Deep – Confused – Group Study Questions

You can also refer to the sermon text


Discuss
  • Has there ever been a time when you’ve been really confused about what God is doing in your life? Feel free to share with the group
  • To what extent do we expect following Jesus to be easy? What factors might be adding to this expectation?
  • In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul tells us about his thorn in the flesh. Views vary widely as to what this might have been, but there’s no doubt about its intensity. Besides the direct revelation of God, what Scriptures might have been a particular encouragement to Paul?
  • “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” – David Platt
    • What can we do to avoid the temptation to make worship serve our own ends? What would you say is the biblical focus of corporate worship?
In closing: spend some time praying through the issues you have discussed. Find a way to express your prayers in specific commitments to action. Covenant together to do what you have prayed for and discussed.

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.

DEEP – Distant – Group Study Questions

Warming up:

Have you ever had a sense that God was far away? What were the circumstances?

Read Psalm 63

Henry Nouwen writes: “I wonder if the Word of God can really be received in the center of our hearts if our constant chatter and noise and electronic interactions keep blocking the way of the heart.” 
  • What other things might be interfering with sense of close fellowship with God?
King David occupies a special place as a great leader of God’s people in the Old Testament. How might his experience of being distant from God be reflected in the modern days followers of God?
“Even if it feels God is far away, even when you feel you are far away form God, he is still with you.”
  • To what extent does this reflect the Bible’s teaching? What comfort or challenge does this present to you or your discussion group?
How can your church or Christian community bring the grace of God’s presence to greater expression
  • in your meetings
  • how you deal with one another
  • how you do mission in your world

Close

Spend time in prayer, asking God to bless your specific attempts to bring his presence to expression.

DEEP – Distant

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[This series of sermons explores some of the challenges people face in their spirituality. This sermon “Distant” is third in a series of four sermons]

Psalm 63:1-8

This week I discovered I have a serious mental disorder. It turns out I have PSTD: Post Synod Tiredness Disorder.

The previous week saw the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia meet, and delegates like myself worked 12 hour days, with committee work and other responsibilities beyond that. It’s not hard to imagine how tiring that sort of schedule can be.

So, I was sitting in my office the following Monday thinking I needed to get some work done on this message, and I just couldn’t concentrate for that long. I found I was restricted to pastoral hack work: emails, phone calls, catch ups, and stuff like that (apologies to anyone I may have visited or phoned Monday afternoon, as you have now been recipients of pastoral hack work…)

It’s not an uncommon picture. Life is so busy, and when it’s particularly full on, it’s easy to become discombobulated.

Discombobulate |ˌdɪskəmˈbɒbjʊleɪtverb [ with obj. ] humorous, chiefly N. Amer. disconcert or confuse (someone): (as adj.discombobulated:  ‘he is looking a little pained and discombobulated’

As Christians, we need to think about the level of our busyness, and ask whether it’s really helping us live well and connect with God.

Henri Nouwen writes

I wonder if the Word of God can really be received in the center of our hearts if our constant chatter and noise and electronic interactions keep blocking the way of the heart.

All that chatter and noise is actually making it hard to relate, not only to God, but to one another. If you’ve caught a train recently, you’ve probably seen something like this, right?

Passengers

You even see people doing this in restaurants, when they should be connecting and communicating meaningfully. So, what’s happening? The technologies that promise connection, community, togetherness are often at work to keep us apart.

39153_01_smartphone_use_in_the_restaurant_causing_disruptions_and_headaches_full

The writer of Ps 63 is longing for a connection with God, but there is a gulf between what he wants, and what he has:

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1, NIV) 

In one sense, his words are not surprising. In the Old Testament, God’s presence was restricted to the Temple in Jerusalem, and at this point this writer – King David – had been forced into exile in the wilderness, far away from Jerusalem and its Temple.

But in another sense these words catch us unawares, because this is King David. The apple of God’s eye. The man after God’s own heart. Leader of a people of faith. We would say he is one of the greatest figures of faith in the Bible. And he is distant from God?? So distant he feels it physically??

People of faith will relate to this. Because you’re a card carrying Christian does not immunise you against spiritual distance. It may be life experiences, significant trauma, unemployment, relationship breakdown, overwork – we can come to a point in life when you realise ‘I feel so far from God!’ True?

‘I am with you’ – God

The surprising thing is that while this Psalmist feels great distance, he still takes comfort in God.

Psalm 63:2-8

Surprising, I say, because many think that if there’s distance in between them and God then God will not be happy. And if God is not happy, he gets all stand offish. And a stand offish God won’t mind the distance, or so we think. We see God as one who really couldn’t be bothered with people who couldn’t be bothered with him. But here’s the thing: you may be distant from God, but he’s not content to leave you there. One of the most surprising things about God is that he is with you even if you don’t want to be with him.

Ever thought about that? Even if it feels God is far away, even when you feel you are far away form God, he is still with you?

