Christmas Hope

Dear Friends,

For about a month now, my inbox has been filled with emails offering me the opportunity to buy gifts online. Of particular interest to me are the offers of discount Gift vouchers at Christmas – perhaps even my computer knows I can be a lazy last minute present buyer! But the concept is brilliant for two reasons – the gift receiver gets to choose their gift, and gift cards point us to what God has done for us in Jesus!

Redeeming is gaining or regaining possession of something via an exchange or payment.
And that is just God’s intention in the Birth of Jesus.
Jesus was born to be payment for you – that God may regain relationship with his treasured possession, his treasured creation – his image bearers – with you.

Too often we treat God like we treat Santa and expect of God what we expect of Santa. When it is absolutely necessary we pay him some attention but apart from that we don’t give him a thought and live life doing our own thing in our own way in our own time. We hope he won’t see how naughty we are and he’ll turn around at just the right time to give us every good thing we could possibly imagine. It doesn’t really matter if you’re naughty or nice, Santa will still deliver. Same with God right? Wrong.

You see, the Bible teaches us that nothing so small, so flimsy, so ordinary and so faulty as us, could possibly stand in the presence of God’s immensity, potency, extra ordinariness and holiness. God can’t ignore the way we have treated him.

And yet, here is the Christmas miracle…
You can’t win God’s favour back, but in Jesus, he is willing to give it to you. Read that again – he is willing to GIVE it to you.

There is a pretty popular belief out there that we actually need to earn God’s favour.
So, if we do enough good things to counter the bad things we’ve done, we will earn God’s favour and be able to enter heaven.
Maybe even if we are a bit religious from time to time we will earn God’s favour.

But the Bible, that God has written and given to us, appears to tell us a completely different story.
God’s plan is to redeem us. To take us back.

In the birth of Jesus God comes and offers… and offers… and offers… and offers us redemption, reconciliation and peace. Forgiveness and hope. God does this tenderly, gently, kindly. This is God’s graciousness. This is Christmas hope. May you know it or find it afresh this Christmas.

In Christ,
Nigel

When Under Attack … (Part 5)

Dear friends,

Last week I noted that Christianity in a broken and rebellious world is going to be offensive – however, we are not supposed to be. The Gospel and the love of God is the salve for this world’s pain, brokenness and anger. Ed Stetzer writes:

Christians are called to demonstrate this profoundly attractive love in a way that testifies to the Gospel and counters the lies, brokenness and violence of sin. The way we interact with others will dramatically affect whether the world is drawn to Christ’s love. 

I have been pondering this over the last week and particularly trying to analyse my interactions with unbelievers. Am I through my demeanour, attitude or words actually driving people away from Gospel salve? I hope not; but I am convinced of this – I need to cultivate curiosity, empathy and humility in equal part and insert them into my interactions in this age of outrage.

Curiosity because the age of outrage encourages a lack of listening and understanding but true communication of the Gospel happens when we actually understand how other people think. At dad’s funeral last Monday one of the wise sages I have often drawn on said to me, the problem with Christians today is that we assume what people think and so preach the gospel irrelevantly into the lives of our friends. I take it what he means is that we don’t know what individual people’s objections to Jesus are because we have stopped being curious with our friends and just go on the attack like everyone else with wild assumptions. Do you actually know why your friends are not believers? Cultivate curiosity.

Empathy because everyone’s belief system is a product of what they have heard and experienced. Empathetic love seeks to understand and relate to the experiences of others and can be powerfully winsome as it draws people in. That is not to say that we sacrifice our revulsion of sin or philosophical clap-trap; rather we approach people knowing the corrosive power of sin and the freedom and relief that comes from know Jesus. Showing mercy and grace towards people and their views at the start will give the gospel a hearing in the end. Cultivate empathy.

Humility because Jesus was humble, willing to engage with sinners in a way that lifted them up without parading himself. Have you ever noticed that Jesus never told anyone to worship him but they did as he demonstrated humble loving service? Humility is not weakness or cowardliness. Humility is being willing to lower yourself in love to listening and understand the culture, worldview and background of those you engage with. This opens the door for communicating the gospel because it reveals you are interested in winning the person instead of the debate. Cultivate humility.

Winsome love moves away from outrage, arrogance and assumption. Especially online. More about that next week.

