Craving Pure Spiritual Milk

Reading: 1 Peter 2:1-3, Psalm 34

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This is my little grandson, Cedar Rae Groenenboom. Today he is six and a half months old.

He has grown quite a lot. When we was born he was a scrawny little runt. Now, he looks like someone has slipped him into a Sumo suit. Just this last week he sprouted two front teeth. When we skype, he smiles at us. He’s sitting, clutching, started on solids. He is smarter and more handsome than any other child on the face of the earth.

All that growth happens naturally. Just feed him, and he packs it on. As followers of Jesus, we also a called to growth. And it would be good if our growth were as easy and as automatic as Cedar’s. But that is not the case.

Pure Spiritual Milk

God’s word says

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,” (1 Peter 2:2, NIV)

What is this ‘spiritual milk’ and what is ‘growth’?

It’s at this point our ‘bible eyes’ kick in. These are the eyes that read something, assume you know what’s being referred to, and read on, without giving too much thought. So, we read verse 2, and think ‘right: that’s talking about reading the Bible, and hungering for God’s word…”

And we think it’s then calling us to a range of activities that centre on the Bible. Things like

  • Bible reading and personal devotions
  • Listening to podcasts: download great preachers onto your phone or tablet, and you’ve got iWorship and iGrowth anywhere as you drink your pure iMilk
  • Great reading: good Christian books. Seen Tim Keller’s latest? Looks like a cracker
  • Attend worship: sit under the word, get some great preaching under your belt

Now all these activities are good, obviously. And we should be doing a lot more of them. They are relevant to what this verse calls us to. But it’s only half right to suggest they are the totality of what is commanded here.

The problem – if you can call it that – is that they do not actually make us grow. They are a means to growth, for sure, but they do not bring us growth themselves. The distinction is important. Because there is only one thing that actually brings us growth. One thing that makes us alive. There is only one that saves, and it is Jesus.

That’s what Peter is saying here: crave Jesus. Crave him so much! Crave him because relationship with him is the only way you can grow, and live, and have the wherewithal to be people of hope in a hostile world. Crave Christ!

Christ alone both conceives and sustains the life of the new birth. They are to crave the Lord God for spiritual nourishment [Karen Jobes: 1 Peter]

As I said the distinction is important. Why?

  • Because we can read the word, love the word, but miss the ultimate Word, miss Jesus
  • We can enjoy podcasts, but we can love the speaker, even worship the speaker, more than the Jesus he speaks about
  • We can read good Christian literature, but miss the One which gives ultimate meaning to the story
  • We can love worship, love the singing, love prayer, love the act more than worship for the one true audience: the Triune God. [This is the one sole reason for any and every worship war: people lose sight of Christ, and make the form of worship their functional idol – but that’s another sermon]

Crave pure spiritual milk. Crave Jesus. Crave the life only he can give. Crave him above everything else. Only he can bring you life. Only he can bring you growth.

Crave it

Which brings us to the primary command of this passage:

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk

The picture is of a newborn: she seeks the breast instinctively, eagerly, incessantly. She won’t rest until she’s sated, and then she’ll slip into blissful milk coma. Crave like that.

Consider the overwhelming urge for a favourite food, we call that a craving. Two of the most craved foods in the western world are, of course, chocolate and crispy bacon. Unhappily, bacon has recently fallen out of favour as it may ever so slightly increase the risk of cancer. Dark chocolate, however, is known to contain substances that attack free radicals, and so reduce one’s risk of cancer. So it turns out if you eat bacon, and then have chocolate for dessert, even everything will be ok. [Actually, I have basically made this up, and the paragraphs above is only anecdotal, and is not supported by any scientific evidence whatsoever]

But we know about craving: It’s urgent. Overpowering. And you’ll want that desire to be satisfied.

So, taking into account what I’ve said before, this command is calling us to crave Jesus. To crave his life. To crave his grace.

Does ‘craving’ along the lines of what we have discussed in any way describe your attitude to Jesus?

The question is: Does ‘craving’ along the lines of what we have discussed in any way describe your attitude to Jesus? Does that describe what was in your mind when you walked into this place of worship?

I just want to honour Jesus!
I just want to be drawn into his love and grace!
I want to be nourished by Christ!

That’s what God is saying to us today: crave Jesus! Only he can nourish you, and bring you growth! Your growth in Jesus, growing up in him, becomes the criteria by which all your attitudes, actions, and shared life are evaluated.

Does this help me see Jesus more clearly?

Does this help me love Jesus more dearly?

Does this help us follow him more nearly?

This is why Peter starts negatively. Because if you want to grow in Christ there are a number of things that will stunt your growth:

“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” (1 Peter 2:1, NIV)

  • Where maybe someone would say they love the church, but they gossip behind the scenes.
  • Or where they celebrate someone’s giftedness, but in their heart they are green with envy.
  • Or they make out they are people of integrity, but are actually engaged in shonky practices or secret immorality.

If you seriously crave Jesus, you won’t have any part in those things. Why? Because knowing Jesus and growing up in him becomes the criteria by which everything is evaluated.

So, think about how you are nourished, with others, in Christ.

  • This is why we have Home Groups. Think about why you go. The goal is not to know more per se. The goal is not to connect with others per se. The goal is to see Jesus, to know Jesus, to share Jesus, to encourage others in Jesus.
    • Are your discussions drawing you deeper into Jesus?
  • Think about Bible Reading. Many struggle here. Want to know why? Sometimes it’s because we are not praying to see Jesus in his word – who does that? Who prays that simple prayer “Lord, as I read, help me to see who you really are, nourish me with the life only you can give.” There are some steps you can take with others to see Jesus more clearly in his Word
    • Start a discussion group around that goal. Do it online. People spend hours on FB – why not online Bible discussions? A place where you can chat with others specifically about what you’re reading and how it reveals Jesus. A few suggestions
      • Faithlife.com – this is good online Bible software, developed by the Logos group. If you get the app, you can make comments right out of the Bible Reading app into your online community
      • Join Gateway Online Community and join the discussion
    • Facebook: If you must use Facebook, why not follow Gateway’s Advent readings. These readings will lead you through Old Testament and New Testament passages that will focus your mind on the coming of Jesus into our world. Seriously, there is so much Christmas rubbish out there, and we are so busy, it would be a smart thing for us all to do this. It’s like taking a pure spiritual milk chill pill…
  • Sunday Worship. Craving Jesus should be the frame we have when we meet with our Christian brothers and sisters, although it rarely is.
    • What were you actually thinking about when you were driving to worship today? Some where thinking about the stress at home to get ready, others thinking that they’d rather be somewhere else – is it any wonder worship does often do it for us? Most of the time we get the worship our hearts expect, and that ain’t often good for us or glorifying to God
    • If ever there was a Sunday morning prayer, or something to pray while you’re driving to worship, it is “Lord, be my focus. Let me worship you. Honour you. Pray to you. Give to you.” That is a prayer for true Christ-centred worship, right? When that is our attitude, we don’t even have to pray for blessing, because when Christ is at the centre, you cannot help but be blessed in the worship you bring.
  • Crave times of thanksgiving together. We need to find times to tell the stories of how God has blessed us. Or share how the Scriptures have comforted you. Or celebrate how Jesus has forgiven you! Why is it that we do not often hear people speak of their challenges, their burdens, their joys and victories, and how Jesus impacts on those experiences?

