Love One Another Deeply – Group Study Questions

1 Peter 1:22–25 (NIV)

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,

“All people are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you.

1 Corinthians 13:1–8a (NIV)

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails.

Discussion questions

1. “Christianity is cruciform. There’s the vertical dimension where we love God with all our heart, soul mind and strength. There’s also the horizontal dimension: love your neighbour as yourself. Love for God demands love for others. Being joined to God in faith means being joined to others in love. When God’s people love one another deeply, it’s like a new reality, new creation is born. It doesn’t get any better.”

  • Where have you see these vertical and horizontal aspects working in harmony together? What were some of the outcomes?

2. “Sincere love for each other is the sole distinguishing characteristic of Gospel community. Not truth. Not doctrine. Not systems of church government. Not your affiliation. Not the level of your commitment or the amount of your tithe. These are all important, but if you do not have sincere love, it’s irritating, useless and ultimately destructive.”

  • What do you think about this statement? What Bible passages might underpin this assertion? What might this mean for how your church or Christian community operates?

3. Do you agree with the statement that we tend to underestimate God’s power to bring new life to expression in our lives (See Romand 6:1-4)? What are the common ways we do this?

4. “Christian you are not the same as the unsaved, powerless, sinful person you were before Jesus entered your life! Just as Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4). God is saying: here’s my prescription, I have saved you for this very purpose, and you can do this, I will do this through you, you can obey my call in my power! Jesus frees us to be a community of sincere love, deep love, because the God of love has redeemed us with the precious blood of his son!”

  • Discuss this statement
  • Assuming you are in agreement, how would applying these truths impact on how your church or Christian community goes about its mission and ministry?

5. What specific actions will you take to love your brothers and sisters in Christ more sincerely?

6. What specific steps does your church need to take to be a more intentional community of sincere love?

Love One Another Deeply

Hope-Eternal---MM

1 Peter 1:22-25

I bet there isn’t a single person here who has not received an email from someone in Africa, claiming to be the wife of a recently assassinated national figure. She has access to millions, and despite the existence of Swiss banks and Fort Knox, out of every person on the face of the earth, she thinks the best person to trust with all her millions is actually you. You will have looked at that email and said “Is this for real?”

Or you go down to the car yard, and the salesman offers you more for your trade in than you know you can get in a private sale. You’ll think about that and ask yourself, “Is this for real?”

Or you’re down at the Fremantle markets, and you’re looking at the watches. They have all the great brands Tag Heuer, Rolex, Casio. The prices are unbelievably cheap. You’ll be wondering, “Are they for real?”

Now, people look at the church, they hear words about life, a fresh start, and transformation, and you know what are they asking?

“Is this for real?”

The Prescription

If you’re wondering how to spot authentic Christianity, Peter’s words are just what you need to hear. They open our eyes to the very thing that shows whether Christians are genuine.

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:22–23, NIV)

Love is the mark of the Christian. Love identifies true community from false community. Love strengthens relationship and authenticates witness.

Of course, love can be a variety of things: Altruistic love. Brotherly love. Erotic love. The love commanded here, however, is a sacrificial, selfless love. This is the love of decision. A commitment. A covenant to love despite the cost, despite rebuke, despite rejection. It is unconditional, and in many ways, unconventional. It’s a love demonstrated in God’s saving acts in Jesus. A love that goes to rebels, to enemies. It restores relationship. It builds togetherness. It develops oneness where there is division. It makes friends out of sinners.

Peter is saying to his readers: now that you are purified and holy through Jesus, there is one core reality to operate in. One central behaviour to show Christ is living in you. One thing that matters above all: love one another.

As Jesus had said some years before

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34–35, NIV)

See, Christianity is cruciform. There’s the vertical dimension where we love God with all our heart, soul mind and strength. We believe him. He honour him. We trust him. We love him.

There’s also the horizontal dimension: love your neighbour as yourself. We’re compassionate, friendly, considerate, gracious.

Here’s the deal: love for God demands love for others. Being joined to God in faith means being joined to others in love. When God’s people love one another deeply, it’s like a new reality, new creation is born. It doesn’t get any better.

We also know the fall is still around us and in us. Christians fail each other. Communities of love can become contexts of pain and hurt. And then it’s easy to pull away, and just seek to do faith on our own. And that’s an easy option these days. If you listen to podcasts, you can have Tim Keller one day, John Piper the next, followed by John Ortberg, Matt Chandler, David Platt – your whole week can be immersed in the world’s best preachers. You can bail out of church and do it all at home. But the problem is that on your own, all you’ve got to love is yourself. And that is far from what the Lord calls you to in these verses. Loving God is never merely an individual thing. You can’t be a lone ranger in the kingdom of Jesus. Life with Jesus cannot be lived apart from Jesus’ community. Additionally, if we withdraw when we’re hurt, the hurt is never healed, it’s multiplied. Dragged deeper within, it becomes bitter and ugly.

Yet, when Jesus’ people love each other deeply, Christian community becomes the context of growth and healing where hurt and resentment can become a catalyst for growth and restoration. So: Love one another deeply, from the heart.

It’s your purpose

Second: we need to love deeply because it’s a core purpose of God in saving us. Loving others deeply is not an option. It’s not something that some people are good at or gifted in, while others aren’t. It is core behaviour for the followers of Jesus. Check out that first section of v.22:

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other…” (1 Peter 1:22, NIV)

Christ has purified us so that we can love sincerely. Christ is doing a work in you. He’s making his love overflow. A love that is active, persistent and practical. It’s expressed in relationships, in what we think about one another, how we help one another, how we bless one another, how we serve one another.

I started the sermon with the question of authenticity. How do we know if it’s the real deal? How do you spot the true church? Surprisingly, sincere love for each other is the sole distinguishing characteristic of Gospel community. Not truth. Not doctrine. Not systems of church government. Not your affiliation. Not the level of your commitment or the amount of your tithe. These are all important, but if you do not have sincere love, it’s irritating, useless and ultimately destructive.

God has chosen the church, us, to show the world what sincere love really is. At Gateway Church we have just renewed our commitment to grow healthy Gospel community.

GCC Vision Template

We want to be a church where there’s sincere love, where the Gospel is seen. A place where we both live and proclaim Christ’s love for sinners. Where that love is expressed as his people love each other. Where it’s reflected in their love for their world.

Where this sincere love is seen the Gospel is more easily heard and believed and accepted. Where sincere love exists, every anti Christian argument, every attack on the church, is blunted. Where that sincere love persists in the face of attack, those attacks are neutralised. When sincere love thrives, anti Christ is overcome and the flaming arrows of the evil one are extinguished.

I saw last week that Richard Dawkins tweeted an article from the Economist suggesting a religious upbringing diminished generosity.

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What ahistorical piffle. Dawkin’s thought bubble doesn’t even have a rim. It’s nothing. It’s air.

History shows us that sincere love drove the church to mission, to compassion, to cultural advancement. Churches started hospitals, churches developed public education. Christians like William Wilberforce worked to abolish the trans atlantic slave trade. Christians continue today, through the work of organisations like International Justice Mission, to repair broken systems of justice, to stop the violence that perpetuates the poverty of the developing world.

Why do they do this? Because when Jesus rules people, when they are purified through his precious blood, all they can do is love sincerely! That has to be the outcome. It has to work. It cannot not work.

It’s God empowered

Hang on, you say. It cannot not work? Is this for real?

I look at myself and I acknowledge my weakness. We are imperfect. And look around, we can see plenty of contexts where it does not work well. True: this sincere love is not going to be perfect this side of heaven, but we do need to think through what Peter is saying.

