How Should Christians Respond to Terrorist Attacks?

Paris

Read: Romans 12:9-21

Seeing the images coming out of Paris in the last 24 hours has been confronting and disturbing. As these events were unfolding, there was an world class cricket match being played at the WACA in Perth. And I thought: what if an attack happened there?

So, I was asking questions: Are we safe? What should we do? What should Christians say and think as they respond to Da’esh sponsored violence?

I want to mention three or four things we must do, and three or four things we must not do. Some of these were inspired by Ed Stetzer’s recent post on The Exchange . I have used Ed’s heading, though written my own content. This message was written late Saturday after I had fully completed a message for the Hope Eternal series – we’ll get to that some other time. So, I am indebted to Ed for the idea… thank you, brother.

So, how can Christians respond to acts of terror?

As this question is framed, let’s remember that his past week saw terrorist attacks in other places, including Lebanon. Earlier this year, after the first attack in France at Charlie Hebdo, a Boko Haram attack in Nigeria saw 2000 deaths. Compared to the press attention on France, these other attacks received little attention in Australian media. Two things: 1) terrorist attacks like e saw in Paris are very common in some parts of the world, and 2) our press is quite selective in what is presented. We don’t have to get all suspicious about that: no news service will cover everything.

These realities serve to show that our response needs to be more than occasional. we need to draw these responses into our everyday living as followers of Jesus.

So, back to the question: How can Christians respond to increasing prevalence of terror attacks?

1.Pray

It is for no small reason that Paul, persecuted and in prison, writes to his Christian friends in Philippi

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7, NIV)

More than any other time, when our hearts are full of fear, we must be a praying people. We call out to the One who knows all, sees all, rules all, and we have the assurance that our powerful God will hear us.

Psalm 116:1-6

Get together with people and pray. Pray for our world. Pray for Paris. Pray that Da’esh evil will be brought to nothing and our world will be rid of it. Pray that Christ will rule people through grace, love, mercy and selflessness.

2.Love the hurting

Jesus, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, reminds us that anyone who is in need, anyone who is hurting, should receive our love, mercy and attention.

We know the story: Samaritans hated Jews. Jews hated Samaritans. But Jesus tells this parable to show us that when God rules hearts, hate is replaced with compassion.

when God rules hearts, hate is replaced with compassion

We may not know anyone hurting as a direct result of these attacks. Pray for the hurting anyway. And find some way to express that. If you use social media, Tweet like a Christian and tell people you’re praying for the hurting.

3.Love your enemies

Do you sometimes think we are becoming less tolerant and gracious? I do. And some comments in social media have confirmed that thought for me. I have seen Christians posting garbage on facebook, whipping up a frenzy of clicktivism against Muslims in particular.

Seriously friends, we shake the fist and give the finger way too easily. And it’s ugly. It drags the name of Jesus through the foulest of human mud.

Read the Scriptures: Jesus never said we should get angry or get even. Jesus never said we should talk about lining them all up and shooting them. Remember: that is what they would do to us.

Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. …” (Matthew 5:43–48, NIV)

To be honest, I am finding it very hard to pray for the perpetrators of these acts, or Isis/Da’esh. But Jesus commands me to pray for them. So I will pray they will be overcome, by the grace of God. I pray they would see how Jesus transforms people by grace. I pray they will see that fear and terror cannot win.

Think of early Christian martyrs. Thrown to wild beasts. Burned at the stake. Stories of Polycarp being burned, and yet singing hymns as the fire was set around his feet. Think of Jesus, as he was being crucified, praying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” There’s our model, friends. Let us go and do likewise, and let us do that together.

4.Live good lives

It’s no coincidence that we have been studying 1 Peter in the Hope Eternal series. Peter wrote to persecuted people. They were hated, maligned and misunderstood. His advice? Keep living godly lives in the public square. Don’t retreat to the bunker. Keep doing good. Keep wearing the grace of Jesus on your sleeve.

“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 2:12, NIV)

Think about that when terror strikes: Keep living good lives, Gospel hearted behaviour. Let the love of the King be seen in the people of his Kingdom.

How do Jesus’ people respond to terror? To the horror of Paris?

Romans 12:14–21 (NIV)

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Jesus’ kingdom, quite clearly, is not of this world, but it is our prayer that, living in his likeness and to his glory, our world will be transformed and evil will be undone.

There are some things to do. Here are a few things not to do:

1.Do not hate people

Do not hate people. It’s a fine line, but when Paul says “hate what is evil” he’s talking about actions and behaviour, not people. Even so, we need to guard our heart here.

Hatred, especially in the face of terror, feels good. There’s something about indignation that will sometimes strangely warm us. But it’s a slippery emotion.

“Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12, NIV)

The Gospel transforms hatred into a love that seeks Gospel good and Gospel change:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21, NIV)

Remember Christian, we know how all this will end. It won’t be with the destruction of the church, or with the Christian faith being eradicated. Jesus’ promise is that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church.

