The Audacity of Grace

Read Ezekiel 34:11-16

I am struck by the contrast between the abusive shepherds of Israel and the Lord, who is the good shepherd. A context of the shepherd’s self interest and abuse we are drawn to the breathtaking faithfulness of the Sovereign Lord. He knows all, and decides to do all to change this ugly pastoral picture into a one of peace, tranquility, protection and blessing.

More amazing is that God does this despite the terrible situation before him. He could have sold the farm, written off the loss, and done one huge cull. His lavish grace draws him to do something else: he took on the shepherds job himself and got to work changing the situation.

What he promises here: to search to restore, to care for, to rescue, to bring to pasture, he has done in Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10), and Jesus continues this work through his church (Matt 28:16-20; John 21:15-19).

When people fail, God will find other ways to bring his purposes to fulfilment

God takes our failing and rebellion upon himself. God steps in and brings restoration and hope to our brokenness. This is the audacity of grace. And we have to learn from his undying commitment to his own saving purpose. When people fail, God will find other ways to bring his purposes to fulfilment. Jesus’ death and rising is all the proof we need.

Q: What do these verses say about your own style of leadership, or about the challenges faced by your own church?

A New Experience in Bible Study

On Monday Feb 7 2011, at Redlands CRC we will start a new chapter in listening to and sharing God’s Word. Here’s what we’re doing:

Clinton and I will be starting a new preaching series Acts: An Outward Movement. We will be working our way through the book of Acts (Chapters 1-19). As we move through, we’ll examine how Jesus powerfully worked through his church in the New Testament, and how they engaged in His mission.

Each week, in the lead up to Sunday sermons, users will be able to journey through the book of Acts with some daily readings. We’ll be publishing these readings every day at RCRC Interactive. At this new blog, you’ll find the readings added every day, a few questions for each reading, and you’ll be able to interact with the questions and other users (via blog comments).

Then on Sundays, we’ll have sermons in the AM and PM that will unfold teaching from the book. If you’re part of RCRC, we would encourage attendance at both AM & PM services so you can follow the complete series. That’s not always going to be possible, we know, so all the sermons will be available for download from RCRC’s website. You can also grab the podcast through iTunes: just search for Redlands CRC.

In the week that follows the Sunday messages, we’ll be providing small group study guides for group work and personal study. You will also find these at RCRC Interactive, and yes, you’ll be able to put your thoughts onto the blog.

Our plan in all this is that we all deepen our understanding of God’s call into his mission. More than that: we want to be drawn into action and witness. Our prayer is that we’ll be better equipped to live His message, and that all glory and honour will be His.

What to do now: it would be great if you could visit RCRC Interactive, and let us know what you’re thinking and how you’re being challenged.

We’re particularly excited that potentially people all around the world can join us in this journey. What a wonderful expression of the unity of the Spirit and the church universal!

Please leave a comment and tell us what you think about all this!

Grace and peace

Dave

How to tell people about Jesus (they are probably more interested than you think)

Before we get to the best things to talk about to help people see who Jesus is, I’d like to explore the hesitation many feel about doing that.

It is no secret that many people find it hard to share the good news about Jesus. Here are some of the reasons I hear from time to time…

They imagine people are not interested. Generally speaking however, this is not true. People are quite tolerant, and open to talking about spiritual things. If you’ve already built a bit of a relationship with them, you’ll be able to talk about a lot of things, including your faith. It’s just not true that people don’t want to listen. What they don’t appreciate is an overbearing or judgmental attitude. Come to think of it, God doesn’t want that, either!

They think they need to know all the answers. It’s good to know some key responses to the common questions people ask. There are some great resources here: Understand, though, that most of the time you will not be able to explain everything. This is OK. Sometimes we just have to admit that we’re not really sure, and that we’re hoping to understand more sometime in the future. Here’s a few additional suggestions:

Ask them to explore the question with you: work on the answers together. This helps people see that you’re really not interested in cliched answers. It also helps them see that Christians are people who are prepared to apply their mind and their intellect to the troubling questions of life

Remember to take people back to the core issue of Jesus. If, for example, you are dealing with the question of why evil exists in a world governed by a good God, It’s fine to say something like ‘I have also wrestled with the question of the presence of evil in the world. I know Jesus came to break to domination of evil in people’s hearts. His promise is to bring it to right somehow, and sometimes that will involve us being prepared to engage in the fight against evil. But for me the big deal today is that I can trust God to do the right thing by me, and I can trust him to work the right things through me as I seek to follow him.’