In Christ
Nigel

When Under Attack … (Part 4)

Dear friends,

You may have heard the story of White Magazine – a popular Australian wedding magazine that was thriving in a tough international market; thriving until the outrage agenda struck. Their explanation for closing the magazine is telling:

“We have been asked repeatedly why our magazine had not yet featured all couples … Recently we’ve experienced a flood of judgement … Instead of allowing us the space to work through our thoughts and feelings, or being willing to engage in brave conversations to really hear each other’s stories, some have just blindly demanded that we pick a side … The result has been that a number of advertisers withdrew their sponsorship out of fear of being judged, or in protest. We have had to recognise the reality that White magazine is no longer economically viable.”

The outrage agenda claimed another scalp. How do we respond?

I don’t think criticising the outraged, their philosophy or their ironic embrace of the Love is Love agenda is the answer. I know they are all for Love is Love and I know that their actions towards the Burrell Family and their magazine is outrageous! But if all we do is call people out and point out their ironic hypocrisy and contradictory thinking, then we just join the parade of the vicious and vocal outraged.

There must be a better way of engaging with our society as it drifts rudderless – and I want to suggest that the Beatles had the answer many moons ago – Love is all you need.

Ed Stetzer writes challengingly:

If we do not actually love the lost around us, we demonstrate that we have missed the point of the gospel itself. No wonder our witness is so anaemic! We don’t appear to understand that what we preach applies to ourselves first and foremost! We disqualify our right to bring a message of love by being unloving in the very way we live and proclaim the Gospel, and so deny the compelling power of the Good News. We cannot reach people and hate people at the same time. 

The community we live in does not understand love despite their assertions and arguments. John instructs us with these simple words: “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

Christianity in a broken and rebellious world is going to be offensive. But we are not supposed to be. The Gospel and the love of God is the salve for this world’s pain, brokenness and anger. Again Ed Stetzer writes:

Christians are called to demonstrate this profoundly attractive love in a way that testifies to the Gospel and counters the lies, brokenness and violence of sin. The way we interact with others will dramatically affect whether the world is drawn to Christ’s love. 

So consider your responses to the world’s hypocrisy Have you joined the choir of the outraged and become polarised to you own corner? Or are you choosing the most excellent way? What might that way of love look like? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ll share mine next week.

In Christ
Nigel

When Under Attack … (Part 3)

Dear friends,

I have been arguing over the past few weeks that we live in an age of outrage and we Christians need to respond without succumbing to such relational methodology or shrinking like violets. A good response starts by consciously working on your worldview – knowing God better; knowing Christ’s salvation better; knowing the power of the Holy Spirit more. But if that is all you do, you run the risk of becoming “monkish” – retreating to think without being of benefit to the world.

God has not called us to hide in the upper room but to go as ambassadors for Christ, representing him in this outraged world.  We are representatives with a mission – not to assimilate into the world but to engage with the world, calling them out to know God and be known by God; to be reconciled with him (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). This is our privilege as servants of the King!

Ed Stetzer helpfully writes:

Behind every expression of outrage in our age is real need, brokenness and destruction that our message of reconciliation through Jesus is meant to address. The age of outrage may be defined by its anger and polarisation but beneath these self-defence mechanisms are real and valid underlying questions as people try to understand their origins, identity, purpose and path in life. People have never been more engaged, busy and connected in this cultural moment; yet this flurry of activity is a thinly veiled attempt to cover a crisis of identity, purpose and belonging. 

Friends, we offer a better way of doing life – the right way to do life. That way is to know and be known, to serve and be served, by Christ.

Our message as ambassadors is the Gospel. The news that Christ died for sinners like us. But here is the kicker – if we take our eyes off our own identity in Christ, we will find ourselves in the same sort of crisis.

I wonder if that is where you find yourself now? If you have no heart for the unbelievers among you the answer may be yes.

An ambivalence to sharing the Gospel or an apathy to ambassadorship cannot be our Christian lot. We must come again to the cross ourselves and find there our identity, purpose and place of belonging. We must regain or continue to cultivate a sense of compassion for the lost by remembering that we were once lost. Remembering our own salvation will spark the compassion that shapes us, changes us and sends us on mission.

As you took communion on Sunday, did you remember God’s work for you? Please also remember that this work of Christ is for your community too. When Jesus prayed for workers for the harvest, he was praying for you. We need to remember that we have soul satisfying news at our disposal and that as ambassadors, we ought to be in the business of carefully and compassionately sharing it.