As these things draw is into Christ, they are mother’s milk! Crave it! Desire it! Seek those opportunities. Let’s do what we can to turn this church into a powerhouse of nourishment.

Grow up in your salvation

That’s the thing: we want to grow!

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,” (1 Peter 2:2, NIV)

We’ve tasted the goodness of God’s glorious grace in Jesus, and we want to grow! In terms of New Testament language, growth in Jesus is always something we do with others, and it is always angled toward maturity.

That is,

  • the full expression of Christ’s character in my life, and
  • the full expression of God’s will for community in the church

For any Christian and for any church this is challenge and privilege. Challenge because we have to let go of stuff that is less important to do that which is supremely important. It might be letting go of some TV time to get to a Home Group. Or letting go of some luxury items to give intentionally to the church. Or letting go of my selfishness, so I can sensitively listen to others, encourage them and pray for them. Or managing my time differently so I can meet with others, and we can together draw one another into a deeper walk with Jesus. As a church community, it might be letting go of some traditions that keep us from growing up in our salvation.

But it’s also a privilege, because when you start to grow up in your salvation, when you’re working it out with fear and trembling, when you get this sense of growing together, of sharing together in new community, it’s brilliant! When we move toward greater spiritual health, when we’re praying for one another, working together toward better ministry and mission, when we’re driven to depend on Jesus more – together – there is no better place, so more stimulating community than the church!

Paul gave his life to the goal of a mature church:
“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:28–29, NIV)

You probably know Paul was a man of great learning and spiritual depth. But even he knew that on his own he could never reach the maturity God desired for him. His prayer is his admission:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16–19, NIV)

The only way we will grow up in our salvation is with one another, seeking pure spiritual milk, Christ himself. And then to seek the very things that draw us deeper into him, together.

As we read in Psalm 34, we’ve tasted, and we know the Lord is good. Today, God is calling you to grow up into Christ. To be nourished by Him.
Don’t stop at the first taste… You need to let go of some things. And you need to embrace Jesus, and start doing things that draw you deeper into him.

You are not alone: He has given his Spirit who will empower you to change, to grow, to be nourished by Christ.

You can taste it, right? That desire to grow, that overwhelming urge to have a more Christ centred life, that hunger to be in a wonderfully restored community, bringing to expression the life Christ himself has put in you. May Christ himself satisfy us as we crave this life in Him together.

The Origins of Injustice – Group Study Questions

Magic Bus 008

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?

A Time to Reconnect: a Prelude to Christmas

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This sermon was originally preached by David Groenenboom at Gateway Community Church on Sunday December 19, 2014 as part of the Making Sense of the Silly Season series

Reading: Matt 1:18-25

It was only a few weeks ago that I started my sermon talking about how the world seemed more of a dark place. I referred to riots in Ferguson, MI, and I talked about the ISIS terrorists.

And now we come out of a week where

• three are dead after the Sydney siege
• 132 children – children mind you – are butchered in a Pakistani school
• 8 children from one family are murdered in Cairns

How do we celebrate Christmas after a week like that?

Immanuel

Matthew’s advice is to remember that Jesus is God with us.
“…an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).” (Matthew 1:20–23, NIV)

It wasn’t just that Jesus’ birth was a miracle, as Mary was a virgin, or that both she and Joseph were fallen people. It was more that Jesus was born into that world.

There were terrible things happening in the day Jesus was born. Herod the Great was a wicked ruler, killing all the male children in Bethlehem under 2 years old in pursuit of the infant Jesus. Those in authority, typically, were not seen as people who were on your side. Routinely, they were people to be feared.

We read that people were waiting for the consolation of Israel. This was largely because there was a lot to be consoled about. The world was not an easy place. But this is the world Jesus came to.

And it is why the Christmas message is good news:

God is not waiting for you to become holy,
To read your bible more
To live a better life
To love perfectly
To have stronger faith

Jesus’ birth expresses a comforting truth: God is with us! For God’s people, no greater blessing can be conceived than for God to dwell with them.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah saw this coming to pass. Speaking of the day Jesus would be born, he wrote:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1–3, NIV)

A bit over a century later, Ezekiel had a vision of a gloriously restored Israel, and a holy city, whose name will be ‘The Lord is there.’

Then, some 60 years after Jesus’ death and rising, the Lord reveals the same vision to the Apostle John. He sees a new heaven and new earth, a new Jerusalem, and the defining characteristic of this restored world is that

God’s dwelling will be among his people,
and he will dwell with them,
they will be his people,
and God himself will be with them and be their God.

So, when Gabriel says ‘they will call Him Immanuel’, it is not so much another name, but a statement of fact. It was a sign that the words of the prophets and the expectation of the people that God would dwell with them would at last find their fulfilment in Jesus.

Immanuel, Jesus himself, is the greatest proof that God has not forsaken his world. God had not forsaken them. God has not forsaken us.

The Divine Motive

Isn’t that a comforting thought? God has not left us alone! God has come into our world in the person of Jesus Christ! Wat we want to do us understand the purpose of his presence. And on that, the Bible gives us two very succinct statements:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV)

Secondly,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16–17, NIV)

Do you ever find yourself wondering what God is like? What he is really like?

There’s reason to say, of course, because we are mortal human beings that we will never be able fully to understand God or plumb the depths of his nature. But on the other hand, while we cannot fully know, we can truly know. And e can truly know the things God reveals things about himself.

Jesus came to save: God’s nature is about saving those who are undeserving. God is about grace.

And Jesus came as an act of divine love. God is about love. Loving a world where people are perishing, where they deserve condemnation.
He sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for sin, to save the world, not to condemn it. This has always been God’s intention.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they use their energies. Steve Smith, Australia Cricket Captain, when he’s not hitting Indian batsmen all around the cricket ground, spends a lot of his waking life training. Sharpening skills, improving fitness, he focuses all his energies toward that time when he’s out in the middle. Everything he does is directed toward that one great goal.

Think of the way God spend his energies. From the very first thing we read in Genesis, to the very last thing revealed in Revelation, we see God causing life to abound, and after the fall, restoring his creation.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He gave of himself to bring his world into existence. Like grace before its time, he was happy to spend his divine energy bringing life and beauty to light.

Then, when Jesus was born as Immanuel, we see him expending his energy reclaiming his world, bringing love and rescue to undeserving people.

And on the day Jesus returns to consummate the new heavens and the new earth, he will again be bringing life, love and grace but then so perfectly and eternally that all evil, and everything that opposes his rule, will forever be cast out.

Immanuel: God with us

We need to know what this means, and what it doesn’t mean.

What it means is that Jesus as Immanuel was not an afterthought.
Immanuel is the revelation of the Lord’s one plan to love his world,
to save his people by grace, and restore his creation through this child whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

Christianity is, simply, good news. It is the news that something has happened as a result of which the world is a different place [NT Wright].

The something that has happened is Jesus: God with us.

What it does not mean: we should not understand the birth of Immanuel to mean that God thinks everything is OK with our world, for God knows, everything is not OK. And we should certainly know that after the events of this past week.