Hundreds of years ago John Calvin wrote that every person has this sense of divinity, a deep seated awareness that there is a god, a greater meaning to life, a bigger story that makes sense. Now, here’s the astonishing thing: this sense of the divine is not just something ‘religious’ people have. Two thousand years ago Paul the Apostle spoke to a bunch of philosophers and trend setters in Athens. None were Christians.

Even if it feels God is far away, even when you feel you are far away form God, he is still with you?

But this is what he said:

““The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17:24–28, NIV) 

Did you catch that? He is not far form any of us; in Him we live and move and have our being. 

So, you might feel far from God, but God is not far from you.

You could say if you’ve ever found yourself wondering about life’s meaning, wondering whether there’s something, someone that makes sense of life, that gives us meaning, this is really God already at work in you. He made you. He made your world. And in the same way you want to be close to your children, God wants to be close to you. He’s not waiting for you to convert (as good as that might be), or to stop swearing, or start speaking churchy kind of language. His presence in your life does not depend on you doing anything.

Why? Because he’s a God of grace. He blesses you with his nearness simply because he is a good and loving God. He gifts you with his presence in your life. Pretty amazing, right? There’s an even more amazing fact: despite weakness of faith, or even an irreligious character, he sent his son Jesus to guarantee his presence in your life, your family and your world.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:9–11, NIV) 

They didn’t recognise him. They didn’t receive him. But he came anyway! That is what we call grace. Undeserved mercy.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NIV) 

More: Jesus not only came to be with people, he came to draw these people who neither recognised him nor received him back to God. And he did it through the event we celebrate on Good Friday: his own death on the Cross

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”” (John 12:32, NIV) 

This is what it means when we read “God so loved the world”. God gave his one and only son, who would give his life on a cross to bring you back, to reconcile you to himself.

Here’s the point: God is nearer than you think. He is close to everyone. Believer. Irreligious. Even those opposed. Even atheists like Richard Dawkins – he is never far away from the God he does not want to believe in! See, because Jesus went the distance, any distance you now sense between yourself and God has been overcome.

Isn’t this is an incredible comfort? If God is even close to those who hate him, how much more is he with those who love him!

This is the assurance Jesus gave when he returned to heaven:

“…Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:20, NIV) 

And after Jesus returned to the Father, he gave his Spirit to the church, to live in every one who loves him, as a seal of his presence and nearness:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—” (John 14:16, NIV) 

It’s all pretty clear: God has done everything he possibly can to ensure there is no distance between him and his people. He even sent Jesus to close the gap completely. Think about that:

God wants you, even before you wanted him.

God sought you, even before you sought him.

And even where you sense a distance, as far as God is concerned, he is committed to you with a faithfulness that we can scarcely comprehend.

Draw Near

So: how do we respond to this? Short answer: Draw near to God!

You’re looking for a bigger picture, a greater story, something that makes sense of your world, something that offers hope. Drawing near to God through Jesus is the way to this true life.

This morning we witnessed a baptism. And when two parents make their baptismal vows, they are actually making a confession of faith: that Jesus has bridged the gap, gone the distance, dies in their place and reconciled them to God. They are saying they will order their lives and witness so their little child will understand there is no other way to find life than with God through Jesus.

Think for a moment about physical hunger. I remember some years ago filling up my car with petrol early one morning. These two school kids – maybe 9 or 10 years old, upper primary – were walking out of the service area as I walked in to pay. One had two cans of V, and the other had a bag of chips and some snakes. The attendant saw me looking at them, and said ‘that’s their breakfast every morning.’ Best diet, much? I can imagine their teacher an hour or to later when these guys are high on caffeine and sugar!

Why do people feed themselves on things that can never bring them to health? In a similar way, why do we keep seeking life when we will only even find it in Jesus? If we’re longing for a connection with real meaning, with true life, we will only ever find it fully in relationship God. If we are distant from God, and feeling a spiritual hunger, why do we try to satisfy it with things that can never deliver?

God is saying to you: I am right here. I am with you. So close. So near! I am the closest friend you’ve ever had (or perhaps the closest friend you’ve never had!). I am the best life you can ever live! I am the hope that sits in your breast. I am the way, the truth, the life!

So, what should you do?

One: quieten yourself. With all the busyness around you, find a place at home where you can think about life and God. I like to find a place where it’s quiet, a place where it is warm and inviting. That’s where I want to sit and read and pray, and have the God who is near speak to me. Or I get out into the bush. Breathe some fresh air. Feel the sunshine. Just take a notebook and a pen, and let my thoughts flow. Sometimes that quietness is just what we need to know that he who says he is near is actually with us.

Two: Pray Simply – you don’t need holy language. You don’t need to be particularly religious. You don’t need to be in a holy place. God is everywhere, so anywhere is holy. Just breathe those simple words

“God, thankyou for opening the way back to you through Jesus. 

