John Wesley On Love

John Wesley, in his sermon On Love from 1 Corinthians 8:3, “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing”, articulates a love that must be rooted in a love for God for any of our works to be considered good. This is a good reminder of how we are to have a deep deep love for God grounding us in our love for others. An insight into the kind of love, and attitude of love, we should strive for when serving others.

Though I should give all substance of my house to feed the poor, though I should do so upon mature choice and deliberation; though I should spend my life in dealing it out to them with my own hands, yea, and that from a principle of obedience; though I should suffer from the same view, not only reproach and shame, not only bonds and imprisonment, and all this by my own continued act and deed, not accepting deliverance; but, moreover, death itself; yea, death inflicted in a manner the most terrible to nature: yet all this, if I have not love, [“the love of God, and the love of all mankind shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Ghost given unto me”] it profiteth me nothing.

Better Together For Mission

The title of this post is the title I have for the sermon I’m preaching this coming Sunday.

It’s causing me issues.

I’ve spent most of this morning writing and deleting words from my screen. I haven’t been able to put into words the things I need to say and so currently have very little to say.

Part of this post is to enable me to write something that may actually trigger what I want to say come Sunday.

Of course, I’m hoping to say what God wants me to say. As I do every time I preach. But that’s all well and good when the words flow, the passage makes sense, and the topic is an easy one.

So far these have alluded me.

When thinking about ‘Better Together For Mission’ there comes to mind the group or communal aspect of mission.

Mission is not a solitary exercise between one individual to another, although it could be. But even when it seems to be this way there is usually prayers from church members or mission supporters that are being lifted up and heard by God, therefore having an impact upon the situation.

In a local church context there are programs run by numerous people within the church, another example of community working together for mission.

Where programs aren’t a big emphasis then the daily mission task of the average Christian is being encouraged weekly through the Sunday gathering with a reminder of what it is to be a believer during the week.

The point is that mission is not individualistic, it is communal. And so the partnership between individuals, the church, and God is evident in each and every mission activity we do.

But this still doesn’t resolve my problem.

If mission is something that is part of the whole of life as a believer then mission is life. It isn’t some part of life, it is the driving force behind a purposeful life.

The reality is this kind of focus and priority isn’t seen as regularly within the church and the Christian life as we’d like. Unfortunately it’s more like a bit part, something that comes to our minds only when we’ve been reminded that God has a mission for us here in the world.

On one hand we could say that mission is a communal exercise, even if we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, with a language we hardly understand, and a culture we find confusing. But it must be ingrained in us to think that mission is a natural part of living. A life focused on another mission – to earn heaps of money, to climb the corporate ladder, to write a Pulitzer prize – is one that doesn’t give God the priority. These things may come our way but they aren’t the driving force in life, they are second to the mission of follow Jesus. be more like him, and see others come to know him too.

As I write these words my mind is cynical about what I’m writing. Is this the reality of the Bible? Is it simply simplistic to write this and how does this play out in life?

I’m not sure right now and I’m not sure when I’ll be sure. Perhaps this speaks more of me than of what God’s mission is for the world.

But if there is a focus on anything but Jesus then something is wrong. That I know for sure.

Perhaps that’s the answer right there.

We won’t be involved in what God is doing around the world, whether right next door to where we live or 4000km away, unless we have Jesus as the focus, priority, and central aspect to our whole life.

If Jesus isn’t the centre of our life then his mission for us won’t be the centre of our thought.

If Jesus isn’t the centre of our church then his mission won’t be the centre of our local ministry,

If Jesus isn’t the centre then something else will be and we will lose out on being part of God’s mission.

A Radically Ordinary Faith

There is much written about the radical nature of following Jesus.

The call to come and follow Him.

The call to take up your cross.

The call to be a radical disciple.

Whatever way you put it Christianity can be portrayed as some type of hyper-enthusiastic, always active, and amazingly awesome life.

And then you have to clean the dishes currently lying in the sink, change the babies nappy, make your bed, or put the rubbish out.

That’s not amazing.

That’s mundane.

That’s ordinary.

A Radically Ordinary Faith

And what do you do with a verse like 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you…”?

Sounds pretty ordinary to me.