First, as we’ve already seen, this love is purposed by God. And what God purposes will come about. Second, this love is commanded by God to people he lives in by his Spirit.

God never commands his people to do an impossible task. When he commands us to “love one another deeply, from the heart” he’s only enjoining what he already empowers. Check it out:

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23–25, NIV)

Love one another deeply, from the heart (why?) … You have been born again or imperishable seed…

The Perth summer is fast approaching. Coming Saturday the temperature will be some 37C. For the last few months we have been working on our lawn. Enriching it with water retention material. Organic material. Other substances that retain goodness. Keeping the water up. Because if we don’t, we know the harsh summer is going to transform our green lawn into crunchy brown nothingness.

Peter wants us to know people a like grass. Soft and green one day. Brown and crunchy the next. People don’t last. Their efforts often come to nothing.

But when God acts savingly in people’s lives, he begins to transform human weakness – your weakness – by the power of his risen son.

Christians don’t just bear fruit. With Jesus living in them they bear fruit that will last. When God saves people, they move from the realm of the mortal, to the realm of the immortal.

““I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24, NIV84)

There’s no denying: we’re not in heaven yet. We still fail, and fall, and our love is imperfect. (That’s obvious, otherwise it wouldn’t have to be commanded.) By the same token, I think we underestimate the power of our great God in us.

It’s why in our tradition we’re often short on prayer (which times do you gather specifically for prayer?). It’s why we get worried and anxious when things don’t work out – we think we’ve got to do it all. We react as if God is not in the picture. It’s why the most discussed half of the glass can often be the empty half…

But God is saying, loving this way is not about your limitations. It’s not about you being fallen. It’s not about you perishing. It’s about my living and enduring word doing the very thing that I purposed it to do. It’s about the love and grace and mercy of Jesus doing the very thing I intended it to do in you! It’s about the word that has not only been proclaimed to to, you’ve received it, believed it, it has taken root, and it is bearing fruit.

Christian you are not the same as the unsaved, powerless, sinful person you were before Jesus entered your life! Just as Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4)

God is saying: here’s my prescription, I have saved you for this very purpose, and you can do this, I will do this through you, you can obey my call in my power!

Jesus frees us to be a community of sincere love, deep love, because the God of love has redeemed us with the precious blood of his son!

“Love one another deeply, from the heart”

People talk about body language. You look at how a person is sitting and you can gauge their level of interest. If someone is in the meeting and they lean back with their hands on their head, we all know they think they’ve got the whole thing down and they may be feeling pretty superior. Body language. You can look at body language and get a reasonably accurate idea if what’s going on inside.

Guess what: Sincere love is the body language of the people of God, those who have been born with the imperishable word of God. You observe the sincere love of the people of God and you know what’s happening on the inside! God is at work, and they have been born again with imperishable seed! They are loving each other because they both love God and have been loved by him through Jesus.

Challenge:

So: is there enough sincere love here? Are we maxed out on love? Didn’t think so.

And the question, therefore, is what specific action will you take to start loving your brothers and sisters more?

I know: There’s always stuff that others can do more of, or less of. But this is about you. You and God. He has purposed this love to overflow from your life. So, what steps will you take to make that happen?

You in a home group? Discuss this question. Wrestle with it. Ask yourselves: do what you can to show more love in that context? Who’s on the sideline? Who’s fragile? Who’s in need? Speak into that. Love into that. Do something in love for them.

You’re not in a home group? Best reconsider. How can you love your brothers and sisters if you’re limiting the contexts where that love can be seen and felt and demonstrated? You’re too busy? Too tired? Best reconsider. We all get the same number of hours, and many are time poor. Instead of adjusting contexts of sincere love out of your schedule, adjust other components of your schedule to develop contexts of sincere love. Others will be the better for it, and so will be your heart.

Your church: what specific steps will you take to make your church more a place of love? Where people go out of their way to love? Where they forget about their own interests, and look to the interests of others? How will you start to do that, or extend that?

What will you change to better enfold people on the fringe? People in need? Sincere love says I can do something about that. Visit some people. Ask them around for a  BBQ or a Coffee. Steak and caffeine – what a wonderful ministry of love! See, it doesn’t have to be hard.

Like the eternal seed that started it all in us, the love and mercy of Jesus, such acts last forever.

When it gets tough, when things fall apart, the fact that God’s imperishable seed is at work in us will be our only hope, our only comfort, and our one reason for bringing glory to Jesus.

When that sincere love is good, it will be very good fruit. Those actions and events will be tasty kingdom morsels. We’ll taste them and instead of saying ‘Is this for real?’ we’ll say to ourselves ‘This is great, let’s have some more.’

God Loves A Cheerful Giver

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Readings: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Today we want to listen to God’s word about money. Let’s acknowledge at the outset that’s not always an easy thing to do. Especially as a pastor. I think we realise that in a church like ours the pastor’s salary makes up a significant proportion of the overall budget, so preaching about giving can be construed as banging your own drum. Let’s just acknowledge that for what it is, and note that in no way do I want to bang my own drum. It’s more that we are framing our financials for the AGM, and so it’s timely for us to consider what God says to us about money, giving and generosity.

Generosity’s Motive

We’ve looked at what Paul has written in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, and they reveal four things about generosity. First up, they tell us about generosity’s motive. It is important to see this clearly, because typically we start at the wrong place. We start with the idea of possession. That it’s our money. After all, we earn it, we work for it. We grow up with the idea of ‘my money’ and our parents teach us, as their parents taught them, that we have to build our future and strive for financial security. These things are basic to our culture.

When it comes to money, however, the bible does not start with our concepts of possession, our perception of need, or our preferred financial future. When it comes to money, the Bible starts with Jesus. We see this is 2 Cor 8-9.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV)

Want to know about giving? Then this where we start. With the grace of Jesus, who considered the riches of glory as nothing to become poor. And having said that, I think we realise these words are not a comment on Jesus’ financial status. They refer to the riches of his glory before he took on the human nature, and the abject poverty of the Cross, where we suffered for undeserving people:

Philippians 2:5–8 (NIV)

5 …have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

This is where we start, but we can also go further: back to creation. There we see the Triune God giving his creative energy, giving life to all things. God gives, and creation comes out of nothing. The Son gives, and life is given to the dead. His death and resurrection mean that hope is replaces our despair. Forgiveness is given in exchange for our guilt. Beauty is given in exchange for our wretchedness.

In Isaiah 53-55 we read about the work of the servant of the Lord, we remember the very well know words of !Isaiah 53:5. But the prophet’s thoughts do not stop with the servant’s suffering, or even redemption he shall win. God has his eye set on the renewal of his entire creation:

Isaiah 55:12–13 (NIV84)

12 You will go out in joy

and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills

will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field

will clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,

and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.

This will be for the Lord’s renown,

for an everlasting sign,

which will not be destroyed.”

We should not be surprised to find, then, that in 2 Corinthians, Paul says this totally new life, this new creation, is for those who are ruled by Jesus:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ  … God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18,21 NIV84)

This is why God loves a cheerful giver. Giving is his nature. It is the core truth of the Gospel. We see this in those most recognisable words from John’s Gospel:

God so loved the world that he gave His One and Only Son…

If we are to understand anything about Christian giving and generosity this is where we have to start. The “giving-ness of God” is the defining truth of life itself: in Jesus we were given grace, life and hope that we never deserved.

Generosity’s Model

This helps us understand the power of Paul’s model for Christian generosity: the Macedonian Christians:

1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. – 2 Corinthians 8:1–5 (NIV)

For these Christians, there was only one thing worse than extreme poverty, and that was being extremely poor and being prevented from giving!