God, please draw me close to you. 

Open my heart. Open my eyes. Open my mind to who you are, and how you have removed the distance in Jesus…”

Three: Ask God to accept you in Jesus 

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NIV) 

And I am in no doubt that God will do exactly that. He has promised to do so:

“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37, NIV) 

And here we were thinking we had to bridge the gap. No doubt, God wants us to believe and trust. But the gap is already bridged, the distance is resolved through Jesus’ death and rising. So with in an attitude of thanksgiving for the Jesus who has bridged the gap for you, quieten yourself, pray, and ask that this races God accept you in and through his son.

DEEP – Thirsty

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Read: Psalm 42:1-5

Last weekend I spent four days on a fishing charter. So that I would not succumb to sea sickness, I decided to take some motion sickness medication. These things are great, but one of the side effects is that you get an incredibly dry mouth. I found this out when one morning I took a piece of cake for morning tea and I found that I couldn’t taste it and it was very difficult to swallow. That’s what happens when your mouth is dry.

What about when you’re dry on the inside? What happens then? Are you even aware of it when your soul is thirsty?

As the deer pants

Israel, where Psalm 42 is written, is an arid environment. Most of the year there is very little rain, and most streams are nothing but gullies. Stories around water are prominent throughout Israel’s history. One of their formative experiences was 40 years in a wilderness. At one stage people were so dry that Moses prayed to the Lord, and he provided water out of a rock – an event celebrated every year during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Generations earlier, Patriarch Jacob dug a well which is still present today, in the West Bank city of Nablus. Generations later, Jesus’ own teaching reminded his people of how blessed it is to give even a cup of water to the thirsty.

Psalm 42 speaks about thirst. But it’s not physical thirst which is in view. It’s a deeper thirst. A dryness of soul. A withering thirst of one’s entire being.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1–2, NIV)

This man is thirsting for God. How come?

In the OT times, the only place people could meet with God was in the temple in Jerusalem. The problem was that the psalmist was nowhere near Jerusalem. Something has happened, and he’s acutely aware that he’s a long way from God’s presence.

How do you know when you’re dry on the inside?

Apparently, when you’re dying of thirst: you lose your taste, your tongue swells, you become disoriented, you have a terrible headache, you lose strength.

What about spiritual thirst? Sometimes, it seems, we end up in a wilderness of soul. Spiritually dehydrated. God seems remote, far away; there’s no taste for God, no sense of his presence, faith seems weak; no desire to read; no heart for prayer; the things of God seem abstract and foreign; your soul feels dry and withered. Faith, love for Jesus, desire to praise, love for the church just seem to have evaporated in the dry heat of life’s harsh realities.

The interesting thing about spiritual thirst is that it tends to come when conditions are adverse. Trouble, trial, pressure, stress, tension. Spiritual dryness can creep in. Dryness of soul can invade slowly and imperceptibly – and all of a sudden you realise “I am so thirsty inside…” How does this happen?

Part of the problem is our lives are so busy. Diaries are chock full, work demands are high, spouse is doing this, kids are doing that, we’re bombarded by stimuli like email, the internet, iPhone, the iPad, who knows what else. And you know, we don’t sense the dryness of our soul. We are so busy with life’s demands that we scarcely notice how thirsty we are. In relation to the baptism vows we make about our children, we must think carefully about the lifestyle we lead, the sheer busyness we accept, and ask if that is the best way to lead our children to spiritual health.

Me? Thirsty?

So, when was the last time you took stock of your heart? Listened to your soul? Are you thirsty? Thirsty inside? Has your taste for God waned? Jaded with worship? Your spiritual life dull, grey, and you’re wondering where the sweetness of grace has gone?

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.” (Psalm 42:2–4, NIV)

Sometimes these feelings come because we’re living in disobedience to God. Thirst, then, would be hardly surprising. But sometimes we just kind of end up in the wilderness.

Earlier this week I was thinking: maybe we’re all feeling that a bit? After planting Hope Community Church, maybe we’re feeling a bit depleted? A few people move on, home groups change, worship changes, church changes, and we feel a bit down about that.

Isn’t that a kind of thirst? For the way it used to be? Maybe so.

Interestingly, I read this week that the early church fathers, and even John Calvin himself, spoke of a ‘spiritual desertion’. It’s bit of a surprising term. Not that God deserts us, for he doesn’t ever forsake his people. But sometimes he allows us not to feel his presence – like the jaded Footprints writer – who wondered where God was in his toughest and hardest times. Sometimes God allows us to get thirsty. Perhaps at those times he’s changing things to alert us to something: that we haven’t quite been trusting him as we should. Might that be part of our thirst? Worth considering, isn’t it?

Maybe God is allowing us to feel that emptiness, to sense that thirst, so we realise we can’t put our hope in people, or things, or experience, and that we can only trust him. Only when we are with God, when we trust God alone, the living God, will our thirst be quenched with his living water.

