Published: Easter Reflection – Cleaning Feet

A little reflection piece I wrote about Easter was just published on the TGCA site.

You can find it here.

“Through his death on the cross Jesus has not just given us a symbol of humility and service but has acted in humility and service toward us. Jesus’ death provides us with the cleanliness we need. His death is the sacrificial service for our sin. It is an act that cleanses us. As Jesus washing his disciples feet, making them clean; so too Jesus’ death washes our hearts and makes us clean from sin.

As we solemnly remember the death of Jesus these next hours, as we enter into the remembrance of our Lord’s death, may we come to a new appreciation of this great act of humility and service, for us, for our neighbour, and for our world.

And boy, don’t we need it.”

You can read more articles I’ve written elsewhere here.

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Published: Hope In Distress

At the last minute I was tasked with preaching on Sunday. After contemplating what I should speak on, and not finding peace about any of my previous sermons, I landed on Psalm 142. This Psalm certainly spoke to me in the context of the last week–Christchurch and Cardinals, disaster and religious war. In the end I prepared as I could and preached the Psalm on the Sunday morning.

In the days after I turned the message into a piece published by The Gospel Coalition Australia. You can find the article here.

“The events of last week (or a look down our street, or an examination our own hearts) prove that we need rescuing. And through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the cross on which he died, we find that rescue.

Through  Jesus, and through the cross, we find our hope: hope in distress. And we can live in this hope knowing that God has already dealt with the evil of this world, and even our own pain and hurt and distress. He deals with us generously. He rescues and restores, comforts and consoles. Despite tragedy, we can hope and trust in God, our refuge and rescuer. May we say with the Psalmist, “Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him my Saviour and my God.” (Ps 42:11)”

Hope In Distress

Day 12 – You Are Made For Good Works

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Can you think of something you’ve done this week which you would categorise as ‘good’?

Perhaps you behaved well in class. Perhaps you went to church. Perhaps you ate well. Perhaps you opened the door for someone. Perhaps you didn’t swear when you got angry. Perhaps gave someone a birthday present. Perhaps you sent a loving text.

What did you do this week that was good?

Often we find ourselves thinking in terms of good or bad. Am I a good Christian? Have I done something good with my life? Have I achieved the good I want to this week or month? Have I got good marks?

Well, the bible speaks of believers being good. That is, that we have been created for good works. Did you know that?

You're More Than A Number - You Are Made For Good Works

It is very easy for us to believe that the good we do will help our standing before God. In reality this isn’t the case. Our good works don’t improve of lessen our standing before God in any way. His love for us in unchanging. To be right with God is not because of these ‘good works’ but because of what Jesus has done on the cross. God accepts us because of what He has done through Jesus, not from our good actions, behaviours, or thoughts.

It’s a radical gift.

It’s why the song ‘Amazing Grace’ came into being. It’s amazing because we haven’t done anything to deserve this gift. It is grace because it is a free gift from God to us.

And out of this radical gift of grace we find ourselves bursting forth with thanks, joy, and hope for life.

Off the back of this great news we recognise that God has created us to do good works. Because of the gift we’ve been given we seek to gift others by helping, loving, and serving others.

Listen to what Paul, the writer of a letter to the Ephesian church, says:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

God has shown his incredible riches, grace, and kindness through Jesus. And out of this amazing grace from God we find ourselves created to do good works. As we follow Jesus and put our trust in him we have a joy in doing good works for others. Our hearts are now turned to help and love others, we desire the best for others and so seek to help them through the good works we do.

God’s hands are all over this as he has moved in us to accept this grace, and continues to move us to desire the best for others. As we continue in our relationship with God we continue to be made more and more like His Son. In this we desire to seek and serve those around us, learning how to do the good works that he has prepared for us to do.

Incredible.

FOR REFLECTION

  • Do you realise how much grace God has given you through the person and work of his Son Jesus?
  • Out of this truth, what is the response you have?
  • What opportunities do you have to do good works for others this week?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved
  7. You Are Saved
  8. You Are Free
  9. You Are Chosen
  10. You Are A Child of God
  11. You Are A Slave

Day 6 – You Are Loved

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

In recent weeks Ed Sheeran has released another single. A few weeks ago he stated publicly that he wished to write his greatest love song, and with ‘Perfect’ he seems to have done that. It is the song that thousands of couples will now dance to on their wedding day. Here are some of the lyrics:

I found a love for me
Darling just dive right in
And follow my lead
Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet 
I never knew you were the someone waiting for me
‘Cause we were just kids when we fell in love
Not knowing what it was
I will not give you up this time

But darling, just kiss me slow, your heart is all I own
And in your eyes you’re holding mine
Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms
Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favourite song
When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

In writing this song Eddie expresses his deep love for his girl. In doing so he gives us word pictures about how he loves her so.