Beautiful, isn’t it? They had so little, but they gave so much. Check it out:

8:2: their extreme poverty overflowed  in extreme generosity.

8:3 they gave as much as they were able, even beyond their own ability, beyond what might have been reasonable.

8:5 …they exceeded even Paul’s expectations!

How is that possible? How does that work, that people so incredibly poor could be so deliciously generous? It works because they valued joy more than happiness. And joy is not necessarily happiness, is it? Happiness is my here and now. Joy, at least in biblical terms, is grounded in God’s faithfulness to his promises. Like Jesus himself, who despised his ‘here and now’, his circumstances, and for the joy set before him – that vision of what a gracious God would do through his death – went to the cross (see Hebrews 12:2).

So very different to us. We think if we just get this done, get that paid for, plan the holiday, pay the mortgage, then we will think about giving. We start with our circumstances, and then determine our giving. These Macedonian brothers and sisters would look at us and say we have got it the wrong way around. They started with Jesus’ giving, his gift of life, and it changed their world.

This is why we are confused about tithing, and by that I refer to the practice of giving 10% of one’s income for the work of the Lord through his church. The question is often asked: “do I have to give 10%?” To which the answer is “Of course not.” You don’t have to give anything! God’s grace is free! God’s gift of life and salvation in Jesus cannot be bought, earned or deserved.

What we fail to understand is that giving is not about obligation. Giving is about opportunity. Opportunity to show our love for Jesus. That’s why Paul says,

“I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” (2 Corinthians 8:8, NIV)

And

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7, NIV)

Listen: giving is a matter of the heart. Giving is about being cheerful. About being joyful and thankful for all we have received in Christ. If this is where you are, thankful for everything you have in Jesus, you’ll be a cheerful giver. So, start at the 10% figure.

On the matter of tithing, Tim Keller has a great question for us: what if your salary was cut by 10%? What would you have to do? No doubt, we’d have to make some adjustments, either in how much we save or in how much we spend. We get this. So Tim Keller says: “Go. Do it. And let this show your thanks to God for all he has given and continues to give in Jesus Christ.”

He adds:

The Bible says … there can be no significant spiritual growth in your life unless you put your money and what you think about your money into God’s hands. Because it’s just too big and just too pivotal an issue[1]

Generosity’s Promise

Now, I can guess what you’re thinking: “if I make that change, how will I be able to do what needs to be done, and pay what needs to be paid?”

Great question! The answer is our third point: Generosity’s Promise: We have to take God on his word, to trust the promise of the Lord:

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Corinthians 9:6, NIV)

We are called to be generous sowers, and as we do we give God an opportunity to show more of his faithfulness.

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV)

Do you believe that?

Do you believe that God will look after you?

Will you sit down with your bank statement, see your income, and say to your God “I believe you will provide for me as I do this. I trust you to keep your word”?

“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 9:10, NIV)

Take God on his word, friends!

Think about it: why do you live here? Why has the Lord given you life in this place, at this time, in this great city, in a wonderful country? His word reminds us:

“You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, … 2 Corinthians 9:11, NIV)

He has looked after you, hasn’t he? Of course he has! And he will continue to do so as you walk in his ways. The question is do you believe this? Really, this truth – that God will meet out needs – should thrill us! It should excite us! It should warm our heart!

God will look after us, not because we give, but because he loves us and has promised to care for us.

You want proof? Just look at the cross! The Cross shows us just how committed God is to giving us what we need to follow him and love him. He gave us his son!

Take God on his word. Adjust your giving. He will give you what you need. God loves cheerful givers.

Generosity’s goal

Finally, let’s think about the goal of this generosity. Again, as we think about this, we often focus on our immediate needs. Our financial position. Our salary. Our mortgage. Our church perhaps struggling to meet the budget, or a cash deficit which needs to be managed. All these things are important, and we need to be responsible as we address them. They are important, but they are not the most important consideration. For once again, Bible directs us to God. When we discussed generosity’s motive, we started with God’s grace. As we discuss generosity’s goal we are focussed not on our needs but on God’s glory. This emphasis permeates 2 Corinthians 9

“…through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11, NIV)

When Christians are generous givers, God gets the praise!

“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:12, NIV)

“Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” (2 Corinthians 9:13, NIV)

“And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.” (2 Corinthians 9:14, NIV)

You have already seen this today. We could miss the look of obvious delight in the faces of children in Operation Christmas Child they opens their shoebox? This past week I saw correspondence from Compassion which quoted a sponsored child saying “they [the sponsors] have no idea how much I praise God for their love.” Or who has not seen the look of absolute gratitude in the faces of people rescued by International Justice Mission operations?

One thing we do not see, which I sometimes see, is how people right here in this community, when they are helped by something we do, people who have nowhere else to turn, often express such rich gratitude. Do they become Christians? I am not aware that has happened. Do they thank God? I have not heard them doing that. But when God’s church is honoured and gratitude expressed for works of service, it is a win for the Kingdom. And I would like to think that that next time any of these people are engaged in a conversation about God’s love of his mercy in Jesus, it might just be a little easier for them to believe, as they have seen his love through his people’s generosity.

Jesus challenges us, quite starkly, to not focus on the things everyone else focuses on: What we drive. Where we live. What people think of us. The next cruise. What labels we wear.

Jesus’ people have their concern  elsewhere:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us in Jesus – that we should be called children of God!

Look at what he has given me! The natural question then is, How can I give more? What does my church need? What is God calling us to do, and how can that happen through generous giving?

Jesus’ words are clear:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:31–34, NIV)

Today, Jesus is inviting you, all of us, to step into His Kingdom existence. To have his Kingdom, his Lordship, change our view of money. To discover a whole new identity in him: new creation, new rules for living, new attitudes, new life, new hope, new values.

And as his people this we will do, and may he received all the praise and the glory.

Endnotes:

[1] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

Deep – Confused

Psalm 73:25 (NIV)

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.


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Additional reading: Psalm 73

There are three words which will make the strongest man weak in the knees; the most courageous man slink away like a wounded dog; the most upbeat man queuing up for a Zoloft script; and Dwayne Johnson wannabes crying like a baby. These three words will either be words of life or they will be words of death:

“Some Assembly Required”

Maybe it’s just my learning style – which in educational parlance is ‘when all else fails, read the instructions’, when I have to assemble something, I just look at the bits and pieces, line ‘em up, and get into it. But then, as my wife knows very well, there will also be tears.

One particular event – the desk – comes to mind. The instructions were written in Ingrish. Originally Chinese, then translated into Swahili, and then to English. Of sorts. The desk was an Officeworks item, and I was putting the top on the desk, and it looked all symmetrical, so I guessed it didn’t matter which way it went on, right? Unhappily, it was asymmetrical in one tiny place. And that stopped the  thing from going onto the rest of the frame… So I am huffing and puffing and kind of thankful that these flat packs do not come with their own blood pressure monitor, and we’re living in Queensland, and it’s frightfully humid, and it just should not be this difficult!!

To say that I was CONFUSED by the experience would have been delightfully G-Rated, but totally unlike what actually transpired…

Maybe we think that faith should be more like a flat pack: You have the instructions. You read and follow the instructions. So you should get what you spent your money on.

Confused

Many Christians, perhaps unawares, operate like this: I go to church. I identify as a Christian. I pray. So, life should not be this complicated, and the fact that it is this complicated leaves me pretty confused.

We all know people who have gotten stuck by life circumstances: they follow Jesus, but things don’t seem to work out the way they expected. So in their confusion they decide to unfriend and unfollow God.

