What is your treasure?

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Enough… Treasure

Read: Exodus 19:1-8

Last week Leonie and I watched The Hobbit. The story starts with the dwarfs losing all their treasure, and ends with them mountain an expedition to win it back from the wiles of the dragon. In the midst of it all we are introduced to Golum, and to Bilbo Baggins who manages to take Golum’s personal treasure, which he has named ‘My Precious’.

Great movie. Wonderful fantasy. And yet expresses a profound truth: The quest for treasure does not leave us. The thought that somewhere there is something that will make work unnecessary, or give us beauty, or deliver success, or make life easy – or better still – eternal, is deliciously captivating.

Truth is: We are all seeking some kind of treasure.

This desire lies at the core of the human heart. And we direct our lives to pursuing it.
Here’s an email I received while I was writing this sermon:

EBay

Look at how this ad is positioned: it tasks about what you love; it panders to your interests, passions and preferences; it’s addressed to your needs, and asks you to follow. It’s a profound example of how our culture works.

Advertising tells us a lot about ourselves, and what we think is important. They say that kids in the USA are exposed to something like 40,000 ads per year. A study in Queensland found that because of the use of children in advertising, by the age of 7yrs, 71% of girls want to be slimmer.

Advertising knows the truth of the human heart: that we all treasure something.

Broadly speaking, our economy is build around the laws of supply and demand. Around the belief that healthy markets and economies should always expand. And markets expand by producing things that people want. You’ve got to be competitive, so companies look to reduce costs: labour, utilities, plant & equipment, human resources.

When I was a kid, cheap stuff was made in Japan. As conditions improved in Japan, the cheap labour market labour shifted to Taiwan, and then to China. Then on to Vietnam, and now? Bangladesh. Recently, 1200 people died in a building collapse in Bangladesh. The pressure to keep costs down led to shortcuts in safety and building standards. These workers endured terrible conditions to produce fashion items predominantly for our shops.
It happened because the manufacturers and retailers place more value on profit and production than on people. [You can view an excellent report on this terrible tragedy on ABC Australia’s “Four Corners” via iView]

It is an unpleasant thought, but this is actually part of our culture’s history. English colonists simply settled in Australia, believing it to be Terra Nullius – owned by no one. No one considered the rights of the people who were already here. Efforts were made to settle peacefully, but when resistance came, it was met with terrible and disproportionate force.

The Dutch did no better in Batavia (present day Indonesia). The Dutch East India Company’s Captain Coen wiped out whole settlements of natives so he could build the colony and the walled defences of the Citadel for the Governor.

Batavia

How did these world powers justify their actions? Because lucrative spices, resources, and a colony was more important than people.

“…we cannot carry on trade without war, nor war without trade” [Capt Jan Pieterszoon Coen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, 1618]

Those words make me squirm. They should give us pause when today the harsh treatment of people is justified in the name of national interest. And they give us pause because we realise that western society – our society – has for hundreds of years been built by seeing the lives of some people as expendable. We treasure things, and dispose of people.

The point of this hard truth is not that we send ourselves on an eternal guilt trip, but that we repent of the tendency to devalue people in preference to possessions. I don’t know exactly how that should be done, but we can start by considering where, and how, the goods we purchase are manufactured. We can do it by persisting with questioning retailers, and realising that there is some power in the dollars we spend in their establishments.

Grace and peace

– Dave

Forgiveness: Let’s Start at the Beginning

Where does forgiveness start? This is an important question if we’re to get forgiveness right and do forgiveness well.

I think forgiveness starts with God and his nature. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This very act says so much about the God we worship and the forgiveness he calls us into. It reminds us that God is a giver, One who at core seeks to bring life and beauty and joy into being. In the evening of each creation day God said “it is good.” On the sixth day, having created human beings, he said “it is very good”. At a very primary level, we understand that God gives himself, expends himself so that life can abound and people can thrive.

