So often we have to say, “This is too big for me but I thank you that you are with me.” I get so nervous when I preach. One of the things that helps me is to know that the Lord is with me in this.

I had a brother-in-law who used to throw his kids up in the air.  We’d be worried but his children trusted him to catch them and they loved it. That is so like Jesus with us. I love this little video of Claire and Dad singing, “You’ve got a friend in me.”

And that is what Jesus says to every single one of His disciples. We have a friend, even in the troubles even in the tough times. He keeps His promises. Isn’t one of the great tragedies that there is such a dearth of integrity in leadership. It is so different with Jesus, He is saturated with integrity.

David Livingstone went through all kinds of horrendous experiences. Many years later he returned to his native Scotland. In those days, mission wasn’t easy.  His body was emaciated by 27 fevers. His left arm was useless because of being mangled by a lion. One time speaking with some students at Glasgow University,  he told them what sustained him through all the tough times it was Christ’s promise, “Lo I am with you always.”

One of the joys I had in the CU in Trinity College Dublin was to meet Pastor Wurmbrand who wrote In God’s Underground about his experiences in a communist prison. He wrote:

I was filthy in rags in a dirty prison cell in solitary confinement and I danced for joy every night.

Richard Wurmbrand

How is that possible? It is possible because he had a friend in Jesus.  He had a joy that others couldn’t understand.

I think the church is like a maternity ward.  I remember when our Ali was born and after I left I walked down a corridor and the first person I met was a nurse.  I told her, “I’ve had a baby.” There was something natural about sharing the news because there was a profound joy inside 

Are we up for new births in the church?  There is a link between maternity and eternity. A Christian is someone who is born again and it is for all eternity.

But have you noticed what happens when a baby comes into the family… Yes there is joy but it is also messy, noisy and smelly. Things change and that is what happens in the maternity ward.  Are we ready for that or will we say, “Oh we don’t want “them” in our church.”

In some churches, we don’t so much as sit in our pews but defend them. May God forgive us! We are to be a welcoming community. It is ok to have our noses put out because we are making disciples.

Winnie the Pooh loves honey?  Is our church attractive? What is the honey in the church? It is Christlike love.  When people see a community of love, kindness and support they want to come in. One of the things that thrills me is that more and more churches are catching that vision.  Not like an in-growing toenail (which is agony) but outward looking and outward loving.

Some friends had been praying for their neighbours. One man came to him and said, “I had a dream last night and I saw Jesus and I saw you.  Jesus said come follow me and do what it says in the book but I don’t know what book it is…” My friend told him that it was the Bible. My friend chatted to him and he ended up giving his life to Jesus.

There was a lorry driver who admired some wind turbines and one day when he was driving he saw three crosses instead of three wind turbines and stopped the lorry. He phoned a friend and gave his life to Jesus.

The second command is Be Filled with the Spirit.  

When we are filled with the Spirit of Jesus, people see Jesus in us. He commands us all to be filled to overflowing.

Do you know how we in Northern Ireland describe people who are drunk? They are “full”.  When we are filled with the Spirit it will affect our whole lives.  Jesus knows the weakness we feel and we experience. He wants us to be filled with the Spirit so we can do what we cannot do in our own strength.

I want more and more people on this island to see more and more of Jesus in the church.

I remember when there were power cuts in Northern Ireland and I saw notices in the shops saying , “Sorry closed, no power.”  That could be said of so many lives. Jesus fills us with power so that we spread the fruit of the Holy Spirit wherever we are.

God wants full custody, not just weekend visits.  Are we filled with the Spirit? Or are we trying to do things our way? When we follow Jesus, He comes first.  

I have a vision for Ireland. Do you remember the gorse fires? To me that is a picture of what God wants to happen. God can use all of us at New Horizon to be beacons of hope and of light. I want people to see something of Christ in Christ-ians. What a vision. Are we up for it?

Or are some of us following after false lovers? In Hosea, God was saying, “I want my bride back.” Christ is the bridegroom. Are we faithful to Him or are we running after other lovers? God wants us to repent and come back to Him. As we do that, the fires will start spreading again.

I pray we will know more joy out of the ashes of sectarianism, secularism and paganism… leaving the emptiness of false gods and following wholeheartedly after Him. If you want to be a part of that, obey His commands and believe His promises and let’s join together to pray:

Thank you Father that you loved the world so much that you sent your only son. Please help me to love the world with extraordinary generosity. Thank you Jesus that you gave up everything and died for me. Please help me to lay down my life for those who don’t yet know you. Thank you Holy Spirit for giving those first disciples such courage and power. Please fill me with that same boldness this week. God the Holy Spirit come in power and bring new life to the church. Renew us in love and service and enable us to be faithful to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

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