What a way to express love! What a way to express what someone means to you!

You're More Than A Number - You Are Loved

I wonder how you express love?

I wonder how you express the love you have for others – for your family, friends, pets, things you do, things you have?

The passage at the top of this post isn’t talking about romantic love like Ed Sheeran is. Nevertheless, it describes the love God has for us.

It describes the love God has for us as sacrificial love.

The writer points out that God has shown his love for us through the sending of his one and only son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.

The way God has shown his love for us is through Jesus. The way God has shown his love for us is through the cross.

It is a cross-bound, life-sacrificing love.

God has such strong affection for us, he cherishes us so much, that he is willing to die for us.

This is a love that is deeply personal and a love that is of commitment and faithfulness to us. This love, this affection for us, is displayed for us through the action of sacrifice. He loves us so much that he sent his one and only Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us. He loves us so much that he sent himself, in human form, to take our place on that cross.

This sacrificial love is the love that God has for us.

As one commentator has written, the term ‘atoning sacrifice’ is a phrase to “…emphasise that God sent Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice to remove the guilt we have incurred because of our sins so that we might have eternal life. This is the great expression of God’s love, and on this basis the author can say God is love.”

Due to our sin, both the sin we do as action and the sinful nature we find ourselves battling against as fallen creatures, we are in need of a saviour. Because of our sin we find that our hearts and minds are a mess. As we seek to deal with our own selfishness and brokenness and pain on our own we continue to place ourselves as king or queen over our own lives.

We become lovers of self, rather than lovers of God.

And so, we find God loving us through sending his one and only Son in order for our lives to be transformed. Transformed into life-giving, self-sacrificing, love-promoting hearts. Sin is forgiven, our hearts are changed, and we begin to be changed into creatures perfected by his love. All from him loving us first.

Ironically, Ed Sheeran’s song gets this. You may not remember but he sings,

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms
Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favourite song
When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Did you see it? Do you get it?

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Through God’s sacrificing love for us, through God expressing his love for us through the cross, we find that we are transformed from people who are messy to people perfected by love.

It is through this truth that we can know that we are indeed loved.

FOR REFLECTION

  • Do you know the love God has for you today?
  • What is your impression of God’s expressing his love for you through sacrifice?
  • How will you hold onto this truth as you do what you do today?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed

Assurance In Uncertain Times

In times of uncertainty stress levels rise, anxiety increases, and the ability to make wise decisions can decrease. We live in a time of uncertainty, both locally and globally. There are many depressing stories on the news and in our social media feeds that continue to promote fear, instability, and uncertainty. With these things at the forefront of our minds we can feel the tension rise within us.

At our church we’ve recently begun a series, “Assurance In Uncertain Times”, working through the Letter of 1 John. This is a letter written in the first-century to a group of people living in uncertain times. Given the current climate we find ourselves in it becomes a relevant and fresh voice for us.

Assurance In Uncertain TimesOutside the believing community we find a distinct lack of confidence in the church, rightly or wrongly. There are continual critical voices, and in many ways this is to be expected. It’s happened for many years and will continue to happen for many years to come. But right now the coming couple of months will be a telling time for the Christian witness here in Australia.

Inside the church an erosion of our faith and core convictions can also occur. A variety of idea and theologies, all deemed to be accepted in this post-everything age, means we live along a continuum of confusion. On one end we find the denial of Jesus’ divinity and humanity, the rejection of the atonement, and the casting aside of the resurrection. On the other end we find some form of moral over-reach where behaviour trumps belief. Law is placed over grace, and fear over love, which provides an open door for a distorted Christianity.

And so living a life of faith can get confusing. Assurance can be eroded and confidence can be diminished.

You may not be someone of faith, or you may have had a faith for a while now, nevertheless as we journey through life a sense of assurance is something we find ourselves searching for. This search for assurance, for confidence in our self, in what we believe to be true, is part of life’s quest. There are many areas and activities where this can be discovered, but for the Christian this is most clearly found in the love of Jesus. 1 John 3:16 reads, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Being assured of a God that loves us is a tremendous thing. With this knowledge we find a solution to our lack of assurance. We find confidence in knowing God loves us because his Son Jesus gave his life so we could find true life in God. As a result we seek to live lives that are humble and service-orientated toward others—families, neighbours, and community. Through the inward knowledge of the love of God comes the outward expression of love to others.