Cornelius Plantinga says “the first act in the world’s drama is God’s act of creation and sustaining ‘all things visible and invisible,’ out of a generous desire to enlarge the realm of being, to bestow life and goodness on others, and to assist others to flourish in the realm created for them.” [Engaging God’s World, p.44]

…forgiveness starts with God and his nature…

This tells us deep things about God: his core disposition is one of love, a desire to bless, to enrich, to cause to flourish, to bring life and beauty. There are a million other implications to pursue here about what the church should focus on, about how Christians should conduct themselves, and what defines the mission of the church.

What I want us to think about are the implications of this for forgiveness. This is very important, because it is easy for us to view forgiveness simply in a pragmatic sense: we want to forgive because it resolves a problem. We do it because it works. That is not bad, but it could be better.

When forgiveness is rooted in the character of God, and defined by his work in creation, we see something else. We wee that forgiveness is about bringing blessing into lives. When we go the full cycle of forgiveness, we don’t just resolve a problem, we bless each other.

That is a challenging thought. You may think of the trouble and grief that is part of your life, and seriously question whether you will ever be able to forgive. You may wonder whether you could ever see your way clear to bless the person or persons that have brought this pain upon you. Sometimes the terrors and evils perpetrated on us are so big and ugly that it seems impossible to contemplate any positive thought toward those who have done them. I agree – but for now, can we agree to leave that tension where it is, and come back to later?

The bottom line is that forgiveness is perhaps the most grace affirming, life enriching work you will ever do. It’s no wonder that if we’re going to do it well, we’ll need the sort of grace and strength and help that we can only get from Jesus.

Can you see forgiveness as ultimately a desire to see the other blessed? How does this challenge you or comfort you?

Grief and Hatred

1 John 2:9 (NIV)
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.

Hate is a strong word. I hate what I see going on in Syria. I hate the deception that breaks relationships. I hate gossip, and malicious whispering. I hate whatever is in warfare with God and his gospel in Jesus.

Sometimes, though, I find myself wondering whether we should hate as much as we do. I wonder whether many of the things we hate are things that we should really be grieving over.

Hate, you see, keeps it all out there. You can hate stuff on the other side of the world, and not be particularly affected by it. But if you grieve over something, it’s like you have to let it have you a little, let it enter your life. When you grieve you feel something of the heaviness, the brokenness, and the grit of it between your teeth.

We all know God hates sin and wrongdoing. But I wonder whether sometimes God grieves more than he hates.

What do you think? Does God grieve about us and our world more than he hates what he sees going on?

Did Solomon Consider the Consequences?

Solomon seemed to start off so well. When, in his early years, the weighty responsibilities of the Kingdom weighed upon him, he knew he pulled up way too short in wisdom:

““Now, LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?””
(1 Kings 3:7–9, NIV)

Sometime later he wrote Psalm 127. Deliciously laconic, the Psalm calls us to consider the consequences of our actions. Our thoughts, our actions, our whispered conversations, our internet habits – where are they leading? Are they restoring life? Are they building character? Are they helping people see God more clearly? Are they displaying God’s Kingdom, and building his mission?

Our thoughts, our actions, our whispered conversations, our internet habits – where are they leading?

Only you know. Well, God knows, too. He is calling you to consider the impact of the decisions you have made, and the decisions you will make today, and those you are yet to make. Consider where they are taking you.

Did Solomon?

Did Solomon consider the consequences?

This is the question, because later in his life it is a different picture. Derek Kidner writes “…like much of Solomon’s wisdom. the lessons of Psalm 127, relevant as they were to his situation, were mostly lost on him. His building, both literal and figurative, became reckless (1 Ki 9:10ff), his kingdom a ruin (1 Ki 11:11ff) and his marriage a disastrous denial of God (1Ki 11:1ff)” [Psalms 73-150, p.44)

Did Solomon realise this is how he would end up? He was incredibly wise. He must have known the terrible consequences of his decisions. Yet it seems he chose to walk against his earlier words, and therefore, against the Lord’s ways. Against life, really. What a tragedy.