Such confusion is not only an individual thing. It can affect communities. Attendances might be inconsistent. Finances can get tight. It can be a struggle to find people to serve in different aspects of ministry. It confuses us… it just should not be this difficult, right?? Let’s be open about that. But one thing we should not do is think it is too much of a struggle and  give up. We must not let our confusion or the discomfort of our situation determine our response.

My guess is this has only become a significant issue for the church over the last 200 years. The more we have modernised, become affluent, the more health and standards of living have improved the more we expect our faith to make life easier. Everything else is so much easier than it may have been for our grandparents. We have instant information via the internet. We have instant hot water. We have instant light. We arrange doctor’s appointments via a phone app. And we expect following Jesus to be much the same.

But if things are tough we should neither be confused nor surprised, for plenty of Christ’s people before us have shared that experience before us. Read the Scriptures however and you will that is not the experience of even the most faithful of God’s people. The writer of Psalm 73 could identify with our confusion:

“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.” (Psalm 73:2–5, NIV)

Or who could forget about Job? Lost his livelihood, his health and his children. Could not see any rhyme or reason to his sudden descent into the valley of the shadow of death, yet he maintained that God was not punishing him.

Think of Jesus. Sinless, holy son of God. Blameless. Righteous. Yet reviled and rejected. He had nowhere to lay his head. Beaten. Scorned. Crucified.

If this was Jesus’ experience, it should not surprise us if it is also ours. No servant is greater than his master.

My portion

Quite amazingly, the Psalmists who often lay tangled in the loose ends of suffering remained confident in God. The David who was hounded and exiled on several occasions could also write

“Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5–6, NIV)

The writer whose soul panted for God as a deer pants for water could also write

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psalm 46:1–3, NIV)

As Paul remained in prison he could write

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10–11, NIV)

Yet in suffering deep and unknown could confess

“…in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10, NIV)

Rarely are we so honest.

These scriptures expose our tendency to place unhealthy, unwise and unwarranted expectations on the church and on the God whom we worship. That it should be easier. That it certainly should not be as difficult as it is.

I say this for two reasons.

One, I believe that in this time of challenge God is driving us back to himself, and challenging our the focus of our faith and discipleship. Frederick Beuchner has remarked that these situations are ‘the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.’

Part of the problem is that our church culture tends to be determined by what we want out of a church:

Great preaching. Brilliant music. Engaging programs for children and youth. Modern facilities. Effective discipleship. A vision and mission we can connect with. Powerful evangelism. Oh, and great coffee…

Is church a context in which we truly worship God, or just another context where we want God to make us happy?

All those things are good, but isn’t this just checklist Christianity? Where the church that gets the most ticks is the one we go for?

David Platt has said

We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is about abandoning ourselves and following Jesus

So here is the challenge: Is corporate worship a context in which we truly worship God, or just another context where we want God to make us happy?

Two: think of what might have been. Imagine if we were never in challenging  and trying situations. That services were always full, that our music teams had a full complement of musicians and vocalists. That we had plenty of leaders for our ministries, oodles of room for activities, and outreach program that was pumping, producing converts. That disciples were growing and creating more disciples. That everything was just great.

Would we ever get to ask the hard questions we’re asking now? Would we be in touch with our thirst, or emptiness, our spiritual distance and our confusion?

See, when all we want to do is avoid the discomfort, God wants us to feel it, to know it, to own it, and to learn from it.

when all we want to do is avoid the discomfort, God wants us to feel it, to know it, to own it, and to learn from it

The best thing we can do with our difficult situation  is bring it to God, acknowledge the blessings we have received, acknowledge our tendency to trust in the work of our own hands, repent of that tendency, and ask him to revive us again.

Into God’s presence

That’s the point: we need to observe in the things that are not the best the promptings of the One who is the best. In the things that are not as good as they could be, we need to renew our love for the One who is more good than we can possibly imagine. In all our struggles and failures we look to Christ who is our victor and our glory. Our comfort can never be in the things we do. Our only comfort can be Jesus, knowing him, and being known by him.

So, if we’re confused with where things are at, here’s how we can respond:

Recognise Jesus

His death has brought us right into the presence of the living Lord!

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:19–23, NIV)

He is the living water, soothing the thirst of our hearts. He is the bread of life, satisfies our emptiness of soul. He counted his glory as nothing, gone the distance, bridged the gap, and reconciled us to God. Christ and Christ alone will resolve the confusion we feel, for in him is life, true life

He said:

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, NIV)

Repent

Sounds like a big call, but where we’ve placed our trust in things, in people, we need to acknowledge that, turn to God, and seek his forgiveness. We have placed improper expectations on the church, and sought in the church that which only Christ can give. Blindly we have followed out culture, placed ourselves at the centre of life, even of the church. We need to turn around, and return to Jesus as the first love of our hearts, the living water, true bread, the One who died to reconcile us, who as the way, the truth, the life ends our confusion forever.

Live differently

Love Jesus daily, through renewed and daily prayer that he change and transform us, conforming us to his likeness. We can do this by loving others.

It takes time to rebuild, and where we end up will always be a little different to where we have been before. One thing you can do is commit to growing healthy God honouring community. Do all you can to help build a great church.

Love your church

Meaning? Well, that will be my next series, “Living Members” starting at Gateway on June 21. For now, start with a daily prayer:

Lord, Help us become a healthy church. Help me do whatever I need to do to make that happen. Together, bring us back to the core, to the heart, to Jesus himself.

The Greatest Injustice (Time for Justice #6)

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Reading: Gal 3:13John 19:17-30

A sermon for Good Friday

There is a reason why many are happy to call today good, and that is because for many, these next few days are about a long weekend and chocolate eggs. As Christians, of course, we want the focus to be on the Cross and the Open Tomb. But these days that is a minority view.

One of the reasons people don’t want to consider the real meaning of Good Friday is because it is about an execution. There is quite some discussion about execution in Australia at present, with the fate of Chan and Sukumaran being played out before our eyes. And on that, while I want justice to be served, I find the prospect of an execution almost impossible to contemplate. Howe much more crucifixion. This barbaric sentence was employed to install terror in people and to depict the curse of the executed.

The Old Testament says

“… anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 21:23, NIV)

The Curse of the Cross

“Good Friday.” Odd language because this day is really about a curse. That very word is used three times in Gal 3:13

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”” (Galatians 3:13, NIV)

But the curse does not only come through crucifixion. We are under a curse because we do not keep God’s law perfectly.

“Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God…”” (Galatians 3:10–11, NIV)

That’s the power of the curse of sin in fallen humanity. We cannot find acceptance with God, we cannot access his life and love on the basis of what we do, or don’t do, or how we live, or anything else.

this day is really about a curse

No one knew that truth more than Paul. He was fed the power of obedience in his mother’s milk. He had lived his whole life, to a point, believing God would justify him because of his exemplary life. But here he is saying no one is justified through obedience to the law. And if he with his blameless life lived under the law’s curse, what hope is there for us?

Well, this short verse tells us despite the curse there is hope. But it’s not a hope which arises from ourselves. There is hope because Good Friday says the curse was dealt with another way:

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”” (Galatians 3:13, NIV)

It does not say “Jesus took the curse for us” – that would be bad enough. It says “he became the curse for us”. Jesus became punishment for us. He took our place. Jesus took into himself God’s wrath – which was reserved for us. He satisfied God’s wrath once for all. On the cross, Jesus became sin for us so powerfully that he absorbed it totally and dealt with it conclusively.

The prophet Isaiah says

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4–5, NIV)

And in another place Paul says

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

He did not only die a cursed death. He became your sin, died your death, and bore your curse.