In uncertain times, where we aren’t assured of what is true, fear becomes one of the main drivers of our decision-making. The fear of the future, the fear of our children’s education, the fear of unemployment, the fear of family breakdown, the fear of relationship struggle all unhinges our assurance. Thankfully, through scripture, and particularly through the Letter of 1 John, this lack of assurance is overcome by the love God has for us, and in turn, our love for others.

Hudson Taylor On Love

“One thing, and one thing only, will carry men through all, and make and keep them successful; the love of Christ constraining and sustaining them is the only power. Not our love to Christ, nor, perhaps, even Christ’s love to us personally; rather His love to poor ruined sinners in us. Many waters will not quench that love, nor floods drown it. Pray that this love may be in us…”

This is Hudson Taylor, as quoted in ‘By Love Compelled‘ by Marshall Broomhall, p12-13.

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.

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.

Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs

loveandrespectEmerson Eggerichs, Love & Respect: The love she most desires, the respect he desperately needs (303 pages, Nashville, USA: Thomas Nelson), 2004.

Within the first three chapters Dr. Emerson Eggerichs will captivate your attention. It is within these early pages of his book that he describes the main premise of his book. That being, based on Ephesians 5:33, husbands are to unconditionally love their wives and wives to unconditionally respect their husbands. It is within this context that Eggerichs explains how he has developed theoretical and practical solutions surrounding communication and relationship problems within a relationship/marriage.

The book is based on Scriptural principles, particularly this one passage from Ephesians. It would be highly recommended for married couples, engaged couples or anyone in a relationship. Eggerichs’ gives illustrations from his ministry both in the pastorate and counselling as well as letting us in on how others have reacted to his teaching. Eggerichs’  focuses a lot of his attention on communication and the way both the man and woman’s brain works and comprehends things. It gives a good insight into the opposite sex which will helpfully explain a lot of things!

It seems that from the turn of the millennium he has been teaching this love & respect at various conferences and the like and this book is the summary of that teaching. It is a good book and I will be recommending it to friends and also my wife.

3/5.

Unity

The following post is something I had published in The Witness, the monthly Victorian Baptist magazine in 2009.

Unity seems to be something which is hard to find in the church today. Well, maybe it’s always been hard to find, church history seems to suggest so too. It’s surprising isn’t it; one would think that the church would be the one place that is united.

If we look outside the church there are plenty of things that unite people. Football unites supporters like nothing else here in Melbourne, but sport in general does that in almost every nation (let’s not mention the Ashes). Community events show a united people, look no further than Black Saturday and the out-pouring of unity that has come from that. But we could also think of book clubs, favourite cafes, the RSL, the local lawn bowls club and the like. Being part of a community, being part of a family, brings unity and commonality.

In recent months I have been pondering unity within the church.

It’s been hard to nail and hard to find.

If we are honest with ourselves we must recognise that there is a wealth of disagreement that occurs within the church. These may be things like where the pulpit should be placed when one is preaching, to the ways in which we reach our community with the Gospel, to the various theological positions church members have. Differences occur, they are bound to, but quite often they cause disunity rather than mutual encouragement and respect.

While on holiday a couple of months ago I read volume one of Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield. Whitefield was a preacher who spread the Gospel throughout the UK and America in the 18th century. He was one of the first to preach outdoors, outside the church building, and for his day this was radical. Instead of avoiding such “corner preaching” like the plague, which we tend to do, Whitefield was able to preach to tens of thousands at a time. What impressed me most about his character was the way in which he tried to be unified with other believers. Wherever he went he would first stop by the local church or parish, and in his theological disputes with John Wesley he continued to pray and hold him up as a brother in Christ.

Whitefield modelled, what I believe many in the church today miss, unity.

Paul speaks no better about unity than in 1 Corinthians 12 & 13. Beginning with the illustration of the church being one body with many parts he moves on to the most crucial point regarding unity, love. While one may be particularly enamoured by the passage regarding love in 1 Corinthians 13 it actually stems out of Paul’s thinking regarding unity and the body of Christ. It is love which is most central to unity, it is love which is most central to Paul, and it is love which is most central to our faith. It is the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Christians are to be marked by love and to be unified by love.

That love is best expressed when we head to the cross. That sacrificial, God-exalting, sinner-redeeming love is most clearly seen through Jesus’ death and unifies all believers to love others rather than themselves.

Why is it that churches split, that conflict occurs, that disunity abounds?

It is because there is no Christ-like love.

Why does a supporter of a footy team actively go to all the matches and buy the team scarf? Why does a community rally in the face of adversity? Why does unity occur?

It is because there is love.

“Unity through diversity” seems to be a current catch-cry but perhaps “unity through love” might be a better way to put it.

Through the cross of Christ and the love of Christ unity is at its peak.