A third reason people are hesitant to share about Jesus is because they are uncertain about the level of their own Bible knowledge. Having a good working bible knowledge is a great thing, but it will never be enough, really. There will always be things we don’t fully understand. So, just say so. People are more impressed with someone who says ‘I’m not sure’ than someone who has an answer for everything. People just want to engage at the level of the heart, at what matters to you, and why Jesus still matters to you. Sure, sometimes you will get to talk with a person who knows a bit about the Bible, and they may have some questions, but from my experience, these instances are pretty rare. Discussions that turn into arguments about Bible texts are rarely productive.

People are more impressed with someone who says ‘I’m not sure’ than someone who has an answer for everything.

Remember: you have the good news! You know who Jesus is! You have a hope that does not disappoint! That is an incredibly positive standpoint, and even though you think your life might be pretty ordinary, when you start talking about why Jesus makes a difference to you, most people will be interested enough to listen. More about this in my next post.

Q: what is your biggest fear or uncertainty about telling people the good news of Jesus? Or, what have you found helpful in addressing your hesitation?

Feel free to leave your answer as a comment…o

Grace and peace: Dave

Ministry to the unknown

A few years ago we visited Saddleback Church in Los Angeles. A lot of things impressed me. I remember the army of 60 volunteers who gave a few hours of their time every week to assemble thousands of newsletters for the next day. I was impressed with Saddleback’s commitment to see their vision, mission and values applied right across the board. I know some people find some of Rick Warren’s canned and contrived, but their alignment to their vision has really worked to make this huge church an effective community of mission and ministry.

One memory is particularly inspirational. As we walked from the car park to the worship centre we were met by one person after another whose ministry was to make us feel welcome. It was as if their passion was to minister to the unknown. We were unknown to them, but they greeted us like family. Like we were old friends. I remember one particular greeter, a young girl of about 11 or 12 years old. Newsletters in one hand, the other outstretched in a gesture of welcome, smiling warmly toward us, “so nice that you’re here today, welcome to Saddleback!” It was beautiful. I thought I might have seen something of heaven in that moment.

People who welcome others to worship or other gatherings of Jesus’ community have such a critical role. Theirs is a ministry of first impressions. This is always important. But the stakes are way higher when people who might be far from God are entering a place of worship for the first time.

So the people in these roles should be the warmest and most relational people available. People who delight to minister to the unknown, and who will love people they do not know. Not only will these people give others a powerful reason to return and a positive first experience, they will also be revealing the character of a seeking God to those who may be seeking him.

Q: how can you draw those involved in greeting ministry at your church into a more Christlike expression of ‘ministry to the unknown’?

Grace and peace: Dave

Location:Sturgeon St,Ormiston,Australia

A good mentor is rich, dark soil

Tonight I sat in a room with ten very special people. They have volunteered as mentors. The want to help others navigate the journey of life as a follower of Jesus.

I never really had a mentor in my earlier years. There was the occasional teacher who stood out as someone who I could connect with. A scout leader. A church pastor. I also had a mentor for six months in my first congregation as a pastor. Apart from these incidental engagements, mentoring was not really on my radar.

From where I sit now, I think that’s a pity. I would have loved to have one of these ten people to lead me through the hills and dales and around the corners of what life lay before me. We could have talked about relationships, adjusting to pastoral work, doubts, disappointments, celebrations. While on the whole I think I did OK, a mentor would have helped me do better.

So these ten people represent an incredible opportunity for growth, encouragement and development in the lives of others. A good mentor is rich dark soil, life giving, fruit producing.

Ten mentors. In time, those mentored may go on to mentor others. And I find myself thinking about the capacity of great mentoring to change the ethos of church community, as well as add value to people’s lives.

Q: who were the people God used to impact your life and lead you to growth? Do you think this growth could have come some other way?