Living water

So, how do we do that? The Psalmist knew if he pulled more away from God his deep thirst would only get worse. Even if he didn’t know how God would help him, even if he didn’t know all the answers, or he couldn’t resolve his problems, he knew it was good to be near God:

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5, NIV)

Centuries later, at Jacobs Well, a woman came along, and she was thirsty. Sure, she was thirsty for water, but she was more thirsty for God – though like most, she didn’t know it. She wanted water from the well. Jesus said what she really needed was living water, water that was like life itself. Life. which like water, would become part of her and enliven her entire being. Jesus said he would give this life, so freely, so abundantly, that not only would her inner thirst be slaked, but his grace and life and love would overflow from her into others, powerfully, satisfyingly, eternally.

You: Thirsty? Dried out?

Jesus is calling you to drink deep from his life. You don’t have to go to some Temple, like the psalmist, or to Jacobs Well, like the woman from Samaria. Jesus, the Son of God has come to us, and he has come full of grace and truth! His death on the cross and his rising again is the cure for your inner thirst. Through his death, Jesus forgives all your wrongs. Jesus cleanses all your sins. Jesus has borne all your guilt and punishment. His death and rising has conquered your inner darkness so comprehensively, so powerfully that his living water will flow into you, and you will never be the same.

“… “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”” (John 7:37–38, NIV)

Jesus is your water of life. Don’t push back. Don’t walk away. You have to drink. Step up, and drink deep.

Here’s a few things to do to drink deep his water of life:

  • Acknowledge your thirst: Lord, I am so thirsty: I don’t know how I got here, but I am so dry, and I am asking you to pour your water of life into me. Jesus, I trust you. I know you can do this. I know my failing and acknowledge my sin and my need. I don’t deserve your grace: but I know your water of life is what I need. Please, Jesus, quench the thirst of my soul!
  • Drink! That is, accept and believe in Jesus! If you’ve already done this, or you’re already there, just do it again, say it again! I believe you, Jesus! My water! My life! Pour your water into me, break my spiritual drought, moisten my withered heart with your loving grace
  • Trust! Follow the Psalmist’s example! Despite all his thirst, despite his agony and the taunting of his foes (Ps 42:10), he still said, “I will yet trust you! I put my hope in you, my Saviour and my God!” So you can say: Don’t let me trust in your things or your people – no matter how good! Lord, I need you! You, in me; you, one with me; you, like water in my soul’s belly. I trust your life, your grace, your forgiveness through Jesus, your faithfulness
  • Finally (and related to the above): Reconnect. Don’t wait to feel great to start praying. Don’t wait to feel healthy to get into worship with God’s people. Don’t wait to feel better to read your bible. Think about it: how will God speak to you and pour his life into you if you’re not listening? If you’re dehydrated, you don’t wait till you’re no longer thirsty to drink, right? You start drinking before you feel better. So, if you’re spiritually dry, turn around, repent, reconnect with God! Don’t wait until you feel spiritually healthy: do it now!

There’s a wonderful section in the letter to the Hebrews. We don’t really know who wrote this book, but we can see easily enough that the people addressed in the book were going soft on their faith in Jesus. They were in danger of given up. They were thirsty. Look at the advice they receive:

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. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:19–25, NIV)

The confidence to reconnect is grounded squarely in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has opened the way. He is our great priest. He has cleansed us and purified us. On that basis, because of him, we can hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised is faithful.

Are you thirsty? Then acknowledge, drink, trust, and reconnect.

  • Just open his word and ask him to speak you, to quench your thirst, to pour his Spirit water into you, to refresh you.
  • Go deeper into prayer, into worship, into community – your Home Group.
  • Let others pray for you. Let them be a channel of God’s grace, let them share God’s love.

God wants you deep in his living water. Come to Jesus, drink deep, and have him pour his living water into your life.

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 Plan to Address Injustice

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Read: Luke 10:25-37

It seems you don’t have to talk about Christianity for too long before someone says, ‘One of the issues I have with God is that there is so much evil in the world: Why isn’t he doing something about it?’

Does God have a plan to address injustice?

We’ve been looking at issues surrounding injustice for the last four weeks, and the question we’re dealing with today is that very question: Does God have a plan to address injustice?

On the road to Jericho

One day, a lawyer asked a question of Jesus: What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus asked him what the law taught, and the lawyer’s response is well known:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Luke 10:27, NIV)

‘Great answer’ says Jesus. Do that and you’ll be fine. But the lawyer knew that giving an answer and living an answer were two very different things.

Think about it: ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ Who can do that perfectly? So The law expert wanted the matter clarified: ‘and who is my neighbour?’

The parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ answer to his question. And while we might not realise it, this parable is also the answer to our question: what is God doing about injustice?

But before we get into that, Let’s observe that there are two aspects answering the question of what God is doing about injustice. First, there is what we call the ‘not yet’ aspect: The ‘Judgement Day’ aspect.

