A Sermon & A Study

I have decided to publish my weekly sermons on a new blog site, and provide a study for Home Groups with each sermon I post.

It’s what I am doing anyway: here at Gateway I write my sermons in the form of a full manuscript, and I also prepare weekly Home Group questions, so it’s only a little editing and they are ready to go on the blog.

I started this for a few reasons. One, there are plenty of people who like to read messages. I believe the Word of God is used by the Spirit to lead his people. And if my messages can be used like that, even beyond their typical Sunday context, I am all for it.

A second reason is that some people don’t have much access to word ministry. This blog, and others like it, might be an encouragement to them.

Third, the Home Group or Bible Study questions can work for groups of Christian meeting in a variety of contexts. They are designed to assist with applying the word to personal and communal situations, and encourage all who engage to be transformed by God’s word.

Feel free to sign up for the new feed!

I am keen to hear how these work for you. Please feel free to leave feedback and suggestions.

Grace and peace,

Dave

Pentecost

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Initially, I felt like an outsider. I was different to everybody else. I was from a different country. I spoke a different English. Most obvious of all? I looked different: my skin was a different colour. All of this was a totally new experience.

A few of us were visiting the Christian Cultural Centre in Brooklyn, N.J. and we were like fish out of water. Five white Australians amongst thousands of African Americans. We had visited other churches on our trip, but here the racial divide was more evident than ever.

I don’t recall wondering whether we would be accepted or not. I didn’t have time. We were greeted warmly, we walked in, found a seat, and the service began. As people sang they moved with the rhythm. Their gestures full of praise and emotion, lyric and feeling in one organic expression.

…we felt like we belonged

We had found seats among a throng of regulars. No great skills of perception were required for them to notice we were ‘from out of town’. None of that seemed to matter. And surprisingly, when we were encouraged to join prayer with the people around us, they drew us into their prayer and into their hearts like we were old family friends. They were sharing their struggles, their joys, their lives. We shared who we were, and some of the things on our heart, and they prayed for us like we were just one of them.

Here’s the thing: the fact that we were visitors was immaterial. Our different culture was invisible. Not an issue. Irrelevant. We were brothers and sisters in Christ, and for that hour we felt like we belonged. No one had to tell us we were welcome there, or to make ourselves at home, we were so warmly embraced, we were prayed for, we were loved, we were accepted. Community happened beyond any words that might have been spoken.

…when God’s Spirit is present, genuine community is formed

In the book of Acts, there are several key times when the church expands and receives people who had previously been on the outer. Samaritans are drawn in (Acts 8), as are non Jewish peoples (Acts 11). I know there’s debate about some of the ways the Holy Spirit is manifested in these passages, but I actually don’t think those things are the focus of those passages. The real point is when God’s Spirit is present, genuine community is formed. People who had been broken, marginalised, despised and forsaken are by this Spirit drawn into community. Jesus breaks down all those barriers, overcomes all the chaos, dissolves fear, people come together, and God’s new community is born.

A pentecost church is a church where new community thrives. Where people are drawn in and where they feel like family. Where barriers are crossed, and Jesus’ transformation bring people together. Restored. Accepted. Forgiven. Renewed.

Q: How could you bring the new community of Jesus to expression in your church?

Our Eyes Need To Be Opened

How many of us have made the connection between the various forms of violence and the seemingly intractable poverty of the developing world?

I didn’t have a clue     ….until I read The Locust Effect.

Michael Choi’s comment on my last post reminded me that like many people, I just did not think about the causes of poverty, or the forces that were actually keeping people poor in the developing world. And yet:

  • My family sponsors a number of children through Compassion Australia. This wonderful program creates connections between supporters like us and the kids we sponsor. Right now, there are a few letters on our kitchen bench we can respond to. But here’s the thing: I had never seriously pondered the situation of the communities these children live in (Haiti and India), or that predatory coercive violence could be so pervasive in communities like these. I just didn’t think about it

I just didn’t think about it …

  • Our church family, the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, have special appeals for humanitarian aid. I had never considered that in several of these countries there are factors at work, evil things really, that are responsible for perpetuating poverty and oppression. What our church and others do is wonderful work, and I am not suggesting anything other. But what will all our aid and good will do if we do not address the plague that lies at the heart of many of these communities? Seriously, I had never considered that question. But hardly a day goes by now when it does settle uncomfortably somewhere in my consciousness
  • On my office desk, I have the smiling photograph of a young woman who was conned with the promise of a better life. The train she was placed on went to a different city than the one she thought she was travelling to. When she arrived, her traffickers snatched her away and threw her into a brothel. She is smiling now because IJM rescued her and then prosecuted those who so violently abused her. Even here, I knew the story, but I was not aware how pervasive violent acts like these were. I thought it was a near one off case. I was a universe away from reality. Fact: There are millions of young girls and women in similar situations every day all over the world. In the video below there is a story of yet another young girl: watch and consider the fear that must weigh on developing world communities.