His promise is that a day is coming when

“They will neither harm nor destroy on [the Lord’s] holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9, NIV)

In the words of 20th century Christian martyr, Martin Luther King Jr,

The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice

And again

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive our hate: only love can do that.

Vengeance belongs to God, and he will defend and vindicate his faithful ones. Believe this and make it your comfort.

2.Don’t blame refugees

It did not take long for some to associate the attacks in Paris with the refugee crisis. Seriously! It was not refugees who mounted the attacks. It was Da’esh. The refugees we tend to see, the refugees our country puts in detention camps, are people fleeing what we saw in Paris.

We are one with refugees, friends. All of us run from these attacks. Let’s not allow the uninformed opinions of some be all we see in this picture.

The Bible reminds us ver directly: God has his eye on refugees, and how we treat them. His people were refugees from Egypt, from Assyria, from Babylon, from Rome, from Hitler, from Stalin, from the Iron & Bamboo curtains. His own dear son and his family were refugees from Herod. (A few days after I preached this message, my sister created this meme – great work Jo!) …

Refugees n Christmas

 

Christians should be the first to respond in grace.

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34, NIV)

3. Don’t blame Muslims

Bracketing all Muslims with Da’esh is like saying all Christians are KKK. It’s like saying because some Christian institutions have been places of abuse, that all Christians are abusers of children.

We believe Jesus is the only way to the Father. We want Muslims to come to know Jesus, (and they want us to know the prophet). But we must not answer injustice with prejudice. The Paris attacks were the work of extremists using Islam for their own evil ends.

4. Do not call for war on Islam

To do so is to embark on a Christian Jihad, our own holy war, a crusade. And that is repaying evil with evil, all the worse because we lump all Muslims together. When we do this we do the very thing Da’esh is doing to us.

The truth: everyone needs Jesus

The Gospel is about the transformation of the world under Jesus’ rule.

Jesus’ Kingdom is not perpetuated by fear or violence.

Jesus’ Kingdom is advanced through love, peace and selflessness in his people.

Jesus Kingdom transforms our world one life at a time, as people bow they knee, coming under his grace, and live in his likeness.

The impact of his Kingdom in people is described as fruit:

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NIV)

And when people like you and I come under Christ’s Lordship, we have new life, we are given a new start, and we start to live a miracle of grace:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

As Da’esh shows the world the face of terror, Christians must show the world the face of Christ.

In the day of terror, He is our hope. Christ in us, the hope of glory!

We see the horror, and we weep. But we know, in the end, Christ’s love will win.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails….” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8, NIV)

A Prayer

Compassionate God and Father of all,

We are horrified at violence

In so many parts of the world

It seems that none are safe

And some are terrified,

others grieving lost loved ones, and lost freedom

 

Hold back the hands that kill and maim

Turn around the hearts that hate

Remove the scourge of evil from our cities

And from our world.

 

Grant instead your powerful spirit of peace

Peace won in the cross of Christ our King

Peace that came through persecution and violence

 

Help us remember that nothing can separate us from your love

That you are with us always

That Christ’s life in us is our power to be

A people of good and a people for good

 

Keep us from prejudice, from judgemental attitudes

From superiority, and from living in fear

 

And until Christ returns,

May we live as new creation, fleeing sin

Walking in newness of life

That people everywhere will know

That because of Jesus

Our world belongs to God.

 

 

 

Love One Another Deeply – Group Study Questions

1 Peter 1:22–25 (NIV)

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

“All people are like grass,

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

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you.

1 Corinthians 13:1–8a (NIV)

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

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

8 Love never fails.

Discussion questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love One Another Deeply

Hope-Eternal---MM

1 Peter 1:22-25

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

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

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

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

“Is this for real?”

The Prescription

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

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

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

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

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

As Jesus had said some years before

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s your purpose

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

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

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

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

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

GCC Vision Template

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 6.05.11 PM

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

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

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

It’s God empowered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Love one another deeply, from the heart”

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

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

Challenge:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiness: Why It’s Worth It

Hope-Eternal---MM

Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-21

Why should I?

Why do I put up with this?

If you’ve ever heard them, it would have been at a time when things were tough and our fuse is short. They are words breathed and prayed when Christians react against God’s call. I’ve heard them when I’ve challenged a husband to stay faithful. I’ve heard them from a young woman bent on destructive choices. And Peter’s readers may have breathed them. They were under great pressure. Following Jesus was proving to be a costly decision.

These words may even have been on your lips: in the heat of challenge, in a moment of desperation, when it all seemed too much.

Why should I put up with this?

Think about the emptiness you’ve left behind

Peter mentions three powerful reasons which comprise a compelling rationale for a life of reverent fear. To keep living God’s way. To stay on the path of holiness. The first of Peter’s reasons is found in v.18

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,” (1 Peter 1:18, NIV)

Peter’s challenge is to think about the futile life you’ve left behind. Eugene Peterson gets a little more into our faces, calling it the ‘dead-end, empty headed life you grew up in’.