There will be some who push back at this. It’s natural. We are confronted here, not just with our fallen nature, but with the reality that we’re powerless to restore it. And with the reality that we needed an innocent, sinless, magnificent, true God, true man, Jesus, to become the curse for us. This is the disturbing reality: We are totally dependent on this Jesus for life.

He became your sin, died your death, and bore your curse

Confronted because: who wants to admit their dependence on anyone? No one likes to do that because it runs against our pride. We resist because, deep down, we think we can still get things sorted ourselves.

What foolishness.

But if you think about it there is one context when we will gladly accept our own powerlessness: and that is when we’re facing certain death. Imagine you were on that Germanwings plane, and you see the captain trying to break into the cockpit. You know if he doesn’t get in, you’re dead. No one is going to say to the captain, “sit down, you’re making us all feel bad.” You will never say that, because if he doesn’t get in there you’re on your way into side of the mountain

Imagine a different scenario: that the pilot did get into the cockpit, overpowered the Copilot, and saved the day. Do you think the papers would be full of people offended that this one guy had saved them? Of course not! They’d be cheering him on! There’d be ticker tape processions! He’d get a medal for bravery! Every passenger would sing his praises! No one would ever forget what he had done! He would be proclaimed as the victorious captain! The saviour of the ship!

When Jesus went to the cross and became your curse, He saved us from a greater enemy than a suicidal pilot. He has saved you from a worse fate than ploughing into the French Alps. When he became our curse on that terrible cross, he saved us from a Christless eternity, and he saved us for life that never ends! Paul uses a special word to describe this rescue.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…”” (Galatians 3:13, NIV)

Paul is using slave market imagery, where slaves were lined up and sold to the highest bidder. He’s implying that someone has come along and purchased our freedom. His point is that we have been bought by the blood of Jesus! And we have been bought completely! And we have been bought for freedom! For transformed life! There has been a change of ownership: you belong to Jesus! You are no longer at the mercy of the fall, your sin, your guilt or the curse. Christ has set you free!!

The (In)justice of the Cross

But there’s something else we should see about this redemption. We understand from the above the core of the atonement is that Jesus was punished in the place of the guilty.

Isaiah the prophet:

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7–9, NIV)

And Peter, speaking to the very people who crucified him, says

“…you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23, NIV)

We have spoken much about injustice these last weeks. Here’s the question: Could there be a greater injustice that the totally innocent and righteous son of God being put to death by sinners and rebels, for sinners and rebels??

The interesting thing is the verse from Acts 20 also says:

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23, NIV)

Jesus’ death was no accident. No unfortunate chain of events. He was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge meant the cross was the right place at the right time. God planned all along that your curse would be conquered. He planned all along that your sin would be taken away. He deliberately steered the course of world events to that very place on Calvary, so his Son would die in your place and end forever the power of the curse to rule your life. God used this injustice to satisfy the claims of his justice which demanded your sin be punished and your curse conquered.

We learn two things here. One is how in prodigious grace God ensured his own justice was satisfied by his own dear son, who willingly gave himself to the injustice of the Cross. The other is how the God we worship can conquer the greatest injustice through his Son. Calvary tells us that nothing is ever out of control. Nothing.

We may wonder what we can do to address injustice. The doers of evil might threaten and terrify God’s people, as they did with chilling brutality this last week in Garissa, Kenya. But our sovereign God can transform any injustice and use it for the good of his people.

The Cross is evidence that in the hand of the Redeemer, moments of apparent defeat become moments of grace and victory – Paul David Tripp

So: Good Friday? Absolutely. The greatest injustice has become the most wonderful redemption. Our curse is gone. Our guilt is atoned.

Today, the one who became your curse is calling you to trust him. To turn to him. This Jesus intends to rule your life, and he is calling you to bow the knee.

He has removed every barrier between you and the Father.

All that remains is for you to live in the grace and freedom Jesus has won for you.

How we fit in to God’s plan – Time for Justice #5

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Philippians 2:5-13

In the last few weeks we have covered quite some ground:

  • We’ve seen that injustice has its roots in the human heart, in people estranged from a loving God, in the sin of the human heart
  • We’ve seen that God cares deeply for the victims of injustice
  • We’ve seen that he hates injustice, and how he uses the strongest language to describe his feelings towards that injustice
  • And last week we have learned the surprising truth that his plan is to use his church to deal with the injustices of our world
  • On Good Friday and Easter Sunday we will see how the cross of Christ changes everything, and how the glorious reality of the resurrection impacts the church’s calling.
  • The week after we’ll be nailing it all home.

What we want to look at today is the question of how. How do we fit in with the plan of God? What is it we are to do? It’s a challenging question. And to get into this I want to tell you a story…

How do we fit in with the plan of God?

Once, when I was a little boy, maybe four years old, we visited my grandfather in a neighbouring town. Television had only been in Australia for 5-6 years. And because we lived so far away from the place of broadcast, anyone who wanted to receive the TV signal needed at least a 15 meter TV antenna. That meant no one could get TV on the sly. As soon as that huge antenna went up, your neighbourhood knew you had TV. My mother, who was especially good at noticing things, would sometimes see a new TV antenna and say “Ooh, they’ve got TV!”

So, we are at my grandfather’s house, and the next door neighbour had just had her TV installed. We knew this because my mother has seen the antenna. So after lunch, Mum asked whether me and my older sister wanted to go next door and look at the TV. We were pretty excited about that. So, guess what we did? We raced next door, sat on the front lawn and stared at the 15 TV antenna. It was great! For the first few minutes. And really, we had no idea that inside the house there was a box with a screen with pictures and sound! Imagine that: we thought the experience was all about looking at the antenna. We had no idea there was more to it. There we were: content to sit in the front yard staring at the TV antenna. Yet is there a sense in which, with regard to our faith, it sometimes feels we’re doing just that: staring at an antenna, but wondering whether there’s more to it.

Why do the glorious realities of the Gospel sometimes leave us feeling underwhelmed?

Maybe it’s an occupational hazard of being so incredibly blessed. We live in a beautiful country, in a wonderful city, we have so much: good health, reasonable income, leisure time, capacity to do whatever we choose. Might this work against us?

We know the truth. We have been given forgiveness in Christ. We have eternal life in his name. We have the fullness of grace. But too often it doesn’t feel like fullness. Why do those glorious realities sometimes leave us feeling underwhelmed?

If we look at Philippians 2, we know it’s not because of any lack in Jesus Christ or his work:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, NIV)

Jesus is the greatest expression of God’s saving plan. His suffering and death, his glorious resurrection, the fact that he is seated at the right hand of God shows his glorious victory. His name is above every other name! And Paul says this wonderful God will bring the work of his son in his people to a flourishing finish:

“[Being] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NIV)

This God is working the life Jesus into us day by day:

“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13, NIV)

This God who directed all history toward the coming of his Son, toward the cross, toward the open tomb, who had Pilate, and Herod, and the executioner all doing his will; this same sovereign God is now working in you to bring the fullness of Christ’s life to expression! And it’s no surprise Paul continues, ‘now, you Christians, you church, you keep working out what God is working in.’

When he says ‘keep working out your salvation’ he’s not talking about mere mental activity, like when you work out the square root of 144. And he’s not talking about the sort of working out you do at the gym.

When Paul says ‘work out your salvation’ he’s saying bring your salvation to full fruitfulness, bring it to full expression in everything, put it into effect entirely and thoroughly. He’s saying: Don’t stop until the fullness of Christ’s Kingdom flourishes in the totality of new community together and the entirety of your individual lives. And he even tells us what that will look like:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12, NIV)

There it is again: we know Jesus, we worship Jesus, we live for Jesus … but this fear and trembling, where is that? What is that? Gotta say: I read those words and I get this sense that I am looking at the TV antenna, and thinking there’s probably more to it. This fear and trembling – what is that?