There’s also an eye opening fact sheet to draw you into what ‘everyday’ means for the poor of the developing world. Read 5 Stunning Facts About Violence on The Locust Effect’s excellent website

We are not in their world. We don’t know. And most of the time, we don’t even know how to begin to know, or feel, or act. When the questions don’t occur to us, how will we ever want to seek answers?

So the global poor have no one to advocate for them because we’re so blindingly ignorant of their desperate plight.

This is why we need to know. This is why our eyes need to be opened.

So, watch the video. Read the facts.

Then consider:

  • How does this impact me? What does it get me thinking about?
  • What could I be doing differently in response?
  • Do you think church communities in more wealthy nations need to change they way they do overseas mission and aid in response to these issues?

So, what’s with all the locust stuff?

In the 1870s a huge plague of locusts descended upon the American Midwest. Back then, the midwest was just being opened up, and the people who first settled there were living very remotely. Their very survive depended n their capacity to develop working farms and grow good crops. This was the tender existence upon which the biggest locust plague ever recorded in modern times descended.

It is estimated there were over 27 million tons of them. I don’t know how anyone weighs a locust plague, but the destructive power of this plague is well documented. No matter how people tried to protect themselves, the locusts continued on their destructive march. There are even accounts of people trying to cover at least some of their crops with blankets, but the locusts even ate the blankets! The plague was unimaginably powerful and totally unstoppable!

In his book, The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen makes the point that when the locusts descended, you can be sure the farmers weren’t thinking about whether to buy a new horse, or how to plough more effectively, or where to place the next fence. All that mattered was for the locusts to stop. Back in 1875 the locusts did not stop. Not only did farmers and their families loose livelihoods they had worked so hard for, some lost their lives, simply starving to death from the plague’s aftermath.

Sometimes I wonder how we have been so slow to see what has really been happening

In The Locust Effect, we learn that there is a plague on the world’s poor. Like locusts, it just keeps happening, and it needs to stop. In many developing countries the poor are subject to daily violence. They live outside of police protection. Justice systems are broken or dysfunctional. Corrupt forces within society do what they can to ensure the system stays broken, and they stay beyond the reach of the law.

Violence comes in many forms: sexual violence (primarily against women); forced land seizures (also primarily with female victims); forced labour and slavery. It also comes with the gut wrenching realisation that the police forces who are supposed to protect and serve society are in many developing world contexts perpetrators of violence against the poor. Watch this clip to get a sense of it all.

Wealthier countries have turned a blind eye to this plague, and many people – like me – who live in those countries have been ignorant of these malicious forces that are destroying so many lives on a daily basis. While we see such great work being done in the developing world, this plague is undermining everything that is being done, and preventing the world poor from thriving. The disturbing reality is this: unless we address the plague of violence everything else we do is only gong to have limited value.

There are no words to describe this evil

I must say, I have only understood this sobering reality after having been on the pre release review team for The Locust Effect. Sometimes I wonder how we have been so slow to see what has really been happening. I read the stories of lives broken or snuffed out, and more often than not I am just stunned. There are no words to describe this evil.

Here are a few things you can do to see how deep the problem is:

You can visit The Locust Effect page to learn more about the modern plague of violence at. You can also read a gripping section of The Locust Effect here.

You can also buy a copy of Haugen’s ground breaking book. These next few days any US sales will result in a $20 donation going straight to International Justice Mission. So buying the book is a great way to help the poor, and not just become informed about the issue.

Watch Gary Haugen talk about his purpose in writing The Locust Effect

PS. before you ask, the authors of The Locust Effect receive no royalties for the book, which is currently sitting around no.30 on the Amazon Best Seller list. All proceeds form the sale go toward ending violence against the world’s most vulnerable people.

Violence: Primary Cause of Poverty in the Developing World – #LocustEffect

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The reality of poverty in the developing world seems ever present. Which week goes by without television or web based news reports showing us thousands of people in refugee camps, or poverty stricken communities coping with natural disaster?