That’s about an 8/10 on the arrogance scale, right? Why live God’s way? Because your old life was futile. Vain. Empty.

Is this true of you? Perhaps more than you realise. Maybe you’d say you were only trying to get ahead and be financially secure. But perhaps your trust was in your wealth. You had made security your idol, and you trusted yourself to deliver it. Money is a good good, but it makes a lousy god. And so it’s useless as a doorway to hope. What’s all your money going to do when you’re on your death bed? What will your cash do for your feelings of guilt, or failure?

Another scenario: Your life has revolved around your kids, setting them up, meeting their wants and needs. Maybe you’d say you were just loving your family, wanting the best for them, and doing what every good parent should. Then again, maybe your sense of purpose, worth and significance was invested in your family. Loving your family is good. Making your family god isn’t. Seeking your security and significance in your children places all sorts of expectations on them, and doing so will never really deliver the love and security you ultimately seek.

We could go on. We could talk about how people numb life’s frustration and pain with alcohol. Or shopping. Or hoarding. Or aggression. Or secret relationship. Or overeating. Or a constant yearning for affirmation.

That’s the deceit of the human heart, isn’t it? It takes what’s good, and makes it god. It lets us down every time. That’s sin for you: it promises the world and delivers nothing. It’s futility. Worthlessness. Uselessness.

So, Peter is saying, “sure, it may be tough. But what is best? A wholesome life of eternal purpose even though it may be tough, or an easier existence in the here and now that will never deliver what you seek?”

This was something Paul knew all about, too. He had dedicated a large portion of his life to seeking God’s approval and the approval of others through scrupulous religious devotion. His peers at the time agreed: this man has made it.

Then, Paul met Jesus. Or rather, Jesus met Paul. And Paul realised all he’d been trying to do, had in Christ, already been done. The perfection he was very unsuccessfully trying to maintain had already been met. He looked back, observed all his supposed achievement, and said “it’s all useless, empty, futile.” In fact, he went further: Paul used the Meatybites rule. You know, you put the meatybites in one end of the dog, and what comes out the other end? The word translated as ‘garbage’ is skubala (see Philippians 3:8). It can mean garbage, but that is a little sanitised. Dung, stinking refuse, or other forms of offensive waste are more in view.

He was making a very humbling confession: When I look at all my achievements, my obsession with religious devotion before Jesus, everything I had ever done, even though everyone else saw it as perfect and blameless, I now recognise it now as poop.

Now, when you’ve been striving for perfection all your life, but all it has achieved is poop, that is futility. And it’s a pleasure to be rescued from it.

By Jesus as Redeemer, God has rescued people from the futility of trying to fill their own lives with hope and meaning. He has delivered us from the terrible worthlessness of glaring imperfection. So we live in holy, reverent fear in honour of our great redeemer.

Think about where you’re headed

So, (1) think about the useless stuff you’ve left behind. And, (2) think about where you’re headed:

“Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17, NIV)

The God who has become your Father in Christ is also your Judge. One day you will stand before him.

Think about that.

Carefully.

See, sometimes we think that Christians will not be judged. That the errors of our ways will remain undisclosed. That our secret and concealed sins will never be known. Well, they are known. They are known to God, Christian, and one day you will stand before him.

That’s serious, isn’t it?

Yes, God is our father. He is gracious and loving. He gave his one and only son for us. We’re redeemed. Forgiven. Cleansed and free. But the day will come when we all stand before him. Paul writes:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV)

When we stand before the judgement seat, what excuses will wash there? Do you think it will work to blame others, or circumstances, then? What good will it be to delete the history then, on that day when all secrets will be laid bare?

Our father is also our judge, and an impartial one at that. Just because we are children of the father does not mean we are free to live however we like. Think of your earthly father. When you did that thing that made him so angry. Did you ever try the ‘hey, you can’t give me a beating because I’m your son!’ No, it’s actually because you are my son that I can utilise the ‘board of education.’

Fathers impose boundaries. The Christian who has been born again of the Father must live in fact as a child of God. If those boundaries are ignored, resisted or rejected, there will be a day of reckoning.

So, think about your life. Consider your behaviour. It needs to be holy. And you know there are bits that aren’t. This has not escaped God’s attention. One day you will stand before him to give account for everything you have done.

Yes, in Christ, forgiven.

Yes, in Christ, guilt has been atoned.

Yes, in Christ, no condemnation – punishment has been taken.

Yes, in Christ, raised to life.

Yes, in Christ, new heart, new soul, new beginning.

But we will still all stand before the living Lord of all, the creator God, the Righteous Father, and he will ask us to give account for the things we have done.

