Like a beer on a hot day…

Who would have thought that those who live and share the good news of Jesus are like a beer on a hot day? Not just to other people, but to God.

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No. It had never occurred to me, either.

But my reading this morning took me to Proverbs 25:

Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him; he refreshes the spirit of his master. (Prov 25:13, NIV)

It says nothing about beer, but a snow cooled drink? Imagine how wonderful that would have been to a culture which knew nothing about refrigeration.

It took me back to days in western Sydney, moving house with a friend. It was such a hot day, and we stopped – briefly – at the Plumpton Inn for a breather. We both bought a gloriously cold beer – it was so good. We even breathed the involuntary ‘aaaaahh’ as a chaser.

This is what it’s like to share the news about Jesus. God looks on. He’s with us and in us, working through us. He knows our efforts aren’t perfect (have to say that as a Calvinist), but being gracious he observes what we do, and as we do it faithfully, it’s like a beer on hot day to him. ‘Aaaaahh … that’s so good!’

Not sure about you, but that thought seeds a growing desire to share more of the good news of Jesus!

The prayer in “Seeking God’s Face” today reads as follows:

Sending God, never let me think the call to share the good news of Jesus is for a select few. You send me, along with the whole church, to all people with the gospel. May my obedience as a messenger of the gospel be refreshing to you, like a cool drink on a sweltering summer day (Canons of Dordt. II.5)

 

True Christianity Seen in Charleston’s Forgiveness

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Last week WAToday journalist Neil McMahon described Fred Nile’s views on marriage as ‘jurassic’. Apparently, anyone who upholds a traditional, let alone a view of marriage grounded in Scripture, is a bit of a dinosaur.  McMahon’s words are another indication of the growing distance between traditional Christianity and current views in society. The challenges are huge, and sometimes confrontational.

Much could be said about the often ad hominem nature of such attacks on Christian leaders and the church, although most can see these ungracious and unthinking words for what they are. Even so, I welcome the challenge being placed before the church today. Every new question, even words of attack, give Christians an opportunity to give account for the hope they have.

If you were ever wondering what Christianity is about, and why it has survived for 2000 years, and then, through trials and in circumstances considerably more foreboding than our current social climate, you need go no further than what we see unfolding in Charleston, South Carolina.

Last week the world looked on in horror as reports unfolded of how Dylann Roof entered the American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the oldest African American congregation in the country, and murdered nine innocent people. Those murdered had warmly welcomed him into their Bible discussion groups just one hour earlier. At Roof’s first court appearance last Friday, family members were permitted to make statements to the Court where Roof made his first appearance after the shooting.

What did those people say? What characterised their words? Bitterness? White knuckled rage? Seething desire for revenge?

No. What we saw was Christianity in action. We saw the power of there Risen Jesus at work in his people. We were confronted with words of grace and forgiveness. These words were so powerful, so other worldly, they could only have come from those possessed by the Spirit of Christ.

See for yourself:

“I just want everyone to know, I forgive you. You took something really precious from me [her mother]. I will never be able to talk to [my mother] again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. May God have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you. And I forgive you.”

…words were so powerful, so other worldly, they could only have come from those possessed by the Spirit of Christ…

“I forgive you. My family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ. So that he can change it. Change your ways no matter what happened to you, and you’ll be ok. Do that. And you’ll be better off than what you are right now.”

“We welcomed you Wednesday night to our Bible Study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful people I know. Every fibre in my body hurts. And, and, I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But, as we said in our Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on your soul.”

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof, that they lived in love and their legacies live in love. So hate won’t win.”

“Depayne Doctor was my sister. And I too thank you, on behalf of my family, for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress. And I acknowledge I am very, angry. But one thing that Depayne taught me, is that we are, the family that Love built. We have no room for hating! So we have to forgive. And I pray God [have mercy] on your soul.”

Christians everywhere are deeply moved by their example. We thank God for their grace and courage. May their words be echoed, repeated, whispered – through our tears – for years to come.

What is Christianity? It is how God, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, breaks the power of evil in human lives, and through his Spirit begins transforming them, and their world, so Jesus’ new life comes to glorious expression .

This is the Christianity, the Jesus, the Gospel our world needs to see and believe.

And yes, Neil McMahon, such words are old, but they carry more power and grace than you can imagine. They change lives. They heal hurts. And they breathe life into our world’s most broken and tragic places.

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

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.

This Is What Forgiveness Looks Like

On May 20, 2012, 18 year-old Takunda Mavima was driving home drunk from a party when he lost control and crashed his car into an off-ramp near Grand Rapids, Michigan. Riding in the car were 17 year-old, Tim See, and 15 year-old, Krysta Howell. Both were killed in the accident.

Takunda Mavima lived.

Mavima pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to between 30 months and 15 years in prison.

Despite their unimaginable grief and anger, both the sister and the father of victim, Tim See, gave a moving address to the court on behalf of Mavima, urging the judge to give him a light sentence.