In Christ
Nigel

When Under Attack… (Part 2)

Dear friends,

We thought last week about living in an age of outrage – the art of dialogue and disagreement has been lost in our society and we behave in a polarised fashion now, taking sides and yelling abuse. In the face of this, even when we are the abused, Christians are not commissioned to retreat into our buildings to form holy huddles and talk about the good old days. We live in a broken and fragmented world in need of the Gospel; and the God who did not spare his own Son for us has given us a mission focused on the outraged.

Outraging against outrage and retreating from outrage are not Gospel options. Proclaiming the Gospel is what is needed. But how do we do this?

I am convinced that the first thing you need to do is actually know what you believe. I am concerned that what many Christians may believe is neither biblical nor Christian. Ed Stetzer writes that while many people claim to have a certain worldview, their habits and reactions paint a different story. Philip Ryken says,

The way people respond reveals their worldview… Even ordinary interactions reflect our commitments and convictions about the basic issues of art and science, work and play, family and society, life and death. Whenever we bump into the world, our worldview has a way of spilling out. It comes out in what we think and love, say and do, praise and choose.

In 2014 James Anderson released a book called “What’s your worldview?” It’s an interactive journey of discovery aimed at helping you understand and evaluate the option when it comes to identifying your worldview. It would be a fascinating read to help you analyse just how far you have drifted from the crucified Saviour.

But rather than work out what you believe, I want you to work on what you believe.

Most people reading this trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, therefore you want to have your worldview shaped by his Gospel. So please, make that happen. How do you do that? Get back to the ancient disciplines.

Regular Bible reading provides a daily reorientation of your life and helps you form a gospel shaped identity.

Regular praying enables us to cast our concerns on God and to trust him with our insecurities. The discipline of prayer prevents us from venting, flaming or savaging others, either in person or online.

Regular pursuit of godliness enables us to keep in step with the Spirit who is guiding us in the way of truth and love for all people.

(And did you know that those who meet weekly in small groups with other Christians find it easier to pursue the ancient disciplines? Yes, that was a sneaky plug for Growth Groups!)

As followers of Jesus, we have to decide how to live in light of the truth. We believe he is the true King of the world. He offers the right way to live in our world. Whether or not most Christians follow that path, we must. It’s time to live as people shaped by a gospel centred worldview.

In Christ
Nigel

When Under Attack…

Dear friends, 

An Anglican School ethos firestorm swept its way across Sydney during the last week creating confusion, chaos and crankiness. To be clear, the issue at stake is freedom – the freedom any organisation should have to act according to its principles. But Christians, Christianity, Jesus and the church have all become victims of the outrage.

Now before you throw your hands in the air, shout “typical” and become outraged at the outrage, keep in mind that Christians are not the only ones who become victims of outrage and note the irony in outraging against outrage. There must be a better way of responding! 

In the midst of such a firestorm we usually either return serve or retreat. I want to suggest another way. 

Ed Stetzer, an American writer and researcher helped me see John 20 as a great paradigm for our response. John is describing the days after the crucifixion when the disciples feared the world. Were they to be next to be hung on a cross? Would they be a laughing stock? The world was outraged, they were terrified. Jesus turns up and says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) 

Jesus didn’t go sit in the locked room with the disciples to make them feel better. He went in to get them out, to get them on mission, to send them into the chaos and anger from which they had locked themselves away. 

But he does not send them to shout in outrage, he sends them to proclaim the Gospel. In the same way, the outraged world does not need us to argue with them. The outraged world needs us to evangelise them. They need to know Jesus and our task in the present is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day with our Christian life in a constant state of worship and mission.

 Spurgeon said that Christians who do not engage the world with the Gospel are like those who have a treasure but hold onto it. “The world is starving and they hoard the bread of life.” Hearts that do not bring Christ to the world prove they do not actually love Christ. “If they love Christ they must love sinners; if they love Jesus they must seek to extend his Kingdom!” 

We are not commissioned to retreat into our buildings to form holy huddles and talk about the good old days. We live in a broken and fragmented world in need of the Gospel; and the God who did not spare his own Son for us has given us a mission focused on the outraged.