Well, it’s not a fear of punishment. The Bible makes it clear: Jesus has dealt with that, and there is no more condemnation for those who are in him (see Rom 8:1).

Fear and trembling arises from a profound awareness that God is bigger, more powerful, gloriously greater, more disturbingly wonderful than anything we can imagine. Fear and trembling flows out of a deep sense of our own insignificance. An awareness of our profound dependence on the Lord and his mercy. Fear and trembling is living out the unnerving adventure of grace. It is intentional witness and new life which confronts the dark forces of our world. This fear and trembling cannot be manufactured. On the contrary, it comes when we are so unsettled from expressing Christ’s new life entirely and thoroughly that we can do no other but fear and tremble as we follow. Paul mentions fear and trembling as a normal experience, but is it our normal experience? Is it yours?

Now, there are plenty of Christians around who will say if you lack fear and trembling it’s because you haven’t been baptised with the Holy Spirit, or because you don’t speak in tongues, or because your not prospering, or because you don’t have enough faith, or some other reason. IN response, we need to remember how Paul reminds us the Holy Spirit is given to every follower of Jesus when they believe (Eph 1:13-14). But here’s the thing, every believer has the Spirit, but that Spirit can be quenched and his work stifled (see Eph 4:30).

By the same token, a life of trust from a person who follows Jesus, who obeys and honours him, when someone seek to do that with a full heart and in all things they will increasingly find the Spirit challenging them to a more determined and courageous Christianity. Obedience matters.

Paul is describing Christian life with edge. A living for Jesus which on a regular basis is passionate, courageous, stretched, and demanding.

Could it be that we do not often feel fear and trembling because we love our comfort, our privileges too much?

Could it be that this preoccupation with ourselves prevents us from entering into the fullness of life, from living our faith on the edge, and so there’s no fear, and little trembling?

Could it be that we’re looking at the antenna, and not living what Jesus calls ‘the deeper realities’?

IJM’s Gary Haugen sums it up well:

This is, I believe, a voice of divine restlessness. This is a voice of sacred discontent. This is the voice of a holy yearning for more … This is the moment in which we can see that all the work that God has been doing in our lives and in the life of the church is not an end in itself; rather, the work he has been doing in us is a powerful means to a grander purpose beyond ourselves. … This is the critical transition—when we who have been rescued by Christ come to understand that our rescue has not been simply for ourselves but for an even more exalted purpose. Indeed our own rescue is God’s plan for rescuing the world that he loves. 

[Just Courage]

We have not been rescued from sin and death so we can take it easy. God has worked his salvation into us so we can work it out, so we can put it into effect entirely and thoroughly. So that we can live new life with edge, with a sense of scary adventure, with fear and trembling. So we can serve God’s purpose (v.13). So we might will (that is, decide and choose) and act (that is, behave and do) the very things he has purposed in us.

The grander purpose the Lord has for us is that we enter into his heart for justice. Not a new program. Not a means to make people more busy. But a working out of what God has worked in, and a pursuit of the things which are close to the heart of God. The things Jesus calls ‘the weightier matters.’

So, here at Gateway we are embarking on a deepening of our strategic vision. The plans follow something of the material outlined in Jim Martin’s “The Just Church

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Encounter

We want to start a group, or a number of groups, that we might call ‘justice learning communities’. Everyone in these groups will be committed to working through key sections of God’s word which deal with justice, mercy and compassion. These  learning communities will prayerfully sit under the word. They will spend much time in prayer as they will work through some key books like

These groups will not be academic or merely intellectual. They will be prayerful, united, and desiring a deepening understanding of God’s call to be his people of justice. We will take some time to do this. Maybe 6-12 months. We will ask God to open our eyes, and to speak to us powerfully. We won’t want to assume we know the answers. We will be asking him daily to lead us to the right outcomes.

Explore

As we continue this learning, the time will come to start developing a justice task force, a ministry group who will

  • Ascertain the key needs around us in Cockburn. They will identify areas where people are vulnerable, they will work to unearth any injustice in our neighbourhood
  • Look also to wider contexts in Australia and beyond where the Gateway Church Family might be able to express the mercy and justice of the Kingdom of Jesus
  • See what resources we have: what are the gifts, skills, opportunities, passions and interests here in our church community?
  • They will then seek to match those resources to needs identified locally and beyond.

Engage

The third stage will see us prayerfully and intentionally start to respond to the various needs identified in the first two stages. In reality, this will be the hardest work on the justice journey. But it is what we are called to do.

They may be much risk as we respond to the needs around us, and we bet go into it with our eyes wide open. We don’t only need to see clearly the work that needs to be done and the resources we have to do it. The most important thing is that our eyes are fixed firmly on the Christ who is exalted above all things. He is the One on whom we depend. He is the One who lives in and empowers his people. He is the One who is with us always, even to the very end of the age. This being so, he is also the one in who is with us in our times of fear and trembling, who enables us to live his new life with faith and edge and courage.

My prayer is that we will all be changed in this process of growth and discovery. My prayer is that this justice journey will change our church, and lead us more into the maturity the Lord calls us to. Will you share that prayer that with me? It’s true, it may be a hard and difficult work. But Jesus is on the throne! Jesus is the Risen King. And the last thing any of us would want to do is keep looking at the antenna when deeper life and greater realities await us.

Please indicate how you want to engage with the justice journey by taking the brief survey below:

God’s Heart for the Victim – Group Study Questions

Read Jeremiah 22:1-16

Share a few examples of injustices you see in your local community or in your world. Are these affecting people known to you, or are they more situations that you are aware of but you don’t now the people concerned? If we are not particularly close to victims of injustice, how might this alter our perception of this issue?

To what extent do we regard injustice as a core factor in the decline of the Old Testament kingdoms of Israel and Judah?

The injustice of Jehioakim, Jehoiachin, Shallum and other rulers would one dat lead to exile and to Jerusalem’s destruction (see Jer 22:5, 8-9). It seems unthinkable that God would visit such terrible punishment on his own people. What does this tell us about God’s heart for victims of injustice?

“When God’s people allow injustice to thrive, they break the Covenant with the Lord” – Explain

Read Luke 4:18-19 and Mark 11:15-17. What do these passages tell us about Jesus’ views on injustice, and the place they occupy in his Kingdom mission? How do these words of Jesus reflect what we read in Jeremiah 22?

How does the death and resurrection of Jesus impact on what we think and do about injustice?

If it’s true that the things that matter to God should also matter to God’s people, what does this mean for

* how we do church

* what we do as church?

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These questions relate to “Time for Justice – God’s Heart for the Victim”. You can read the full text here.

The Origins of Injustice – Group Study Questions

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In which contexts would people of your culture typically come into contact with injustice?

Injustice is when someone uses their power to take from others the good things God wants them to have: their life, liberty, dignity and the fruits of their love and labour (International Justice Mission) – Discuss

Dave mentioned in his sermon that up until the last 10 years or so, he was not aware of much emphasis on the issue of injustice from evangelical Christian preachers. Is that a common experience? What factors might account for it?

Read Ezekiel 22:1-16. What strikes you about the way injustice is spoken about in this passage?

Read Lev 19:35-37, and Lev 11:45. Discuss the ultimate motive for God’s people to embody his law (see also Ex 19:4-6)

Since injustice has its roots in the fall, the ultimate cure is Christ ruling his people and his world – Discuss.

What are the implications of the above for the many good – but ultimately secular – efforts against injustice?

Time for Justice – The Origins of Injustice

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Leviticus 19:13-15
Ezekiel 22:1-16

The six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday have typically been known as the season of Lent.
Traditionally, it’s a time when people to go without certain things, traditionally meat. Fish was permitted on Friday.