So, why should you? Why follow? Why live a holy life? Just think about where we are all headed. We will all stand before the Judge to give account for everything we have done. So walk in godly, reverent fear.

Remember: God has given you all the guidance you need: v.12 You have heard the Gospel. You have the Word. It’s a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. v.2 You have the Spirit. He is sanctifying you, leading into holiness, drawing the glorious character of Jesus to gloriously beautiful expression in your life.

Think about what it cost

So, (1) Think about the emptiness you’ve left behind, (2) Remember: you’ll stand before the Judge. Two powerful reasons. But Peter’s final point is the clincher:

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

Why live a holy life? Think about what it cost God bring you into it. It wasn’t silver. It wasn’t gold. Which, incidentally, is how they used to redeem slaves in Peter’s day. The slave would be taken to the temple of one of the gods on that region. Money would be paid, theoretically to the god, but passed on to the slave owner. After that, the slave would be recognised as free because he had been redeemed by that deity. So Peter’s non-Jewish readers would have clearly understood the image.

His Jewish readers would also know the Old Testament redemption imagery:

“… it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:8, NIV)

As good as the exodus story is, it is dwarfed by the ultimate redemption of the Cross. The Passover was fulfilled in Christ’s crucifixion. The blood of the lamb meant the redemption of the people of God.

Why should I? Because you’ve been redeemed at great price.

“… you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

I wonder: Have you ever really thought that through? The depth of God’s love in Christ? His eternal desire to free you from sin and bring you to life?

Think: Would you lay down your life for a family member? What about someone down the street? Or a stranger? An indigenous person? A refugee?

Jesus did more. Considerably more. He poured out his precious blood for rebels, for sinners, for people who hated him, for these very people who crucified him.

So, He did this for me? Then the only question is: where do I sign up? How could I not live a life of reverent godly fear? Why would I not want your glorious, gracious new life character to overflow from mine?

Think of what it cost your Saviour, friends!

And the amazing footnote Peter makes is that God has planned your holiness, your obedience, your redemption, from before the creation of the world.

“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:20–21, NIV)

The world was in wretched sin, rebellion and futility. Broken with a humanity that rejected him. Screwed up his image. Killed his prophets. Rejected his messengers. Crucified his own dear son. But the Father’s heart is to restore his world, to mend the broken and ravaged world human sin had brought.

Your God knew and planned the complete program of redemption even down to the detail of making you a part of it. Grafting you into the vine, reconciling you through his son, and drawing you into his family, making you an heir, putting his Spirit in you, and all of that with the one goal that his broken and twisted image in you would, through Jesus, be gloriously redeemed, restored and eventually recreated in all its beauty.

Why should you? Knowing this, how could you not? Because you mattered to God, living in godly fear should matter to you.

It matters that you live in the fullness of his holiness. It may mean you’ll the flack like a refugee in a foreign land, living his way, revealing his character, in the full beauty of godly reverent fear. But it’s worth it. Look at what you’ve left. Look at where you’re headed. And look at the cost to Jesus.

You cannot find a more compelling reason for us to be holy as our great God is holy.

From Hope to Holiness

1 Peter 1:13-16

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Last night the New Zealand All Blacks defeated the South Africa Springboks 20-18. Tonight, The Wallabies will meet the South African Pumas, and the winner will play New Zealand in the final on October 31. Most Australians will be praying that the referees will be on our side in these coming games as much as they were when we played Scotland…

The stakes are always high in the world cup. And opposing teams are going to ridiculous lengths to gain an advantage.

  • There are accusations the English have been spying on the Australian teams with high tech photographic equipment. One report notes “a man with a very long lens was chased away from the Australian training venue”
  • There are reports of drones being used to film opposing team training sessions
  • The All Blacks have covered the fences of their Lensbury base in plastic – presumably all black plastic – and that they have stationed security guards around the perimeter

Why would a team go to such lengths? Because their eye is on the prize. And when your eye is on the prize, that one outcome will determine all your actions.

Set your hope fully

We see this in what Peter is saying:

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Peter 1:13, NIV)

He is saying, “Keep your eye on the prize! Look at what will happen in the end times!” Which is both odd and liberating.

Odd, because most people tend not to think of end times discussion as something that will bring anyone comfort. Most discussions around eschatology revolve around things that seem to vary on a scale from weird to cryptic: the rapture, the beast, the tribulation, the antiChrist. While many of these these things are mentioned in the Bible, teaching about them is often far from clear. Are they present things? Are they symbolic? Have they already happened? Should we be worried? Why can’t we understand it all? Seriously, a trawl through the end times section at your Christian bookshop will turn you off your burritos for good. Wasn’t it last week, or the week before, that some other Christian group claimed the world was going to end a few Wednesdays ago or something? Guys, if Jesus didn’t know how it was all going to play out, you can be sure it’s something we don’t need to know. He didn’t know. The people who claim to know don’t know. And you won’t know the timing either. So, yes, it may strike us as odd that Peter raises this as a reason for comfort.