Outraging against outrage and retreating from outrage are not Gospel options. Proclaiming the Gospel is what is needed. We’ll think about how to do that over the next few weeks. 

In Christ
Nigel

Work – Worth complaining about? (Part 5)

Dear friends, 

As we come to the end of our series on work, we must ask one final question: is Gospel work, actually telling people the Gospel and helping people grow as Christians, the best and most important work in the world? 

All Christians are committed to the spread of the gospel. The Holy Spirit has however gifted some with special responsibility to preach and teach the word of God and shepherd God’s flock (Ephesians 4:11). The significance of this responsibility may be judged by such things as, the prayer of Jesus that such people will be provided (Matthew 9:37-38), the special arrangements made for their support (1 Corinthians 9, 1 Timothy 5), and by the eternal consequences of their work. 

We describe church activity as “the work of ministry”, but it must not be concluded that it is work in exactly the same sense as any other. It is unfortunate that in the modern world this ministry should be thought of as a profession or career. The historically basic rate of financial support for those in ministry is intended to signal that we are dealing with “work” of a different order. Indeed it is a responsibility which cannot easily be pursued, unless others work to provide for their needs, as is also the case with the young and the elderly. 

Indeed, we expect that the work of the kingdom will demand that people will need to give up their ordinary occupations so that the work of ministry may be done effectively and will therefore need to be supported by others. Experience shows, furthermore, that the work of ministry is not always attractive in human terms – and thus it is not surprising that the need for workers is made a special subject of prayer by Jesus, who says, “the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few” (Matthew 9:37-38).

Nonetheless, it is essential that those who do “the work of ministry” should do so with three things in mind:
(1) Their task is not a “job” or profession, but the exercise of a service. It is not defined in terms of whether it is part-time or full-time, paid or unpaid.
(2) Where the ministry of God’s word is able to be conducted “full-time”, it is only possible because others are working and providing. The minister can give up “all” for the kingdom precisely because others do not!
(3) Attention needs to be paid in teaching to the lives of people as ones created and redeemed, to the work which people do, how they are to conduct it, what the dangers are, what their motives should be, how the standards of the Christian life are to be displayed in the work-place, how they are to treat others, how they are to use their surplus money. 

I am so thankful for all those you support to do the work of ministry in Campbelltown. Praise God for your work that supports their work which is His work. 

In Christ
Nigel

Work – Worth complaining about? (Part 4)

Dear friends,

In our previous article on work we noticed that it has become our defining feature and an end in itself rather than a way of glorifying God. Indeed, work has become a mode for self-gratification rather than a reflection of God’s nature and part of our purpose. It consumes us, defines us and breaks us – but we cannot let it go.

We asked, is there anyone or anything that can help us redeem work and find life?

Indeed there is!

With the coming into the world of Jesus Christ, we have the arrival of the one through whom, by whom and for whom the created order has been made; he is “the heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). This whole world in which we work is his and made for him. He is the only one, given our corruption by sin, who is able to work and rule over this world. Moreover, he is this world’s king!

This changes the way we ought to see work. Our work and (almost) all work, by its very nature of bringing order and life to the world, gives glory to Jesus. There is of course “work” that promotes godlessness and embraces sin that brings disorder and chaos – such things ought not be the domain of Christians and as such we should strive to eradicate them. Examples might be slavery, prostitution or work promoting injustice. We may not feel it, but recognising the arrival of the King changes the value of our work – you don’t just work for the man; you work for the Son of Man! (Colossians 2:23-24)

And yet, there is a greater work we must do! Our greatest and yet most basic work is exercised in our obedience to God’s word, and our doing of those “good works” which he has prepared for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:8-10). This shapes the work we do in the world, giving it clarity and emphasising the manner in which we work and the priority of what matters. It helps us see people as of greater importance than wealth making or creation protecting.

The vanity and foolishness of human existence in this world is set to pass away, including all those who attach themselves to the things of this world that they fail to look for things eternal. For this reason it is most important to challenge any idolisation of human professional life in the name of the gospel, whether the problem is one of greed or a more subtle form of worldliness. But work in itself is not to be despised; our whole approach to it is transformed. What matters most is not what the work is, but the way the work is done and whose glory is pursued through it. Work is one of the chief arenas in which we exhibit our obedience to Christ.

And yet one question remains, is Gospel work, actually telling people the Gospel and helping people grow as Christians, therefore the best and most important work in the world?

