Presidential Address 2018

President's Installation Address 

Carlisle Road Methodist Church 

Wednesday 13th June 7:30pm 

Theme: "Living with Gospel Focus" 
Galatians 2: 19, 3: - 6. 
Luke Ch 7: 36 - 50. 
 
 A few months ago, Loraine's father was chatting about his favourite news programmes. He prefers channel 4 news at 7:00pm, so I asked why he preferred it. 'Well', he said, 'I prefer the interview style of the programme. You get to know more about people, their views, and issues are discussed in a fuller way'

The same is true when trying to understand what Christian faith means to someone. The interview style gives you an insight into how and when the person interviewee became a  Christian. Imagine someone interviewing the apostle Paul. The interviewer may ask him about some things the apostle Peter says are hard to understand. Imagine how Jon Snow would prepare for an interview with Paul. He would spend time collating all the information he has about him. He might consider starting the interview by asking Paul about his Damascus Road experience. 'What happened to transform you from your out and out opposition to the Christian faith, to one who now preaches the faith you tried to destroy?'. Then again he may ask him about the divisions he encountered in some of his churches. For example, why were some in the church at Corinth quarrelling saying "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another "I follow Christ" ?
He would most likely be asked, 
"What difference, Paul, has this faith in Jesus made in your life?"  
The apostle might well respond in the kind of sentiments he expressed in Galatians 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."  The whole focus of Paul's life was Christ, and especially the meaning of his death. 

Jesus is Good News! Paul put His confidence in the Cross and resurrection. His life was built around faith and trust in Jesus as Lord. For Paul, the same is true of all who follow Jesus. 

Christ is the focus in all of life. 

It doesn't matter whether you're relaxing at home or busy in the workplace, or the patient in hospital, the doctor on call or a Christian at worship, Christ is the focus. Christ is Lord of all or He's not Lord at all. One afternoon as I drove past Ballyhenry Presbyterian Church, I was drawn to the caption on their Wayside pulpit - "Is the SON in Your Eyes?" 
Is the son in YOUR eyes? 
Paul lived HIS life with the Son of God in His eyes, and with the love of Christ in his heart. Even in the most trying times, he kept his eyes on Jesus. At times he could have despaired through persecution and misunderstanding, as well as many inward and outward battles. As Mission Praise  975 says, "When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there who made an end to all my sin.  Because the sinless Saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free; for God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me, to look on Him and pardon me." For Paul, faith is not just a body of doctrine, but a living relationship with Jesus built on trust. 

1. Walking by faith 

In Psalm 16 David says, " I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken." When faith is focused on Jesus, it rises, but when it's focused on circumstances, faith weakens. Let's imagine Jon Snow probing Paul further.

"How does faith work Paul?" Paul would then explain that when he uses the word faith in Galatians 2 he means to fully trust in the object of faith - who is Jesus Christ. For Example, You are all here this evening trusting the seat you're sitting on. It's no use unless it can take your weight. Likewise, the Cross of Christ is of no value unless you can put your whole weight on what He has done for you. The mind sees the seat, but the heart must actively put its trust in it.  So it is with the message of the Cross.  As people of God, we too are called to build a life of faith in Jesus, His life, death and resurrection. Even in these difficult and uncertain times in which we live. The Gospel is our focus. It's about what God has done in Jesus Christ. From the broken body of Christ on a Cross, God is saying to every single person that He loves them. That he has gone to amazing lengths to rescue every one of us. His love transcends all human barriers. Paul's response must be ours to. 
"The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." For God is the author and the finisher of faith.  The Alpha and the Omega of faith.  Between the start and finish of faith there are times it fluctuates. It can be strong and at other times it's weak. Faith is a journey. Whether it's strong or weak in life very much depends on where your focus is. Mattew 14:28 illustrates this so well. Jesus has gone all by himself to a mountainside to pray. The disciples are all alone on the lake, quite a distance from land. They're struggling as their boat's buffeted by the waves. Suddenly, Jesus arrives walking across the waves. " Lord, if it's you", Peter replied, "Tell me to come to you on the water." Jesus says 'come'! Peter gets out of the water and comes towards Jesus. He's focused on Jesus. Peter is learning that with Christ all things are possible. And he's doing well, but then his eyes drop on the size of the waves and the howling wind; fear takes over and he begins to sink. Peter prays an emergency prayer, thankfully, Jesus is close to catch him. "You of little faith..." Jesus said, "why did you doubt."  I think Peter did pretty well. When Jesus says, you of little faith. He's not referring to the size of Peter's faith, but the duration of it. Peter it was for such a short period of time that you kept your eyes on me. That's our danger! We exercise faith in such short bursts. We attend an 'All In' conference, returning back home full of Jesus. Faith is alive! But then something happens in the PG or the youth fellowship, and you lose sight of Jesus. We fix our eyes on the spiritual apathy around us, rather than Jesus. We listen to the negativity of others, then take our eyes off Jesus. We suffer a relationship breakdown, and lose our focus on Jesus. We lose our job, then take our eyes off Jesus.  