God is grieved and angered at the sin of those who not only live outside of faith in Jesus, but who bring violence, bloodshed and untold grief to our world.

The events at Martin Place, Peshawar, and Cairns are profoundly confronting and distressing. They show the depth of the fall, the reality of human rebellion. How we weep when we see these things, yet as we do, we remember that God will call all who bring evil and violence and death to account when he judges all the earth.

This is why God calls everyone to turn to him, to have faith in him, to love him and trust him.

When they do, they will meet him not as Judge, but as a loving Father who has already had the claims of his justice satisfied through Jesus Immanuel.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 1:8–2:2, NIV)

Responding to Immanuel

When Gabriel said Jesus would also be called Immanuel, he was declaring God’s plan, right from the beginning, to dwell with his people. This Jesus, God With Us, enters this world as it is, but he is not prepared to leave it that way. The life, birth, sacrificial death, and rising again of Jesus Immanuel demonstrates that.

In days like these people will sometimes wonder whether God cares or knows what is happening. You know, you cannot conceive of the birth of Jesus Immanuel without knowing the love, grace, and saving heart of God, the deep love that he lavishes on people. You cannot celebrate the bible’s message of Christmas without being deeply moved by Immanuel.

The God who is with you.

Even before you knew it.

Even before you had any idea.

Since the beginning of time, God has planned to dwell with you. And now it’s time for you to respond to him. Here’s how:

Repent: that is. Come under Jesus’s rule. He is your King, Lord and Master. Turn around and start walking his way. Acknowledge the wrong in your life, and ask him to live in you, rule your life, and restore you.

Reconnect: Worship God with all you are, and in all you do. Love him with all your heart soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbour as yourself. Obey him every day. Bring his new life to expression. Commit to Worshipping Him with his people more than you do at present.

Trust him: when terrible things happen, remember he is with you. He’s Immanuel, he is with you always, even to the end of the age. There’s much we don’t understand about this, but we are comforted that he is with us and we are not alone.

Pray: Lord, help me bring your life. Help me believe. Help me trust. Help me bring the comfort of the Gospel to others. When there is much darkness, let your word be a lamp to my feet and a light to my path

Love: Show grace to all, even your enemies. Let Jesus’ Spirit move you to compassion. Help the broken. Befriend the lonely. Protect the scared. Bring his grace and love to all who are in need.

Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

Jesus, Immanuel, is for you. Who can be against you?

Jesus, Immanuel is with you, you are never alone.

Jesus, Immanuel, is in you, dwelling with you. Now in his power and by his grace, bring his good news to your world.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV)

The Myth of Mr/Ms Right – The Relationship Challenge #2 (Group Questions)

Discussion Questions

Intro:

Did you/Do you ever dream of Mr/Ms Right? Describe this person to your group.

Lawrence Crabb describes the desire for someone to meet all my needs as parasitic. Do you agree with his assessment? Why/Why not?

Read:

Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2 and Ephesians 5:21-27

Ephesians 4:29 says our word should be directed to the needs of the other. In Philippians 2:3-4 we are called to value others above ourselves.

  • On what basis are these commands given?
  • To what extent is this call realistic for relationships?
  • If you are a Christian, how has this worked in your life and relationships?

Does Jesus really demand that you be prepared to do all the bending?

  • What responsibilities belong to other person then?
  • Is there a point where you say, “I’ll go this far, and no further”?
  • Tim Keller writes, “All Christians who really understand the Gospel undergo a radical change in the way they relate to people.”

  • What has enabled this change in your life?
  • What still needs to happen for this change to come to greater expression in your life?
  • How could your church community better support people seeking to make these changes in their relationships, marriages, and families?
  • Sex – The Relationship Challenge – Group Questions

    What do you think are the biggest challenges facing a healthy view of relationships today?

    What evidence have you observed that our culture is obsessed with sex?

    For the men in your group: how do you respond to the research that says frequent exposure to pornography actually makes changes to the way the brain functions?

    For the women in your group: how do you feel about the frequent sexualisation of women in advertising?

    Sex was part of God’s perfect creation (Gen 2:22-25). What do you think is expressed in the words “they felt no shame”? What would sexual relationships look like if they knew no shame today?

    Read Ephesians 5:1-20

    What do you think Paul means when he says ‘there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality’ named among God’s people?

    Is this saying that people in the church have a right to pass judgement on your behaviour? In what ways is your behaviour and attitudes subject to the leadership of your church, of other Christians? Find bible passages to support your answer.

    Christian author Tim Stafford argues that previous sexual partners come like ‘ghosts’ into one’s current relationship. What do you think about this? Is there any biblical justification for this understanding?

    Read 1 Thess 4:3-4, and discuss what ‘holy and honourable’ Christian sexuality might look like? You may wish to consult 1 Cor 6:18-20

    Given the discussion you have had, what changes might be needed in your view of relationships? What might the church need to do to help us express the ‘new creation’ of restored Christian sexuality?

    Sex – The Relationship Challenge #1 – Eph 5:3-4

    Reading: Eph 5:1-20, specifically vv.3-4

    Couple

    We’re into a new series here. We’re looking at how our culture, its current expectations and morality, impact on how we form male/female relationships. I want to say at the outset, this is not a series for marrieds only. The material we cover will be relevant for anyone thinking about relationships: for teens working out the whole boyfriend/girlfriend thing, for young adults, for singles.

    The Problem with Sexual Freedom

    Today we want to start with sex. We want to start there because our culture is so obsessed with it.

    Many would argue the sexual liberation that came in the 1960s was in large measure a good thing. It freed people from a lot of guilt and repression, and gave people the opportunity to explore the wonder of human sexuality.

    But now we have inherited a problem: Sex is all around us. The human body – typically female – is placed beside all sorts of advertising to arouse interest and create the subliminal message that if you buy the product, she will be interested in you. That may sound ridiculous, but the advertising industry knows this is how it works. Check this sample from the UltraTune company.

    Go to the movies, and you will be confronted with sex – unless it’s G or PG. Without serious discernment, people might think the Hollywood view of sex is just how it is and should be.

    Sex sells music and media. Last year I went into the local Telstra store to buy a new phone. While I was waiting there was a clip playing on the DVD screen of a naked woman at a demolition site. Turns out, it was Miley Cyrus singing Wrecking Ball. My previous experience, limited as it was, with Ms Cyrus was her song ‘Achey Breaky Heart’ and Hannah Montana. But there I was in the Telstra Shop, trying to think about my phone, but thinking about stuff I didn’t want to think about. Miley Cyrus did not begin this trend. She’s following in the footsteps of Kylie Minogue, Madonna, and further back to Jazz vocalists like Billie Holiday. Sex sells. And it’s everywhere.

    Melinda Tankard Reist, an Australian journalist and speaker, campaigns regularly against sexual objectification of women, pornography, prostitution, and the sexualisation of children, particularly in advertising. She has also written about the child beauty pageants, where on some occasions very young girls are primped with skimpy clothing, spray tans, full make up, and coached in pseudo sensual moves to impress the judges. Who would ever want their little girl to be presented like that?

    And then there is the porn industry. Worth over A$2bn per annum, the proliferation of internet porn is having a terrible impact on relationships. Many of us might be horrified to know that kids typically get their first porn experience in their teen years through unsupervised computer use. It’s all just a couple of mouse clicks away.