More recently, people choose to do other things: drinking only water, give up Facebook, not eating bread, giving up something else they like. Whatever it might be, the point is your fast from those things, and the hunger that ensues, draws you to focus on your hunger for Christ, and the life he brings through his death and resurrection.

OK. But if that’s the case, why is the focus for our six weeks of Lent focussing on injustice? What has that got to do with hunger for Christ?

Two things. One: Jesus’ people are people who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6). Two: there are 27 million slaves in our world today. And you can bet they are hungering for the justice of the Kingdom of Christ.

For us and for them, hungering for justice during Lent makes all the sense in the world.

Why this, and now?

The statistics of injustice are confronting and overwhelming. I said before there are an estimated 27m slaves in our world today. That’s more slaves than were extracted from Africa over the entire 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade.

If someone comes to your home and attempts to burgle your property, you dial 000 and the police come. The moment you see the police cars, you’ll be relieved. In so many parts of the developing world, however, police do not give rise to feelings of safety, but fear. In those places the police may be your worst enemy, one of the biggest threats to the safety of you and your children.

In our world today, mainly in developing countries, there are 4 billion people who live outside the protection of the law. In Peru, 47% of women have been victims or rape or sexual assault. There are a plethora of horrifying statistics like that. Truth is, injustice is an everyday reality for billions of people in our world.

What is injustice? Injustice is when someone uses their power to take from others the good things God wants them to have: their life, liberty, dignity and the fruits of their love and labour

For the last 7-8 years I have been reading more and more about this issue. It’s been wonderfully encouraging to see the good work of Compassion, World Vision, A21, Common Grace, and International Justice Mission of course. But interestingly, for the last 7-8 years I have been asking myself why, for all the years before, I had been oblivious to the pervasive reality of injustice? My guess is it’s not too different for you.

If we are people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, why have we not much engaged with the dark reality of injustice?

One reason might be that over the last two centuries there have been movements in various churches to engage with these issues, but not always from the point of view of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes, these efforts have been more about political change and structural reform. Sometimes these efforts have confused working for such change with doing the Gospel. In other cases social activism has been confused with the Gospel. The result may be something like a ‘social Gospel’ or liberation theology.

The church has sometimes reacted to this by retreating from the call to justice, and instead left it all to government and NGOs. IN such times the church has tended to just concentrate on spiritual realities. So in many cases evangelical and reformed churches forgot about injustice altogether.

And thinking about it, I never heard a single sermon about injustice in the first 25 years of my life. And for the first 20 years of my ministry, I hardly ever touched the subject. I say that to my own shame.

A scriptural concern

There are good reasons why such neglect is unacceptable.

One: People are suffering, laws are not upheld, violent people are not being brought to justice, and people like us are in a position to do something about it…

Two: the biggest reason why it’s time for justice is because God calls us into this work. You can say a lot of things about injustice. God only has one word for it: Injustice is sin.

In Jeremiah 22 we read the prophet’s words to a King who was building his kingdom on the broken backs of the poor:

““Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labour. He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. “Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD. “But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.”” (Jeremiah 22:13–17, NIV)

In Leviticus 19, we move from rulers to those who exercise judgement:

““ ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly. “ ‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “ ‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:15–16, NIV)

A few verses on, and it’s clear that every person who knows the Lord is called to honesty, integrity and justice

““ ‘Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt. “ ‘Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD.’ ”” (Leviticus 19:35–37, NIV) {Ephah – dry, 10-20 litres, Hin – liquid 4.4 litres]

God’s people were to show, in the fullness of their lives, what it meant to live as the people of the Lord.

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”” (Exodus 19:4–6, NIV)

Their obedience to God’s law was an every day, all of life thanksgiving for their deliverance from Egypt. But more: God’s commands, his call to be holy as he is holy, are not merely a reason for his people to give thanks. They are an expression, a revelation, of his character

“I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45, NIV)

We may know that when it comes to holiness, Scripture always sees as being fully devoted to God’s service and consequently living a distinctly different life. As western Christians we need to relearn this. We seem strangely adept at making unbiblical distinctions to make discipleship less sacrificial.

Think about it: We will often make a distinction between a holy life – a righteous life – and pursuing justice. True? We see righteousness as our state before God, and justice as something that needs to be brought about in various life contexts. We see unrighteousness as a spiritual condition, and injustice as something that needs to be addressed politically or socially.

My point is that Scripture never makes those distinctions. When God calls us to righteousness, he’s not just calling us to merely an inner spiritual state. He is calling us to changed lives. Righteousness equals ‘Right-ness’ of life. A life which shows through changed attitudes, gracious actions, just values as well as a heart overcome by the mercy of God.

God calls his people away from injustice, to end injustice, because injustice is sin. Injustice is sin because it breaks the entire law. People who do injustice, people who ignore injustice, do not love God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength. People do injustice, who ignore injustice, can not love their neighbour as themselves, because they allowing lies, theft, sexual violence, and deceit to take God’s good gifts of life and provision.

This is why in Ezekiel 22 injustice is bracketed with idolatry (v.3-4), desecration of the Sabbath (v.8); adultery (v.9), gross immorality (v.11-12), and why injustice will be punished with judgement and exile (v.15,17-22).

There really is no other way to describe it: Injustice is an affront, an offence to the character of God. Injustice is sin.

Reflecting God’s character

Since injustice is sin, it has its roots in the fall and the alienation of people from God in sin. And if injustice has its roots in the fall, then the ultimate cure for injustice is the cross of Jesus: Jesus ruling the hearts of his people. Surely, as people who have come to know the love, mercy and grace of God in Jesus our greatest privilege should be to reflect his character and show his grace.

Look at the way Peter frames the call to holiness to a persecuted church:

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:14–19, NIV)

The Cross, redemption in Christ, drives us to be holy as he is holy. The cross drives us to reflect God’s holy character. It’s time for justice. I am the Lord.

This is why, as our churches adopted our denominational vision in 2006, it included initiatives to ‘penetrate structures of society with the gospel.’ So, being a people of justice is not about introducing another program or ministry. This is about doing the very things God calls us to do. This is about reflecting God’s call to justice, our hunger and thirst for righteousness, right into the very DNA of how we equip, how we reach, how we grow. Right into our discipling, our community building, our mission to our city.

Living justly is one of the ways we flee from sin. Living justly is how we thank for God for everything he has given us in his son. Our God is the God of justice. When his people follow him, they must be people of justice.

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NIV)

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, NIV)

So, there is good news today: people who hunger and thirst for righteousness can be loved, cleansed, forgiven, restored in the grace of Jesus. His work in them now, through his Spirit, is to transform them more and more so they reflect the character of the God who has rescued them:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:5–10, NIV)

It is time for justice, friends. So, in these next weeks, let’s do this journey together. Let’s commit to prayer these next weeks:

• Open our eyes to your word

• Open our minds to the implications of the Cross and the resurrection for those who are bowed down through injustice

• Open our hearts to your mission, through you son, and give us the power of your Holy Spirit to rise to this call

Christmas: ATime To Receive & Share the Good News

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Read Luke 2:8-20

Our fascination with Christmas time will often have its roots in our childhood memories. I have so many memories of childhood Christmases:

• Waking up at the crack of dawn, and often to my parents frustration, before, the crack of dawn to see what was under the tree

• The fragrance of the real pine Christmas tree, or the eucalypt one that sometimes took its place. The warmer it got, the better the aroma

• Christmas Dinner: it didn’t matter how hot it was, there’d be roast lamb, roast pork, roast chicken, fast vegetables, gravy, appelmoes.

