Sex – The Relationship Challenge

How do we manage the sexualisation of our culture?

How can we help our kids develop healthy relationships when they see sexual imagery at every turn and mouse click?

This is the first of the new series The Relationship Challenge, and it’s all about sex. You can read it here
 
This is the first in the latest series, looking at various cultural dynamics impacting on relationship formation.
 
Feel free to comment on the blog.
 
Much love,
 
Dave

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

Church Health and the call to change

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My last post addressed the need to be clear about the Gospel: bringing the person and work of Jesus to expression in everything we do. This is not a new challenge. Church history shows how keeping Christ at the centre of public, corporate and private life has not been easy.

This was the burden of the protestant reformation in the 16th-17th Century. The church had become bogged down with theology, structures and traditions which, to put it mildly, did not help people know Jesus and grow in him.

People like Martin Luther and John Calvin sought to bring the church back to the centrality of Jesus, clarity in the Gospel, the supremacy of the Word. This sounds good to us, but it was not a popular move with the established Church hierarchy. Luther ended up with a bounty on his head. Calvin had to move several cities before his teaching base could be established.

But here’s the thing: These men never assumed that once they had corrected the emphases of the church of the time, once they had returned to a more biblical base, that their work was over. They knew it wasn’t possible to reform the church once and for all. They knew the human heart, even the redeemed human heart, was slippery and mercurial. So any effort to draw the church toward a more biblical base would never be a perfect work, and those men and women who strove to give good leadership knew the fallibility of their own perceptions and conclusions.

This is why we’ll often say ‘a reformed church is always reforming’: the work of reformation is ongoing.

we can be faced with a situation where we really need to change some of our established ways, but find it very hard because we love those traditions too much

This presents us with a challenge. Churches work with people, and are led by people. Over time churches develop established ways of doing things. These established ways become traditions because they work well and give people a sense of security. This is good as far as it goes, but it gets complicated because culture moves on, and our ways of relating change. At such times we can be faced with a situation where we really need to change some of our established ways, but find it very hard because we love those traditions too much.

So much of what we call the ‘worship wars’ would have been avoided if we all recognised that the Scripture’s call for us to effective Gospel communication requires the positive embrace of change to that end. Perhaps this is the biggest challenge to the established church today: to be both diligent in ensuring the biblical basis of the church is retained and vigilant in doing the best it can for Gospel transformation to take root in the lives of people.

Question: how do we strive for a positively cultural relevant Gospel without accommodating our culture, thus making the gospel devoid of power?

PS. All the very best of the Lord’s richest blessing for the New Year. And yes, I am on leave, but while on leave I still do the things I love and which energise me.

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.

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.

God and Treasure

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We hear a lot today about nations operating in the national interest. Sometimes, hopefully often, that is a good thing. Like keeping people safe and protecting them from aggression. There are times though, when ‘national interest’ is code for naked national self-centredness.

The book of Exodus was written after God delivered his people from a superpower which, to put it bluntly, was just operating in the national interest.

Ancient Egypt was a mighty nation, dominating the world stage at the time. And Pharaoh was using the people of Israel as cheap labour – the cheapest, actually, because they were slaves and had no choice in the matter.

So God’s people cried out. And the Lord heard their cry.

Pharaoh, however, ignored it. He made the people of Israel work even harder. Worked them to death.

Why?

Because Pharaoh valued production above people. Pharaoh would have fitted comfortably into some of today’s developing world labour markets. Places where the dollar matters most, where questions are never asked about the actual human cost of the item or the project.

Into this kind of ugliness came the Lord of life: Yahweh the Rescuer, the Saviour.

“The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey — the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (Exodus 3:7–9, NIV)

The Lord hates it when any people are oppressed. Even more so when they are his people. So he led them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He led them across the Red Sea on dry ground. The Lord did this because of his covenant with Israel. He had promised to bless them, and make them a blessing. He had promised to make their descendants as numerous as they stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. God’s promises matter. He never goes back on his word.

So now, with the Red Sea sand still stuck between their toes, as they camped on the border, ready to enter the land of promise, God renewed his covenant with them:

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”” (Exodus 19:4–6, NIV)

These verses show the kind of nation Israel was to be:

First, in contrast to Egypt, and other nations, Israel was not to be a nation driven by seeking treasure. They would find their comfort in being treasure. Yahweh’s treasure! They would not need to find their security or significance in things because Yahweh was their security. The fact that they were loved and saved and rescued by him was their significance.