Find out next week!

In Christ
Nigel

 

Ewoks and the Strength of the Small

Dear friends,

I don’t see a lot of movies and I don’t really have a favourite movie but I do have a movie character I would like to play. I would love to play an EWOK. If you have never heard of Ewok’s they appeared in Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi and they are teddy bear looking creatures that live on the forest moon of Endor. They sling stones, live in tree houses, are slightly uncoordinated and generally dance around having a great time.

And they are small. About the size of a five-year-old with the same weak strength. So when they fight the mighty metallic ferocious Imperial Forces you get the feeling it is going to end badly.

But their size and behaviour belies reality. For when they work together, they are powerful and strong and bring down the Imperial Force allowing the Rebels to… well I won’t give the storyline away but a small army of teddy bears with a few other oddbods defeat a platoon of bad guys and then hold a massive party.

When you look at an Ewok, you cannot see how powerful it is.

Similarly, when you look at the church, you cannot see how powerful it is. And that is because the church (and I am talking about us) has at its core the God of the universe, the one who holds the universe in his hands. Our power does not come from us, our power comes from God who has all authority both in the world, in the church and over you. The church, the gathered people of God, looks very odd, and at times very weak, but it is very powerful.

I have often pondered the reality that God chooses to work in the world through a weak, careless, thoughtless, disorganised and ramshackle group of people just like you and me.  And yet the story of the church is a story of triumph, because Jesus sits at the centre of the church.

We are living in a time when it appears that the “church” is under threat. We must hear these words correctly. The institutions that support churches and some people who run churches are under threat for the way they have done evil, dealt with people badly and not put the call of God as their first priority. The freedom of the church is under threat because of the way society wants to limit the rights of voices who disagree with the liberal progressive agenda. But the church is not under threat.

The church is God’s people who listen to Christ, trust Christ, live for Christ, speak of Christ and call others to follow Christ. And we can never be defeated for Christ is our King and he reigns from heaven awaiting the moment he will be called to come again and judge the world. There is no power who can defeat him and therefore there is no power that can defeat us as his people.

The only real threat to the church is us. Will we, as those who are the church, continue to listen to Christ, trust Christ, live for Christ, speak of Christ and call others to follow Christ.

I pray we will.

In Christ
Nigel

Work – Worth Complaining About? 2

Dear friends,

In this second examination of our Work, we build on the reality that God has been at the work from the beginning. Incredibly, one of work efforts was to create workers – us!

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” Genesis 1:28
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Genesis 2:15

What we see here is that despite our daily predisposition to complain and moan about it, work is not something to be despised or avoided. Not only are God’s creative deeds called “work” (Genesis 2:2), but human labour is instituted before the fall as something that is “good”. As those who are made in the image of God, and therefore share God’s task of ruling the world, man, male and female, is told to get to work! Sometimes this is called a “creation ordinance”, just meaning that we were designed from the beginning to be workers.

As you can see from the command “to work the ground”, human labour is originally thought of in very basic terms. There are no computers to turn on, projects to manage, employees to pay or work reviews to complete. The earth and its animals must be cared for, food, clothing, shelter and other necessities must be provided, and we must reproduce. But the Bible provides no criticism for the specialisation of work that soon appears. Human gifts and skills find legitimate and creative expression in an extraordinary variety of occupations. Throughout the Bible all manner of our heroes appear to have all manner of jobs as society changes.

There are limitations and conditions to all this though.

(a)  The very young and the very old do not “work”, and their needs are provided for by others. One of the motives for work is that our surplus may provide for the needs of others, especially those in our own families (Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 5:8).

(b)  Life in this world is utterly dependent upon work, but it may not be our own work which makes the direct provision. Work flows from our joint responsibility for the creation, and may be paid or unpaid, and directly or indirectly productive of basic necessities. We may not all, “work” but none of us can survive without work.

There is, therefore, no doubt about the value and importance of our work in this world, because it arises from the original work of God and hence from the purposes of God for man and the creation. The human race carries out its work because he has commanded us to do so as the ones who bear his image.

All this doesn’t mean you have to enjoy your job no matter what. But it ought to change the way you think about the nature and purpose of work and perhaps change your attitude towards the necessity of work. Is work not a moment of obedience to God in which we ought to seek to glorify Christ?

In Christ
Nigel