• The desserts: Aunty Margaret’s Trifle was a culinary feat of architectural proportions. A layered affair of jelly, cake, custard and cream. Aunty Margaret had perfected her weapons grade custard to such an extent that it could repel any spoon. The cake layers had been immersed in enough sherry to the extent that it could send you over the blood alcohol limit (not that there was one back then). There was, of course, an adults trifle, and another for the kiddies.

When I think about those things, I have no trouble thinking that Christmas is the best time of year!

But wouldn’t it be odd if you would ask someone how their Christmas has been, that they would say “it’s been ordinary.” Ordinary food. Ordinary presents. Ordinary company. When we say something is ‘ordinary’, it is not a compliment.

Ordinary people

But consider this: The announcement of Jesus birth was made to shepherds. In that culture, shepherds were worse than ordinary. They were regarded as dumb, dirty, and dishonest.

Dumb: because they were uneducated. Dirty: because their constant handling of animals and all that entailed rendered them ceremonially unclean. Dishonest: because many shepherds had a healthy taste for mutton, and they tended to stow a few too many of the master’s jumbucks in their tucker bag.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night…” (Luke 2:8–9, NIV)

These are the people chosen to make the first announcement of the coming of the King. This is where God starts. God starts with ordinary people.

It makes sense: If Jesus’s coming was announced to academics, only a minority of the human species would be able to penetrate the metaphysical implications of the incarnation or comprehend the potential consequences for one’s Sitz im Leben.

Imagine if it were announced to politicians: they would take way too long to say it, and still not get to the point or answer any questions, and then they would tax you for the privilege of listening.

But God announced his Christmas good news to ordinary people so that ordinary people might live by it

There’s some Christmas take home right there: Christians should be normal, ordinary people. We should get rid of all our holy jargon, all our look down your nose religious expectations.

Instead, Christians should be people who show that new life comes to expression not only in faith, but in changed behaviour and gracious attitudes. Isn’t worshipping Christ the new born King and honouring Jesus the normal life God has created us for?

It may be so that many Christians seem removed from the rest of society. It is not uncommon for Christians to be isolated and somewhat aloof. General society does not regard Christianity as something people would normally be engaged with.

But when you think about this passage, and the shepherds, and how ordinary they were, We see that Christians should be the most ordinary people of all. Living a normal life. A transformed and reformed life, and that their life, attitudes and behaviour should be seen by others and most desirable, most normal of all.

Why? Because God has entered poured his grace into their lives and opened their eyes to his glorious plan in Jesus.

Extraordinary News

This is what happens here: To these ordinary people came an extraordinary announcement:

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, NIV)

“The Town of David” signified the child would be a king in the line of King David.

“Saviour” meant he would be a rescuer, a redeemer, like Joshua and Samson, that he would lead his people to a great victory.

“Messiah” or “Christ” said he would be a mighty ruler who would bring the new age of the Lord and return Israel to her former glory.

“Lord” signified that this child to be born was the covenant Lord, Yahweh, himself. God in the flesh. The Holy One. The Ancient of Days who had come Himself to uphold His holy covenant of grace.

 

Admittedly, the shepherds and the people back in the day probably would not have well understood what these things meant. They would have expected the Saviour/Messiah to win a military victory and to get rid of the Romans.

Little did they know that Jesus would defeat the darker power of sin and the fall which bound the human heart, darkened the human mind, and brought death to the human soul.

Jesus’ extraordinary birth did not fit the typical expectations or royalty. No royal robe. No Prime Ministerial limousine. No red carpet. No security detail (unless you count the chickens the donkey, and the all too prevalent octopus).

All we see is a young mother. A confused father. A stable. A manger. And a mob of dumb, dirty, dishonest shepherds.

Would you entrust your newborn to that environment? No, you would not.

But this is what Jesus did for you. To become your King. To become your Saviour. To become your Messiah.

At Christmas we celebrate a profound reality: the Triune God sent his eternal son to take on a human nature. Almighty God, lying in a manger. The creator, born in a shed. This Christ child would grow up and become the lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world.

The birth of this little baby Jesus is a breathtaking statement of grace, isn’t it? Jesus is the Christmas gift which towers above them all, doesn’t it?

Any gift you receive today was bought with money. The gift of life Jesus brings can never be paid for.

It’s a gift of forgiveness, promised in his birth and secured in his Cross.

It’s a gift of grace: this love of God comes freely. You cannot pay for this kind of grace, all you can do is receive it in thanks.

It’s a gift of new life: this Jesus still enters human hearts, and starts his work of transformation. No one is beyond the pale.

It’s a gift of new beginning. For even the worst, Jesus grants a fresh start.

The gifts we have received today, even the best, will not last forever. This gift of Jesus is the best because it’s a gift of life that lasts forever! Money can’t buy you that kind of love, friends. All you can do is receive it.

The only ‘ordinary’ response

How did these ordinary shepherds respond?

First up: they believed the angel. They received the announcement of Jesus’ birth in faith, and they hurried off to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus.

Secondly: They run off to Bethlehem to find the baby in a manger. After they find him, and tell their story to Mary and Joseph, they are filled with worship, they praise God, and glorify him for what they have seen and heard.

This is what happens, right? When God reveals his glorious grace to people they cannot stop themselves from worshipping! When people see who Jesus really is: they have to worship!

Check it out: One of Luke’s favourite concepts is how people marvel and are amazed at Jesus. Shepherds were amazed. Mary and Joseph were amazed when Simeon prophesied about Jesus (2:33). The teachers in the Temple were amazed at Jesus’ understanding as a 12 year old (2:47). The people are amazed in the synagogue when Jesus speaks to them as he starts his ministry (4:22) … and on it goes.
Jesus just keeps amazing people with his grace, his love, his selflessness and his life.

Sometimes I think we have lost our ability to be amazed at the Gospel? Does anything amaze us anymore?

I think when we actually stop to think about the reality of the Christmas Gospel, the humility he has willingly adopted, for us, all we can do is be amazed at the grace of God in Jesus.

But here’s the thing: they don’t merely hold this as a personal and private truth. The shepherds worship by telling others:

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2:17–18, NIV)

When we know the depth of God’s love, and how he has lavished this love on us in his son, we just have to share the good news.

I know: You will say to yourself that you can’t do it, that you don’t know enough, you will worry that you won’t have the answers.

But remember these shepherds. What were they? Dumb. How did people view them? Dirty and dishonest. But 2000 years later, we are still reading their words.

The Bible tells us spreading the word is not just what we say. What we say must work with how we live. The world yawns at Christians who say much but live little. God spews at that kind of hypocrisy. But he is delighted when his people live out the fullness of their faith, even in the most trying circumstances:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:9–12, NIV)

That’s the Christian life God delights in. That’s the Christmas message he wants us not only to speak, but also to live.

Today, more than ever, our country needs a Christmas like that, and Christians like that. People who speak and live the good news.

Ordinary people, living and speaking the extraordinary message of God’s grace, love and life in Jesus.

This is what God calls us to be this Christmas: people who believe the message of Jesus. Place your trust in the one who came to ordinary people. Receive the life and grace he brings to you. Receive it as a gift.
Allow yourself to be amazed at this gift of life in Jesus. Let the wonder of God in the flesh, the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord wash over you.

This was done for you, for all who call on his name. Amazing grace!
And this Christmas, spread the good news. When you get together with others, talk about Jesus’ birth. Talk about the wonder of it all at the supermarket, at school, with your friends, at the pub. Share this extraordinary news with the people God has placed around you.

And may the good news of the Saviour, Christ, The Lord, resound all through the earth.