Category Archives: Legacy: How Jesus changed the world

Psalm 104: Science

One of the things that surprises kids in my Scripture classes is that I used to be a SCIENCE TEACHER, and now I’m A MINISTER.

They’re surprised because most people today assume that science and believing in God don’t go together. (They’re incompatible). That ONE is about EVIDENCE and REASON. And the OTHER one is about believing WITHOUT evidence. ONE is about the PHYSICAL, MATERIAL world. And the OTHER is about the SPIRITUAL world.

It’s a pretty common opinion in the world today. But it’s really only been around for the last three hundred years or so. Since the Age of Enlightenment. Scientists and philosophers, from the late 1600’s, valued human reasoning, and focussed on measurement and the scientific method.

The Enlightenment produced the Industrial Revolution and constitutional government and lots of other great things. But philosophers like David Hume focussed SO MUCH on the value of human reasoning, they proudly decided that if the human mind couldn’t understand, or explain, or measure or observe something, then it WASN’T REAL. And so, they decided that since you couldn’t prove a miracle, or reproduce it, then miracles weren’t POSSIBLE. Miracles, by definition, broke the laws of nature, and since the laws of nature were always kept, then miracles couldn’t happen.

And since you couldn’t prove the existence of GOD, then HE mustn’t exist EITHER. There was no spiritual realm. There was only the physical, measurable, observable world.

And that’s probably been the dominant belief in University science and philosophy departments ever since. And it’s dribbled down into popular culture so most people today believe religious faith has no part to play in public life. In schools, or Universities, or political decisions or scientific enquiry or business.

The compatibility of the Bible and science

But it wasn’t the ONLY belief to come out of the Enlightenment. There were plenty of Christians at that time whose faith in the God of the Bible encouraged them to investigate HIS CREATION.

They believed God was intelligent and consistent in creating the world. So that meant the world was designed and consistent, and that order could be IDENTIFIED. He made it GOOD, so it was WORTH investigating. And he gave us the task of ruling and subduing the earth, so STUDYING it helped us do that better.

Rather than thinking that the spiritual and the physical were SEPARATE, they thought the physical world provided EVIDENCE of the spiritual. God had left his fingerprints all over his creation.

Scientists such as Robert Doyle, the founder of modern chemistry in the 1600’s, who wrote “God [is] the author of the universe, and the free establisher of the laws of motion.” Or Sir Isaac Newton, probably the most well-known scientist.  “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”

Or Louis Pasteur, the founder of microbiology and immunology in 1800’s “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. Science brings men nearer to God.” –.

Or Lord William Kelvin, who worked on thermodynamics, the concept of absolute zero and the Kelvin temperature scale. He said, “If you study science deep enough and long enough, it will force you to believe in God.”

In fact, Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution explaining the origin of species has been used as a weapon AGAINST belief in God, wrote “The question of whether there exists a Creator and Ruler of the Universe has been answered in the AFFIRMATIVE by some of the highest intellects that have ever existed.”

To that list of scientists who recognise the Creator in his creation, we can add the writer of Psalm 104. Let’s spend a few minutes looking at it together. The more he looks at nature, the more he sees GOD. Studying the PHYSICAL world teaches him more about the SPIRITUAL. He begins with a faith statement, or if you’re a scientist – a THEORY based on EVIDENCE.

Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, YOU ARE VERY GREAT; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.

A great and majestic God he can talk to. What’s his EVIDENCE for that? He begins by looking to the SKY. 2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent 3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.

I think we’ve all looked up at the sky, and imagined what was beyond what we can see. And then beyond THAT. And SO on. We’ve got a much greater understanding of the size of the Universe than the Psalmist did! And God is BIGGER than all of that. And MADE it all.  THAT’S evidence that God’s great and majestic!

Then, v5, the writer turns his attention to the EARTH. 5 He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. The sky, stretching on and on, says something of God’s SIZE. The solidness of the earth says something of God’s STABILITY AND STRENGTH.

And when you add the way the OCEANS cover the earth, v6, and how uncontrollable they are, we see something of God’s POWER. 6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. 7 But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; 8 they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. YOU set a boundary they cannot cross.

Hydraulic engineers and plumbers and builders will tell you how difficult it is to keep water where you want it. And out of where you DON’T want it. But God sets the place for water to stay. And it stays there.

But that’s not all. The Psalmist turns his attention from CREATION to PROVIDENCE. From God’s MAKING of the world in the beginning/ to his CARING for it, day by day. More evidence for his theory that God is great and majestic.

From v10, he thinks about the way water moves around the planet via the water cycle. From salt to fresh. From liquid to vapour to ice. From depths to mountain tops. From earth to clouds. And all the way, providing life for plants and animals and fish. And God’s commanding and controlling it all. V10.

10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. 11 They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12 The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. 13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.

We can build dams, and set irrigation quotas, and restrict water usage. We can design water saving devices – flow inhibitors on taps and half-flush toilets. We can change our plans for harvesting, and breed genetically-modified drought-resistant crops.  But we can’t make it rain.

There are LIMITS to what science can do. There are questions science can’t answer. And problems science can’t fix. And studying God’s world -using the TOOLS of science – teaches us THAT LESSON.

When there’s drought, and farmers and weather-forecasters and government policy-makers run out of ideas. And despair and hopelessness grow. EVEN THE UNBELIEVER TURNS TO PRAYER. Because, no matter how much he doesn’t want to believe it, he knows deep down the truth of v13. That GOD waters the mountains from his upper chambers, the earth is satisfied by the fruit of HIS work. And, just perhaps, one of the reasons we’re in drought is that God wants Australia to HUMBLY ACKNOWLEDGE him. And turn from pride and independence.

Since the age of enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, we’ve slowly forgotten that we’re CREATURES, not CREATORS. That we’re DEPENDENT, not SOVEREIGN. Science and technology have, one after another, solved our big problems: mechanisation, immunisation, antibiotics, electricity, computers, organ transplants and joint replacements. We’ve travelled to the moon, and captured images from the millions of light years away. And we’ve mapped the human DNA genome.

But we can’t cure a cold, or control the weather, or the tides, or bushfires. We can’t cure Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s or cystic fibrosis. We can’t stop wars, or gun massacres, or racism. We watch on helplessly as earthquakes, floods and tsunamis rage. GOD is Creator. And we’re simply his CREATURES. And humbly studying his world helps us REMEMBER that.

But as well as HUMILITY, we should ALSO be GRATEFUL and JOYFUL. Because God PROVIDES for his creatures. V14 He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate– bringing forth food from the earth: 15 wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.

We can plant the seed, or the grape vines. But we’re dependent on GOD to make the crops GROW. We can squeeze the grapes, or grind the grain. But it takes YEAST that God created to turn the juice into WINE. Or the flour into BREAD.

The Psalmist continues. Not just HUMANITY. V16, God provides for the REST of his creatures. For trees and birds and goats. Even the LIONS, down in v21, so powerful and independent. Even THEY seek their food from God.

Verse 24, there’s the summary statement. The natural scientist proposing the conclusion to his investigation. 24 How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

V25, including the SEA. VAT. Teeming with life. V27. 27 These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. 29 When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. 30 When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.

God is the one who PROVIDES and WITHHOLDS. Who GIVES LIFE and TAKES IT AWAY. It’s a very different way of looking at the world to a David Attenborough nature documentary. That’s all about chance, and survival of the fittest. And death.

There’s one last conclusion about God, v31 and 32. About his connection to his creation. Giving us a hint about why God made us in the first place. “May the LORD REJOICE in his works.” The joyful relationship between the CREATOR and his CREATION.

And then the Psalmist turns to HIMSELF. The practical application of his investigation. V33

33 I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. 34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD. 35 But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD. 

Just as the Creator rejoices in his creation. So the right response is for creation to humbly rejoice in the Creator. That what God requires from his creatures.

Investigating creation drives him CLOSER to God. The truth is/ the material and Spiritual worlds ARE connected.

But the Psalmist wasn’t alive at the right time to see the GREATEST connection between God and the physical world. When the Creator BECAME a creature. When the Word became FLESH, and made his dwelling among us. When Jesus, the eternal second person of the Trinity, didn’t hold onto equality with God, but made himself nothing. And took on human flesh.

People MAY find God in creation. But they’ll see him much more clearly in JESUS. God in the flesh.

And when your scientific or rationalistic friends question how you can believe in God and be a modern, thinking person. By all means point them to CREATION. To the evidence for intelligent design in the Universe. But, even BETTER, point them to JESUS. Give them a Bible. Offer to READ it with them. Take them to a course like Christianity Explored.

Because the historic documents about Jesus are evidence that can be studied. People saw and heard and touched Jesus, and they were convinced that he was God in the flesh. And that he died and came back to life.

One of those eyewitnesses wrote this, in 1 John 1.

1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

And Jesus himself ENCOURAGED that same investigation. When people worried about life (Luke 12), he didn’t say, just TRUST me. He said, Consider the ravens. Look at the lilies. If God looks after THEM, he’ll look after YOU.

INVESTIGATE God’s CREATION! IT will POINT you to your CARING CREATOR.

When a lame man was lowered through the roof for Jesus to heal (Mark 2), and Jesus said his sins were forgiven. He didn’t just say, Trust me, I’ve got the authority to forgive sins. He said, Which is easier to say – your sins are forgiven, or get up and walk? And then he HEALED him. AS EVIDENCE that he could forgive sins.