There can be a tendency to believe we’re not ‘radical’ enough in our faith,  that we’re not doing enough radical stuff with our lives. The implication of this is that we’re not being obedient. We’re not living up to the kind of discipleship required of us as followers of Jesus.

But when we think this way we begin to diminish the life God has given us.

If God has created us, made us who we are, and has us in the place we currently find ourselves in, then perhaps we can trust that our faith is ‘radical’ enough.

This isn’t to be used as an excuse for laziness, a reason to neglect serving others, and avoiding any form of growth in our faith. But, our faith must be something that relates to and be relevant to our daily lives.

I always find it inspiring to hear of the adventures and opportunities missionaries have as they serve God overseas. It’s inspiring to see people get involved in missions, church planting, and other evangelism initiatives. Every now and then I get an email from a university worker working with international students. The stories that are shared are quite incredible, hearing of the way people are attracted to hearing more about faith and understanding the Bible for themselves. Some of these stories are very encouraging.

And so it’s inspiring to see the work people are doing, and even more exciting to see people become interested in knowing more about Jesus. But I’m not sure they’d tell you they’re being radical in their faith because of the work they’re doing, and neither will a missionary or a pastor. The work is often very ordinary.

And so what does a radical faith look like for freshly minted teaching graduate who is in the middle of a long first year, struggling to find time to read their Bible because the nightly preparation takes so long. Or the plumber who has been dealing with crap all day, trying to spend time with the family among the household chores. Or the mum who looks after the children, who is waiting for her partner to arrive home from work in order to help her out.

What does ‘radical’ faith mean for them?

It may be me in my most cynical moments, where I totally turn deaf to this call to be radical, but I’m not sure whether telling people to be more radical is helpful. To me, it adds another burden, another layer of guilt, where I end up feeling my faith isn’t good enough and I need to do more. I see the need to make the call for people to be more radical in their faith, many of us aren’t. But at the same time, what does it mean for my faith to be relevant in the mundane?

What do you think?

The Eighth Sin: Apathy

I’m inspired by today’s The Dailypost topic “The Eighth Sin”.

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First, I’m intrigued that sin is still talked about. Outside of the church I don’t hear too many people talking about sin. It should be talked about more. I’m glad to see it on the radar here in this little exercise.

Second, what came to mind when thinking about what might be the eighth cardinal sin was apathy.

When reflecting on the past couple of weeks I can’t help but think we’re an apathetic people.

This is an apathy that is best wrapped up in the saying, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’. But because of the information age we’re in there is no real excuse for being out of sight. My social media feeds are filled with people sharing articles and posts written about the persecution of Christians in Iraq and the terrible conflict in Gaza. Yet, as I reflect further I notice that it’s only a handful of people that are talking about this, or commenting or liking.

I don’t expect everyone to have their say. For some it’s not a forum where people wish to discuss or even mention their views on anything. Yet, that is one of the main reasons we are so apathetic.

Apathy allows us some emotional distance from what is going on for others. Apathy means we don’t make a stand when we should. Apathy means we don’t give a voice to the voiceless. We let injustice run its course.

To be apathetic means we don’t care. And that’s sad.

Not everyone can care about everything. That’s impossible in such a complex and issue-ridden world. But on things that aren’t ‘issues’ but are to do with the life and death of human beings, then perhaps we do need to care. Perhaps we need to shake off the comfort and ease of apathy. Perhaps we need to confess we are sinners and one sin that affects us is our apathetic nature.

Thankfully sin is forgiven, even our apathy. Yet this doesn’t mean we don’t have to change. Just as the sin of apathy is forgiven through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the ability to change and work toward a more just world, a world where the voiceless are heard, is achieved through the continual trust in Him and His rule.

Jesus And My To-Do List

tdlistWhy is it that I often walk out of church on a Sunday morning feeling more guilty and with more on my to-do list than I did walking in?

I’ve had this occur numerous times over the last couple of years. I’m not sure if it says more about me or the church service and preacher. I can’t help wondering whether it’s my expectations of what it is to go to church and worship that leaves me wanting. Nevertheless, I occasionally walk out having that sense of needing to do more in the coming seven days.