    Concerned researchers and therapists are saying the prevalence of porn is starting to change our idea of what is normal. A young person sees what happens on screen, and they can think this is the way sex is and should be done.

    The trend towards the increased degradation of women in porn means we run the risk of becoming desensitised to depictions of sexual violence. We also raise the very real possibility that a generation of young men and women will come to view the humiliation of women as a normal part of sex…

    [Sarah McKenzie, Why the New Porn is Hurting Women, SMH, Mar 02, 2011]

    Other researchers talk about the brain’s neuroplasticity: how regular consumption of porn actually starts to remap neural pathways within the brain, so that the regular porn consumer wants more, and wants it more intensely than before.

    Cambridge University neuropsychiatrist Dr Valerie Voon has recently shown that men who describe themselves as addicted to porn (and who lost relationships because of it) develop changes in the same brain area – the reward centre – that changes in drug addicts.

    [Norman Doidge, Brain scans of porn addicts: What’s wrong with this picture? The Guardian, 27 Sep 2013]

    Pornography is about violence and degradation of women. The porn lobby disputes this, but the research is out there about how so called porn stars are regularly subject to abuse and dehumanising behaviour. And when this is often the first experience of sexual behaviour a young person might have, you have to ask what impact that is going to have on future generations. I fear many of those bills are yet to be paid.

    So while there may have been some advantages to sexual liberation, our sexually saturated society, the advertising imagery, the sexualisation of children, the objectification of women and young girls, the movies, the easy access and sheer prevalence of internet porn ought to trouble us deeply.

    Here’s the reality: These lies about sex are wreck relationships, destroy marriages, damage children, and lock some men and women into destructive bondage.

    How will we ever have a healthy view of sex in a world like this?

    How can we ever prepare our kids for healthy relationship when they are up against that?

    What are we to do?

    Sex in Scripture

    As Christians, we turn to God, and we listen to his word. The Bible presents sex as a gift from God, a perfect part of his creation. Before the fall, sex is beautiful and perfect. When God brought Eve to Adam, his alone-ness – the only thing recognised as ‘not good’ in God’s creation (Gen 2:18,20) – is gloriously overcome.

    “The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:23–25, NIV)

    We can see in these few verses that sex, and fulfilment, and marriage, and togetherness are all part of the same package. God designed relationship, and in particular marriage, to be the best context for sex. This makes sense: sexual intercourse is the greatest act of vulnerability a man and a women can ever undertake. They give themselves to one another in full nakedness of body and soul. God designed sex to be glorious, wonderful, and full of ecstasy. He did not intend it to be routine, like brushing your teeth or washing your face. This greatest act of human vulnerability requires the greatest context of God given security: faithful marriage.

    With human rebellion in the fall, all sorts of estrangement dysfunction and challenge entered the picture. But even there, even in a fallen world, a husband and wife can enjoy sex gloriously and wonderfully. The Song of Songs is a celebration of the deepest love between a man and a woman, husband and wife. As they live under a gracious God, sex can be redeemed and transformed into something that fulfils a marriage and honours the God who gave it.

    Not even a hint…

    But that does not mean all is well. Even among God’s people, sex can be used poorly, wrongly, and destructively.

    Paul wrote to the Ephesian church at the height of the Roman empire. These people were immersed in a culture as sexually saturated as ours. Temple prostitution, differing marriage practises, differing relational norms, meant Christians 2000 years ago were confronted with a challenging culture. So Paul wrote to this young church and called them away from sexual immorality.

    “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:3–4, NIV)

    Those words may surprise us. He doesn’t just say ‘stay away from temple prostitutes, from the men women sexworkers. He doesn’t just say ‘marriage is the better place for sex’. He says ‘there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality.’

    You can see the breadth of his intention right there in the context: lewd acts, smutty humour, filthy language. We would say dirty jokes, sexting, suggestive social media posts, porn. As people who are imitating God (Eph 5:1-2), that stuff has no place in our lives.

    We should take note here. Some of the things you see on Facebook fit right into this category. Some of it from people who call themselves Christians. And some of it is from some of us. It doesn’t happen that often that I wince at something someone here has written, but it does happen. As followers of Jesus we should know better and we should want better.

    But it’s not just social media, or puerile party humour, or the movies we watch. There is incredible pressure on Christian people to simply absorb the sexual culture, and forget about God’s call on their lives.

    As I mentioned, sexual activity statistics in the church are not that different to people who do not have a faith background.

    25% of young people in Gr 10 have engaged in intercourse

    50% of young people in Gr 12

    The troubling thing is that those figures are 12 years old…

    Then there’s the issue of Christian couples moving in together before they are married.
    Almost everyone else does it, so the pressures on Christian people to do the same are intense.

    Many argue that cohabitation assists with developing compatibility. Interestingly, research does not bear that out. And it does not bear that out because the idea of compatibility as something that simply ‘happens’, or something that just ‘clicks’, is a myth (but that is another sermon in this series).

    What people fail to understand is that sexual intercourse before marriage complicates relationships down the track.

    Sex is spiritual. It affects you to the core of your being. It takes two people and bonds them so that, as the Bible says, they become “one flesh.” Even if you try to keep it impersonal, as a one night stand, that experience – that partner – will remain with you for the rest of your life. The partner won’t be a living, loving presence, however. The partner will hang on as a ghost. By ‘ghost’, I mean memories so strong that you can almost touch them – memories that interfere with your life.

    [Tim Stafford, Worth the Wait]

    Sexual promiscuity benefits no one. Speaking of the ‘look’ she developed in her Wrecking Ball clip, Miley Cyrus recently cited Irish singer Sinead O’Connor as one of her role models. She wasn’t counting on Sinead O’Connor writing a public reply [warning: language alert when reading full article]:

    Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you. I needn’t even ask the question.. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that men are making more money than you are from you getting naked. Its really not at all cool. And its sending dangerous signals to other young women. Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself. Your body is for you and your boyfriend. It isn’t for every dirtbag on the net, or every greedy record company executive to buy his mistresses diamonds with.

    This is why God commands “there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality among you…”

    We know, this is not just a young person’s issue. That command comes to us all in Christ’s church

    And you might say, ‘hang on, the church doesn’t own me!’

    And you are right. The church does not own you. Neither are you owned and beholden to the expectations of the church community. They do not own you either.

    But here’s the thing: Jesus does

    Scripture says:

    “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:18–20, NIV)

    Jesus went to the cross to free you, not only from sexual oppression and messed up understandings of sexuality. He suffered in your place and paid the penalty for your sin and rebellion. And he did that to bring you into the fullness of life and relationship with the father (see Romans 6:4).

    His call for you is not to assert your independence all over again, and rebel against his loving leadership, but to follow him and with his help restore his gift of human sexuality.

    Redeeming Sex

    Scripture says

    “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable,” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–4, NIV)

    Or as Eugene Peterson translates

    “God wants you to live a pure life. Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity. Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body,” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–4, The Message)

    So, how do we redeem sexuality?

    How would human sexuality come to expression in a way that delights the God who gave it?