And when Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection (John 20), Thomas wasn’t there, and he didn’t believe them. He said “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” But Jesus didn’t rebuke his scepticism. He didn’t cast him aside because of his unbelief. When he appeared to him too, he invited him, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” And Thomas DID, and the evidence supported his belief, and he WORSHIPPED Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

We have nothing to fear from investigating, and reason, and examining the evidence, and searching for the truth. You can be confident that science will never discover something that disproves the Bible.

Good science and Christianity are in agreement. They both encourage A SEARCH FOR TRUTH. Science can do lots of great things. And we should REJOICE in them. Christians should study science, and discover better ways for us to cultivate and care for and rule the earth. But science can’t stop a war, or forgive your sins, or cure a broken marriage, or resurrect the dead, or locate the human soul, or analyse LOVE. It can’t explain why we weep while listening to an opera or symphony, or gaze at a sunset or painting, or laugh at a joke. And it can’t measure the immeasurable. Or see the unseeable. Or understand what’s beyond human understanding. Or know tomorrow. So don’t place your ultimate trust in Science. Place it in the One who CREATED us. And who, from beyond eternity, sent his Son into time and space to SAVE us.

God influences his physical world every day. All the time. And he calls US to DO THE SAME. To be incarnational TOO. To infect our world with Jesus. To imitate him. To be his hands and feet. To live out, by the power of his Spirit, truth and love and forgiveness and acceptance and joy and purpose and peace. So that people might see the eternal, spiritual, Trinitarian God in US. That’s why God MADE you!

I want to finish with ONE LAST QUOTE. It’s from Richard Smalley, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of a new form of carbon (buckminsterfullerene or “buckyballs”).

“Recently I have gone back to church regularly with a new focus to understand as best I can what it is that makes Christianity so vital and powerful in the lives of billions of people today, even though almost 2000 years have passed since the death and resurrection of Christ. Although I suspect I will never fully understand, I now think the answer is very simple: it’s true. God did create the universe … and of necessity has involved Himself with His creation ever since.

The purpose of this universe is something that only God knows for sure, but it is increasingly clear to modern science that the universe was exquisitely fine-tuned to enable human life. We are somehow critically involved in His purpose. Our job is to sense that purpose as best we can, love one another, and help Him get that job done.”

1 Chronicles 29:1-20: Work and wealth

“How’s work?” we ask each other. And the answer is often something like, “So busy! And it’s only Tuesday! I can’t wait until the weekend! The boss is a slave-driver! I’m hanging out for a holiday!” We almost say these things without thinking.

We often COMPLAIN about work. And yet, God MADE us to work. And work has lots of benefits. Including EARNING MONEY. And MONEY can be used to DO GOOD. It pays for food, clothing and housing for us and our families. But it can also help the people AROUND us.

That’s our topic today. Work and wealth. And how can we generously USE our wealth.

  1. God works (Gen 2:2), and made us, in his image, to work.

First thing to say is that God built WORK into the fabric of creation. To begin with, GOD works. At the start of Genesis 2, we read

2 By the seventh day God had FINISHED THE WORK he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his WORK. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

God’s ACT OF CREATING is work. And when he creates PEOPLE in his image. He gives THEM work to do, TOO. Genesis 1:27, God creates people, male and female. And

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and SUBDUE it. RULE over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature”

And then God declares everything VERY GOOD. God’s good design is people WORKING to fill, rule and subdue the earth.

And in chapter 2 God puts Adam in the Garden of Eden, v15, to WORK it and TAKE CARE of it. The word for WORK has the idea of CULTIVATING. Of working so that MORE WILL BE PRODUCED. Being CREATIVE, like God HIMSELF.

And the word for TAKE CARE has the idea of STEWARDSHIP, or KEEPING WATCH OVER. To MAKE THE MOST of what we’ve been given. We’ve got a responsibility to KEEP the world, so it CONTINUES to thrive and produce.

But as well as a RESPONSIBILITY, God also gives PARADISE. The Garden of Eden. Full of wonderful things to enjoy. Beautiful things to look at. Delicious things to EAT. Everything in balance. With enough for everyone. Fullness and abundance from a GENEROUS God.

  1. Good stewards of God’s generosity

And even though everything changes after the Fall. And work becomes DIFFICULT. God’s world is still GOOD, and his command to be GOOD STEWARDS in our work CONTINUES. And the people we see in the Bible who do that BEST are those who understand God’s GENEROSITY.

For example, King David and the construction of the Temple. David wanted to build the temple. But God told him that it would be his son, Solomon, who’d build it instead. So David decides to spend the last few years of his life getting everything ready.

1 Chronicles 22, he stores up stone and logs and iron for the nails, and so much bronze it couldn’t be weighed. He organises the work men. Then in chapter 28, he summons all the leaders of Israel together, and makes sure they’re on side. And he gives Solomon the pep talk, and hands over the plans, right down to the designs for the lampstands and bowls.

And that’s a great example for US. He didn’t just donate his wealth. He gave his time and energy and wisdom to do all the ORGANISING, as well. And, often, that’s the GREATER cost. For most of us, it’s easy to give money. But sometimes what’s needed is our ATTENTION, our TIME, our SKILLS, our ENERGY. Perhaps a charity or ministry needs your professional advice, or to be on THEIR BOARD, or to BE A VOLUNTEER. Sometimes that’s the best way to MULTIPLY your influence. How willing are you to give up THOSE things for God’s kingdom?

Back to King David, though. In ch 29, he continues his speech, talking about MONEY. V2.

2 With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God-gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze, iron for the iron etc… 3 Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my PERSONAL treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple:

Giving not only the wealth of ISRAEL. But his PERSONAL wealth TOO. Which sounds a lot like BOASTING. Except for what he says NEXT. V5. Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the LORD?”

In other words, what are YOU LOT willing to contribute? He describes all HE gave as an encouragement for OTHERS to give. And look at what happened.

6 Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly. 7 They gave toward the work on the temple of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze etc….

The leaders of Israel follow the example of their king, and give GENEROUSLY. And, v9, that made EVERYONE rejoice. Including DAVID. (From v10)

10 David praised the LORD in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, “Praise be to YOU, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,

But look at what David praises God FOR.

for EVERYTHING IN HEAVEN AND EARTH IS YOURS. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 12 WEALTH AND HONOR COME FROM YOU; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. 13 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. 14 “But WHO AM I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? EVERYTHING COMES FROM YOU, AND WE HAVE GIVEN YOU ONLY WHAT COMES FROM YOUR HAND.

David’s not PROUD. He doesn’t expect to be praised for his donations. It’s GOD who deserves the praise. Everything comes from his generous hand ANYWAY.

So, in a way, it’s not even DONATING when you give wealth away. It’s hardly even yours to BEGIN with. It’s more like PASSING IT FORWARD. Passing on what God’s generously given YOU.

And Jesus understood that view of God and his world. Flip over to Luke 12. In v22, he teaches, “DON’T WORRY about your life – what you’ll eat or what you’ll wear. Why? V24. Because if God feeds the ravens, then he’ll feed YOU, who are more valuable than ravens. And, v27, if he clothes the grass of the field, then he’ll clothe YOU, who are more valuable that grass. O YOU OF LITTLE FAITH.

In other words, God is generously providing for all his creatures. And to worry, or to fear, is to DOUBT GOD. It doubts his goodness, and his generosity.

It’s like you’ve been invited to an extravagant party at someone’s mansion. There’s food and drink for everyone. It’s piled up on tables. The drink fridges are FULL. The waiters keep coming around with trays of food. And they swap your drink for a full one before you’ve even finished.

But SOME people aren’t convinced. And so, they grab trays of food for themselves. And crates of drinks. And they head off to a corner of the house. And jealously guard what they’ve got. And worry about whether they have enough. That’s what we all do in this world.

But Jesus says, take a look around at the party. Look at what the host has provided. It doesn’t make SENSE to stockpile and accumulate. It’s an insult to the HOST.

Jesus says to CONSIDER the ravens. And CONSIDER how the lilies grow. MEDITATE on God’s world. And see God’s generous fingerprints all over it.

And as you DO that, v31, Jesus says, “Seek God’s kingdom– make GOD your top priority- and he’ll GIVE YOU ALL THESE THINGS. Because he’s GENEROUS. And he’s made his world ABUNDANT and FULL. That’s the way to TRUST him. And not to worry or fear.

And when you seek God’s kingdom. And DON’T seek EARTHLY things, you’ll give them away.V33. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

When you understand God’s generosity, it overflows in generosity to OTHERS. When you make GOD your treasure, then your HEART will be set on him. Your life, your priorities, your purpose, your identity. They’re all about God and his kingdom, rather than clothes or food or money. Or influence or pleasure or reputation or control.

Of course, the GREATEST gift God’s given us is JESUS HIMSELF. John 3:16 – God so loved the world that he GAVE his only Son. Romans 8:32

He who did not spare his own son, but GAVE him up for us all – how will he not also, along with HIM, graciously give us ALL things?

And it’s THE GIFT OF JESUS that motivates US to be generous. He’s the GREATEST gift of all, so CHRISTIANS have the greatest MOTIVATION to be generous.

That’s the logic Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 8-9. He’s encouraging the Corinthian church to give to help the Jewish Christians suffering famine in Jerusalem. He could COMMAND them to give, but instead he reminds them of God’s grace to THEM. 2 Corinthians 8 v8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.

