I love Jesus, but do I have to be radical?

My opening post reminded us that growth is natural and normal. It also openened up the thought that health is desirable. Whether we are talking about growing vegetables, human beings, organisations, or the church – it is a normal expectation to want them to be healthy.

As we worked through these concepts at Gateway, we began to think that God actually wants us to be radical followers of Jesus. But we knew the word using ‘radical’ would be a little risky. We hear how people become extremists by being taken in by a militant leader and radicalised over a period of time. Normally, the consequences of such actions are terrible.

At other times, when we hear the word ‘radical’ we think of those rent-a-crowd protesters we see on TV. People who don’t wash their hair, don’t eat meat, and don’t use deodorant. A caricature, I know, but you get the drift.

‘Radical’ may have some negative overtones in our culture, so we need to understand the word well. To be ‘radical’ is to go right to the core, right to the heart, right to the root. So, when we’re talking about being ‘radical disciples’ we’re talking about people who not only accept the teaching of their Master Jesus, who not only accept Jesus at an intellectual level. We are really talking about people who take his transforming grace right to the core of their lives, right to the heart of their values, right to the root of everything they seek to do and to become. To be a ‘radical disciple’ is to be as totally transformed by the grace of the Gospel as we possibly can be.

when we’re talking about being ‘radical disciples’ we’re talking about people who take his transforming grace right to the core of their lives

If this is what being a radical disciple is, then it is hard to imagine anything better than everyone being exactly that: a radical follower of Jesus.

Here’s the challenge: the call to be radical disciples pushes us away form some of the negative expressions of the church and Christians today.

Radical disciples are not people who keep their Christianity for Sunday, and who forget about Jesus’ claim on their lives as leave their palace of worship.

Radical disciples are not people who have an occasional thought about Jesus, or who restrict their ‘time with Jesus’ to 10 or 20 minutes every day. They don’t divide their time into ‘time for God’ and whatever the rest is: time without God? Who knows.

They are not people who worship every now and then. They don’t just put in an appearance at weekly gatherings, or who tilt at doing a ‘church job’ every now and then.

Here’s what radical disciples are: They want their entire life, everything they do, everything they think, to be an expression of the new life they have received in Jesus.

Every hour of every day they want to breathe the new heavens and the new earth, to be living, walking, talking, loving expressions of life the way God created it to be.

Radical disciples live in the profound privilege of bringing Jesus’ new creation to expression.

More and more they live and breathe this desire to honour God in everything: their family, their work, their sex life, their relationships, their leisure choices, their spending habits. Everything.

Radical disciples display something similar to my overzealous gardening habits: they check themselves out regularly to see whether they are growing. They know that growth is normal, growth is natural, and health is desirable.

Q: Do you think the call to be radical is helpful? Do you think we can make it a positive value in today’s cultural climate?

Next: Is the focus on growth something God calls us to in His word?

Being a disciple: Growth is normal and natural

I’ve been working on material which outlines some of the big picture responsibilities of the church today. I thought this material might be of interest to a wider audience, so here it is.

This material has already been preached at Gateway Community Church, and while these posts won’t be in the form of entire sermons, you are free to use the material in any way that helps you. Please give credit where credit is due…

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Since moving to Perth a few years ago, I’m developing a new appreciation for the challenges of gardening. We’re trying to grow a few vegetables, and it’s proving to be more difficult than I thought. This is basically because growing things in Perth is like trying to grow things at the beach. The last time I went to the beach, I did not see too many vegetable plots or rose gardens. Our problem is that our suburb used to be an actual sand dune. Actually, it still is a sand dune. It’s just that we have covered the sand dune with places to live.

So, if you want to grow some vegetables you will need to develop some skills in soil improvement. There is a lot to do: Add bentonite to create a loamy consistency. Add organic matter: compost, sheep manure, blood and bone. Keep an eye in the pH balance. Don’t forget to mulch your vegetable garden with lucerne hay.

In addition, I have been trying to become a more biblical gardener.

The prophet Zechariah talks about life in the new heavens and the new earth, and says ‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbour to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the LORD Almighty.’ (Zechariah 3:10, NIV)

I thought this was good advice, so I planted some a couple of grape vines and two olive trees. I know olive trees are not figs. But being olives, they are biblical enough for me.

Gardening teaches you patience. This is not an easy lesson to learn. So much is instant these days. Entertainment. Power. Hot water. Music. But this does not work with a garden. You plant the seed and wait. Nothing is fast. The fastest result will still be a few weeks away. Most of the time, you’ll be waiting at least two or three months to harvest some produce.