    The first thing to note is that Jesus has already paid the price and won the victory. In his death and rising, and with us submitting to his loving Lordship – in his power – sexuality can be redeemed and restored.

    Scripture’s call to ‘put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature’ (Colossians 3:5) comes in the context of some of the most astounding verses ever to fall on our ears

    “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1–3, NIV)

    As a follower of Jesus, you are not on your own in this. He lives in you. His Spirit is in you. And his desire is to draw you into life and lead you int his wholeness.

    As a Christian, you express this new life by honouring God with your body and how you behave sexually.

    First, negatively:

    1. Set personal limits when with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Agree together to keep sexual activity for marriage. The greatest vulnerability requires the greatest relational security

    2. Set personal boundaries. Commit to staying away from internet porn and other areas of temptation. Find an accountability partner who can view your history and ask tough questions. Consider internet accountability software.

    3. If you’re struggling with internet porn, or any other form, seek help. Your pastor. A trusted friend. A counsellor. Most of all, seek the help of the Lord who gave his life for you on the Cross and who raised you to life in his resurrection. Do not waste time. Do not procrastinate. Do it now.

    4. Everyone else may be doing it, doesn’t mean you must. Other people living together? Doesn’t mean it’s right or good or you need to do it. Other people drive irresponsibly. Other people swear. Other people steal stuff from their boss. Other people bend the rules on their tax return. Doesn’t mean it’s OK to follow their example. God’s word says, Don’t conform to the pattern of this world, but in Christ and in view of his mercy, be transformed by the renewing of your mind and your body (see Romans 12:1-2)

    Positively:

    5. Commit to respecting the beauty of the opposite sex. Respect him or her as a person beyond any sexual attraction or physical beauty. Recognise that primarily the thing that adds value to relationship is character. Not what you do, but who you are. Outward beauty fades, character will mature

    6. Desire the better: what is holy and honourable. Commit to honouring God in your sexual behaviour (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, Titus 3:1-11)

    7. Recognise that sex is a part of love, and at the core of love is selflessness. If anything, Jesus reminds us that love is not about receiving, getting, but giving and blessing. For the Christian, sex becomes a way to give of yourself, not to get satisfaction

    8. Do not be overcome by the evil around us, but overcome evil with good (see Romans 12:21). While we try to counter a sexualised and increasingly degrading sexual culture, we need also to create a better picture, a new model through Jesus’ Gospel. Through his good news we seek to reflect his new sexual good.

    9. Is God calling you to change? Then confess to him. Turn around. Ask him, through the power of Jesus, to turn your life around. Seek his help above all, he will answer you

    10. Finally, who of us can cast a stone? Who has not slipped, fallen, or intentionally rebelled? Who has not struggled with our sexualised culture, with porn, with lust, with the false intimacy offered by our world? We all stand under the Cross in need of grace and forgiveness.

    Remember, our God is an exceedingly gracious. His love knows no limit. His faithfulness is everlasting.

    The cross and the resurrection of Jesus remind us that God seeks to bring us to life, to give us new birth. Sexually, to have a new start.

    Past sins are washed away. In Christ, there is no condemnation (see Romans 8:1-4).

    Accept Jesus’ good news, and step into the new good of His Kingdom.

    Recommended Reading:

    Lewis Smedes: Sex for Christians. Written for the person who wants to think about sexuality and what it means for us as human beings. The date of publication may turn you off (reprinted 1994), but it needn’t. This book is widely recognised as the definitive statement of human sexuality from a Christian perspective. There are lots of more current works on dating, what a couple can do and what they should not, but I keep returning to this great book for its wisdom, grace, and deep appreciation for the things of God. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

    Best book on marriage:
    Timothy Keller: The Meaning of Marriage. Cannot praise this book too much. A ranging discussion of the marriage passages in Ephesians 5, Timothy Keller never disappoints. If every married couple read this book and put it into practice, the world would be a different place.

    If you’re thinking about what relationships are all about, H. Norman Wright’s “Relationships that Work – and those that don’t” is well worth your time. Wright is a long respected authority in marital therapy and counselling. His work is easy to understand, incisive, and wonderfully informed with Scripture.

    Restoration – Foundations #7 (Group Questions)

    Group discussion questions

    Opener: What is the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the word ‘heaven’?

    Read: Rev 21:1-8; Rev 22:1-5

    How does this biblical vision of the new heavens and the new earth challenge what people typically think about heaven?

    What are some of the factors that might make thinking about heaven difficult for us?

    Read Isaiah 60

    What impresses you most about Isaiah’s vision of God’s restored universe?

    How literally should we take the picture Isaiah presents?

    Does this comfort you or challenge you?

    How might the restoration Jesus will bring influence our church’s mission or their engagement with their local community?

    With your group: some time dreaming about this restoration, and asking God to impress his vision on your hearts.

    Restoration (Foundations #7)

    Reading: Rev 21:1-8; Rev 22:1-5; Isaiah 60

    First: some small print:

    • In this sermon I will not be discussing the various views about the second coming of Jesus. In many ways these alternate views are but a distraction to the focus God’s big picture, the restoration of all things under Jesus Christ

    • I will not offer any extended discussion of the intermediate state: what happens to the soul of the believer on death and until Jesus returns. Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise. For now, that is enough. Anyone who trusts Jesus, even in the most simple manner, enters into his presence on death

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Sometimes when I read an exciting novel, I can’t help myself but turn to the last few pages, just to see how things are going to finish. I know it’s bad form: some would say it spoils the whole experience. I am not sure it has ever done that for me.

    One thing I am sure about: if I have done that, I know that whatever happens as the story develops, whether good or bad, it will not change the result. It reminds me of how once Desmond Tutu was asked how he retained his faith in the face of so much evil. He is reported to have said “I have read to the back of the book, and we win.”

    When thinking of God’s Big Picture, the great climax of all time will be God’s restoration of all things under Jesus Christ.

    Screen Shot 2014 08 16 at 8 11 08 pm

    We know what restoration is:

    Taking something old or damaged, and bringing it back to its original condition. Last year I bought a 1925 Singer sewing machine. For several months I hid it in my shed, restoring it (as best I could) to its original state. It was a gift to my wife, and she loves it. My goal was to take the machine back to its former glory, and bring some delight to my wife in the process.

    IMG 0782

    Don’t you find yourself longing that the world would be restored? Back to it’s original condition? If you do, you’re like God. Because God is going to make all things right, restore his entire creation.

    Interestingly, the idea of restoration does not seem to occupy the minds of many Christians. Most Christians talk more about their idea of heaven.

    As it happens, one of the most popular books in Christian circles is a book called ‘Heaven is for real…’ This is the apparently true story of a 7yo boy who experienced heaven during an operation. He had wings, a harp, and found it a bit boring…

    And fair enough. Does anyone find this picture appealing? Let’s just say someone invited you to a party, and one of the conditions was that it would be held in a public place, you would have to wear wings, play a harp, and move from one big pile of cotton wool to another while singing songs of praise. Is it a party you would want to attend?

    So, are we surprised that there is a degree of ambivalence about heaven? If we’re not sure about heaven, how can we expect people to want to go?

    The fact is, the Bible never talks about people in heaven having wings and harps, flitting from cloud to cloud while singing a selection of traditional hymns. So, what does the Bible say about heaven? About this restoration God will bring through Jesus?