Funerals: celebrating life

I have seen a lot of coffins, but I had never seen a coffin decorated with piano keys and music notes. Handles for the pall bearers were chrome cylinders attached with piano strings. I liked it. A lot. It was a tasteful expression of Eric’s love for music. While no professional musician, guests spoke of how he listened to, and drank in, and played music on a daily basis.

Before the casket was lowered, instead of throwing in soil, or laying a flower on the casket, people chose a piece of chocolate from a bowl, and placed it on top. I very deliberately placed by piece on B-flat. I don’t know that Eric was so into blues, but it suited my mood on the day.

Later, at the service of celebration, there was a tasteful mix of grief and laughter. Some of Eric’s children spoke, some performed musical pieces, his pastors spoke, guests spoke (more about that tomorrow), and once again, profound hope was expressed in music and song.

I have also seen funeral celebrations turn into a form of crass denial. Where it’s all made out to be a party, where banal humour and christo-pagan superstition permeates proceedings. “Yeah, I bet Bob’s up there now, beer in hand, looking at us all down here, wondering what all the fuss is about and when we’re all gonna get back to work…”

We can all do without that. And really, funerals do more harm than good when they trivialise life like that.

At Eric’s funeral we wrestled with life and its wending course. Together we sought to make sense of Jesus’ claim to be resurrection and life. We did that through our tears. And we celebrated everything Eric had brought into our lives, the talents he used to serve others, the expertise he brought to his workplace, and his quirky style of humour, we were celebrating the work of an extraordinary God in the life of an ordinary man.

But celebration? Seriously? How can you walk out of a funeral more in the lightness of hope than the heaviness of grief? This is the reality of Jesus’ life in us. His is a promise of hope, of life, that cannot be extinguished by death. This is what we have in the good news. When that deep celebration and profound joy resonates, even from a grieving community of followers, resurrection joy is palpable.

This is what we should celebrate at a funeral. How we have seen God’s life come to expression in this person. How we have seen beauty. How we have sensed a pursuit of justice and right. How they showed us a healthy spirituality. How we have learned about relationship, how others have been valued, honoured, and served.

Memories like anchor our affirmation in God’s work of grace in the life of another. We’re reminded that the Gospel is not just a religious idea or a doctrine to be intellectually accepted. It is an invigorating, transforming reality. When these transformational realities take root n a person’s life, they anticipate the new world Jesus will bring: God has already started his work of transformation in his people. Proof positive that Jesus is renewing minds, attitudes and values, and through them bringing change to his world. One life at a time.

Shalom,

Dave

Thoughts Occasioned by a Funeral

Last week we buried Eric. He was a fine person. A good man. A great follower of Jesus. And the first of my youth group generation to die. All that has got me thinking.

I met Eric in 1973 when I started attending his church in Blacktown. My parents had been solid in their faith for years, and had recently decided to switch churches. The church they chose was were Eric and his family attended. I was at a stage in life where I was making big decisions about life direction. I wasn’t being particularly principled about it. I was just in ‘default’ mode. When you are 15 years old, and your parents attend a church where there are no kids your age, there are always going to be more attractive options on a Sunday morning. I did not know it then, but I was at faith’s fork in the road. My parent’s decision to switch was a life saver. The life that was saved was mine.

Looking back now, I see how God used Eric, and a few others, to draw me into faith and followership. They helped me belong. They draw me into a small group who opened the Bible and sought to find its relevance for our lives. It was great. It was real. I came to see how following Jesus could be fun, exciting, and a rich broadening of what it meant to truly live.

At Eric’s funeral I remembered all this. I remarked how we shared a love for music, and great bass lines. He was into keys, I was getting into bass guitar. I remember now that he loved a good Monty Python line. And he loved his trail bike (he had a Kawasaki 250 or something). He let me ride his bike. He even let me ride his bike when I fell off it.

I don’t think Eric was my closest friend, and probably was not his closest friend either. Even so, it was the community, the friendship that Eric and others provided, that became the soil God used to nourish my faith. I am incredibly thankful for that. And I was blessed to have the opportunity to say so at Eric’s thanksgiving service.

Eric was the first of that generation of friends to die. Many of those present had made the same comment. It has given me reason, not only to reminisce, but also to consider life and death, and some of the important aspects of what it means to follow Jesus in such a time as this.

I hope my thoughts will be of value to you.

Shalom,

Dave