(He’s just told them how the Macedonians have been generous, even though they’re POOR). 9 For you know the GRACE of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

That’s why we’re to be generous, because God was generous to US. He goes on to give practical instructions about HOW to give. But he finishes Ch 9 with these words, reminding them, once again, of God’s generosity to them.

13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of THE SURPASSING GRACE GOD HAS GIVEN YOU. 15 Thanks be to GOD for HIS indescribable gift!

And we find lots of Biblical examples of people who’ve DONE this. People who trusted their generous God, and then generously gave to see his kingdom GROW. Whose OBEDIENCE in GIVING accompanied their confession. Like in Luke 8:1-3. The Twelve are following Jesus around as he proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of God.

2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

In the book of Acts, we read about the first Christians, (2:44) 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

Or at the end of ch 4, we read (v34) 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. 36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

In fact, Luke HIMSELF, who wrote Luke and Acts, was almost certainly financially supported by a patron, Theophilus. Both books begin with a dedication to him, Luke 1:3:

since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Luke’s in Rome, waiting for Paul’s trial. Theophilus is probably a Roman Christian who pays Luke to write the history of how the gospel of Jesus got to Rome. And what an amazing investment in the kingdom Theophilus made! How many MILLIONS of people have come into the kingdom through Luke’s writing?!

Or there’s PAUL himself. In Romans 16, he introduces Phoebe, who’s probably the courier for the letter. 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been A GREAT HELP to many people, including ME.

That word for help is the word for PATRON. She’s been a great PATRON. Not just helping the church in Corinth as a DEACON, but even helping PAUL.

I could talk about plenty more gospel patrons down through history. People who GENEROUSLY supported gospel ministry. People who saw the world the way Jesus did. Generously provided by a good God. And who took Jesus’ command seriously. But I want to finish by looking at ONE IN PARTICULAR. Colonel John Hay Goodlet. Around the end of the 19th century, he was one of Australia’s wealthiest men, and shrewdest businessmen. And he was a member of this church for nearly 30 years. His contributions helped build this building in 1886. And the manse as well. He did the same in 1910 when the hall next door was built – named the Goodlet Sunday School and Institute after he died. Much like King David, he encouraged OTHERS to donate by matching, pound for pound, donations from the congregation. It’s estimated that between 1883 and 1910 he contributed at least 8000 pounds out of a total cost of 14500 pounds for the three buildings. And that’s in addition to his normal Sunday giving.

And ALSO like King David, he didn’t just give his MONEY. He gave his TIME and ENERGY. Robert McGowan, the minister here at the time of his death, said this about him, “The most outstanding feature of his life was the fact he gave himself to Christian work. There are men who subscribe money, but Colonel Goodlet gave his best subscription when he GAVE HIMSELF.”

He became an elder at Ashfield in 1878 and was faithful in attendance and performing his duties until his death in 1914. He was an assembly elder from 1870 until his death – 44 years. And was on lots of its committee, giving valuable business and financial advice.

But it wasn’t just impressive and important affairs. He taught Sunday School and was Sunday School Superintendent from 1876 to 1891. And, although they were childless, in 1876 they unofficially adopted the four children of the Copelands, missionaries in New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) after Elizabeth, their mother died of tuberculosis.

And there are too many other charities to mention that Goodlet, together with his wife Ann, donated to, or were involved in organising. A consumptive home for poor tuberculosis sufferers. Homes for pregnant abandoned single women, Ragged schools that aimed to reform, educate and improve the lot of destitute children. The Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institution, YMCA, Sydney City Mission, Bush Missionary Society, and many more.

The Goodlets were well-known and widely-appreciated by people in Sydney. But that wasn’t what motivated them. Paul Cooper, his biographer, suggests that his generosity flowed from his genuine sympathy and tenderness towards others. And that these were “enhanced, guided and nurtured by his consistent faith. His Christian faith was earnest, humble-minded and consistent for ‘he was as much a Christian in business as in the church and philanthropic work’” (p259)

Here’s what John Goodlet himself said in a speech to a group of Presbyterians. It explains a lot about what motivated his extraordinary life.

“Let them (fellow Christians) never be unmindful that they could only succeed as God blessed their labours. Let one and all have A SINGLE EYE TO HIS GLORY, and then their Lord would honour their Church by using it to ADD LIVING STONES TO HIS TEMPLE. God forbid that they should ever be satisfied with MERE OUTWARD PROSPERITY.” (p260)

He recognised God’s generous hand in the world. And, like Jesus said, he considered the ravens and the grass of the field – how God fed and clothed them. And he PRAISED him for it, like King David. And he was HUMBLED by it.

And, like Jesus said, it led him to seek God’s kingdom, rather than building earthly treasures. And his passion was to see God’s kingdom grow.

And so he gave generously to those who needed it. And, for all his EARTHLY wealth, he built for himself a far more valuable treasure in heaven, where no thief can steal and no moth can destroy. And he’d encourage us to DO THE SAME.

 

 

Matthew 20:20-28: Leadership

I’m no movie expert. But it seems to me that movies have THREE BASIC PLOTS. There are LOVE stories. There are JOURNEY stories, where people travel, or change in some way.

And then there are HERO STORIES. It might be a Western, or a War movie, a Science Fiction, or – the popular one at the moment – a Superhero movie. The hero will ACHIEVE A GREAT VICTORY – win a war, destroy the Death Star, win the Hunger Games, find the treasure, or ride across the mountain range.

But one thing hero movies ALL have in common, as far as I can tell, is some sort of SELF-SACRIFICIAL RESCUE. Often it’s the CLIMAX of the movie. The hero risks his life, or loses something, to save someone. And the greater the SACRIFICE, the better the story.

We LOVE that sort of story, because we love that sort of HERO. We love the ANZACS. We love our surf lifesavers, or our firefighters. Who risk their lives, or GIVE their lives, to save people.

We love the LEADER who puts his FOLLOWERS BEFORE HIMSELF. We love the sports hero who stands out ON the field, but then in the interview afterwards is HUMBLE. And talks about the REST OF THE TEAM, or their OPPONENT, rather than themselves.

And we’re APPALLED at the company CEO or earns $20 million a year plus bonuses, while re-trenching half his workforce. Or the developer who gets elected to his local council for the sole purpose of pushing through his own developments.

But how did we GET to that place? The place where we value the HUMBLE leader more than the PROUD and ARROGANT? The self-sacrificing hero, rather than the all-conquering victor?

How did we get to the place where politicians are expected to SERVE the people they represent, rather than EXPLOIT them? Or where the world super-power, America, is expected to PROTECT weak nations, rather than CONQUER them?

It’s certainly not the NORMAL picture of a leader or a hero we see from HISTORY. The Ancient GREEK view of a hero was someone who ruthlessly conquered and ruled. Like Alexander the Great. You were expected to WORSHIP a leader like that. And humility was seen as a weakness, not a virtue. Something FORCED on you, not that you CHOOSE.

Or for the ROMANS. Caesar Augustus killed three hundred senators and two hundred warriors, conquered the world, and made himself a GOD.

The European Feudal system through the Middle Ages wasn’t much different. It viewed heroes as nobly born, and skilful in battle. They pursued PERSONAL GLORY above anything else. Leaders ruled with an iron fist, and exploited their subjects. SOMETIMES the lords looked after the peasants. But it was very clear who was helping who. And the lords always expected gratitude, respect and obedience in return.

And the Crusades, in the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries. They may have been established by the church, But they were more about GREED AND PRIDE, and PERSONAL agendas, than any genuine Christian conviction.

And we can say the same for THE SPANISH INQUISITION, and the conquistadors. And the British colonialization of India and various countries in Africa during the fifteen and sixteenth century.

In fact, it probably wasn’t until THE REFORMATION, during the 1500’s, when the Bible’s teaching was rediscovered, that A NEW TYPE OF HERO emerged. Or RE-emerged.

Martin Luther read his Bible, re-discovered grace, and went on to risk his life, again and again, to make sure the message of salvation by faith alone was proclaimed to everyone. THAT’S what mattered, and his life was irrelevant. When he was asked to appear before a trial on charges of heresy, he wrote

You ask me what I shall do if I am called by the emperor. I will go even if I am too sick to stand on my feet. If Caesar calls me, God calls me. If violence is used, as well it may be, I commend my cause to God. He lives and reigns who saved the three youths from the fiery furnace of the king of Babylon, and if He will not save me, my head is worth nothing compared with Christ. This is no time to think of safety I must take care that the gospel is not brought into contempt by our fear to confess, and seal our teaching with our blood.

The leader willing to sacrifice himself for the people. And during the Reformation there were many more who lay down their lives for the cause of the gospel of grace.

The Reformation produced the Puritans. Who founded America. And inspired the push for the abolition of slavery. And softened the harsh control of England, and the East India Company in India.

And where did all this self-sacrifice for the people come from? This humility of service by those in power? It came from JESUS. Who didn’t just TEACH about servant leadership. He LIVED it. And DIED it. And he commands US to do the same.

In Matthew 20, he takes the twelve disciples aside, and tells them again about what’s in front of them as they head to Jerusalem. It’s almost a repeat of conversations in Ch 16 and Ch 17.

In v18, Jesus warns he’ll be betrayed, condemned to death, flogged, and crucified. On the third day, he’ll be raised to life.