    Heaven, Restoration and Scripture

    In the NT, ‘heaven’ is shorthand for the place where God rules. In the sermon on the mount, and in the NT parables, Jesus often refers to the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ as the place where the will of God is done on earth, where God’s rule is recognised:

    • Where God’s commands are lived graciously (Matt 5:19)

    • Where greatness is measured in servanthood and humility (Matt 18:3)

    • Where justice and mercy dominate all human relationships (Matt 18:23-35)

    • Where there is peace between all people (Matt 5:3-10)

    The Kingdom of heaven is seen wherever the curse is undone and sin overcome (Col 3:1-17). It is seen as God’s people live his ways, announcing his good news, and living his new good.

    We know that until Jesus returns, the efforts of his people to live his new life will be imperfect and incomplete. Even so, such efforts are natural and normal for those people in whom Jesus lives by his Spirit.

    The second thing we note about ‘heaven’ in the Scriptures is that the emphasis is not primarily on what God’s people receive, but on God’s acts to restore of all things.
    God’s Big Picture is to bring this restoration completely, powerfully, wonderfully and eternally through Jesus Christ the Lord. So much so that human rebellion, sin, grief and the fall will be completely done away with forever.

    The total work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem this entire creation from the effects of sin … God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s fall. [Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p.275]

    God’s restoration will be universal and cosmic in its scope, including all reality, physical and spiritual.

    There are some important considerations here, and the first is that when heaven, God’s restoration of all things, is in view the Bible does not speak about the removal of physical reality. This is surprise to many people in the western world.

    The reason many think that heaven will a disembodied existence, with harps and wings and clouds is not because they have been influenced by the Bible, but because they have been influenced by ancient Greek thought. Greek gnostic thinking held that the closer to got to the divine, the more physical things would be left behind, and the more spirit focussed we would become.

    Admittedly, we do have references like 2 Cor 5:8, which talk about being away from the body and at home with the Lord. But these refer to the spiritual state believers enter on death, before Jesus’ return.

    The ‘heaven’ we are talking about today is the heaven after Jesus has returned and restored all things when all creation will sing “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13, NIV)

    The restoration to come under Jesus is not the destruction and removal of everything physical, but the destruction and removal of everything sinful and fallen. So, when we read about the earth being purged with fire (2 Pet 3) we are not reading about the destruction of the earth because it is physical. We are reading about the cleansing of the earth that is opposed to Christ and his rule.

    In the language of the NT, heaven cannot be a place of disembodied existence. We see this first and foremost in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was not raised simply as soul or spirit, but as a complete ‘true man, true God’ person: body, soul, spirit.

    This is the truth confessed all through the ages:

    I believe in the Holy Spirit
    the holy catholic church
    the communion of saints
    the forgiveness of sins
    the resurrection of the body
    and the life everlasting

    [The Apostles’ Creed]

    NT Wright observes:

    If the resurrection is an event that actually occurred in time and space, as well as in the material reality of Jesus’ body, it has implications for other events that must follow.

    Indeed it does. Christ’s physical, bodily resurrection is the first fruit of restored reality. The entire universe, recreated.

    Finally, the NT teaches that when Jesus returns, his restoration will involve the coming together of heaven and earth.

    The Apostle John sees this vividly:

    “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”” (Revelation 21:1–4, NIV)

    It is nothing less than the coming of an entirely transformed existence, a new universe:

    “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1–5, NIV)

    In this restored creation, all sin is gone, the curse has been conquered, and the tree of life – once barred to humanity in Eden – is now fully available to all.

    John adds:

    “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Revelation 21:22, NIV)

    In the Old Testament, the Temple was a sign of God’s presence with his people. But in God’s restored reality, God’s presence does not need to be signified, because he is with his people at last, and they are with him.

    What God started in a garden, He recreates to become a city of light. It is a glorious climax to the life restoring redemptive plan of an all loving and all powerful God – praise His Holy Name!

    That the new heavens and the new earth has this physical aspect is troubling to some, and the question naturally arises whether all this physical imagery is just symbolic.
    The problem with the symbolic approach is that Scripture is replete with this picture, and some of the most stunning examples are found in Isaiah 60.

    We read of a place which will be visited by nations and kings,

    Of seas, and boats. Of herds of livestock,

    Where exiled peoples come home to a place of freedom and splendour,

    Were there is such safety that doors stay open and locks are thrown away

    Of glorious natural beauty and majesty

    Where violence is non existent

    Where the weak are strong and the insignificant are lifted up in honour.

    And just in case we doubt whether this could ever happen, the chapter finishes with an eyeball to eyeball guarantee:

    “…I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swiftly.”” (Isaiah 60:22, NIV)

    So, God’s restoration will reunite heaven (where God dwells) and earth (where humanity dwells).

    “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3, NIV)

    The enmity and separation brought by human rebellion and the fall, the alienation of humanity from God will be completely overcome! Eden is gloriously restored, and everything is ‘very good’ for all eternity.

    This is where we are headed, friends! This is the great plan of God: once for all to deal with human sin and rebellion, and restore all things to their rightful place in and under Christ. This restoration is focussed on the glory of our great God and the overwhelming victory he will bring. Those who once were rebels, now raised in Christ, will rule on his new earth, and the glory of the Lord, the profound peace of God – His Shalom – will rule from sea to sea.

    Imagine…

    Marriages without arguments (I know Jesus says people will neither marry nor be given in marriage – but you know what I mean: harmonious life, peaceful relationships, no more misunderstandings).

    No more depression or mental illness.

    No more guns and war.

    No more fear at night.

    No more terror. No more hatred.

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world…

    [John Lennon, 1971]

    It’s such a deeply help human wish, that even those far from God find themselves dreaming about it.

    Living in the ‘not yet’ with our eyes on God’s forever

    God’s restoration of heaven and earth is the ultimate reason to live for him and praise him! This vision draws us into a rich hope, a hope which the Bible says, does not disappoint. It is the best motivation to trust God, to offer him our heart, to ask him to rule our lives!

    But we are not there yet. This is why we are people of faith and hope. Following Jesus does not take us out of the world: it send us into it. Not to adopt its values, but to transform them (Rom 12:1-2).

    CS Lewis once said “Aim at heaven, and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth, and you will get neither.”

    What he is saying is we will only find fulfilment as the values of God’s new creation shape everything we do. As new creation we announce the good news and we live the new good.

    How important for us to do this! We have seen much terrible news these last weeks. Whole groups of people, some of them Christians, gunned down by ISIS extremists.

    ISIS believe their task is to extend the Kingdom of Allah by force. Use guns and swords and tanks to subjugate people. And those who do not comply, put them to death. That kingdom expands through terror, bloodshed and fear.

    God’s Kingdom, God’s restoration, does not come by terror, or violence or human power. It comes by resurrection, selflessness, and the spirit of the servant, Jesus.

    God’s Kingdom, God’s restoration, does not come by terror, or violence or human power. It comes by resurrection, selflessness, and the spirit of the servant, Jesus.