There are also many wonderful non-government organisations seeking responding to the plight of the global poor. Child sponsorship programs like Compassion, World Vision, and others do a tremendous amount of good to develop world communities.

Recently I have read and reviewed The Locust Effect, by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros (Oxford University Press). This ground breaking book exposes a dimension of global poverty that we simply have not seen: the primary factor perpetuating poverty for the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth is violence. Violence accounts for the reality that despite the generous international aid provided by wealthier nations, and despite the wonderful work done through child sponsorship and other compassionate programs, the plight of the developing world’s poorest people has not changed in any meaningful sense.

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Law enforcement and justice systems in the developing world are generally broken and dysfunctional. Worse: The Locust Effect cites case after case where police, far from protecting the most vulnerable people in the developing world, actually perpetrate violence against them. The justice systems which are supposed to restrain evil are so broken that they often intensify the violence and suffering of the poor.

The Locust Effect shows us that ending the violence and transforming systems of justice is the missing piece of the puzzle in assisting the poor of the developing world. We need to realise that in terms of our compassionate response to the plight of the global poor, all our efforts will only have limited value if we cannot stop the plague of violence tearing away at the life and hope of the world’s poorest.

There are important implications here for Christian and denominational aid organisations. We certainly need to continue what we are doing to assist good mission, grow Gospel ministry, and to address the needs of the communities we are working with. At the same time, Christian aid and mission organisations need to partner with agencies like International Justice Mission. As they do, they can assist in the reformation of justice systems long broken and dysfunctional. This will also provide much needed support for those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, at the hands of violent perpetrators.

If this is any interest to you, I urge you to buy a copy of The Locust Effect. The authors are deeply Christian men, and the organisation they work with, International Justice Mission, does profound and valuable work coming to the aid of the world’s poor. The Christian worldview evidenced in IMJ’s work harmonises wonderfully with a Christian reformed heritage. There are many opportunities for collaboration.

In future posts, I will examine some more specifics of why violence is likened to a plague of locusts. Until then, please order a copy of The Locust Effect.

While the book is published in an academic format (footnotes, etc) it remains exceptionally readable. For me, it was an eye opening and, in places, confronting read. It has been incredibly valuable in deepening my understanding of global poverty, and how we should be responding as Christians. I heartily recommend it to you.

All copies of The Locust Effect sold during the week of Feb 03 will attract a $20 donation to IJM from a very generous friend of the organisation (US buyers only). So, for those of you in the US, buying the book is like making a donation to this very important work! Brilliant!

All general book royalties go straight to IJM

Why church leaders should set their heart on Jesus and not their spreadsheet

A lot of attention is paid to numbers in churches today. Whether it’s Sunday attendances, finances, percentages of people involved in ministry, rate of engagement in the community – numbers tell us important things.

If growing churches are healthy churches – and I think that statement is generally true – then how we use numbers will help us identify areas of growth and areas of challenge. And growth, of course, is considerably wider and more textured than attendance figures or a financial bottom line.

I have sometimes been troubled, however, by a fixation on numbers. A deep discomfort when attendance figures flatten out. An anxious brow when the growth rate stalls.

While numbers help us to see important things, a fixation on numbers is something else altogether. When our sense of security or well being as a church is based on numbers needing to be ever upward and to the right, we have made those numbers more than a helpful indicator. We have made them an idol.

This morning I was struck by a quote from Henri Nouwen in his book The Wounded Healer:


“Building a vocation [or a church - DG] on the expectations of concrete results – however conceived – is like building a house on sand instead of on solid rock, and takes away the ability to accept sacrifices as free gifts … Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory.”

So friends, keep an eye on the indicators. But remember: life is found in setting your heart on Jesus, not your sreadsheet.

Will You Let Your Light Shine?

“To let their light shine, not to force on them their interpretations of God’s designs, is the duty of Christians towards their fellows. If you who set yourselves to explain the theory of Christianity, had set yourselves instead to do the will of the Master, the one object of which the Gospel was preached to you, how different would now be the condition of that portion of the world with which you come into contact! Had you given yourselves to the understanding of his word that you might do it, and not to the quarrying of his word wherewith to buttress your systems, in many a heart by this time would the name of Jesus be loved where now it remains unknown. The word of life would then by you have been held out indeed.”

- George MacDonald, Creation in Christ, 1889