It’s also liberating, because the comforting reality Peter writes about here is the proper focus of end time discussions:

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Peter 1:13, NIV)

Not: set your mind on all the stuff you can’t understand. Not: set your mind on working out when it’s all going to happen. But: set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. Keep your eyes on the prize. Outcome determines action.

Remember: Peter is writing to people who are being persecuted. They are undergoing ridicule and rejection for following Jesus. And he’s saying: this may be happening now, but don’t give up! Set your minds on what will happen then! Keep your eye on the prize! Now, for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. Now, it’s tough. Now, you’re under pressure. But then, when Jesus returns, it’s all going to be grace and celebration! Your saviour will welcome you with open arms!

You don’t have to fear punishment – that’s gone in the cross! You don’t have to think about God’s anger for sin – that’s fully and freely forgiven in Jesus! You don’t have to be hassled by your guilt and failing – there’s no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. You don’t even have to worry about death, because all that’s waiting for you is life, more life and better life than you’ve ever dreamed. Keep your eye on the prize. That outcome will determine your action.

In fact – and this is the point of this passage – Peter is saying: because you know what’s coming to you, it’s going to change the way you live. That’s clear from the first part of v.13:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:13, NIV84)

Interestingly, the old KJV used to read, “Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind…” Think: parable  of the lost son. The father sees the son coming in the distance, tucks his outer cloak into his belt, and runs to meet him.That’s the point: we need to be ready to move. Ready for action. Be alert. Be sober. And let’s get going.

So, the flow of thought is this: You Christians are under pressure and doing it tough. You don’t want to live in denial, but don’t let circumstances dominate you. Think about the goal. Keep your eyes on the prize. A beautiful day of grace is coming your way. Let this outcome determine all your actions. So sleeves up, head down, and let’s get busy…

Be Holy

Which brings us to our second point:

“…But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”” (1 Peter 1:14–16, NIV)

When you have your eye on the prize, the outcome determines your action.

In this respect, we need to know what it means to be holy. Many think being holy means doing holy things: read your bible, say your prayers, go to church, take up a collection. As the old hymn says,

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Take time to holy, speak oft with thy Lord / Abide in him always, and feed on his word…

No doubt: the Christian disciplines of reading, prayer and public worship are part of ‘being holy’. The problem is there is confusion the rest of it. So, allow me to deliver some clarity: to be holy is to be like God. How are we to be like God? By reflecting his character.

“Be holy because I am holy – just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do”

Not just reading your Bible, or your prayer time, but in all you do. The scene was set in vv.3-5

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3–5, NIV)

to be holy is to be like God … reflecting his character

Long before Peter wrote, the Lord had revealed his character to his people, calling them to live such a distinct life as a nation as they entered the land of promise (see Leviticus 19:1-2). For Peter’s New Testament people, as for ancient Israel, the rationale for a holy life was the same: the Lord in his grace had provided a glorious deliverance. Petes point is that this new birth and living hope “necessarily implies a decisively altered way of life” [Karen Jobes, 1 Peter]

A holy life is not so much a religious life as a changed life, a different life, a distinctive life. A life set apart from others by how your character reflects God’s character, Jesus’ character. It certainly involves prayer, Bible reading, and worship meetings. It certainly involves moral behaviour: honesty, integrity, keeping marriage as the place for sexual fulfilment, keeping your language beautiful, instead of polluting it with profanity – all that is included.

A holy life is not so much a religious life as a changed life, a different life, a distinctive life…

But holiness goes deeper than external behaviour. It penetrates to the heart: to the deeper values of life, how we strive to live; the kind of world we are working for. Holiness is about love, mercy, humility and justice. Isn’t that what the Lord requires of us (see Micah 6:8, Matthew 5-7)?

When the Lord spoke to the people in Isaiah’s day, they made the mistake of thinking all he wanted was religious behaviour like fasting and worship. The Lord’s response was sobering, especially when you change the word ‘fast’ to ‘worship’…

“…You cannot [worship] as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of [worship] I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call [worship], a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of [worshipping] I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:4–8, NIV)

It is interesting some months ago I preached a series called ‘A Time for Justice’. In that series we were reminded how God calls us to a holiness which is beyond mere morality and religious actions. A holiness of love, mercy and justice. A few people found that confronting. One or two said they couldn’t relate to it. Friends, being holy, living a distinctly different life, is to reflect the character of our holy God. And if we struggle to relate to love, mercy and justice we’re going to struggle to relate to God himself.

Here,  Peter is saying: You do relate to God. More: your life is now defined by his Son’s life. And because your life is now defined by his Son’s life, you’re looking forward to the fullness of his grace transforming you and your world completely. So, because you are headed for an eternity of love, mercy and justice why not start living it now?! Stand up and stand out! Roll up your sleeves! Heads down! Let this holiness be seen in everything you do, everything you seek, everything you are and every will be. 

