Sunday 8 July
#Sligo18 is underway with hundreds of people gathering from all across the island of Ireland for a week of worship, teaching and fellowship. On the first evening, David McClay brought the opening message for the week. Originally from Donegal, David is Rector of Willowfield Parish Church in East Belfast and leads New Wine Ireland with his wife, Hilary. Here VOX editor, Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you a summary of David's message:
Heavenly Father, Touch our hearts, touch our lives. Take us from where we are to where you want us to be. In the name of Jesus, Amen
God wants to lay a foundation this evening and to re-establish a foundation that He will build on throughout the rest of the week.
There are some things that you should never say, certainly if you are married. It has taken me a lifetime to learn some of the things I should never say and I still sometimes get it wrong. (For a lighter look at the issue, you might want to take a quick look at The Wife Song for things a man should never say to his wife!)
In today’s world, some things are politically incorrect. We have a society that is increasingly about the individual. Paul in Romans uses a number of phrases that in today’s world, we are told we can’t use.
But we should use these phrases. There are things that we know and things of which we can be sure. As followers of Jesus Christ, we know some thing with certainty, things that are the foundation upon which we need to build everything else. These are days of political uncertainty in Northern Ireland, of uncertainty both sides of the border because of Brexit and uncertainty in the Republic of Ireland because of the recent referendum on abortion. There are so many voices. There is so much confusion. In the midst of this, there are things that we can know. There are things of which we can be convinced.
We need a framework that allows us to be the people that God wants us to be. We need Holy Spirit-filled values to build our lives upon, things that we can become convinced of by the power of the Holy Spirit. Convinced perhaps despite personal pain, disappointment or struggles in our own lives and families, despite our failures, fears and sinfulness.
We know God works all things for good
Paul says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28.
It is God who makes things work out for our good. What a promise we are given in these words of Paul. They are true for every man and woman who loves God. God takes the bad and the good, and turns them for our good when we love Him. It is followers of Jesus who can know that truth.
We have been called according to His purpose. His purpose for us meant that He loved us so much that He sent His one and only son into this world, to live on earth as one of us. Jesus Christ died on the cross in our place, taking onto Himself all our guilt and shame and sin. He paid the price for all of that. We can know that we are loved, that God is for us, not against us, that this good, loving and just God, cares for us and will work things out for us.
We have been forgiven. We have been adopted into His family. The Holy Spirit has come to live in our lives. Because of what God has done. Our life in Christ flows from Him. It is not of our doing. God took the initiative and He wants all of us to become like Jesus. That is God’s heart for us. We get to be transformed into His likeness for the remainder of our days on earth.
1 John 3:1 says, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"
God wants many sons and daughters. The Christian knows that he or she is a child of God. He puts His stamp upon our lives. Our future is secure. Nothing will separate us from His love. We will be given a home with Him in heaven. When we become a follower of Jesus, heaven becomes ours.
In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.... (Romans 8:28-30) These verses are dynamite. And yet Paul tells us that there is more.
We know that God is for us
The God who forgives us, is for us. Whatever you came carrying this week. God is for you! No matter what comes against us, our confidence is in God and not in ourselves or in the culture around us.
We know that God loves us
Romans 8:32 How awful was it for the eternal sinless son of God to take upon Himself our sinfulness and become our substitute? The just one (Jesus) died for the unjust ones (us) to bring us to God. God’s love is like no other love we know.
I have one son and I would not give him up for anyone, and he’s not perfect. God gave His one and only, perfect, sinless son. The God who loves us to that extent won’t start loving us less, or caring about us less, just because our circumstances change or we are going through difficulties.
Paul says that God gives us all things. God loves me and God loves you as He loves His son Jesus. That is mind-blowing and earth-shattering. The God who created this world, who created me and you, loves us as much as He loves His one and only sinless son.
Paul is so clear that every other voice needs to be silenced. It is “God who justifies.” We belong to God. We are His rescued sons and daughters. No one can bring an accusation against us that will stand. Our status as those who have been justified cannot be overthrown by men, angels or demons.
This past year, I have had the privilege of meeting men and women who have been persecuted for following the Lord Jesus. It was a real privilege to travel to the border of North Korea and the next day to sit with a lady who spent many years in concentration camps. Her eldest daughter died of starvation. Her husband was tortured to death in another camp. I sat across the table and listened to her story. I didn’t hear anger or unforgiveness but instead a woman talking about her efforts to reach people in North Korea with the love of Christ. She had returned to her home, even though she risked her life, because she didn’t want her family and friends to be lost. I saw her tender tears are she shared how now, living in South Korea, she continues to get the Gospel message across the border to her people in North Korea.
North Korean Christians are watched and monitored by government spies. I didn’t realise how brutal the persecution is. 70,000 Christians are locked up in North Korean jails. Few of those will ever make it out alive. I didn’t realise how they live in fear. I didn’t realise that children are told to report their own parents for reading the Bible. Imagine being a parent trying to bring up your child and introduce them to Jesus Christ knowing that if they could suffer and be put to death for their faith. I didn’t realise just how brave North Korean Christians are. Such is the incredible courage, faith and hope that fills these Christians. Join me in waking up to the reality.
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. These are truths that we can know and build our lives and churches upon.
When we have given our lives to Jesus Christ, He will not condemn us. Right now at the Father’s right hand, there is a prayer meeting in heaven where Jesus is interceding for us. Not for a split second can we be separated from the love of God.
We know that we cannot be separated from the love of God
Paul would end his life saying, “I fought the good fight...” Not for a moment was He ever separated from the love of God.
Nothing can stop God loving us. It was dangerous for Paul to be a Christian. And Christians in North Korea and other parts of our world sometimes pay a high price for declaring that Jesus is Lord but nothing separates them or us from God’s love.
We need not fear the powers of darkness. Nothing can stop the loving arms of God embracing you this week. Nothing can stop God’s power being released in this place.
God is real. His presence is real. His power is unstoppable. His ways are just and true. His word is dependable.
Nothing, nothing, nothing can stop God loving us. When Paul says nothing, he means nothing. We might live in different settings, face a variety of different challenges and opportunities but God’s love is constant. Good times might be seductive, difficulties might be destructive but God’s love is constant.
Can you say with Paul? “I am convinced...” Build your life on His truth and yield and everything to Him.