Jesus, what on earth are you doing?

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples. Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes,” (Matthew 9:18–23, NIV)

Ask yourself: Where am I in this story?

Me? I find myself in the crowd, watching intently, excited about what might happen, looking on as Jesus indicates he’s about to do something special for Jairus and his daughter. I follow with the crowd as Jesus heads toward the official’s home.

Then: what?! Jesus is looking through the crowd – seems to be looking for someone, and he can’t find them. What has happened? What’s going on? Who’s he looking for? And why?

And Jairus is a walking machine! He hasn’t even realised Jesus has stopped – he’s striding ahead by some 20 or 30 metres, before he even realises Jesus isn’t following him anymore. What the…??

Doesn’t he know how sick my daughter is? Did he miss my exasperation? Doesn’t he get it? Didn’t he say he would follow me? Doesn’t he realise she’s dying? What on earth is he doing now, stuffing around in the crowd?

There it is. Confusion. Anger. Frustration.

How often have I felt this? That Jesus is somehow missing in (my) action? That I doubt he’s with me, or not fully cognizant of what’s actually going on in my life? Why isn’t he do it what, just a moment ago, he seemed so clearly to say that he would do?

There’s nothing happening to me – or you – today that Jesus is anxoius about.

Amidst all of my anger, confusion and possible questioning of God, I see Jesus in this story – and he is not flustered at all. Not. At. All. He is sovereign, and he has me perfectly and mysteriously in his hand.

I might think he’s making poor decisions (actually, phrasing that sounds as ridiculous and faithless as it actually is) I may not understand, and I may not accept what’s going on. But Jesus has it – me – everything – in hand. I may be bothered. I may be confused. I may be worried or afraid.

But not Jesus. There’s nothing happening to me – or you – today that Jesus is anxious about.

He has me in his hand, and what he does will bring brother grace and healing and restoration to those who maybe frustrating me. And he will bring that same grace and healing to those around me who are in such great need.

Living in Denial?

The parking ticket flapped against the windscreen. Didn’t notice it at first, but there it was, plain as day. I was not happy. I had filled the meter twice, and it still had time on it. Apparently this doesn’t wash in Melbourne CBD: you can fill the meter all day if you want, but if you don’t move your car before the meter first expires, it counts for nothing. Zip. Nada. But, hey, thanks for the money!

Nothing alerts you to this. No signs. No information on the meters. Maybe, as someone from out of town, you have to sniff those facts in the air. Perhaps that’s how you know. But I read nothing and sniffed nothing about it. And that slip of paper on the windscreen was still flapping around to prove the point.

I was pretty indignant. See: I thought I was in the clear. I know: ignorance of the law is no excuse. But I still wanted to deny my personal responsibility. We all do this. We blame what others have said and done. We blame circumstance. We blame the flippin’ dog. We will do anything to avoid acknowledging our own sin. Because once we yield, even a millimeter, we must also acknowledge that we have sinned against another. And then guilt moves in.

Let’s be adult about it: we wrong people all the time. We wrong ourselves – we don’t even have the ability to keep our own promises perfectly. We wrong our environment. We wrong God. This is all about our actions, thoughts and decisions. And beyond all of that, the Bible talks about sin in our nature: reminding us that sin goes right to the core of our personality. We’re born with this brokenness already in play: explaining why no toddler ever needs to be taught to be naughty. This deep human brokenness is the reason we can never leave sin behind.

Sin is that pervasive. Every person. Every action. Every aspect of life. Every corner of creation. It began as our first rebellion in the Garden turned the universe against God.

We can only wonder, then, that while God hates sin and rebellion so vehemently, he still wants to shower us with grace, forgiveness and a new beginning.  We know this through Jesus: the One through whom all things were created became the One who paid the rebellion’s penalty on the Cross. He is also the One through whom all things will be recreated. And the proof is the Cross, the Resurrection, his Rule, and his eventual Return.

That’s the thing about minimising your responsibility in sin: you also end up minimising why Jesus came, and how he died to bear the cost of your rebellion and bring you back to God. You end up shortchanging the wonder of the life he pours into you.

God, help me to be honest about the wrong in my life and my heart. I don’t want this denial to constrict my life; much less my joy. So let me leave these things behind, as much as I can, and help me instead to embrace a life of love, grace, humility and seeking the right. Let your good life overflow in me, let wash away all my denial, and let Jesus’ life be seen in all its joyful wonder.

 

Yours are the hands

Christ has

No body now on earth but yours;

No hands but yours;

Yours are the eyes

Through which is to look out

Christ’s compassion to the world;

Yours are the feet

With which he is to go about

Doing good;

Yours are the hands

With which he is to bless now.

– St. Teresa of Avila

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

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

Growth, Health & ‘The Gospel’

Here at Gateway Community Church we’ve been listening to God’s call to make and grow disciples, to have a healthy church, to ensure our structures work best for these ends. We have a long way to go, but there are a few things we want to start doing. The next few posts will outline what some of them are.

Our first priority is this: we want have clarity and unity in ‘the Gospel’.

This is not always straightforward. R C Sproul has written about some of the distortions and over simplifications of ‘the Gospel’ here. For some, ‘the Gospel’ amounts to jargon: ‘we’re here for the Gospel’, ‘this is a Gospel church’, ‘what matters is the Gospel’, ‘nothing but the Gospel’, ‘I love Gospel music’ – all well and good, but what do you actually mean by ‘the Gospel’?