I’m a preacher myself, so I know I need to work hard on the application of my sermons. The explanation of the Bible and understanding of the passage can be worked through slowly or quickly but application needs to be there…somewhere. And it is within this application section that I need to know that the burdens I’ve been carrying for the last however long can be lifted. That my cares can be taken care of. That I can hope and know God is in control of all things.

I need to be reassured that I don’t have to do anything more this week to have God love me more. 

I know God. I know God because of my faith in Jesus and his work on the cross. Through that work he has enabled me to have my sin forgiven and be in a relationship with Him.

I understand this will mean I will need to change. Following Jesus means growing as a disciple. This happens over time and with the Lord’s help.

But when I am weary from a week where I know I’ve sinned throughout, where I didn’t read my Bible as much as I’d like, where things haven’t gone right, then I come to church seeking comfort, seeking encouragement, and to be reminded that God still loves me and is taking care of me.

Of course, I may know this at a cognitive level. I may know this at an emotional level. But I need to know that this is the case again this week. Just as it was the last.

This reminder may happen through the Scripture passage, or through the words of the preacher in explaining the text, or through the application part of the sermon.  Whatever way it may be it needs to occur in a way where the application doesn’t mean I walk out with more to-dos this week.

Because guess what?

When Jesus died he didn’t add a single to-do to my list. He took many, many, many to-dos away though. When Jesus died he didn’t add guilt to my burdens, he took them all and dealt with them.

So, preacher (and I speak to myself as much as any other), preach Jesus. Preach Jesus in such a way as to articulate what he’s done without adding more to my week and my to-do list. Please.

God and Vocation

Aimee Byrd recently wrote a little post about vocation, with a pretty cool story to go with it, and used a Gene Veith quote. I thought it was relevant to yesterday’s post on where God is.

…vocation is played out not just in the extraordinary acts—the great things we will do for the Lord, the great success we envision in our careers someday—but in the realm of the ordinary. Whatever we face in the often humdrum present—washing the dishes, buying groceries, going to work, driving the kids somewhere, hanging out with our friends—this is the realm into which we have been called and in which our faith bears fruit in love. We are to love our neighbors—that is, the people who are actually around us, as opposed to the abstract humanity of the theorists. These neighbors constitute the relationships that we are in right now, and our vocation is for God to serve them through us. (p59)

Where Is God?

When on a short-term mission trip the end of each day is usually set aside for a team debrief. In this setting I often ask the question “Where have you seen God today?”

It is a question I find hard to answer myself.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on how some people seem to be able to answer this question of God’s presence easily while others don’t.

I’m one of the people that don’t.

It’s not that God isn’t around. I know He is. In fact, it would be rather depressing if God wasn’t around and you couldn’t see His hand in the world.

But in the daily grind, while eating breakfast, working in the office, looking after the kids, fiddling with our phones, and doing what we do it’s often hard to spot God’s presence. It’s not like each day is filled with overwhelming awe for life and the tasks to do during the day. Many days are similar, many days a filled with challenges as well as joys.

I can’t say God is in the joys without saying He’s in the challenges either. To say God is only in the joy-filled moments of life not only cuts Him out of much of the ordinary but also downplays the importance of His presence in the challenging times.

In some respects it’s about perspective. A greater awareness of God will bring a greater awareness of His presence in our days.

I was reminded of this as I read Ephesians 1-2 this morning. Paul talks in such lofty terms but reminds us of what He has done for us through His Son. Much of the passage is to do with what God has granted us through the work of His Son. And while the passage doesn’t talk directly about His presence in the world we can see the way He does work and so must be working today. The fact that He has chosen, predestined, adopted, blessed, redeemed, forgiven, lavished upon, made known, and given an inheritance to His people assumes He’s still doing that today. And if He’s still doing that today then He’s still at work, which means He’s still present.

So where have I seen God today? All around.

In what exactly? In the people I talk to. In the shopping centre I visit. In the driver I pass on the freeway. In the cafe I sit in. In the home I live in.

I’m not sold on the idea that He is in everything, like in the salt and pepper shakers I have in front of me. But His presence is in this world and I need to be more observant of it.

So, what about you? Where have you seen God today?