It’s true: Holy lives, Christian lives, stand out.

That’s challenge for us, isn’t it? Christians are more and more in the spotlight, facing more and more opposition, having to manage rejection. And the temptation is for us to pull back or go soft, right? But Peter is saying “be holy, be distinctly Christian, live out God’s character, be noticed.”

Here’s the question: Is this true of you? Your workmates, your neighbours, your acquaintances – Do they see your different life and behaviour, and know that you’re a follower of Jesus? If those around you cannot see that, what needs to change?

Can people see the holiness of God’s character in our church

Can people see the holiness of God’s character in our church? Are we worshipping by loosening the chains of oppression? Do we even know where oppression exists in our community? Do we want to know? What needs to change so that we can know that?

See, it’s not just about people seeing your faith or convictions. As good as that is, it’s actually about people seeing your God. As Peter says in the next chapter, that even though God’s people are misunderstood and maligned. they should let their holiness stand up and stand out “…so people will see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 – NIV)

That’s why we should not conform to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance. That is, the ‘before Jesus’ life. Peter’s readers remembered that time. Back then they were affirmed by all around. They had less trouble in their life. They weren’t maligned for their views. Life was easier. But they were ignorant of God. They weren’t his people. They lived without hope. They lived without mercy. They were headed to a Christless eternity.

But now, God has called them out of darkness, into his marvellous light. They stood up and they stand out. They stand out like a city on a hill. But they feel the pressure. Life is hard. They have a daily diet of ridicule, rejection, and misunderstanding.

Why do this? Because their eyes on the prize. Their vision is directed toward the goal. And holiness overflows as Christ pours his grace into them. Christ points them to a new day when the fullness of grace will be theirs as they live in a forever of love, mercy and justice.

So, let me ask: What is God saying to you in all this? Your life: is it holy? Are we living this holiness together?

In the power of Christ and his inheritance, looking forward to the abundance of grace to be poured into us, are we revealing God’s character in our communal life? What needs to go? What needs to be seen more? Is there behaviour which is tangling us up? Listen: God is speaking: You have to get rid of that. It’s blocking my character.

You may wonder whether you can do it, or why. The answer is: in Christ you have a glorious inheritance! You already know how its all going to end: Christ will pour his grace into your life. You are going to live his love, mercy and justice for all eternity. Even today he’s given His spirit to bring this life out of you now, to comfort you now, to encourage you now. Christ is with you, always. He’s your strength, your endurance, your ability to go on. To stand up. To stand out.

So today our eyes are on the prize, and that glorious inheritance will determine our every action. And we shall be holy, and God is holy.

That great outcome determines our individual and communal action

And our greatest joy is to have God’s holiness, his character, overflowing from our own.

Living Members: Worship

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Read: Acts 2:43, 46

This week’s sign was a little bit cheeky:

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How many people would have driven past that and said to themselves ‘you gotta be kidding’? In fact, how many Christians would have driven past the sign and said ‘yeah, right’? How many of you looked at the FB post and thought ‘what is that about’?

Worship

We have this issue with worship: we know it’s critical, but it’s not something that often captures our hearts. Some of us, admittedly, will come through the door wanting to hear a good message, or wanting to sing some good songs. But few of us, if we’re honest (and I am not being too unkind), will have walked through the door with a consuming desire to direct our hearts to the living God and worship him with everything we are.

Now, here we read:

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God” (Acts 2:46, NIV)

One of the problems with worship is that we read our experiences back into texts like these. And we think it’s talking about people like us worshipping in a place like this the way we do it today.

Bad idea.

Look how Luke begins: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts…”

It speaks of meeting together. Meeting daily. Meeting in homes. Meeting in the temple. Why? Well for this fledgling church worship was not a time in their weekly schedule. In biblical terms, all of life is worship. The true heart of worship is a Jesus honouring life: heart, soul, and body directed to the glory of the Risen Lord! It’s what we read in Romans 12:

“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.” (Romans 12:1, NIV)

These people met daily in their home, in the temple, because they were worshipping the Risen Jesus. That’s the connection Luke wants us to make. His gospel tells the what Jesus began to do: his birth, life, death, resurrection and return to the father. His sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, tells us what Jesus continued  to do through his Spirit acting in his people.

We cannot escape the conclusion that community is alive! They will never be the same!

  • They are devoted to the apostles’ teaching
  • They have fellowship in the new life of Christ
  • They share compassionately with those in need
  • Their lives are wall to wall worship

How did Jesus come to these people? He came through his Spirit and took up residence in them. This is what Jesus told them a few days before he went to the cross:

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18, NIV)

This is what we see happening at Pentecost: the Spirit is poured out and the Rien Christ is alive in his church. So we should not be surprised to see them overflow with praise and worship, meeting together as often as they can: daily, sometimes several times a day.