Amongst the people of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, ‘the Gospel’ is commonly a set of orthodox truths about Jesus, for example:

  • Jesus is the eternal Son, only begotten of the Father
  • he became a man, born to Mary
  • he lived a sinless life, suffered and was put to death on the Cross
  • his death bore the sin and punishment his people deserved
  • he rose from the dead, winning their rescue, restoring them to life, and reconciling them to the Father
  • he ascended to heaven, and now sits in the most powerful place in the universe
  • he will return to judge all humanity and to recreate the universe which now, rightly, belongs to him

These truths are crucial: If I fudge on one aspect, I don’t have the full picture of who Jesus is. This is why good theology matters: it helps me think clearly about who God is, what he has done in Jesus, and why it all matters. I believe the statements above are objective realities, absolute certainties. They remain true whether I believe them or not. In this sense, the Gospel simply is.

Even so, when at Gateway said ‘we want to have clarity in the Gospel’ we were, however, talking about more than agreeing to a raft of objective truths. This because it is possible to accept those truths but still not live under them. Think of it this way, I believe Capt. James Cook sailed Endeavour into Botany Bay in 1770. I can study the accounts of his voyage, read his diaries, and get some sense of the man. But when I roll out of bed in the morning, James Cook is not going to make a difference to how I live. Why? Because acceptance of historical truths is not necessarily life changing.

The Gospel is considerably more than a happy announcement of forgiveness to a lost sinner.

So, how is ‘the Gospel’ more than a statement of objective truth? How is the Gospel the transformational good news? In this sense: The Gospel is the person of Jesus and everything he has come to do. John Piper opens this reality beautifully in his 2005 ‘God is the Gospel‘. I would just change Piper’s title to make it read ‘Jesus is the Gospel’. I say this because ‘accepting the Gospel’ is more than agreeing with a set of truths: accepting the Gospel is accepting Jesus, bowing the knee to him, naming him as my Lord, my Leader, my Rescuer, the Redeemer and ultimate Restorer of my world and this universe.

We want to be clear about this: The Gospel is considerably more than a happy announcement of forgiveness to a lost sinner. It is that, for sure, but the Gospel announces Jesus’ restoration, his new creation, his Kingdom coming to expression in our here and now. It proclaims the inexhaustible hope that Jesus is reconciling all things to the Father. Can we find a more earth shattering, life changing, heart transforming statement of the Gospel than what we read in Colossians 1? …

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19–20, NIV)

We want Gateway to understand this glorious Gospel. We want this reality to be the ground for our unity. We want this Jesus to be the focus of our ministry and mission. This Gospel, Jesus Himself, has staggering implications for how we live and behave, for how we engage our community and our world. Perhaps the most humbling reality of all is the wonder that through Jesus we now get to bring new his creation to expression (see 2 Cor 5:17-21).

As leaders we are convinced that the more unity we have in this very big picture, the more we will all pull in the same direction, and the more glory will be given to Christ our King.

The Call to Growth: Business Method or God’s Desire?

Is the call growth a selling out to secular business method?

When discussions revolve around encouraging growth in Christians, or setting goals around church health, or setting any goals at all, some people will suggest the bible has been exchanged for the methods of Harvard Business School. I have never been convinced by those criticisms.

Leadership writer Ken Blanchard become a follower of Jesus following a career as a top level management expert. Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager has sold over 13 million copies since its release in 1982. The interesting thing is that after Blanchard become a Christian, he was surprised to find many of the basic principles he had written about were found in the Scriptures. That doesn’t mean the bible is a textbook on management or leadership. It probably just means that there is not much new under the sun. It might also mean that thinking about leadership and goal setting is not a bad thing after all. 

In reality, Scripture calls us to growth, and to be purposeful about it. On the night before he went to the Cross, Jesus had this prayer for his followers: 

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17:25–26, NIV)

Did you know that? Even Jesus prayed that the love between the Father and himself would be fully expressed in his people. No doubt, Jesus’ heavenly prayer ministry (see Heb 7:25) also focuses on drawing us deeper into his life and likeness. It is hard to imagine Jesus’ prayers not flowing out of his divine desire to save us completely. 

In Paul’s writings, however, our understanding of the purposeful nature of God moves to an entirely different level. In almost every letter Paul wrote he expresses his desire for people to grow, and keep growing. Christians believe the Scriptures are more than Paul’s words. They are God-breathed, so when we hear Paul speaking, we hear God speaking. So Paul’s prayers reveal the heart of God for his people.

Here are some examples:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17, NIV) 

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious richese he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Eph 3:14-19)

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight… (Philippians 1:9, NIV) 

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12, NIV) 

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,… (Colossians 1:9–10, NIV) 

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:28–29, NIV)

The big question is whether the things that matter to God matter to us

See how these prayers reveal Paul’s strategy? His deepest desire was for Christians to grow to maturity. He agonised over the growth of the churches he pastored. This was not just because he was a passionate apostle. It was because the Spirit of Jesus drove his heart and mind into the very heart of God for the the church. 

It mattered to Paul that churches would grow. It mattered to Jesus that he would be fully revealed in his followers. It matters to God that Jesus’ followers grew to full maturity in his Son. The big question is whether the things that matter to God matter to us. If God is purposeful about his work in us, we better be purposeful in the work we do for him. 

The more we reflect Christ’s purposes and the more churches move toward the kind of maturity Jesus desires for them, the more healthy this churches will be. They will be places of grace, love, forgiveness, joy, restored community, deepening relationships, and loving, compassionate, transformational mission. 

A powerful, motivating, stimulating vision isn’t it?