Consider:

Those plans you are making, that goal you have set, the way you are dealing with others, your closet behaviour – are these taking you where God wants you to be? If not, change, and change right now.

God has given you life in Jesus, His Son. This life is what you should be living: Eph 4:17 – 5:2

Why Church? – Good Question…

Recently, I preached a series of sermons called ‘Love My Church’. I was seeking to develop a very positive mindset toward the church, and why we should engage more deeply with it. That got me asking another set of questions, and those questions have grown into a series of posts…

For those who don’t know God…

I wonder where the church fits in the experience and awareness of the general community. Maybe the question is not one of ‘where’ but ‘whether’… I guess we have all heard the cliched responses that in the mind of the general community the church is irrelevant, or invisible, or worse. Church leaders have asked often their congregations “if our church was to disappear overnight, would we be missed?”. The question my be cliched, but the answer often troubles us, and that may be for good reason.

For those who know God…

You might expect that for those who know God and follow His Son, Jesus, there would be a more ringing endorsement. Here, the feedback varies. Some Christian love their church, and dedicate much time and energy to making their local church a really terrific place.

But how many of us would say that they love their church, and that meeting with other Christians ‘at church’ is the highlight of their week? And if their answer is not resoundingly positive, what are the factors there?

what we think about the church has enormous impact on how healthy it is

Maybe how we talk about church exposes something of the issue:

People ‘go to church’

People ‘get fed with the word at church’

People ‘have fellowship at church’

People ‘are blessed by the ministries, programs and services their church provides’

Pastors ‘work at church, serve their church, and prepare for the services to be held at the church’

My thought is that what we think about the church has enormous impact on how healthy it is, and how well it does what God calls it to do in the community and the world.

The next posts will explore these thoughts a little more.

Love to hear your thoughts…

Which Road Are You On?

Last weekend I attended ‘The Road Event’, a tremendously stimulating conference organized by Über, a Christian church in Melbourne Eastern suburbs.

The conference charted the development of cultural trends and ideas that have worked together to influence how we see life and how we view ourselves and our world. It all sounds a bit philosophical when you put it like that, but in actual fact is was down to earth, accessible, and incredibly insightful.

Much revolved around the use of the ‘story’ metaphor. The basic idea is that not only can your life be seen as a story, but that culture, too, is formed by one or a number of ‘stories’. Think of it this way: There is an overarching story or worldview that dominates our world. This ‘story’ may not be uniformly held or believed, and there might be different and competing stories. Even so, the influence of this ‘story’ is unmistakable.

There is an overarching story or worldview that dominates our world

Thinking about how ‘stories’ impact on our culture is much the same as thinking about the dominant world and life view around us. I don’t see too much difference between the different terms. What I do sense, though, is that the idea of a ‘story’ is a little easier for people to understand than the often philosophically overweight, jargon laden discussions about ‘world and life view’.

So what is the dominant ‘story’ in Australian culture? I can’t confess any real expertise, but it’s not hard to observe a few dominant themes:

• We have evolved from lesser life forms, there really is no God, we are a mass of carbon based atoms. Consequently the older ‘stories’ of faith, religion, and even traditional morality are irrelevant

• Consequently, there is no overarching ‘story’ to give life coherence and meaning. So the best way to live is to just be yourself and do no harm to others. Have as much fun doing this as you can, but don’t be surprised if you feel a yawning disconnect with everything.

• We have done terrible things in polluting our planet, so now we have to address them by reducing greenhouse gases and developing in sustainable industry

• All people should get a fair go, we should all have the same opportunities, and we should do what we can to help those who are disadvantaged

There are lots of others, but you get the drift. By ‘story’ we mean the major life views or world view that influences how we live. ‘The Road Event’ helped us see how we have been influenced by the culture of ‘the road’, an in this story where life has no ultimate destination all that matters is how we travel. All that matters is the journey. It sounds innocuous, but this view has influenced the church, Australian Christianity, social institutions, family life, our sense of self.