Then, in a somewhat surprising case of selective hearing, James and John’s mum comes to Jesus with a request. And her two boys are right there too. She’s forgotten all about the SUFFERING and DEATH bit, and only heard the bit about HEADING TO JERUSALEM. Because that’s where the military revolution will begin. V21. “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

She’s saying to Jesus, “I like the idea that you’re going to be a KING. When the victory happens, since I asked FIRST, can my two boys get best spots in the new regime?” And we thought “tiger mums” were only a RECENT thing!

Jesus turns to the sons. Because it’s really about THEM. “You don’t understand what you’re asking,” Jesus says. They still haven’t understood. He’s spent so long talking about a kingdom of SERVICE and SACRIFICE and SUFFERING. And REJECTION IN THIS WORLD. But they’re asking for HONOUR AND RECOGNITION AND POWER. To even ASK it means they haven’t UNDERSTOOD HIM AT ALL. Can you drink the cup I’m going to drink? He says. Can you endure the suffering that’s planned for me.

Like MOST males, apparently, interviewing for a job, the brothers are OVER confident in their abilities. “We CAN,” they answered.

Jesus said, “That’s true. You WILL suffer like me. But it’s not up to me to hand out the leadership roles. The FATHER’S prepared those places.

It’s only a minor comment from Jesus. But it says something significant about HIS HUMILITY. And his attitude to power. He’s CONTENT with his place. He willingly submits to the Father. And defers authority to him.

He’s rebuking their ambition and pride. But at the same time he models the RIGHT attitude to worldly ambition. Humble servant leaders are CONTENT. They look DOWN, not UP. They look down, to SERVE those they lead, rather than looking up to DRAG DOWN those ABOVE them.

But back to James and John. The brothers were asking for power and glory. But the irony was that when Jesus came in his kingdom, the people on his right and left didn’t have any power, or receive any glory.

By the end of these verses, we see what that LOOKS LIKE. When the Son of Man gives his life as a ransom for many. When he’s raised on the cross. THAT’S when he brings in his KINGDOM. And who are those on his left and right? Two CRIMINALS. Who die WITH him. THAT’S what it means to be first. To be GREAT. I bet James and John didn’t have THAT in mind when they asked!

At this point the OTHER disciples notice. And their reaction is FASCINATING. It would be FUNNY if it wasn’t so SAD. V24, They’re INDIGNANT with the two brothers. But this is no RIGHTEOUS indignation. They’re not rebuking James and John because they’ve misunderstood the kingdom. They’re JEALOUS! They wished they’d thought of it first!

So close to the end, and still Jesus’ closest followers have no idea. He must have been tempted to give up. But he calls them together. AGAIN. V25. And gives them A LEADERSHIP LESSON.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.

The way of the world is that rulers RULE. Their decisions are based on what will further THEIR cause. What will bring THEM glory and wealth and recognition.

It wasn’t meant as an insult. It was just a DESCRIPTION. A known FACT. The reality of leadership in the Greco-Roman world. If Gentile rulers had been listening, they would have nodded their heads in agreement. “Yep! That’s what a leader SHOULD do!”

In many parts of the non-Western world, it’s STILL the way leaders rule. If someone has ANY sort of authority or hold over people, they EXPLOIT it for their own advantage. A check point guard, a building inspector, a visa processing official, an election official, a librarian, a parking officer, a policeman, someone who receives tenders for jobs. All the way up to Presidents and army generals. David Lim says there are still places today, not too far from Australia, where you need to bribe a doctor just to go on the waiting list at a hospital.

It’s just accepted that corruption and bribery is the way to do business. It’s the way you grease the wheels of industry. Rulers LORD IT OVER the people they RULE.

But Jesus REDEFINES leadership. In CONTRAST to the way the WORLD leads. Look at what he says next. V26. Once again, he turns things upside down. He’s just taught how the kingdom belongs to little children rather than the powerful. And, conversely, that the RICH find it almost impossible to enter the kingdom. V26 he adds.

26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-

Jesus is REDEFINING the great leader. It’s not the person who conquers and accumulates and builds his own empire. And demands praise and gratitude. The great leader SERVES.

India’s first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, understood it. He declared, in a speech, “Fellow citizens, I have come to you as your first servant, because that is what prime minister literally means.” That’s the sort of attitude we appreciate in our leaders.

Like Tim Fischer. He may not have been the most talented politician we’ve ever seen. But people appreciated his humility and his attitude of SERVICE.

It’s perhaps a bit surprising, but Jesus doesn’t actually discourage us from wanting to be GREAT. To be AMBITIOUS. He just encourages the RIGHT sort of AMBITION. GODLY ambition, rather than WORLDLY ambition. It’s a good thing to want to become GREAT. To want to be FIRST.  After all, 1 Timothy 3:1 says Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he DESIRES A NOBLE TASK.

In other words, IT’S A GOOD THING to want to be in Christian leadership. GODLY, not WORLDY ambition. The difference is all about YOUR MOTIVATION. The motivation ISN’T because it looks good on the resume. Or it’s good for your ego. Or because the PAY is good. Or because people notice and appreciate you. Your motivation to lead people should be because you’re better able to SERVE them.

People with WORLDLY ambition are first to get in the queue. They undermine others, and drag them back. Their agenda is about furthering their cause. Whereas GODLY ambition looks like this. It’s first to volunteer to BE A SERVANT. It’s going to the BACK of the queue. It’s being first to volunteer for the job nobody else wants. And it’s being content when nobody else notices.

Godly ambition is joyfully spending hours preparing your Sunday School lesson. Or weeks practicing the piano. Or years doing a theological degree. Or a decade raising kids, or leading Youth Group or Home Group. Because you’re SERVING the people you lead. THEY come first, you come SECOND. The servant leader is first to arrive and last to leave. The servant leader never asks anyone to do anything she’s not willing to do herself.

THAT’S what godly ambition look like. A SERVANT LEADER. And here’s what ELSE godly ambition looks like. V28. The ULTIMATE servant leader. The ultimate self-sacrificing hero.

28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY.”

He didn’t come to lord it over people. To impose his rule. He came to SERVE. He put aside his eternal glory. His privilege. His position. And made himself NOTHING. FINITE. LIMITED.

And offered his life in self-sacrificing rescue. For a world who rejected and despised him.

The cross is the greatest symbol of humility and leadership. Of self-sacrificial heroics. Our leader hung there. Our leader calls US to follow him, and to take up OUR CROSSES. Daily.

THAT’S the type of leader Jesus calls you to be. That’s the type of HUSBAND he calls you to be. And FATHER. That’s the type of boss, the sports captain, the Sunday School teacher, the mother, the roster organiser.

Whatever area of leading you’re involved in. Put OTHERS first. And sacrificially SERVE them.

Attitude as well as actions

And it’s not just about ACTIONS. ATTITUDE matters TOO. It’s no good obeying Jesus and serving others. But doing it RESENTFULLY, or SPITEFULLY. Or out of PRIDE or JUDGMENTALISM.

Our attitude is to be one of HUMILITY. Before the time of Jesus, humility was seen as a character FAILING. A WEAKNESS. It wasn’t something you chose yourself. It was something done TO you. You were HUMBLED. But Jesus came along and CHOSE self-sacrifice. He CHOSE humility and servanthood. And he did it for the sake of OTHERS.

Paul described the attitude of humility, and what it looks like. Philippians 2.

2:1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

In HUMILITY, consider others more than you consider yourself. Humility shows itself in putting OTHERS first. And thinking of THEM first. And listening to THEIR opinions. CS Lewis defines humility like this. It’s not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.

Humility shows itself in UNITY. Because you’re opinion doesn’t matter that much.

And our example in humility is our servant king. V5. Who makes himself NOTHING, and makes much of US.

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

7 but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death-

even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

 

Trust Jesus. Follow his example. In humility, SERVE one another. He’s WORTH it.

Isaiah 58: Care

The woman had just about given up. For 12 years she’d suffered shame, and discomfort, and rejection and despair. Her medical condition had cost her everything. Her health, her friends, her community, her money. Shunned by her neighbours, untouched by her husband or family. Doctors had tried to help, but their treatments only made things WORSE.

And then she heard that JESUS had come to visit. She’d heard he was from God. That he could heal even the WORST cases. And that he had the compassion to help ANYONE. Perhaps she could sneak a quiet moment with him with no one else around. And avoid the shame of more rejection.

But when she arrived in town, her heart fell. It seemed like everyone else had the same idea. There were people everywhere. Crowding around Jesus as he walked through town. Surely, she’d be LAST in the queue. Twelve years unclean – a HOPELESS case!

And then, to prove her point, she saw who was leading the procession. Jairus. The synagogue ruler. The most important man in town. OF COURSE, he’d be the one Jesus helped FIRST. Her hopes fell. The crowd came closer. Her anxiety grew.

But perhaps the crowd was her chance. The more people, the less chance she’d be recognised. Perhaps Jesus could even heal her without NOTICING? Perhaps all she had to do was TOUCH HIM. But the risk was if he found out, he’d rebuke her for making him unclean TOO. And her last chance would be gone.

Quickly, before she lost her courage, she stepped forward into the surging crowd, as Jesus approached,. He moved past her. And as he did, she cautiously reached out her hand, and touched his cloak. It was rough and dusty. Nothing special about the cloak. But the effect was instant. Immediately her bleeding stopped, and she knew she’d been healed.