    “…Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6, NIV)

    Jesus’ rule is extended by grace and love. Through the sacrifice of the cross, and the resurrection life of Jesus coming to expression as he rules human lives. While we wait for the ultimate restoration, we live its life now. Doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven so people everywhere will see men, women, children, communities changed by Jesus.

    “No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.” (Isaiah 65:22–25, NIV)

    This is God’s Big Picture. This is the core message of Christianity. In Jesus, God is dealing with human rebellion, our alienation from our creator, the brokenness of our world. In and through Jesus God will restore it all. Read to the end of the book, and you will see that we win.

    This is the reality we are headed toward. There are may questions. Some we can answer, some we cannot answer. The biggest question of all, however, is this: Will you be there?

    Jesus declares to us and assures us that he is the way, the truth the life. Anyone can come to the Father through him.

    This glorious restoration, the glory of God, is reason alone to do just that. To trust him, to honour him, to live for him.

    Mission (Foundations #6)

    Read: Matt 28:16-20

     

    When I was growing up in the mid 1970s, I used to love watching Mission Impossible. The signature theme would play, and the opening scene would be Mr Phelps receiving a secret message on an audio cassette, “God morning Mr Phelps, your mission, if you choose to accept it, will be to …”. The message would close with “this tape will self destruct in 5 seconds” – and sure enough, it did.

    Curiously, we never found out the real purpose of the secret organisation Phelps worked for. We guessed it was the overthrow of evil in the height of the cold war, but we were never told. All we had to go by was this series of exciting episodes.

    Thankfully, God’s big picture has not been scripted by Hollywood. For God has a mission: to restore all things under Christ. And this mission of God shapes everything he plans, everything he does, and everything he is yet to do.

    We have looked at God’s ‘big picture’ in this Foundations series: Creation, Rebellion, Promise, Redemption, Repentance, and eventually, Restoration of all things.

    click to enlarge

    What’s missing?

     

    What’s missing in this picture? What’s missing is that the whole world needs to know this good news of God’s plan to restore his creation under Christ.

    This is not something that God embarked on after the earthly ministry of Jesus. When Jesus said ‘make disciples of all nations’ he wasn’t inventing something new. When Israel was in Egypt, one of the functions of the plagues and Israel’s subsequent deliverance from Egypt was that Pharaoh, then, by far, the most powerful man on earth, would know God.

    “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:13–14, NIV)

    “Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the Lord. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.” (Exodus 9:29, NIV)

     

    Some 700 years later, at the dedication of the Temple, Solomon prayed that the Lord would hear the prayers, even of those who were not Israel. Why? So the whole earth might know the Lord’s name and fear him.

    “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name—for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.” (1 Kings 8:41–43, NIV)

     

    Some 300 years after that, as Isaiah spoke of the Servant of the Lord, he defined God’s mission as his role.

    “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,” (Isaiah 42:6, NIV)

     

    A few hundred years after that, Nebuchadnezzar the great King of Babylon, fell into delusions and insanity. The Lord God of Israel healed him, so the King announced the good news throughout his empire:

    “…so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth …” (Daniel 4:17, NIV)

     

    The clear reality throughout all Scripture is that God loves his world, and has a wonderful plan of restoration. He wants the whole earth to know about this plan. He wants the effects of the curse to be overcome over all the earth.

     

    The question that interests us today is How will he do this? How will he let the world know what he has done in Jesus, and what he is yet to do? Scripture gives us the answer: he will do this by his Mission. The Mission of God.

    God’s Mission

    Straight up, we need to be careful, and take time to understand what God’s mission is, and what it is not. Mission is often understood as what we do.

    Everyone seems to have a mission. Companies. Banks. Australia Post. Churches. Community organisations. I have even read several CVs where people record their own mission statement, hoping to make an impression on prospective employers.

    Here at Gateway Community Church, we are no exception. You’ll find our mission statement on our website: Equip, Reach & Grow.

    So, more often than not, when we talk of mission we refer to what we do in order to work towards our desired future. That’s all fine. It’s good to be focused about what we do, and it’s good to use these statements as filters for future plans and current processes.

     

    But we must also recognise that in the scriptural sense, God’s mission is not primarily what we are about, or what we do.

    God’s mission is about what God is doing and intends to do in his world.

     

    God’s mission is not primarily what we are about, or what we do.

     

    It is not the people of God who have a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a people in the world.

    [Martin Robinson, Faith of the Unbeliever Conference, 2007]

     

    God is redeeming his people through Jesus. God is restoring his world through Jesus. This is God’s mission. And in his sovereign grace and wisdom he uses his people to pursue his mission.

    Mission is “the outworking, in the power of the Spirit, of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, and thus the anticipation of the time when God will fill the earth with his glory, transform the old heavens and earth into the new, and raise his children from the dead to populate and rule over the redeemed world he has made”

    [NT Wright. Surprised By Hope p.277]

    So, when we talk Mission, we have to start here: The Mission of God to redeem and restore his world through Jesus.

    The Church’s role

    That being so, we need to ask, what then is the church’s role?

    The church’s mission is everything God sends us into the world to do and to be:

    Every life change that flows from repentance.

    Every Sunday service.

    Every word of witness.

    Every deed of compassion.

    Every ministry.

    Every service.

    Every pastoral care visit.

    Every management team discussion.

    All of it – everything the church does – must serve God’s mission.

    And if it does not serve the mission of God, we must either stop it, or change it so that it does serve the mission of God.

    I know this is a challenge. There are some who insist that mission is not everything, and many things the church must do have nothing to do with mission. Such people operate under a gross misunderstanding of Scripture and of God’s plan to restore all things under Christ (Colossions 1:20). This is where all history is headed. This is the singular focus of God’s redemptive effort. And everything we do as Christians or churches must serve that mission of God.

    Let’s have a look at this in more detail. The mission the church has received from God is twofold. These two things are not separate entities. They are hand in glove. Two sides of the same coin. Stress only one at the expense of the other, and you have an aberration. You will eventually end up with either a deformed message and/or a deformed church.

    So, what are to two indivisible aspects of God’s mission?

    First: make disciples. We recall the words of Jesus as he ascended to heaven:

    “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV)

    We could sum this apsect in one word: announce.

    Announce God’s victory over rebellion, death and all its punishment in Jesus! Announce: Spread the good news! Announce: Let people know about God’s plan, his glorious big picture!

    As the old hymn reminds us

    Sin’s bonds severed, we’re delivered; 
    Christ has crushed the serpent’s head. 
    Death no longer is the stronger; 
    hell itself is captive led. 
    Christ has risen from death’s prison; 
    o’er the tomb he light has shed.

    This call to announce the love and mercy of God to his world is nothing new. In creation, God commanded Adam & Eve to multiply and fill the earth. In re-creation through Jesus – the second Adam – his people multiply and fill the earth. We are a people called by God to announce his good news!

     

    The second aspect of God’s mission to the church: we are called to anticipate.

    Anticipate, in the sense of foreshadow. God calls us, gives us life in Christ, lives in us through his Spirit, empowering us to show what is coming, foreshadowing the restoration he is bringing through Jesus. We anticipate the future life of the new heavens and the new earth in our here and now. As we pray in the prayer the Lord taught his followers, our task is to do his will on earth, as it is done in heaven. As John Ortberg says, to bring ‘up there down here’.