One question we do need to address, however, is what is ‘worship’?

In the New Testament sense, worship means ‘to bow, to kiss, to serve, to worship’. Worship is directing one’s entire being to the praise of God, a spirit of unconditional submission, honour, obedience and praise. Look how it is expressed in Acts 2

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God…” (Acts 2:46, NIV)

They were glad! They were sincere! In fact ‘glad’ is a bit of a limp translation. The original denotes an exuberant outburst of joy. This was a true sense of celebration. This is what it looks like to be a living member of Christ! Why? Because worship is the overflow of what you believe in your heart. Here, we can see Christ living in their hearts by the way their lives are filled with worship. Worship is the overflow of the heart. It works both ways. John Stott, commenting on this passage says:

The fruit of the Spirit is joy, and sometimes a more uninhibited joy than our ecclesiastical traditions encourage. When I attend some church services, I think I have come to a funeral by mistake. Nobody smiles or talks. The hymns or songs are played at the pace of a snail or tortoise, and the who atmosphere is lugubrious. But Christianity is a joyful religion, and every meeting should  be a celebration of joy.

One of the great things about reading John Stott, of course, is how he expands your vocabulary. To be lugubrious, in case you wondered, is to be sad and mournful (from the Latin Lugere).

Here’s what is happening in this passage: Luke is telling us two very important things. First: he’s saying, look at these people! They are Jesus’ new community, the new Israel, God’s new society. See what happens when Jesus lives in people? When he gives them new life, new forgiveness, new grace, new understanding of their world and how it works? Their lives become an every day expression of unconditional submission, honour, obedience and praise.

Keep in mind how much a miracle of grace this was. This is the 3000+ people who were added to the disciples’ number at Pentecost. This huge community had grown overnight. And they are meeting in a variety of forms and contexts. In the temple courts (at least they could all gather there) but also in smaller groups in their homes. Despite the fact they are from all quarters and a variety of nations, we see them meeting together daily, gladly, sincerely, joyfully, exuberantly. The Spirit of Christ has broken down the social and ethnic barriers that often keep people apart.

Now, it is obvious that our world is very different to theirs. There are 2000 years, half a world, and many cultural divides between us and the Acts 2 church. So, we need to be careful before expecting every aspect of what we read here be replicated in our own church. Who can repeat Pentecost, for example? Yet we should ask why our worship experience often seems so far away from what we read here. Personally, I do not believe the simplistic criticism of some that if our worship lacks something it is because we don’t have the Spirit, or we don’t have enough faith.

And yet, we should ask why the joy, the attitude of unconditional obedience, the fullness of God in the fullness of life is not as apparent in some western churches. Churches like ours, perhaps. Haven’t you ever wondered about that?

As I said, I don’t think it is because we don’t have the Holy Spirit. But I do sometimes think we allow the ‘spirit of the age’ to quench his work. Isn’t it true that the exertion required to pursue our lifestyle and wants often exhausts our desire to worship and submit? Life’s busyness, life’s insatiable demands, our leisure pursuits, our moral dalliances, even our gross indifference to matters of justice and mercy, so dominates our lives that any intentional mindset of unconditional submission, honour, obedience and praise often simply evaporates.

Don’t you find this happening?

Then don’t give in to it. Don’t confirm to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. One way you can do that is by developing a prayerful, worship intention.

Don’t you think that would change the way we engage when we meet with God’s people – whenever and however that might happen? Isn’t that what we should be praying about before we meet on a Sunday, before we go to our home groups, before we meet with other Christians?

With that in mind I penned a short prayer. You don’t have to use these specific words, of course. But it may just help you focus your thoughts and your heart before you meet:

Lord, I come before the throne of your risen Son. I submit myself fully to you, Lord Jesus, my Creator and Redeemer.

Jesus Christ, I honour you will all my being. I seek to obey you in everything and I commit to ordering my life to your will.

I seek to praise you in every act of life, relationship, work and leisure.

Let my eyes be on you, allow me to focus on you, and have me leave my wants, my desires, and pleasures behind.

In your name,

Amen

Awe

One of the reasons prayers like that might not feature too much in our lives is because we don’t always know what to do with the second thing Luke wants us to see. We find it in verse 43.

“Everyone was filled with awe ….” (Acts 2:43, NIV)

Use European westerners struggle with that little word. Part of the reason is the original meaning includes the idea of ‘fear’. And we don’t know what to do with that. Fear, to us, is being afraid, being terrified, scared witless. How many of us were horrified by the footage of Australian pro surfer Mick Fanning being attacked by a shark?

Mick Fanning - Fear

That kind of fear comes from a very specific part of the brain, called the amygdala. It’s the source of the basic ‘fright or flight’ response. Mick Fanning did not have to think about what he needed to do: it just kicked in. Get me outta here!!