"Is the Son in your eyes?"

You start out well in the Christian life. You see Jesus through your quiet time, and you have His ear in prayer, but now He's is no longer the focus. Storms of opposition are rising against the Christian faith, and it has caused you to take your eyes off Jesus. The popularity of the “new atheists” like Richard Dawkins has influenced you. We need to resist the temptation to take our eyes off Jesus. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Remember the passage Pete Greig opened for us when we met a few weeks ago. Acts 4:23 - 35; The stronger the opposition, the more they focused on Jesus and His word. When challenged, they turned to God in prayer. They naturally turned to prayer. It was their first instinct to turn to God. Look at their vision of God. Look at their complete and utter confidence in the sovereignty of God. Just look at how the word of God spoke directly into their situation, illuminated by the Holy Spirit. Psalm 16 takes on a new meaning. We need our eyes on the Lord, the word in our hearts and confidence in prayer. Meanwhile, let's return to Paul and the probing interviewer. 
"What do you mean Paul, when you say you have been crucified with Christ?" He explains this as he reflects on a believer's union with Christ. 
In a modern democracy, we have elections every four or five years. We elect candidates who are selected by their parties, and they put themselves forward for election. We all can't go personally to represent ourselves in parliament, so we elect politicians to represent us in government. God gave His Son to be our representative. In the Cross & resurrection He represents all who trust in Him. The wages of sin is death. He died for our sin death on the Cross. God made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us. When we exercise faith in Jesus, we are joined in the eyes of God in union with Christ. Spiritually, everything that happened to Christ has happened to His people. When he died, we all died with him. When he rose we all rose with him. He represents us. He is our focus. At the Cross our sins were transferred to Him. His righteousness was transferred to us. This is why Christians love Him and unite together around the Lord's table. We focus on the Lord who represents us. Let me just say at this point, we elected our politicians to represent us at Stormont. They aren't doing the job they were elected to do.  We need an agreement, and we need political leaders making decisions for us here. We call on them to meet and try and close the gaps on the issues hindering devolution. Hold to the vision of a better future for our children, grandchildren; and generations still to come.

Paul was concerned the Galatians weren't keeping to their vision of Jesus. They did something crazy. Secondly, walking backwards exchanging faith for works. Paul can be very forthright. He calls the Galatians foolish? NT Wright's paraphrase is interesting: Tom Wright, "You witless Galatians! Who has bewitched you. King Jesus was portrayed on the cross before your very eyes." Paul speaks out because the focus has moved away from the Cross to other things that were no longer of any consequence. In other words their attention was being diverted from what Christ did, to what they were doing. Their performance was more important than Christ's on the Cross. The people of God are identified by grace. God's undeserved favour and mercy poured out on all of us who don't deserve anything, and transcends all cultural boundaries. When you shift your focus from Jesus, the Spirit is grieved. He's hurt! Some Jewish Christians had lost the plot. They were transferring their faith from Jesus to Jewish customs. They wanted to narrow Christianity to being exclusively Jewish.  It was a very wrong and divisive thing to do. At the Cross old allegiances die and animosities are left.

"You are observing special days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you". The Gospel brings freedom, but law brings bondage. "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Paul said that to shift your focus from the Cross is to be cut off from Christ. "You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by law." 