But almost as quickly as her healing, her joy turned to despair. Because Jesus immediately stopped, turned around and asked the crowd, “Who touched my clothes?”

The woman wished the ground would just open up and swallow her. This was almost worse than being sick.

When she realised Jesus wasn’t going to let it go. She came and fell at his feet, and trembling with fear, told him everything.

She expected a rebuke. She expected the condemnation and rejection of the crowd. But instead, Jesus said, in front of everyone, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace, and be freed from your suffering.”

And her heart leapt. Not just set free from her illness, but restored to life. And community and relationships. It was like being born again!

This is just one of DOZENS of stories from Jesus’ life in the gospels. Stories of him noticing the unnoticed, accepting the rejected, repairing the broken, releasing the imprisoned, empowering the powerless, loving the unloved.

And he did it because he’s his Father’s Son. God our CREATOR compassionately cares for ALL his creatures, made in his image. God our heavenly FATHER gently cares for ALL his children. God our righteous JUDGE demands equality and fairness in the way ALL people are treated.

And he wants US to DO THE SAME.

God shows us that part of his character in Isaiah 58. Turn there with me. In v1, God’s commanding Isaiah to tell Israel their sins. And then, from v2, we hear what their sins are. On the surface, they’re RELIGIOUS.

2 For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.

V3, they’ve FASTED – denied themselves FOOD! And they wonder why God hasn’t been impressed. Why he hasn’t answered their prayers. But look at God’s crushing response (second half of v3)

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.  4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.

On the ONE hand, they do without food, and they pray for God’s help. But then they go to work, and underpay their workers. Or they pick an argument. (Maybe there’s A CONNECTION- perhaps they’re HANGRY – hungry angry!)

But whatever the reason. It’s no excuse. God won’t listen to their prayers, when they won’t listen to each OTHER. He won’t show them any consideration when they don’t show any to their neighbour.

And then, in v6, God describes the sort of fasting he’s REALLY interested in. Fasting is about DENYING YOURSELF.

V5 – he’s not interested in PERSONAL fasting – one man humbling himself, wearing his worst clothes, bowing his head. Instead, v6,

6 “Is not THIS the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

That’s the sort of SELF-DENIAL God’s pleased with. Denial that BENEFITS OTHERS. Especially those who need it MOST.

But WHY does God desire this? What’s at the HEART of it? What’s his MOTIVATION? At our Wednesday night Home Group we came up with TWO ANSWERS.

First, to do with US. It’s about how God wants US TO RESPOND TO HIM. We worship him just as much in so-called “non-religious” ways as we do in RELIGIOUS ones. (v6 “THIS is the kind of fasting I have chosen – to loose the chains of injustice…”

God wants sacrifices of time and money and energy and emotions in ALL our life, given as worship TO HIM. In Romans 12:1 we’re commanded “In view of God’s mercies, offer your BODIES as LIVING SACRIFICES, holy and acceptable to him. This is your spiritual act of worship.”

And then it goes on to describe how we’re to humbly use our gifts to serve others, including showing mercy and giving generously. Our response of worship to God is EVERY PART of LIFE. Not just the RELIGIOUS bits.

But why specifically to the HUNGRY, NAKED, IMPRISONED? Because to help people who can’t repay us is GRACE. And we show we’ve understood God’s grace to US by showing grace to OTHERS. That’s the parable of the unmerciful servant, in Matthew 18.

A servant’s forgiven a huge debt by his master. But he shows he hasn’t appreciated the gift by having someone thrown in prison who owes him a SMALL debt. And so the master throws HIM in prison.

Or Luke 14. Jesus is invited to dinner at the home of a prominent Pharisee. And he watches how everyone acts in ways that are self-serving. Even what SEEMS to be other person centred in our actions can often have a selfish motivation. And he gives the advice in v12

“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do NOT invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, THEY MAY INVITE YOU BACK AND SO YOU WILL BE REPAID. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be BLESSED. Although THEY cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

It’s GRACE to give, knowing you won’t be re-paid. And God loves that sort of action from his children, because it reflects HIS character.

Jesus goes on, v16, to tell the story of a man who invited lots of guests to a great banquet. The impression is that they’re equals. Those who could return the favour. But they all gave weak excuses. Insults, really. They wouldn’t come.

So he ordered his servants, v21, to go into the streets and alleys of the town to bring in THE POOR, THE CRIPPLED, THE BLIND AND THE LAME. And then again, when there’s still MORE room, to the country roads to bring in MORE. Those with no chance of re-paying the invitation.

That’s God’s character. Jesus has been inviting people into the kingdom, but the Pharisees and the proud won’t recognise the gift. They don’t need it. And so Jesus is turning to those who NEED. Who HUNGER and THIRST. Who MOURN. Who recognise their own helplessness. Who have nothing to repay the gift with.

And that’s ALL of US before God. And we SHOW that by showing grace to others.

(That’s the FIRST reason God wants us to care for the poor and the abandoned – because it’s our acceptable worship to God in response to his grace to us.)

The second reason comes from HIS OWN CHARACTER. It’s his LOVE that means he hates to see his children in pain, or hungry, or imprisoned. Perhaps behind bars, but perhaps imprisoned by debt, or illness, or disability, or abuse, or illiteracy, or language, or education. Even the LOWEST and LEAST IMPORTANT are made in his image, with dignity and worth.

But not just his LOVE. It’s his JUSTICE AND FAIRNESS that mean he wants to see resources spread EVENLY. That comfort and freedom and food and clothes are EQUALLY SHARED. Why should ONE of his children go hungry, while ANOTHER has a whole cupboard of food? Or why should ONE walk around FREE, while ANOTHER was unjustly imprisoned?

GOD is just and fair, and loves the poor and powerless. And we see Jesus living that out in the gospels. And he calls HIS FOLLOWERS to do the same.

And, even though we haven’t done that PERFECTLY, or anywhere near as well as we should – at times we’ve been blind to the need around us. Or even worse, we’ve been POSITIVELY UNLOVING. Nevertheless, history tells countless stories of Christians who GET IT RIGHT. Who STAND OUT from those around them by sacrificially serving, caring, rescuing, feeding, cleaning, nursing, raising and defending the poor and powerless.

People like Catherine Hamlin. For SIXTY YEARS, she’s been serving some of the poorest and most rejected women in the world in Ethiopia.

She grew up in Ryde, one of six kids. And in 1946 she graduated as a doctor from the University of NSW. She could have done ANYTHING and BEEN anything. But instead, she and her husband Reg, also a doctor, and both committed Christians from missionary families, decided to head to Ethiopia, one of the poorest and most under-developed countries in the world . They arrived in 1959 as obstetrician/ gynaecologists, on a three-year contract to set up a midwifery service at the main city hospital.

Before long, though, they found themselves treating women suffering childbirth complications so severe they’d never seen anything like it in a Western hospital.

(My apologies if I upset anyone else, but the next minute or so will be a little graphic)

A fistula is an injury caused by long, obstructed labour. Days and days of labour, often by an under-developed married-too-young mother, finish with a dead baby and a hole torn between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum. (Caesarean sections and episiotomies mean the injuries haven’t been seen in developed countries for decades.)

The injuries don’t heal, and the women end up continually leaking urine or faeces. They’re rejected by their communities, and often by their husbands and families.

The Hamlins had to teach themselves how to repair the injuries. And they went on to teach many more local surgeons how to as well. In 1962 they built a hostel for fistula patients in the grounds of the hospital. The patients couldn’t afford to pay, so the Hamlins funded their treatment out of their own salaries. And they never turned anyone away. A policy that continues today.

They eventually built their own hospital with donated money in 1975. Reg died in 1993, but Catherine has been there ever since. She’s one of only two foreigners to be granted Ethiopian citizenship.

The numbers of women treated over 60 years is hard to comprehend. Thousands and thousands. With a 92 percent success rate. But each one is a life RESTORED.

I read a recent newspaper article where Sue Williams describes their situation like this

The outdoor reception are of the Hamlin Hospital must be one of the most forlorn places in the world. New arrivals sit on the benches waiting to be seen, their eyes downcast, their bodies bowed in shame as urine pools beneath them and nurse aides — former fistula patients themselves — try to comfort them. Some have walked for days to reach here; others have borrowed money from family and friends, sold the family cow or begged to raise the bus fare, praying they won’t be kicked off because of their smell. Once they’ve made it this far, however, they’re safe; no one is ever turned away.

A few metres away inside the hospital, the scene couldn’t be more different. Three-quarters of the 40 beds arranged in four long rows down the whitewashed ward are filled with beaming patients, either waiting for surgery or recovering from it, relaxing, eating lunch or sitting on beds chatting excitedly.  (Sue Williams, Weekend Australian, Feb 2, 2018)

In another feature article Nikki Barrowclough describes dance of joy she does with discharged, healed patients

Catherine Hamlin is walking to the main ward from her house. It’s time for the “dance of joy”, a regular event held to farewell patients who are cured and ready to go home.

Hamlin looks tired and I’m concerned that the steep steps up to the lawn are too much for her. Ten minutes later she is dancing and clapping in the middle of a throng of patients on the veranda. They’ve been given their bus fares and are wearing new dresses – another gift from the hospital. Hamlin is dancing harder than anyone. Her fatigue has completely disappeared.