“I am begging you to let Takunda Mavima make something of himself in the real world — don’t send him to prison and get hard and bitter, that boy has learned his lesson a thousand times over and he’ll never make the same mistake again.”

And when the hearing ended, the victim’s family made their way across the courtroom to embrace, console, and publicly forgive Mavima.

Make sure this image sticks with you forever:

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Photo Credit, Chris Clark, Grand Rapids Press.

There will be a time in your life when someone will wrong you. God forbid they take the life of your child. But it will happen. And what matters most isn’t how it happened, but how you respond to it.

And if you’re a person of faith, the calling is even greater. The gospel of forgiveness isn’t a high calling for the heroic individual, or a counter-cultural description of heavenly perfection. It is a principle central to the gospel itself – the very heart of our faith in which we are called to embody.

In the swelling sea of human destruction, the little story of Takunda Mavima and a family from Michigan is a lighthouse on a hill, a beacon of hope, guiding the way for all our ships to pass through.

Right now, how can you prepare yourself with a clear plan of action to forgive in the darkest of times?

This post was written by @JustinZoradi and is used with permission. It first appeared on Justin’s blog, and later on Don Miller’s Storyline

Justin

A better story – and why I haven’t blogged for the last six months

Let me start by apologising for not posting anything for the last six months. You might be wondering what happened…

Well, over time, I had gone cold on the whole idea of posting. My feelings varied. One day I wanted to pick it up again, and the next day I’d be thinking ‘who wants to read this anyway?’

I suppose with everything that happened with my exit from Redlands, my confidence had been slam dunked. I would be the first to say that I do not always find criticism easy to manage. But in this case what was said (admittedly by a small number of people) disturbed and appalled me. It left me bruised, broken, and damaged.

You can move on physically and take up residence on the other side of the country. But those voices stayed with me. They worked to undermine my desire to write regularly. They attacked my ability to pastor with confidence, to preach with a sense of urgency and passion, to do anything worthwhile, really. Maybe it was only those close to me that noticed my struggle, or felt it. Most of the time I survived by pushing through these darker times, praying that God would help me through, and that he would enable me to stand.

It’s an odd thing, really, how voices of untruth and ungrace can be so dogged and persistent in your mind. Rationally, of course, you can work it all through. You know what has been said is a lie. You know it is untrue. You’re aware of all the other dynamics in the situation. But beyond all your rationalisation, the evil one delights to use these voices as his own. He uses them to undermine the reality of what Jesus has done in you and for you. The accuser always attempts to recast Gospel reality into an ugly, chaotic falsehood.

In my case, those voices spoke to my own insecurities. They exposed my tendency to want to do things in my own strength. To protect myself with my own defences. To answer the voice of accusation with my own resources. What a curse self reliance is. How much better to have answered as Jesus did, throwing himself on the faithfulness of the Father, and citing the Word to the accuser’s face.

So, in reality, an absence of writing was an indication that the voices of the past were still demonising me.

So, what has changed? Well, I am seeking to live more in the strength of Jesus and his work in me and for me. It is his reality which determines who I am today and what I do. His truth sets the agenda, and it conquers every malicious voice the accuser might seek to use.

Of course, I have known Jesus’ reality for around four decades now. And it’s true that I never ‘unknew’ those wonderful truths. But it’s also true that everything which has happened has given me a fresh opportunity to embrace and own the good news again. It’s a daily decision to follow truth, and to place your trust in it.

Over recent months I have been reading posts from Don Miller’s Storyline blog. Miller’s blog has example after example of people impacted deeply by the grace of Jesus, and who want to live in that reality.

A few years ago, I read Miller’s book ‘A Million Miles in a Thousand Years’ Here again, the book works with the story metaphor. It challenged me to think of what kind of story I am living, what kind of part I am playing, what kind of character I am becoming.

Million Miles

Then, a few weeks ago, I had one of these ‘aha’ moments. It is reflected in how often the first person pronoun is used in the last sentence of the previous paragraph. Here is the profound reality: I get to make the decisions about my story, my part, my character. Sure, God is sovereign, and I believe that were it not for his love my will would be bound in all rebellion and the fall. But in his grace I am still a free agent. Jesus calls me to live his new life and his better way. On top of that, Jesus lives in me through his Spirit, recreating my inner nature, and empowering me – albeit imperfectly – to follow where he leads.

…because of Jesus, I get to decide how my story will unfold…

Here’s the point: Because of Jesus, I get to decide where my life is going, and how my story is unfolding. And those voices? Well, they don’t get to shape my story any more. No longer do they have the capacity to influence the unfolding events of my life.

I own my story. And in Jesus’ name I am embracing his work of change and transformation. Those ugly voices will still appear from time to time. But the grace of Jesus speaks a more beautiful and liberating reality.

Thanks for listening…

Dave

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?