    This is the second aspect of God’s mission to his church: to anticipate the new good of God’s restored world. The first aspect, announcing, is about proclamation. This second aspect is about transformation. It is not so much about us saying something, but about us being something: Light of the world, and salt of the earth.

    bringing ‘up there down here’ – Ortberg

    As before, we see how this aspect of God’s mission was not added after Jesus’s return to the Father. It has always been there: Just before God gave his law to his people (Exodus 20), he made a proclamation. The Lord declared his hand, as it were, as to how he would become known among the nations. And it would not come about through mere announcement. And you guessed it: it involved him working through his people:

    “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 19:5–6, NIV)

    God’s people would live out this mission as they lived his commands. They were to be his contrast community, showing all the earth what life was like when lived with Yahweh. Jesus did not come to negate this law, but to fulfil it. To show its true meaning and purpose.

    So, as God’s people live under the Lordship of Jesus, they bring his new life to expression. They anticipate the restoration he is bringing.

    “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1–2, NIV)

    The church is people of God. They are his temple. So we are not surprised to see how the calling given to Israel back then is placed on Jesus’ church today:

    “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.” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)

     

    We anticipate, we foreshadow, we show what the new heavens and the new earth will look like. We do this by living the life of new creation now:

    “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4, NIV)

    the mission of God for the church is to announce his good news and to anticipate his new good

    Now, we also need a reality check: we are still on earth. Even as Jesus’ repentant and repenting people, we are still part of a fallen world. We still exhale the breath of sin. We still smell of the fall. We anticipate, yes, but the great day of restoration is not yet here. Any reflection of this coming restoration will be imperfect. Perfection will come completely when Jesus returns. Until that day, even as people who live the new life of Christ, we remain pilgrims and strangers, looking for a better city.

     So, the mission of God for the church is to announce his good news and to anticipate his new good.

    God’s Heart

    Now, we need to acknowledge something here. Apart from some rare and notable exceptions, we have not been good at pursuing God’s mission. The church in general has not been that good at it. And our church has not been good at it. We have not well understood God’s mission, we have not well pursued it. And it’s worth thinking about why that might be the case.

    Perhaps there are many reasons:

    we are comfortable people in a peaceful country.

    We are doing OK.

    We enjoy our life and our comforts.

    We don’t want anything much to interfere with them

    …even if it’s God’s call.

     

    We can talk about life pressures,

    about being time poor,

    about resistance and unbelief in the world,

    about the rank individualism which infects our culture,

    so that our world revolves around what we think,

    about how our future is directed toward what we want.

     

    In our culture, the idol of self will neutralise any zeal we might have for God’s mission. But there is another reason why we have not well understood or pursued God’s mission. And I think it is because we have not well understood the gracious, loving heart of God.

    How do we see God’s loving heart? It is captured most perfectly in the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. Think about that: God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son.

     

    Luke captures this poignantly in the story of a woman. She is distraught at losing a coin from her necklace. So much so that she turns the place upside down and will not rest until she finds her lost coin. And when she finds it, there is rejoicing and celebration!

    Or a shepherd, so passionate about finding one lost sheep, that he secures the remaining ninety nine, then climbs over hill and dale to find that one lost sheep. And when he finds it, there is rejoicing and much celebration!

    Then we read about a father, broken over a lost son. The son who threw his love back in his face. The son who did unimaginable wrong. Who threw away his precious inheritance with utterly offensive behaviour.

    Interestingly, we never read about the father’s anger. We are sure his hurt is profound, and his grief crippling. But we don’t hear actually about that.

    What we see is his longing. His love. His heart, even for this most broken and wayward son. Though torn with his son’s waywardness, the father waits on the balcony every afternoon. Thinking about his son. Scanning the horizon. Praying, weeping, longing for the return of that rebellious boy. We know about the lavish celebration with the whole village on the lost son’s return.

    But the important question for us at this point is, do we ever look at the offensive behaviour of people in our world with the eyes of the father? Do we allow ourselves to sense the brokenness, to be burdened with the hopelessness, to see the reality of the lostness of those around us who are far from God? Do you need to look at the broken people on your street and in your city with different eyes?

    Do you need to see the Mardi Gras marchers with the heart of God who seeks the lost?

    Do you need to see the crack heads who have thrown their life (and often their sanity) away, do we need to see them with the heart of God instead of the cold eyes of judgement?

    What about the ‘bludgers’, the ‘leaners’ the ‘losers’? Do we perceive their reality with the heart of God?

    The broken? The lonely?

    This is most disturbing question: Have I ever felt the heart of God for all those people who refuse to love his Son or live his life?

    isn’t it time we asked whether the things that are important to Jesus are important to us?

    If it was so important to God to send Jesus into a lost world, and if it was so important to Jesus to find the lost, isn’t it time we asked whether the things that are important to Jesus are important to us?

    Whether the things that burn within the heart of Jesus burn within ours?

    Whether the things that matter to God matter to us?

     

    Or as Tim Keller said this week:

    If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.

     

    I have been a pastor for almost 30 years, and I fin this very confronting. I have to ask myself whether the kind of churches I have worked for have ever tasted the passion of God for the lost in my ministry. And if they have not, isn’t that my responsibility? Have the things that are important to God been important to me over those near 30 years? Lord have mercy.

    How is that for you?

    Maybe you’re not a preacher, but do people sense in your life, your ministry, your engagement with your church, that the things that are important to God are important to you? Do your neighbours sense this? Your workmates? Would your friends say that about you, that the things that are important to God are obviously important to you?

    Could there be a more important question for you and your church community to answer?

    God’s mission for the church, for this church, for you is to announce his good news in Jesus and to anticipate his new good in Jesus. Listen carefully: we will only step into God’s mission and make it our own when we allow ourselves 1) to see the brokenness of our world, and 2) to feel God’s burden in Christ his son to put it all back together.

     

    So, let us repent of our self centred pre-occupation with maintaining and perpetuating our own comforts.

    Let us embrace, in the Spirit of Christ and through the Spirit of Christ, God’s mission in our world.

    And in the same power that raised Jesus from the Jesus, let us rise into the calling that Jesus himself is praying for us to embrace: To be one with him and with one another in his work, so all the world may know that He has been sent by the father (see John 17:20-21).

    Let us be people who announce his good news and who anticipate his new good!

    What better life is there? What greater good is there? What more perfect calling for the church and all who God by the name of Jesus!

    And let us do this until his Kingdom is so perfect and complete, that in it he is all in all (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 123).

    Repentance (Foundations #5) – How God brings change in his world – Group Questions

    Opening:

    What do you think the people of your local culture understand by the word “repent’?

    What do you think the people of your local church community understand by the word “repent’?

    What conclusion do you draw from any differences there might be?

    Read: Colossians 3:1-17

    If you were to choose one verse from this passage to illustrate repentance, which one would it be, and why?

    James I Packer defines repentance as “changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently”. How does this definition challenge the popular notion of repentance in your church community?

    Discuss together: who are the best models of healthy repentance you have observed? What is it about their example that impresses you?

    How would you help and encourage someone who was struggling with God’s call to change?

    What sort of personal daily disciplines would help us develop healthy expressions of repentance? Discuss together which of these behaviour you would like to try in the coming week.