“Come on!” she exhorts one young woman who has slowed down, clasping her face between her hands. “Come on!” The wonderful rhythmic clapping increases, and so does the laughter. The joy that surrounds her!

(Nikki Barrowclough, The Good Weekend, Nov 8, 2008)

You might think Catherine Hamlin is unique. And that you couldn’t possibly do anything like what she’s done. And, in a sense, you’re RIGHT. But she’s an ordinary girl from Ryde who wanted to HELP.

And God can USE that attitude. God REJOICES in the attitude that wants to serve the poor and the powerless out of service to HIM.

The early church STOOD OUT from Roman society because of their compassion. It doesn’t seem like the church today stands out AT ALL. If we closed the doors tomorrow, would anyone else notice?

Society dismisses our message, and views us as bigoted, judgmental and irrelevant. How much of that is due to the fact we’re not DISTINCTIVELY CARING FOR THE POOR AND POWERLESS?

Where are they in Ashfield? If we’re not sure, what organisations could we be partnering with who DO know?

Catherine Hamlin gets to experience some of the joy of pouring herself out in the service of others.

And God promises us that same JOY. Back in Isaiah 58, he promises (v10)

10 and if you SPEND YOURSELVES in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

We think we’ll miss out when we spend ourselves. But God won’t be anyone’s debtor. He’ll bring richness and righteousness and satisfaction and community and abundance. Won’t you put him to the test?

 

 

Luke 4:14-21; 20:20-26: Democracy

One of the great things about Australia is our DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT. Democracy is decision-making where everyone has a voice, or a vote. Its citizens CHOOSE the leaders they want to represent them. It’s different to other forms of government, where decision-making is restricted to one person, like a king or dictator, or to a small group of people.

We often don’t appreciate how GOOD our political system is. Much of the rest of the world wants to live in a Western democracy, like Australia. Or they want their country to change to be a Western democracy.

  1. Firstly, democracy brings POLITICAL STABILITY. Which we often take for granted. Just look at what’s happening in Hong Kong at the moment. In Australia we can peacefully protest about proposed government legislation. Voters can speak to their elected representatives, and can disagree with one another. Decisions can be made that we oppose. But there are no riots, or brutal armed retaliation.

Elections take place, and opposing supporters chat to one another outside polling stations as they hand out how-to-vote cards.

Government changes. One Prime Minister steps down, clears out his office, shakes hands with his opponent, and the next Prime Minister takes over. Government continues to operate.

John says it’s not like that in Ecuador. After an election, when the ruling party changes, everyone in government departments loses their jobs. And the country grinds to a halt for weeks.

And Ecuador is a PEACEFUL country. Imagine what happens after elections in countries where there’s CONFLICT!

  1. Secondly, we love our system because democracy brings FREEDOM. People are free to say what they like, believe what they like, and live where they like within limits. They can make a living in, just about, any legal way they like. We have a voice. Even the least wealthy or powerful.

And we love the way almost ANYONE can rise up to lead the country. You don’t need to be borne to it. Or have the fortune needed to bribe you way to power. If you’ve got the ABILITY, there’s a pathway for you to lead your country. That sort of freedom resonates with our sense of a fair go for everyone. And our passion for cheering for the underdog.

  1. What we value about democracy comes from Biblical teaching

But how does Christianity fit with democracy? It’s an interesting time to be a Christian in Australia. Because the last few years have seen moves from some parts of society to remove every trace of Christianity from public life. Scripture out of schools, prayer out of the opening of parliament. Churches out of public school halls. Removal of freedoms of religion and religious speech. The thinking is that anyone of religious faith needs to keep their opinions private.

And yet, the fact remains that there are many people of faith in public life. Perhaps they’re even over-represented in politics, compared with the general population. They obviously think that it’s part of their response to God to work for the good of society in public life.

And it’s not a recent thing either. The two great modern democracies, Britain and America, developed quite differently. But BOTH were strongly influenced, in different ways, by Christians, and Christian principles. Democratic values come from Biblical teaching.

First, Christianity says that this life isn’t all there is. We are eternal. And that means our behaviour matters. Justice MATTERS. Those who worked for democracy were motivated by a sense of JUSTICE, founded on the character of God.

Each of us will have to give an account for the choices we make. We’ll be judged by God. On the day he judged EVERYONE according to how they live.

Tyrants can impose their laws and do as they like, but ultimately they’ll be answerable to a HIGHER AUTHORITY. And the BEST leaders are those who recognise that. Democracy is a tool to maintain accountability and justice.

The SECOND thing Christianity teaches is connected to the idea of judgment. We’re ALL THOROUGHLY SINFUL. And that means no person, or group of people, can be trusted with power.

Democracy protects us from wicked leaders. It constrains and moderates sinful people by putting checks and balances in place.

CS Lewis wrote

I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason…  they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government.

The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. . . . I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation. . . .

The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”

(Democracy is built on the notion that humanity is sinful, and leaders need checks and balances.)

The THIRD thing Christianity teaches is that, even though we’re all thoroughly sinful, God made EVERY PERSON IN HIS OWN IMAGE. That means everyone has value and dignity and basic rights. Everyone is worth protecting and listening to.

That truth motivated those, in many countries, who campaigned for the right to vote. It doesn’t matter how wealthy or important or privileged you are. Or what you’re sex or ethnicity. Everyone’s voice, and vote, is valuable.

Jesus taught and lived out that commitment to the inherent value of every person. In Luke 4, he went to the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, v16. And he was given the scroll of Isaiah to read from. And the passage he chose was from Ch 61.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

There’s a SPIRITUAL sense to those words. (Jesus was delivering SPIRITUAL prisoners, and healing SPIRITUAL blindness.) But he was also CHANGING SOCIETY. Relieving physical and emotional suffering. Healing blindness. Releasing the demon-oppressed. Declaring good news, and then bringing that to pass. And doing it for those who needed it most. Because everyone, ESPECIALLY the lowest in society matter.

And Christians, down through the ages, have imitated Jesus’ example. Democracy, at its core, is about giving a voice to EVERYONE, because EVERYONE MATTERS.

That’s my FIRST point. What we value about democracy comes from Biblical teaching. (justice, sin, and the value of everyone).

  1. Democracy is a good system within which the Christian can be a good citizen

The SECOND point I want to make is that democracy is a good system within which the Christian can be a good citizen.

I’m not saying that democracy is the most Christian political system around. But within a healthy democracy, Christians are free to make moral choices, and to influence society for the good.

That’s the reason Paul teaches we’re to PRAY for those in authority. 1 Timothy 2.

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- 2 for kings and all those in authority, THAT WE MAY LIVE PEACEFUL AND QUIET LIVES IN ALL GODLINESS AND HOLINESS. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Government that’s working well means Christians can live peaceful, quiet, godly lives. Which is God’s desire for EVERYONE.

Democracy’s not the only system that can PROVIDE that. But it seems to have been THE MOST EFFECTIVE in the last couple of hundred years. Christians have the freedom to be able to live and speak authentically as followers of Jesus. But what should that LOOK LIKE, PRACTICALLY?

In Luke 3:7-14 John the Baptist is preaching in the desert. And he says that people should produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And then he warns them that time is short,

9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

The crowd ask, What should we do then? And here’s his answer.

11 “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely-be content with your pay.”

In other words, there are practical consequences if you have Christian faith. Repentance will LOOK LIKE something. Christian faith will make a difference in how you work. And how you spend money. And how you treat people. You’ll be generous. And fair. And compassionate. And content. Christians who obey John’s teaching here make good citizens. They contribute and make a difference to the people around them.  And our democracy is a good system that gives us FREEDOM to do these things. Taxes end up helping those who need it, rather than just making those who rule richer.

Both Paul and Peter teach, in their letters, that a Christian is to be a good citizen. In Romans 13:1, Paul writes,

13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

We obey earthly rulers because God’s set them in place. Down in v4 he says

4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

God USES earthly authorities, even non-Christian authorities, to achieve his purposes – bringing justice and protecting the innocent.

Paul goes on to give some practical commands on what it LOOKS LIKE to obey earthly authorities. V6

6 This is also WHY YOU PAY TAXES, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. 8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

Fulfil your responsibilities as a member of society. But do even more. Go above and beyond the law of the land. LOVE our fellowman. And you can NEVER completely keep THAT command.

Peter teaches something similar in 1 Peter 2. V13.

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

WHATEVER the authority, offer them your submission. From pool lifeguards, to parking officers, to soccer referees, to traffic controllers. All the way up to police officers, judges and prime ministers. Be humble, and peaceable and gentle.

And do it FOR THE LORD’S SAKE. In other words, because you’re being loyal to a HIGHER AUTHORITY. When you serve earthly authorities, you’re pleasing your HEAVENLY authority.

And have a look at v15. God’s purpose for your obedient submission.

15 For it is God’s will that by doing good YOU SHOULD SILENCE THE IGNORANT TALK OF FOOLISH MEN.

Christians have always had critics who’ve misunderstood them. Whether it was Jews and Romans in Peter’s time. Or politically-correct secular humanists today, intolerantly pushing tolerance.

But the way to cut the ground out from under your opponents is TO LOVE THEM. To be GENTLE in the face of their aggression. To be humble in the face of their pride. To be patient in the face of their ridicule. To listen, and question, and turn the other cheek.

The paragraph before explains it in more detail. 1 Peter 2 v11.