So my next posts are thoughts that flow on from this. I am indebted to the speakers at ‘The Road Event’: Mark Sayers, Andrew Shamy, Sarah Deutscher, and Tim Hein for their insightful critique, their warmhearted challenge, and their inspiring biblical vision.

Q: what ‘stories’ do you think dominate our culture? Leave a comment, and start a discussion!

Will God really protect me?

One of the primary questions people ask about Christianity is whether it produces actual outcomes: whether it makes a real difference to their lives. We know that Jesus is God’s son, that he died and rose again, that he rules the universe, and that he is returning to complete his restoration of all things. But does this make a difference to how we live?

This morning I read in Ps 94 how God is the avenger of those who are victimised and oppressed. He judges the earth. He does not reject his people or forsake his inheritance. He rises up for his people against his enemies. God is our fortress and our refuge.

Can you see how our view of God influences how we engage with our world and how we live in it and how we live with others? If God is our fortress, I don’t need to bolster myself with my status, or my possessions, or my reputation. If God is my refuge, I don’t have to take refuge in my orthodoxy, or in my church.

My comfort is that God’s plan will come to fruition irrespective of my circumstances

Today, my day is in God’s trusting hands. I move into my day knowing that I am working in his plan, so I don’t have to cajole him into working in mine. My comfort is that God’s plan will come to fruition irrespective of my circumstances. This is true for his plan for me, as well as his plans for my world.

Here’s the question we all need to ask: Do I actually believe God will protect me today? In my work, my living, my witness, my relationships, at my rock and my hard place?

Or are these things just nice thoughts to start the day with, but they have no ultimate power to impact my reality?

Following and Sacrifice

At first thought, following Jesus seems easy. It seems a matter of changing your mind about who Jesus is, recognising and accepting him as Saviour, and acknowledging him as King and Ruler. I suppose it is easy, relatively speaking, to see ‘following Jesus’ as a ‘decision’. Western Christianity often focuses on people making ‘decisions’ to follow Jesus, or to accept him as Saviour. In some places, these decisions are pretty much the only thing that matters. So, evangelism strategies and even services are focussed around getting people to make those decisions.

Many people who operate from an atheist or agnostic point of view will sometimes ‘the decision’ as the major battleground: with the focus being on the intellectual arguments as to why someone should follow Jesus, or whether there is a God, or an afterlife, or whatever. This makes some sense, because the primary battleground is the inner realities of human life: the heart, the mind, the will, the soul. People do need to assess who Jesus is with their mind, they do need to yield their will and bow before Jesus’ supreme and majestic authority. People do need to offer themselves – to give their heart – to this King as worshipful subjects.

Even so, if all I give is my inner realities, as significant as that may be, I don’t think I have begun to follow Jesus the way he intends me to follow. The inner realities are the starting point, sure, but those realities are connected to my behaviour and my attitudes. Here’s the rub: Jesus wants the change in your inner reality to come to concrete, consistent, continual expression in a changed life. Behaviour. Values. Attitudes. Talk. Generosity. Relationships. Business ethic. Lifestyle. Eating habits. Sexuality. Yep, pretty much everything.

This is why yesterday’s thought was so challenging: ‘think of those areas where you are not obeying Jesus, and start changing them now.’

See, friends, it is easy to ignore the call to changed behaviour and attitudes, and just concentrate on the ‘inner life’. We’re OK with change, as long as we can ‘spiritualise’ it, and restrict that change to comfortable areas like ‘growing in knowledge’, or ‘having a stronger faith’. Stressing ‘inner change’ while neglecting behaviour change is like paying attention to the safety features of your car, but still driving like a maniac. It makes no sense. It endangers to your life and the life of others. James the Apostle reminds us that the Devil has excellent knowledge of God, and that inner faith without outward expression is nothing but death.

So, God is calling you and me to change. Real change. Change that will be difficult. Jesus, in Luke 9, says that following him is like losing your life (9:24).

Are you up for that?