Second, Yahweh called Israel to be a kingdom of priests. It sounds like an odd thing for a country to be. How can a nation have a priestly function?

Well, we know that a priest is someone who represents others in a religious context. A mediator. A go between.

So, Israel was to represent the nations to the Lord. They were to bring the needs of the nations around them to his throne of grace. In times of famine they were to pray. They were to act compassionately in times of disaster. They were to ask the Lord to be merciful and gracious to all the peoples around them.

But it wasn’t just bringing the nation’s needs to the Lord. They were also to bring the Lord and his will to the nations. They would proclaim the truth of God and invite other nations to accept him in faith and live under his covenant. As priests, then, they spoke on the nation’s behalf to God, and on God’s behalf to the nations.

Third, they were to be a holy nation. We tend to think holiness has to do with religious acts and places. In the Old Testament, holiness is not first and foremost religious acts and things. Holiness is a personal quality. To be holy is to be separate, to be distinct, to be set aside for a particular purpose.

So, thinking that through, how would this nation show their holiness? The answer is that they would reflecting the character of the Lord in their national and personal lives. This would happen as they followed the Lord’s commands as a nation and as individuals:

1. worship only God
2. worship no idols
3. use God’s name only with reverence
4. remember the Sabbath day, allowing for rest and worship
5. Honour your father and your mother
6. You shall not murder
7. You shall not commit adultery
8. You shall not steal
9. You shall give false testimony or lie
10. You shall not covet what belongs to others

As God’s people did this, they would be displaying a life and values radically different from Egypt and every other nation on earth.

 

…a life and values radically different from every other nation on earth … this transformed life is one of the ways they would be a blessing

 

What was their motivation? Well, they did not obey in order to be loved and rescued. Yahweh already loved them and rescued them. They were already his special possession. The answer is that their obedience was all about gratitude and thanksgiving. It was not a requirement to earn love, but a response to the love the Lord had freely given. This changed and transformed life would be one of the ways they would be a blessing to the nations around them.

It was as if the Lord was saying, you have come out of a nation where people treasured wealth and power more than people…

You will not live for treasure or possessions. You will live because you are my treasured possession.

You are a Kingdom of priests: you will bring the nations needs to me, and you will bring my will to the nations.

You will be a holy nation. You will separate yourself from all the dehumanising values of oppression that you saw in Egypt. You will be different, distinct, to all that.

This call presented Israel with their identity. They would be totally unique as compared with all the nations around them. The Lord’s work in them was to be a total reorientation of life. A radical alteration how they were to engage the world around them.

This call was to shape the national ethos of God’s people. In my next post I’ll pose the question of how that is relevant tot God’s people today.

– Dave

Enough… Money & Wealth

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Over the weeks of June I completed a short four week series at Gateway called “Enough… Money & Wealth”. The idea for the series title came from Compassion Australia “The opposite to poverty is not wealth… it is enough.” What does “Enough” mean? And would we be really satisfied if we had “Enough”? I find these troubling questions.

So, the series looked at how wealth and possessions shape our lives, the formation of our values, and consequently, the expression of our faith and the witness of our church.

I found this series challenging to preach. It’s always a challenge to preach, of course. But this series nailed me a little more than normal. More than other times I was aware that my own life was out of step with what God called his people to in his word. So, to keep myself honest, to let this conviction settle into action, I decided to serialise this series in some blog posts. As I rework them, I am praying that God will drive me to live them more determinedly.

I’d be really happy to have your interactions with these posts, and to engage in discussion via the comments. Let’s see if we can deepen our individual and corporate witness through this series.

I hope you find them as challenging as I did, and it’s my prayer that God will change us all through his word. May he depend our desire to follow him radically, and may his name be praised as we live to his glory.

Grace and peace,

– Dave

PS: It may be that occasional posts finish a little abruptly. This will be because I am trying to follow the basic text of my messages, where each point followed the other, instead of being punctuated by several days. So, I’ll try and make the transitions work as best I can for the blog format.