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Yes, we’re to be the best citizens we can be. But at the same time, it’s a type of guerrilla warfare. Undercover resistance. You LOOK LIKE everyone else, but your first allegiance is with a DIFFERENT Master. And you’re working for a different purpose. God’s plan is that YOUR BEHAVIOUR is the ordinary means God uses to lead people to recognise and glorify God.

Your identity is NOT, primarily, AUSTRALIAN. Or Sydney-sider. Christians have DUAL PASSPORTS. We’re citizens of two kingdoms. One earthly, and one HEAVENLY. And where we CAN, we’re to be LOYAL TO BOTH.

But your fundamental identity is that you’re an alien in this world. A tourist. Your TRUE home is HEAVEN. God is your Father. It’s THAT NATURE you’re to reflect. Your FIRST loyalty is to that citizenship.

It’s that DUAL IDENTITY and DUAL LOYALTY Jesus describes in Luke 20. His critics were trying to trick him. V22. “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?”

If he answered YES, he’d disappoint the people, who wanted freedom from the Roman oppressors. If he said NO, they’d have him arrested for treason.

V24, Jesus answers.

24 “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” 25 “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Caesar has HIS image stamped on coins. So give him the coins that represent his authority. But our higher loyalty belongs to GOD. Why? Because we have HIS IMAGE stamped on us. We’re made in God’s image. We’re to give him OURSELVES. Our obedience and loyalty.

We’re to live out our God-given authority as image-bearers. To obediently, under God, rule and subdue the earth. Cultivating and creating. Protecting and nurturing it.

And our democracy, at least at the moment, gives us the freedom and the opportunities and the tools, to DO that.

We need more Christians in public life. In local and state and federal politics. On School P&F associations. And Chambers of Commerce. And boards of not-for-profits.

We need more Christians who write letters to the editor, and blogs, and contact their local members.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus described his followers as salt and light (Matthew 5:13). That’s what he wants his church to be in Australia in 2019.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Luke 7:36-8:3: Women and children

Did you know it’s only been legal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia for the last year or so? But it’s not just DRIVING. There are still strict legal guardianship rules about women making many basic decisions. They need the written permission of a male family member. We read stories like this and think we’re doing alright in Australia when it comes to the equality of women. But that would be a mistake. Just look at the under-representation of women in top executive roles, or on company boards Or talk to Leah Russell about the difficulty of professional women being paid the same amount as equally qualified men for the same work!

There may be improvements in SOME areas of equality for women. But in OTHER areas of Australian society, we’re actually getting WORSE. Like the objectification of women. (That is, devaluing and dehumanising them, treating them as objects, rather than people). It’s EVERYWHERE: in advertising, magazines, the internet, music videos, TV and movies.

Recent research from Victoria showed that sexualisation and objectification of women in advertising is INCREASING. And that it negatively impacts women’s health and wellbeing.

Another study by psychologists from Melbourne and Sydney Universities showed that men are more likely to become aggressive towards women who reject them/ if the women are sexually objectified.

And that’s ANOTHER area where Australian society needs to hang its head in shame. The widespread occurrence of sexual violence. It might just be catcalls and wolf whistles. It might be unwanted propositions. It might be physical attack. It might be domestic violence.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports, from the 2017 census, that the percentage of Australian women who’ve experienced sexual violence and/or threats since the age of 15 is… (guess) 1 in 5! And 1 in 4 women have experienced EMOTIONAL abuse from a current or former partner.

In the UK a Guardian newspaper poll in 2016 reported that 52% women in Britain had experienced unwanted attention in workplace. And a Telegraph poll in 2015 reported that 34% of University student women had experienced sexual assault or assault!

And then there’s the effect all this has on CHILDREN. (as witnesses or victims of domestic or sexual violence.) Or the way girls grow up and SELF-OBJECTIFY. In other words, they see THEMSELVES as an object. Which can lead to body image issues, appearance anxiety, sexual promiscuity, and eating disorders.

Or what about the current issue? Abortion. The PRO-CHOICE website Children By Choice quotes the following statistics: Half of all pregnancies in Australia are unplanned, and HALF of THOSE are terminated. Between one quarter and one third of Australian women will abort a baby in their lifetime. Although difficult to calculate, it’s generally accepted that, IN QUEENSLAND ALONE, somewhere between 10,000 and 14,000 abortions take place each year.[1]

As Christians, this stuff should MAKE US WEEP. And it should SHAME us, as a society.

You might think that’s an interesting introduction to a series called “LEGACY: How Jesus has changed the world.” Especially when today’s topic is “Women and children.” You might wonder precisely whether Jesus HAS made any difference in our society with regards to how we treat women and children. You might, quite rightly, argue that the church HASN’T DONE ENOUGH in speaking and working against this inequality and mistreatment and abuse. In fact, you could, quite RIGHTLY, point out that members of the church have been PERPETRATORS. There’s stuff we need to repent of. And stuff we need to do better in the future.

But what I want to do today is FOCUS ON JESUS. And look at HIS treatment of women and children. Highlight how COUNTER-CULTURAL he was for HIS day. As well as in OUR day. And then to imagine what it might look like if WE were serious about treating women and children the same way JESUS did.

Thinking about Jesus’ time, the Rabbinic sources describe a society where women couldn’t testify in court. Most women were illiterate since only MEN were permitted to learn the Hebrew Scriptures. Women were confined to the women’s court of the temple – even though there’s no such thing described in Solomon’s Temple.

And, in general, they were excluded from business life. A contemporary writer, Ben Sirach, describes the cultural attitude towards working women: “Bad temper, insolence and shame hold sway when the wife supports the husband.” (25:22)

One Talmudic passage sums up the situation of women at the time of Christ: “(They are) swathed like a mourner (referring to the face and hair coverings), isolated from people, and shut up in prison” (Eruvin 100b).

What’s interesting is that, in a few places in the Gospels, we can see these attitudes in Jesus’ disciples. For example, in Matthew 15:22 a Canaanite mother is crying out to Jesus for him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus doesn’t answer her. The disciples get a bit tired of the noise. They come to Jesus and encourage him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” They want to dismiss her. But, instead, Jesus receives her, values her faith, and heals her daughter.

Or John 4. Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. The disciples return from town with lunch. And, v27, they’re surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” But it was to THIS WOMAN Jesus revealed some of his clearest teaching about his identity. That he’s the Messiah, and that he offers eternal life.

Or what about their attitude to CHILDREN? Mark 10:13-16 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but THE DISCIPLES REBUKED THEM. For the disciples, and for Jewish society in general, women and children were insignificant, non-contributing and therefore not valuable.

And it was even WORSE in contemporary Roman society, and Greek society before that. Which we don’t have time to go into.

But it’s into THAT situation Jesus comes with a COMPLETELY COUNTER-CULTURAL ATTITUDE to women and children. An attitude based on the truth of Genesis 1:27. That God created humanity in his image, MALE AND FEMALE. Everyone with value and worth and dignity. Male or female, young or old. Powerful or helpless.

In Mark 5, an unclean woman suffering chronic bleeding sneaks up in a crowd, and touches him. And, instead of rebuking her, he heals and blesses and restores her.

In Lk 10:38 Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening and learning as Jesus teaches. When Martha complains about her not helping in the kitchen, Jesus insists that Mary has chosen what’s BETTER. What’s extraordinary about that/ is that to be a Rabbi’s student was STRICTLY FOR MEN. And yet Jesus WELCOMES her, and TEACHES her. Along with the rest.

But it’s not just MARY. Luke 8:2 describe various women among Jesus’ disciples. They’d been healed of diseases of evil spirits. They travelled with him, along with the 12. They learned from him, and even helped support him financially.

And they KEEP following him. Apart from the Apostle John, it’s WOMEN at the foot of the cross. It’s WOMEN who hear the seven sayings of Jesus from the cross. And pass on what they heard, so we can read about it. It’s WOMEN who come to the tomb, and are the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection. It’s Mary Jesus appears to first in the garden. And women who declare what they’ve seen to the Apostles. All of that just reflects how Jesus welcomed them and accepted them. And how committed to him they were.

When it comes to his TEACHING, Jesus makes women the subject of various parables. The woman searching for her lost coin (Luke 15). Or the persistent widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18. Or the ten virgins in Mt 25 waiting for the bridegroom. Or the woman mixing yeast into dough in Mt 13.

And he DEFENDED women in his teaching about divorce and adultery. At a time when husbands could divorce their wives quickly and easily. And wives had no rights, and no means of financial support available to them. In Matthew 19, he taught that a man who divorced his wife and re-married (except on the grounds of adultery) was actually committing adultery HIMSELF. He strengthened the boundaries around marriage. For the protection of women.

And in Mt 5, rather than objectify women, and blame them for leading men astray, he places the responsibility squarely on men’s self-control. “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” It’s the HEART that’s the problem, not the way a woman looks.

Or one last passage to do with women: the passage we read earlier. Luke 7:36, (turn there with me.) Jesus is having dinner with Simon the Pharisee. A woman who’d lived a sinful life hears that Jesus is there, so she drops in unannounced, with a gift of expensive perfume. Most respectable Rabbis would have just sent her away. But look at v38, as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears.

It reads like she hadn’t planned it. Perhaps she’s just listening as Jesus talks. Then the tears start. Probably firstly from GUILT, as she recognises her own sin. But then, as she understands what Jesus is offering, they become tears of GRATITUDE AND JOY.