He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4, NIV)

Rev 21 & 22 tell us a day will come when every evil act, every abuse, every agent of oppression, every person who does injustice or turns a blind eye to it will answer to the living God. On Judgement Day God will forever end all injustice. But we are not there yet.

Second, there is a ‘Now’ aspect. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us what the ‘now’ aspect is. We read,

…“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10:30, NIV)

The victim was a Jew. A priest and a Levite, both brother Jews to the victim, to our surprise pass by on the other side. Then along comes a Samaritan. Jews hated Samaritans. Samaritans hated Jews. Typically, neither would have regarded the other as their neighbour.

Do you see what Jesus is doing? See where he’s pushing?

The lawyer wanted to justify himself. That is, he wanted Jesus to say ‘your neighbour is your brother’; or at worst: ‘your neighbour is your countryman’. But Jesus does not do that. Jesus says your neighbour is anyone, anyone who needs your mercy. Anyone in need.

In this parable, a great injustice has been committed. A man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead. His own countrymen ignore him. And the question that interests us right now is: What was God’s plan to address that injustice?

Well, of course, God’s plan was that the Levite address that injustice. And his plan was that the priest address that injustice. But they both rejected God’s call. And then along came this despised Samaritan. Like the others, he was the plan. Unlike the others, he obeyed, showed mercy, used his donkey, spent his money.

your neighbour is anyone, anyone who needs your mercy. Anyone in need

What is God’s plan to deal with injustice? His plan is to use us! When injustice is going on, and you know it, and you see it, you are the plan to deal with it.

God’s plan has not changed

God’s plan is to deal with injustice by using his people. His plan has never been any different. The oft quoted Exodus manifesto reveals how when God’s people obeyed him and kept his 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 …” (Exodus 19:5–6, NIV)

Jeremiah 22 and Isaiah 1, show the Lord expects his people to address injustice around them. It was his plan for his people then. The question is does the New Testament teach it is his plan for his church, for you, for me, for his church to do it now? Does Jesus clearly teach this?

Let’s cover some of that data:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16–18, NIV)

It’s clear: Christians know God’s love, and this places them under an obligation to help a brother or sister in need. In doing this we clearly follow Jesus’ example.

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8, NIV)

It’s clear: Because you are a Christian, you have an obligation to assist family and relatives in need.

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”” (Acts 20:35, NIV)

As Paul farewells the Ephesian elders, he does not just tell them about their responsibilities to guard the flock from false teachers. He clearly says they have an obligation to help the weak.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10, NIV)

Here we see how the circle of responsibility widens: it’s not just fellow Christians in need that the church has to care for, nor to their responsibilities extend only to their family. God’s people are called to do good and to address the needs of all people.

Can you see the emphasis? You are God’s plan to address need inside the church. You are God’s plan to address need outside the church.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,” (Matthew 25:35, NIV)

Christ’s people don’t just render assistance to the ones they know and love, but even to those who are strangers. As one scholar observes:  to ‘those who were enemies politically and religiously.’

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13–16, NIV)

You are the salt of what? Your Family? You are the salt of your friends? You are the salt of the people you know and love? You are the salt of people who are like you? No. None of that. You, church, are the salt of the earth. It’s hard to think of a context wider than that. You are God’s plan on the earth.

“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 2:11–12, NIV)

Peter writes to this church, people who are salt and light, and he says “be this kind of people, do good, live good lives, even amongst pagans. In the context of 1 Peter, God’s people were called to live good lives toward those who were persecuting them. That is an astounding command.

So: What is God’s plan to address injustice? You and me. Us. Church, together. We are the plan. We see from the above that this teaching is consistently reflected and embedded in the witness of the New Testament. And when it comes the the emphases in Jesus’ ministry, I can do no better that quote Timothy Keller. In Generous Justice he writes:

While clearly Jesus was preaching the good news to all, he showed throughout his ministry the particular interest in the poor and the downtrodden that God has always had.

Jesus, in his incarnation, “moved in” with the poor. He lived with, ate with, and associated with the socially ostracized (Matt 9:13). He raised the son of the poor widow (Luke 7:11–16) and showed the greatest respect to the immoral woman who was a social outcast (Luke 7:36ff). Indeed, Jesus spoke with women in public, something that a man with any standing in society would not have done, but Jesus resisted the sexism of his day (John 4:27). 51 Jesus also refused to go along with the racism of his culture, making a hated Samaritan the hero of one of his most famous parables (Luke 10:26ff) and touching off a riot when he claimed that God loved Gentiles like the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian as much as Jews (Luke 4:25–27). Jesus showed special concern for children, despite his apostles’ belief that they were not worth Jesus’s time (Luke 18:15). Lepers also figured greatly in Jesus’s ministry. They were not only sick and dying, but were the outcasts of society. Jesus not only met their need for physical healing, but reached out his hand and touched them, giving them their first human contact in years (Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13). He called his disciples to give to the poor in the strongest and most startling ways, while praising the poor for their own generosity (Mark 12:42–43). His own mother prophesied that he would “fill the poor” but turn the rich away empty (Luke 1:53). Yet Jesus also showed true justice by opening his arms to several classes of people who were not just poor. He ate with and spoke to tax collectors, the wealthiest people in society, yet the most hated, since they acquired their gains through collaborating with the Roman forces of occupation. The first witnesses to Jesus’s birth were shepherds, a despised group considered unreliable, yet God revealed the birth of his son first to them. The first witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection were women, another class of people so marginalized that their testimony was not admissible evidence in court. Yet Jesus revealed himself to them first. The examples are too many too enumerate.