What kind of things shift our focus away from the Cross? What cuts us off from Christ? Any kind of narrow sectarian spirit can damage the work of God in your heart. At the Cross sectarianism has to die forever. We need to be careful in our judgments. The Cross shows us that God's love is for all - for all, for all the Saviour dies. Legalism is a close ally of sectarianism when your focus shifts from the Cross. Legalism is what many have mistakenly imagined Christianity is about. The shift moves away from what Christ has done, to what we do. Materialism is another danger in cutting us off from Christ. Christ is all you need. "After beginning by the Spirit are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?"  In other words they were turning to their own strength and performance to get to the finishing line. Tom Wright uses a quite an old illustration to show how foolish it is to do such a thing. He refers to the story of the tight rope walker, Charles Blondin (1824 - 97) who set up a tight rope across Niagara Falls, and walked across it many times. He became so confident that he made the journey backwards as well as forwards and performed tricks while doing his walk. The most famous trick was when he asked for a volunteer to be carried on his back. Wright says, "In what must have been one of the most supreme acts of physical trust ever placed in one human being in another, a brave or perhaps foolish man stepped forward, and was carried on the great man's shoulders." Wright asks us to imagine that halfway across, this man says to Blondin: "Look here, this is all very well, but I really don't trust you anymore. I think I'd better do the rest by myself. Let me down off your shoulders and I'll walk from here without you. " Imagine the reaction of the faces of the man's family, and all those watching this happening. His wife etc - "stop!", unless she wants rid of him.  
"Have you taken leave of your senses!" How did he think he would get across by himself. That's the kind of reaction Paul had on hearing that the Galatians have transferred their trust back to Jewish law or any kind of works related righteousness. Ann Graham Lotz book - "Just Give me Jesus." Faith in Jesus is how we begin the Christian life, it's how we continue, and how we complete the Christian walk. So how do we stay the course? The answer is faith which brings the presence of the Spirit; illuminates the word of God and prayer without ceasing. 

Finally, Walking by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

When we keep our eyes of faith on Jesus, He gives us the greatest blessing any human being can receive. The blessed gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the xfactor. "I would like to learn just one thing from you: did you experience the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? " "So again I ask, does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you by works of the law, or by believing what you heard?" Notice the apostle uses the present tense. eg not when you believed, but when you believe. Our God can work miracles; he can change the tide of human history. What's happening among us? We need to be focused on Jesus, praying for miracles to happen within our churches and communities. They do happen! We have witnessed the power of God at work in our lives. Have you experienced so much in vein. Think of an experience that has lived with you since childhood. Jesus said, "The Holy Spirit will glorify me". 

The Spirit has a flood light ministry. He illuminates Jesus in our minds and hearts. He causes us to focus on Jesus.  

Those who have experienced the power of the Spirit never forget it. John Wesley's commentary on Gal 2:20 "I laboured, waited, and prayed to feel 'who loved me and gave himself for me" Bishop Eduard of the Eurasia United Methodist Church. What he found so appealing was that he realised Christ died for Him personally. Timothy Keller, "The Spirit works as Christians don't rely on their own works, but rather consciously and continuously rest in Christ alone for their acceptability and completeness." Every Christian's focus is Christ and when He is the focus, the Spirit works. He glorifies Jesus. Recently, by virtue of this office, we were among a large number of people at one of the Garden Party's. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm day and a great occasion as people mingled and walked around the gardens. As the time got close for the Queen and Prince William to arrive out into the Lawns, the crowds pushed closer and tighter watching and waiting for the Queen's arrival. Even in the sweltering heat, few were going to be deterred from trying to get a good view. Cameras were focused on the one who was central to the day, the Queen and Prince William. As people of God we're struggling in the heat of spiritual apathy and barrenness. We have a bad press. Numbers are still declining. In the midst of the blistering heat of negative reports, let's not be deterred from living each day with our eyes on Jesus, His grace, power and love. Pressing on to get a good view of Him as the Christ of the Cross and resurrection. The Cosmic Christ who reigns sublime as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As a church we are in a period of transition. We are facing some big challenges. It's easy for ministers & Lay people to get disheartened. But Jesus is Lord. We meet him in His word and prayer. We meet Him in those around you each day. This year saw the passing of the greatest evangelist of the 20th & 21st century in the late Dr Billy Graham. Throughout his whole life he centred his messages around the Cross. He frequently said, "I want to tell people about the meaning of the Cross. Not the Cross that hangs on the wall or around someone's neck, but the real Cross of Christ. From the Cross God declares, I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain you feel. But I love you." But he not only preached the Cross, he lived out the meaning of the Cross in every part of his life. As Christians we are the high Street window through which people see Jesus. We are the window through which family, friends and community see Jesus. What kind of Jesus do they see? Neil Hudson said recently : "Don't focus on the smallness of your numbers, but on the brilliance of the Lord you serve." Recently, we had a Lay Witness weekend in Rathcoole! It was a sheer joy to hear how so many people are enjoying the life of faith. 

So walk by faith. Don't exchange faith for works. Walk by Faith in the power of the Spirit. Keep your focus on the God of miracles. He revives His Church. Let's keep at prayer and encourage our youth. Support and encourage one another.  

"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him."
Amen. 

Click here to download Rev. Dr. Laurence Graham's (MCI President 2016-17) Presidential Address.