Are you prepared to change those things in your behaviour and in your attitudes that you know really do need to change? Are you prepared to put to death your love of wealth? Or your proclivity to gossip? Or your thirst for influence? Are you prepared to step into the compassionate lifestyle God calls you to have? Are you prepared to reduce your personal comfort to maximise your engagement with God’s mission? Are you committed to loving the people as an expression of the love for God in you?

Jesus gave his life for you on that terrible torturous cross. He counted his heavenly glory as nothing. But is following him actually costing you anything?

True. There are burdens that come as a consequence of truly following Jesus. They are felt when you start working out what God has worked in you (Philippians 2:12-13). And while it’s not a popular thing to say to comfortable western Christians, these burdens hurt and they chafe and they are weighty. This is what Jesus calls your cross (Luke 9:23).

You want to follow? Then take up your cross. Take it up daily. And, knowing he has called you, this cross, his cross on your shoulders, becomes easy, and light.

One last thing: Jesus never calls you to do this work on your own. Through his Spirit, he is present with you. He will give strength and endurance. He will give you all you need to follow, to change, to carry his cross.

So, about that change: what will it be for you? Make a commitment now: write it down, share your change with a friend, and ask them to keep you accountable.

Follow Me!

Reading Matthew 4 this morning I was again struck by how this very simple passage communicates such profound and (possibly) unnerving truths about Jesus.

Jesus shows up at the Sea of Galilee, and proceeds to call his first disciples. There is no promotional tour, no bus with a banner, no advertising campaign. Jesus just shows up, and says ‘Follow me”. Two words. Two little words. But they contain a universe of meaning.

Surprising

Jesus words are surprising in their simplicity. Simon, Andrew, James and John had no idea who this Jesus was. And we do not know what compelled them to leave their livelihoods, their trade, and follow. But they did. It is a surprising outcome.

Uncompromising

Jesus words are uncompromising. Very un-politically correct. There is no ‘please consider’ or ‘if you wouldn’t mind’ or even an ‘excuse me, but…’. They are a bold, bare imperative. A command. “Come, follow me”. Amazingly, the four men left their nets and followed him immediately.

All of us have behaviour and attitudes in our day to day lives which are destructive and which have to stop. Or things which are disobedient to God, which work against the world he desires. Or the sort of pure and simple indifference where we couldn’t give a toss. Jesus uncompromising call comes to us today and says, “follow me.”

George MacDonald, quoted in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, says “It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him, if you do not do anything he tells you … but you can begin at once to be a disciple of the Living One, by obeying him in the first thing you can think of in which you are not obeying him. We must learn to obey him in everything, and so must begin somewhere.”

It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him, if you do not do anything he tells you

So: think of those areas where you are not obeying Jesus, and follow his uncompromising call. Why wait? Do it now.

Audacious

It’s an audacious claim, isn’t it? Whether it is Jesus’ words to the four followers, or his word to you, the implication is that Jesus’ rule over people is both universal and absolute. The audacity is that Jesus’ claim is presented as simply true. True, whether you accept this reality or not.

Jesus’ call to the four men, and their surprising and equally uncompromising decision to follow – and therefore obey – shows us not only that Jesus is true ruler. His claim also shows us that his rule starts in the hearts and lives of those who follow him. With people. Jesus’ followers are, in a sense, under new management. Jesus is directing their lives, and the impact is seen very clearly. In a sense, every follow says ‘Jesus is in charge, and this is what it looks like.’

Q: what would be the first things to change in your life if you were to follow Jesus and obey him in those areas where you currently are not obeying him?

PS. If you are intrigued by the phrase “Jesus is in charge, and this is what it looks like”, and you’d like to know more about Jesus (without all the religious clutter) I encourage you to get a copy of NT Wright’s new book, “Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters” . Wright’s book opens our eyes to deeply scriptural emphases and to the life changing reality of Jesus. Koorong still notes the book as ‘not yet printed’ but you can definitely get it on line at Amazon and The Book Depository (and the latter does not charge freight!!). If you have a Kindle, iPad, or other eReader, you can access a copy right now.