Growth is slow. I go out every other day and see how the plants have grown. I check the vines. Do they need more support? More training? De-budding?

I check the olive trees. I look for the tiny blossoms, sure signs that there will be a harvest. After a few weeks the flowers start setting to fruit, and things are looking positive.

Interestingly, one of our olive trees doesn’t have any flowers on it at all. This is a bit of a mystery. I go every other day, searching for those tell tale buds, but there’s nothing. Nada. Zip. And I think to myself: that’s just not right. It should have blossoms like the other one. It’s the same variety, it’s in the same stage of development, bought from the same old Italian man on the other side of town, propagated with the same arthritic hands, coaxed along in the same broken English. Identical contexts, but different result.

So I am wondering whether there’s something wrong with that second tree. It may have a problem. (You may even suggest that if I am going out there every other day to look for blossoms, maybe I am the one who has the problem!)

The question is: why am I thinking there might be something wrong with that tree?

I am asking that question because it is natural to grow, to be healthy, to be fruitful. Isn’t this the basic direction of life? Vegetables should grow and be fruitful. Olive trees should get buds and produce a delicious crop.

Growth is natural and when it is not happening we have to ask some important questions.

Same with people. We expect little ones to develop and thrive and grow and learn. Parents rejoice when their baby takes that first step, when they utter their first word. This is growth. It is natural. And it is very good.

It’s the same for people who follow Jesus. For Christians. For churches. Growth and development is the most natural thing. I’m not necessarily saying a church which grows in number is automatically healthy. I am pretty sure that a church which offered free beer every Sunday would probably experience some good growth. Doesn’t mean it would be healthy.

It is true, though, that healthy churches and healthy Christians grow.

As far as this post is concerned this is still an unproven statement. The next posts will build a case for growth. I hope they will challenge us into it. For now the lesson of the olive tree is probably enough. Growth is natural, and when it’s not happening, we have to ask some important questions.

Is your life about getting treasure, or being treasure?

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Returning to our discussion of money and wealth…

We recall that Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, God’s special possession (see Exodus 19 and my previous posts “God & Treasure” and “What is your Treasure?“).

That was then. What about now? Does that call still apply to us? If so, how should we respond? What bearing does it have on how we live, on how we view treasure, or possessions, or wealth?

The truth is that the call to be an alternate society, a contrast community, comes just as powerfully to us today as it did to Israel then. Right at the start of his ministry, Jesus made it clear that he was restoring what his Father had intended, and what Israel had failed to achieve. This had implications for all who followed Jesus. Their first priority was not to seek treasure and wealth. Their treasure was to live out God’s rule and be treasure.

Jesus says, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31–33, NIV) God was promising to bless them, provide for them, and bring his Kingdom to light through them.

Jesus addressed the matter of treasure directly in Matt 6:19-24. This passage has often troubled readers. People wonder what ‘treasures in heaven’ are, and whether they are working for the right stuff.

The nature of ‘treasure on earth’ is reasonably clear. By talking about ‘earth’ Jesus refers to the human domain and dimension. We seek earthly treasure when we build our lives and aspirations around the things that represent fallen humanity. In the context of Jesus’ metaphor, ‘earth’ is a place of decay, an impermanent existence where everything disappoints. The things we strive for: success, beauty, reputation, influence, possessions, the sense of security that our relative wealth brings – none of these things will last. None of these will deliver the life we aspire to, or the peace we long for. This is what it means to be ‘of the earth’. To store up ‘treasure on earth’, then, is to make these impermanent and ultimately unsatisfying things the focus of your life.

 

seeking ‘treasure in heaven’ is to build our life around the things of God

If earth is the impermanent dimension of humanity, then heaven is God’s dimension. Heaven is the place where his will is done perfectly. Where there is grace, beauty, justice, relationships of perfect love and integrity. These are things that will last. This is where life is perfectly centred in Jesus, expressing the full perfection of God’s original design.

So, seeking ‘treasure in heaven’ is to build our life around the things of God. To centre our lives and aspirations around the things that matter to him and the things that reveal his true intention for life and his world. Heaven is where God’s will is done. Heaven is where Jesus’ new life and his better way come to perfect expression. Grace, humility, justice, compassion, beauty, faithfulness – eloquently revealed in relationship with him.

When Jesus enters peoples lives, his rule comes to expression as they stop living to gain treasure, and instead start to live as treasure bringing love, forgiveness, care and mercy into every part of their lives.

Q: What one thing is God calling you to change? How would your life be different if you started to live this way every day? How would your church be different?

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