So it is very clear indeed: Jesus’ teaching and ministry shows the absolute depth of His commitment to address the injustices of his day and reflect the compassion of his Father.

The How and the Why

In fact, Christians have no way of understanding God’s plan to address injustice, or their own part in it, outside of Jesus.

We need to remember this. Too often the church and Christians have been guilted into compassion. But guilt is such a lousy motivator. It may lead people to conform, but it never changes the heart. All guilt gives is more brokenness.

we take responsibility for God’s plan because in God’s plan, Jesus has taken responsibility for us

So, what is our motivation to join this plan of God? To be his means to address our world’s injustice? Well, we take responsibility for God’s plan because in God’s plan, Jesus has taken responsibility for us.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8, NIV)

The Gospel ends every argument about whether people will accept compassion in the right frame of mind, whether they deserve it, or whether they will abuse the grace extended to them.

Because

  • I was not in the right frame of mind for the love of God in Jesus.
  • I did not accept him as I should have.
  • I regularly abuse the privilege of grace.
  • Only in Jesus do I become the righteousness of God.
  • Only through Jesus does my status move from rebel to regenerate.
  • The Gospel gives me the only motivation I need to engage with God’s plan.

But Jesus is not only our motivation. Jesus is our means, our capacity, our ability to respond. He lives in us through his Spirit, the deposit guaranteeing what is to come. Christ in us! Do we need more? It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me! This incredible reality means we have Jesus’ resources at our disposal as we engage with God’s plan!

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13, NIV)

Jesus is my motivation. Jesus is my means. And Jesus is my message. As we are God’s plan to address injustice, let us remember that we cannot divorce what we do from who we are in Jesus Christ. Faith and actions go together. Gospel work with Gospel words. It’s not enough to aim for mere changed circumstances. What we’re presenting is that God changes people through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The greatest agent of change in the world is the human heart ruled by Jesus Christ.

The greatest agent of change in the world is the human heart ruled by Jesus Christ.

Now that doesn’t mean that before we help anyone we have to share the gospel, or get them signing off on ‘two ways to live’, or something like that. But as Jesus himself did, the works become a context to speak his words.

When the message comes without actions, it will lack traction. When actions come without the message, people will not understand the gracious God who is reaching out to them through his son.

God has a plan to address injustice. God has made it clear: through Jesus we are the plan, and God does not have another plan. So, how do we do this? What will we at Gateway Community Church actually do to engage with God’s plan? Do we have a plan? That is what I will get specific about next week.

For now, for this week, pray this

“Lord, open my eyes to how I can be part of your plan.

Open my eyes to how we at GCC can engage with your plan.

Open our eyes and our heart to

the people we need to see,

to the situations we need to address,

to the dark places,

the broken lives,

where the light of your Gospel needs to shine,

and where the love, grace and forgiveness of your Son will bring healing.”

God Hates Injustice: Group Study Questions

Read Isaiah 1:10-20

  1. Discuss some of the things we typically say we hate. How many of those things are on the same level as injustice? What conclusions can you draw about this?
  2. Looking through this passage, what sort of actions and behaviour from God’s people lead to this strongly worded complaint to his people?
  3. Any worship anyone brings is only ever acceptable through the grace of God in Jesus. Can such grace overcome the situation outlined in Isaiah 1? If so, what explains Yahweh’s strong words to his people? Why doesn’t he just forgive and be done with it?
  4. “It is impossible to have orthodoxy without orthopraxis: impossible to have right doctrine in isolation from compassionate and just practice.” – Discuss
  5. Share a few stories of people who have seemed to get the balance right between great theology and compassionate practise
  6. Share your thoughts on the significance of Isaiah 53:4-6 and 1 John 3:1 for your pursuit of justice in your local context

 

These questions are relevant to “Time for Justice: God Hates Injustice” from Gateway Community Church, March 08, 2015

 

 

 

 

Time for Justice #3 – God Hates Injustice

Reading: Isaiah 1:10-17

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Before we get underway, I’d like to recommend a couple of books to challenge and extend you:

The Just Church – Jim Martin Martin begins with a few stories which underscore the need for Christians to think seriously about justice issues. Martin’s approach is deeply rooted in Scripture, and he takes good time to step us through the Bible’s teaching on justice related matters. The final section of his book is a very helpful strategy for a church to commence their justice journey. Martin is sensitive to the unique context of every local church, and rather than impose a series of outcomes, his generalised strategy will enable each local church to use their unique resources and context to advance the Kingdom of Christ.