That is fear. But it is not the fear or worship, or the awe referred to in v.43. There is another kind of fear. This fear, this awe, comes from a different part of the brian where responses are reasoned and intentional. This awe is an engaging wonder, flowing from a specific event, resulting in purposeful behaviour.

The Christians in Acts 2 are overflowing with wonder of Jesus Christ. Their awe and wonder flows from the specific event of his death and resurrection, and it results in them purposefully directing their entire lives to his honour and praise.

Knowing this, we will often ask ‘well, if this arises from awe and wonder, what can we do to engender a response like this?’

We often think we need to create contexts which will draw the same response. Some churches have huge auditoriums filled with thousands, stage works, lighting effects, incredible sound systems, massive subwoofers. And what happens there amy well be awesome. People’s lives are often deeply impacted. And so we think: how do we make that happen? How do we create that context of holy fear where we are?

And the answer is: bad question.

See, this awe, the awe and wonder and fear of v.43, is not circumstantial. It’s not a context to be created or managed. This awe is a reasoned response, yes. It involves the mind, the will, the heart and the emotions – the fullness of one’s being. But these people are not responding to what’s happened in the building. They are responding to what has happened on the cross and in the resurrection.

We see this in the context. Peter preaches, proclaiming the confronting truth that his listeners had crucified the Lord of glory, Jesus, whom the Father had declared both Lord and Christ. They realise their sin and were cut to the heart. They asked: what shall we do? Peter told them to repent, to receive the covenant promise of grace in Christ. Many believe and are baptised, and they are this community we read about in Acts 2:42-47.

See the connection? They are not responding to circumstances. They have come under the reign and rule of the risen Jesus! That’s why they are filled with awe! They are so deeply moved by Christ’s grace that they can’t stop worshipping him. Together, in community, they respond in awe: engaging wonder, unconditional submission, honour, obedience and praise.

Not because the lights have come down, not because the keys are playing under the pastor while he prays, or because the preacher is so eloquent.

It’s because of Jesus. They see Jesus. They know Jesus! They know that we went to the Cross – for them – some of whom were responsible for his death just seven or eight weeks before!

THAT’S what is happening here. Awe is the response of wonder from people whose hearts have been cleansed and washed in the blood of an innocent Saviour. Christ in one’s heart will always leads to change in one’s life. It’s Phil 2 a few decades before its time, isn’t it? They have considered Jesus…

Phil 2:6-11

This is what Jesus has done for us! God be praised! Hallelujah!

How can you apprehend that truth and not respond in joyful exuberance and awe! With a considered response which says ‘this is what Jesus has done for me, praise his name, now it’s time to celebrate him with my church family and all of life.’

So, the sign is really true for those who know Jesus, right? Once you undersrahd what Jesus has done for you all you want to do is live a life full of worship!

WORSHIP – IT’S WHAT YOU REALLY WANT

If we don’t understand the cross we won’t ever get the worship thing. And we’ll be stuck in the land of ‘why should I go?’ forever.

These people were filled with awe… they worshipped  daily. In their homes: It is impossible to read these verses and imagine these people thinking an hour on so on Sunday was enough. They are doing life, godward life, together. They shared meals. They shared lives. Their voice echoes down the ages to us, drawing us to connect with people beyond the weekly ‘big group’ many of us call Sunday worship.

They also continued to meet in the temple. This fledgling church challenges our own engagement with worship, doesn’t it? Can you imagine these people being satisfied with a three weekly attendance cycle?

This is a beautiful church because Jesus is in the centre of everything they are and everything they do. Wouldn’t you love to be part of a church like this?

Then stop praying. Stop praying for others to change. Stop praying that God will bring other people. More people.

And start praying. Start praying that you will see Jesus so clearly. That you will consider what he has done for you. Pray that he will change your heart. Pray you will be overcome by his death and resurrection – for you that your life will be filled with worship as it was here. Pray this for your church and for your Christian community.

Jesus did this, for me? For me? Then here’s my life, Lord! I bow before you in full submission, honour, obedience and praise. Let your love overflow in my life, and let my life be constant worship, wonder and awe, for all you have done for me, for all you are doing in me, and for everything you will continue to do through me.

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.”

Mission (Foundations #6) – Group Questions

Discussion Questions relevant to Foundations #6 – Mission

Starters: What is the first thing you think about when you hear the word “mission”?

Read: Isaiah 42:6, Matthew 28:16-20

What do you think about the assertion that all efforts of every Church should serve the mission of God?

“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]

Read Exodus 19:3-6 and 1 Peter 2:9-12, and discuss “God has always been focussed on his mission.”

The mission God has given to the church has two components: announce the good news, and anticipate the new good. Which component receives more attention in your church? Should this be corrected? If so, what would need to happen?

What aspects of life in your local community would benefit most from Christians announcing God’s good news and anticipating God’s new good more effectively?

What concrete steps can your group take to bring these things to expression?

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).