Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, July 19, 2015
Welcome to 'Camp Discovery'. As you can observe by your surroundings this week has been Vacation Bible School. We've prayed, we've played, we've made, we've praised, we've studied, we've experimented...and we've had a wonderful week. Thanks to everybody who made it happen!
I have an experiment for you that... well you can try it at home, but I can explain it very easily. I want you to imagine that you have a bowl and you set it in the sink right underneath the tap. Then you turn on the water and watch what happens. What happens? That's right. As the bowl fills up to the top, the water spills out over the edge.
The theme verse for Vacation Bible School was 1 John 4:19 'We love because He first loved us'. The image of the water overflowing the bowl is a great image of how God fills our lives with God's love. In the Bible it says in Romans 5:5 'God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us'
So, tell me again, what happens when the water gets to the top of the bowl? That's right. It spills over the edge. Now think about the love of God that has been poured into you and me like water into a bowl. What should happen as we fill up? Just like water overflowing a bowl, God's love overflows from us towards others.
That's why our theme verse was 'We love because He first loved us'. We came to Bible School to be filled with God's love, but not so we could keep it for ourselves, but so we can allow it to overflow to all the world.
We show love for others because God first showed love for us. We treat others in a loving way, because that's the way God has treated us. We try and live for others because God sent Jesus to live His life as a savior, who died for us and was raised for us.'We love because He first loved us' These words have tied together all the bible stories we have studied this past week.
The first VBS story was David and Goliath. In that story we learned how God's love for David made David feel brave, even when David faced a huge giant like Goliath. God wants us to know that His love for us is strong and can give us the courage to deal with the giants that come our way. Joshua told the people' 'Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you!' (Joshua 1:9). Jesus once told His disciples 'In the world there will be troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world!' (John 16:33)
We all have things we are afraid of. Me? I hate heights! Evan? Hates spiders. You? Well, I know there are some things that make you worry! But God invites us to trust in Him, just as David did. God's us courage. Courage to love others as much as God loves us!
Our second VBS story was about an amazing lady called Deborah. Deborah was a judge and ruler in Israel who used to sit beneath a great big tree and give the wisest advice. One of the generals in the army, Barak, came to her for advice, and she not only told him how the battle should be fought, but stayed alongside him the whole time and together they won a great victory.
So it is when God asks us to do something. God not only provides the wisdom to see how it can be done, but sticks with us as we do what we are asked to do! In 1 Corinthians 4:10 God promises us that we are 'Wise in Christ'. In the book of James we are told that if we lack wisdom all we have to do is ask the God 'who gives generously to all' Wise men and women still seek Jesus!
Form David we learned about courage, from Deborah we learned about wisdom, whilst from the story of Shadrach, Mischach and Adednego we learned how God can walk with God's people through the fiery trials that life can bring! We heard how Shadrach, Mischach and Adednego were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship a false god, and how God miraculously delivered them safe from all harm.
Their story encourages us to keep on trusting God, even when the going gets tough and we are not sure how things may turn out! God promises to be right there, in the midst of the struggle, with us. St Paul, a man who had more than his fair share of troubles, once wrote to a church in Rome these marvelous words.;
'For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (Rom 8:38-39 NIV)
In the story of our next character, Bartimaeus, a blind man who was given his sight back by Jesus, we saw how God gives us the faith to believe in all the amazing things Jesus can do for us. Nobody cared much for poor Bartimaeus, until Jesus came to town! Jesus called Bartimaeus to come to Him, asked him what he wanted and then sent him on his way with a new way of looking at things.
God pours out God's love to us, filling us with the Holy Spirit, promising us forgiveness and renewal and hope. 'We love because He first loved us'. God helps us to believe in the promises that Jesus made so we can see clearly how to worship and follow His way.
But God's promises are not just for us. God's promises of forgiveness and life are for all the people in our family, our friends, in our schools, in our places of work. Because God's promises are for all people, God wants to use our lives to share God's love with other people. That's what our final vacation Bible School story was about. We met a character called Ananias.
Before Paul was a follower of Jesus he hated Christians and thought they should be put in prison or even murdered. But one day, when he was on a road to a place called Damascus, he had an encounter with Jesus that changed his life around, but like Bartimaeus, left him unable to see.
God sent Ananias to Paul to teach him what the gospel was about and to restore his vision. Ananias was afraid. He had heard such bad things about Paul and how much he hated the followers of Jesus. But once he encountered Paul he realized that God had changed Paul's life around.
Because Ananias knew that God greatly loved him, Ananias was able to love Paul. Because God greatly loves us, we also are able to love others in God's name and with God's power.
How do we find the resources we need to follow Jesus? We need the courage of David, the wisdom of Deborah, the boldness of Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego, the faith of Bartimaeus and the servant heart of Ananias. How do we find such things?
'We love because He first loved us'. We are like that bowl we spoke about at the start. We ask God to fill us with God's Holy Spirit so that we overflow with God's love. We ask when we pray. We fill ourselves to overflowing when we gather for worship. We renew our resources through reading the Scriptures. We meet Jesus when we help others. He told His disciples, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40 NIV)
Just like a bowl overflowing with water God has poured out so much love for us in Jesus Christ, more love than we can hold! Our challenge is to allow God's love to overflow and spill over into the lives of others. Just like David and Deborah, Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego, Bartimaeus and Ananias managed to do. Just like faithful Christians across the centuries have done. God has poured God's love into you and me. 'We love because He first loved us'. Throughout the week we shared the following memory exercise...
Because He first loved us - We love
We love - Because He first loved us!
David – Courage
Deborah – Wisdom
Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego - 'Thru the flames, thru the flames'
Bartimaeus – 'You gotta have faith'
Ananaias - Serve
Because He first loved us - We love
We love - Because He first loved us
Thanks to all who made VBS an amazing week!
Adrian J Pratt B.D.
(Materials adapted from 2015 Concordia VBS materials 'Pastors Overview)