Generous Justice – Timothy Keller Wow! This book. If ever you wondered how, and whether the Old Testament injunctions could be properly and graciously applied to churches in the 21st century, you will hungrily and gratefully devour Keller’s book. Keller’s characteristic well reasoned, deeply scriptural approach motivates the reader to respond to injustice in the light of the Cross of Jesus. I am so thankful for this book!

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What can’t you stand?

I can’t stand rap music. Some love it, even thrive on it. Not me. Can’t stand it.

I can’t stand tepid, weak, insipid coffee: like Starbucks. I was kind of happy when Starbucks folded in Australia. There seemed to be something good and right about that.

I can’t stand it when Perth drivers don’t know how to merge. Despite a speed limit of 100 kmh on most freeway onramps, some people – typically Honda drivers – dawdle along at 70kmh down the onramp, and then when it comes to the merge point they get the jellies and slow down even more. What is it with that anyway? Can’t stand that.

This week, I saw that one of my Facebook buddies had been in the habit of packing noodle snacks for the little bloke’s play lunch. One night as she was emptying the lunchbox she found this note:

No guessing where this little guy is coming from...

No points for guessing where the little bloke was coming from.

So, yes, there are a number of things I can’t stand, and I find them really irritating. But when you hate something, your response is one of intense hostility and deep aversion. You hate. You abhor. You are appalled. You detest.

All my kids will tell you that whenever they said they hated something, I’d caution with: ‘hate is a strong word.’ I’d encourage them to verbalise their feelings differently. And I think that when I use it of stupid drivers, or rap music, or pathetically coffee, I was either cheapening the word, or elevating pathetic coffee to a status it clearly did not deserve. So, I wonder how often in life we have actually felt things strongly enough to really hate them in a way that would do the word some justice.

What’s going on?

Surprisingly, right here God says there are things that he hates. And most astonishing of all, back in Isaiah’s day, he hated his people’s worship:

“When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:12–14, NIV)

How can this be? What is going on?

Valid question. And what makes it all the more pertinent is the apparently lavish nature of this worship from God’s people. There are thousands of sacrifices! Rams, and bulls, and lambs, and goats, and fattened animals! All considerably more extravagant that what was required. So some impressive worship going on. Awesome worship. Everything looked right, powerful, and awe inspiring.

But things are not always as they seem. For with all this impressive worship there is a dark and sinister reality:

“…Your hands are full of blood!” (Isaiah 1:15, NIV)

“…evil deeds …doing wrong.” (Isaiah 1:16, NIV)

v.17 Justice is not sought, oppressed not defended, fatherless ignored, widows neglected

v.21 murderers dwell in Jerusalem, once a city of righteous

v.29 pagan gods worshipped

The Lord looks down on his once loved city, his treasured people, his own possession, his Kingdom of priests (see Exodus 19:6). He sees their worship, the reality of their lives. And he can’t stand it:

“Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.” (Isaiah 1:13, NASB95)

Notice that last phrase: “I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.” This is the point of this entire passage: On the one hand they were presenting what looked to be glorious worship. But at the same time God’s people were

  • ignoring the vulnerable
  • oppressing the weak
  • siding with the violent
  • neglecting God’s commands to live in right-ness as his treasured covenant people

And God’s word was clear: I cannot endure the fact that you allow iniquity to coexist with the worship

How ignoring injustice affects God

What the Lord says here is actually some of the strongest language we ever hear from his lips. And in a similar vein to last week, the level of divine emotion is off the charts:

  • I have had enough, I have no pleasure (v.11)
  • Stop this, It is detestable to me, I cannot bear it (v.13)
  • I hate it with all my being, I am burdened, I am weary (v.14)
  • I hide my eyes when you pray (v.15)
  • I am not listening, I will not listen (v.16)

Let that sink in.

There is what appears to be awesome worship in the house but in the eyes of God it is appalling and offensive and detestable. These people, this worship is nauseating to God. He cannot bear it. It’s an atrocity. An outrage. Have you ever thought such responses could be possible of God?

Think about it. You can have:

  • the best worship band
  • the most powerful, competent, and passionate preacher
  • the most accurate exegesis
  • a theological heritage of the finest pedigree
  • an auditorium seating thousands, filled several times each week
  • giving and tithes to the extent that hundreds of thousands of dollars come in every week

But if that church, those Christians, are neglecting the vulnerable around them, if they are allowing injustice to thrive, all that good looking ministry and worship becomes odious to the Lord. Friends, God hates injustice. And one thing he hates more is when his people wilfully and purposefully ignore injustice around them:

“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear iniquity mixed with the assembly. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:13–14)

It is interesting to look at other places where God says he hates things. And really, there are not that many places. Here’s a sample:

“You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:31, NIV)

– God hates human sacrifice

“Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the Lord your God, and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates.” (Deuteronomy 16:21–22, NIV)

– God hates the worship of false Gods

“The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.” (Psalm 11:5, NIV)

– The Lord hates it when people love violence. The Lord hates what ISIS is doing, right?

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.” (Isaiah 61:8, NIV)

– He hates robbery and wrongdoing

And here in Isaiah 1 he says he hates it when injustice lives in the midst of his people.

We may sometimes think that injustice is the kind of issue that only some churches and some Christians need to deal with. Maybe those who have special insight, or special skills. Or we guess instances of injustice need not be a concern for the whole church. For our church.

But would you say the same about robbery? Or idolatry? Or violence? Or ritual sacrifice of children? God detests all these things. The same word for ‘hate’ is reserved for them all, injustice included.

God hates injustice. He hates it so much that when he looks down on this worship – and remember, it may have looked great to the observer at the time – The Lord didn’t see the response of a beloved Covenant people. It was so repulsive, such an offence to his holy character, he saw something else:

“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah!” (Isaiah 1:10, NIV)

When God’s people ignore the cries of the vulnerable, when they neglect the doing of justice, it is as appalling and heinous as pack rape, multiple incest and paedophilia. Because that’s what was going on in Sodom & Gomorrah.

The Challenge

Now, maybe it’s the same with you: the clear implications of this teaching leave me very uncomfortable. I spoke a few week’s ago that for a long time in my ministry, God’s call to justice was not even on my preaching radar. I thought it was enough to have responsible theology, good exegesis, a healthy church, an evangelism program, and do things decently and in order. But this passage, and the many, many other passages in the Old and New Testaments, where the Lord calls his people to be a people of justice and righteousness and compassion simply cannot be ignored.

And – this passage in particular – is a sobering reminder that if God’s people neglect this call, pretty much everything else they do moves from what might appear to be awesome to what is actually appalling. Last week we saw the confronting reality of how denying justice was to deny the covenant.

That’s why it’s time. Time for justice to become part of our DNA, a recognised mark of a healthy church. To be a people of compassion and justice is simply part of what it means to reflect Christ, to build disciples, to develop healthy community, to mission our city. It’s part of God’s desire for his church.

But – you might ask – can these passages about Israel in 700BC be applied to the church in 2015? Can we really just transfer that command and application into a totally different time, place, and culture? We’ll be looking at that more closely next week…

The truth is, we cannot look at our theological pedigree and divorce it from our ethical responsibilities. We cannot lean on our confessional heritage in isolation from expressing compassion and seeking justice. It is impossible to have orthodoxy without orthopraxis: impossible to have right doctrine in isolation from compassionate and just practice.

we cannot expect our theological pedigree to relieve us from our ethical responsibilities. We cannot lean on our confessional heritage in isolation from expressing compassion and seeking justice

We in the reformed evangelical family need to learn this. Perhaps our doing so might even be the beginning of a new reformation, a powerful Word driven, Spirit empowered renewal of the church and of ourselves (more about that in the next weeks).

For now, let me ask you:

Are you hungering for a faith that is alive? For an expression of Christianity that overflows with life, with love, with Gospel reality, with God’s power? A faith and life that God would regard spot on and wonderful? It’s no secret: God has already told us how to find that:

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV)

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27, NIV)

Church, a living faith is grounded in and remains faithful to the Gospel. We must honour our heritage, and guard the good deposit handed down to us by the apostles in the Word. But if we leave it at that, at our beliefs, at faith, and do not allow Christ’s Spirit to reform us, renew us, and shape our lives, we might get some great worship going down, but we’d be in danger of making the same grave mistake, committing the same repulsive sin as God’s people in Isaiah 1.

To me, that would be unthinkable. And to our gracious Lord, unimaginably abhorrent.

Who are we, really? Aren’t Christians people who, through the dying and rising of Jesus, have been reconciled to God? Who once were not his people, but have now through the blood of Christ become the people of God?

“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 5:21, NIV)

What glory! We have received untold compassion of Christ, true? He shed his precious blood for us!

“… 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 53:5, NIV)

John the Apostle’s words are a glorious punch in the air, right? “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! …” (1 John 3:1, NIV)

His Spirit has opened our hearts, and our eyes, and our minds. This Jesus lives in all who call on his mercy and look to him in faith. And he calls us to express his mercy, to have it overflow from our lives into the world around us. This Risen Jesus has a plan to address the injustices in our world and around us.

In the coming weeks we’ll be listening to the Word as it leads us from the Cross of Christ to a compassionate response to the injustices around us.