When she realises she’s making a mess. She looks around for something to clean up with. But the only thing she can think of is her hair. So she wipes his feet with her hair, then kisses them and pours the perfume on them.

It’s a physically-intimate, and awkward. action. Especially given her reputation. I know if I’d been in Jesus’ position, I’d have felt embarrassed. It certainly seems to have made SIMON uncomfortable. V39. He said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is-that she is a sinner.”

But rather than rebuke the woman and send her away. Rather than focus on her HISTORY. Jesus focusses on her REPENTANCE and LOVE.

He DEFENDS her, and tells Simon a story. V41. Two men owe money. One owes 500 denarii, the other only 50. Neither can pay, so the money-lender forgives both their debts. Jesus finishes by asking Simon a question, “Which of them will love him MORE?” The answer’s obvious. The one FORGIVEN the most/ will love the MOST.

You’re right, says Jesus. Then, v44, he connects Simon and the woman/ to the two debtors in the story. Simon feels he has little that needs forgiving, so he LOVES little. He hasn’t washed Jesus’ feet or kissed him, or anointed his head with oil. But the woman, whose many sins have been forgiven, LOVES MUCH. And Jesus welcomes and forgives and blesses her. It’s her FAITH and REPENTANCE and LOVE he rewards. Not her reputation, or her past sins.

I want to read you a quote from Dorothy Sayers. She was one of the first female graduates of Oxford in 1915. She battled hard for equality for women. She was educated at a time when women could study, but weren’t awarded degrees. She went on to become a well-known novelist and poet.

In a letter to the Bishop of Coventry, she described Jesus’ attitude to women.

“Alone among teachers and founders of religion, he did and said nothing special about them. He never said they were tempters. or snares, or weaklings, or imbeciles, or inspirations, or angels: he never mapped out a special sphere of duties for them, or told people to keep clear of them or shut them up; when they asked him intelligent questions he replied seriously and intelligibly, and when Martha wanted to hike Mary off on the ground that women’s place was in the kitchen He told her to leave her alone; He never patronised, or condescended, or scolded. or nagged at women for being women, or turned shy or silly or self-conscious or superior on them, and not one teaching or parable of his ever turns on funny stuff about wives or horrid warnings about women; you could read the whole Gospel from end to end without learning from it that there was anything peculiar about women, or that mankind was divided into two sections… You don’t realise, perhaps, how extraordinary that it is. It’s unparalleled. There has been nothing like it before or since. There has certainly never been anything like it in Christ’s Church.” (Sayers to the Bishop of Coventry. Letters of Dorothy Sayer, Vol 3, 28)

Which is quite a bold thing to say to a Bishop, I would have thought!

And then there’s Jesus’ attitude to CHILDREN. Overlooked and insignificant and unimportant. But, for Jesus, they MATTER. Because GOD is always the defender of the weak. And protector of the powerless. (Like we saw in Psalm 146. The Creator who cares for his creatures.)

In Mark 10, people are bringing their children to Jesus to have him BLESS them, v13. But the disciples decide Jesus has MORE IMPORTANT things to be doing. (Children don’t count. They can’t contribute). So, they rebuke the parents. But look at Jesus’ reaction. V14. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Powerless, trusting, humble children are the PERFECT type of disciple. In fact, they’re MODEL DISCIPLES. V15. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

He WELCOMES and REJOICES in them. But he also DEFENDS them. In the previous chapter, the disciples are arguing about who’s the greatest. So, as an object lesson, v36, Jesus shows them a child, and encourages them TO WELCOME LITTLE CHILDREN. Do that, says Jesus, and you’re actually doing something that’s just about the most important thing you can do. It’s the same as welcoming Jesus, or the One who sent him.

And then a few verses further on, in v42, he says

42 “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

Jesus defends and values children. And down through history, it’s often the Christian CHURCH that’s done the same. Christians have taken the lead, and pushed the boundaries. They’ve educated kids. And run orphanages. And adoption agencies. And child sponsorship organisations.

The reason NSW has school Scripture classes locked in the state Education Act is because it used to be THE CHURCH who ran ALL SCHOOLS. And when the NSW government got organised enough to run schools, they legislated for Christian churches to CONTINUE to have access to children to teach them the Christian faith.

Now, our record isn’t PERFECT. There’s been times in the history of Christian institutions where we haven’t protected and loved kids the way we should. There’s things we need to repent of. And we need to keep working to make sure we do better. We need to love and care for them the way JESUS did.

Jesus searched out the LEAST and the LOST and the LAST. And that included women and children. And he defended them. And cared for them. And LOVED them. Where are those people FOR US, in ASHFIELD? The vulnerable ones?

We need to stand up for the rights of the unborn. But we also need to be, sacrificially and messily, loving PREGNANT MUMS. And supporting and enabling and equipping them to be able to make REAL CHOICES. Jesus calls us to love unborn babies AND mums.

Have you ever thought about FOSTERING a child? There are amazing stories about churches where significant numbers of people foster needy kids

Or what about trafficking and slavery? Some of you know that Karine helps run a SIM organisation called “For Freedom”. It helps churches work out what they can do to help PREVENT slavery and trafficking from happening. Don’t assume it only happens in third world countries. It’s almost certainly happening here in Ashfield! In massage parlours, or brothels, or nail clinics or restaurants.

Who are those at risk? Those without enough work? Or enough English? How can we equip them with the tools to stand, and to steer clear of these traps?

It won’t be EASY. But it’s the response Jesus calls us to. It’s the type of costly response that should flow from knowing you’ve been FORGIVEN A GREAT DEBT. Just like the sinful woman. A response that flows from the joy and gratitude of knowing you’re LOVED and ACCEPTED by Jesus. And you want OTHERS to know the same.

But where do you start? It’s almost paralysing when we think about the size of the problem.

But perhaps the approach should be like Jesus. How did Jesus do it? One person at a time. He loved the person who was in front of him. So pray that you’ll SEE the person in front of you. And then pray that you’ll have the LOVE of Jesus, and the WISDOM of Jesus, to help that person. For HIS honour and glory.

 

 

[1] https://www.childrenbychoice.org.au/factsandfigures/australian-abortion-statistics

 

Matthew 18:21-35: Forgiveness

This church is full of MATHEMATICAL GENIUSES. With INCREDIBLE MEMORIES. You may not have thought of yourself like that. But when it comes to keeping COUNT of how many times someone’s hurt you. Or offended you. You’re EXPERTS! With photographic memories! And I’m no different. We’re specialists at remembering how many times someone’s left the bathmat on the floor. Or not taken out the garbage. We’ve got a photographic memory for the times we were unjustly accused, or missed out on the deserved promotion. We’re EXPERTS at holding grudges. Bearing resentments. Refusing to forgive. We’re great at storing them away for future use / every little slip and mistake. And reminding the offender every chance we get.

And we’re not alone. Our world is full of bitter, angry, unforgiving people. Bruised and resentful because of injustices and offences. People wounded by broken relationships. Marriages, families, workplaces, churches, communities. Even diplomatic relations between countries lie in RUINS because of PRIDE, and self-righteousness, unrepentance and UNFORGIVENESS.

And it’s never been any different. And we’re not getting BETTER, now we’re more civilised and advanced. If anything – we’re getting WORSE.

We need a better way. People are DESPERATE for a better way. Our world NEEDS it. Jesus OFFERS a better way. Something BRAND NEW and UNIQUE. He offers us the unconditional forgiveness of God. And dies in our place to WIN it.

But he also calls US to offer that same unconditional, complete forgiveness to OTHERS. Again and again. It’s a forgiveness that has the potential to change the world. But he doesn’t just COMMAND it. He gives us the MOTIVATION, and the POWER to DO it.

And if we could begin to PROCLAIM that forgiveness. And REFLECT it and MODEL it. It would CHANGE OUR WORLD, one person at a time. Let me show you HOW.

You owe a debt you cannot possibly repay

The passage we just read begins with a question from Peter. He’s ONE OF US. One of those with a long memory for bearing a grudge. The context is Jesus has been teaching about RESTORING a sinner, from v15. (How to encourage towards repentance /someone who’s sinned against you). And the emphasis is about RECONCILING. About winning your brother over. Leading him to REPENTANCE, so you can FORGIVE him.

But as Peter’s been listening, he comes to Jesus with a very NATURAL sort of question for a score-keeper. For a grudge-holder. He’s turned the whole thing around. See there in v21? “HOW MANY TIMES? If I point out my brother’s sin. And he repents. How many times should I forgive?” When can I forget about RECONCILIATION? When can I STOP forgiving? And when can I START getting revenge? When can JUSTICE start? And then he suggests what he, no doubt, thinks is a VERY GENEROUS number. What about SEVEN times?

But Jesus comes back with an answer that’s really saying “Lose the calculator! Not seven, but seventy-seven times. Forget keeping score.

  1. We all owe God a debt we can’t possibly repay.

And then he tells a story. A story that shows that Peter’s WHOLE WAY OF THINKING IS WRONG. It’s a story that provides the antidote to Peter’s sickness. The cure for his disease. It’s a story about A KING who decides to settle accounts with his servants.

First up, they drag in a guy who owes ten thousand talents (v24). It’s A HUGE sum. Maybe 1500 years wages. But the basic point is that he’s got NO WAY OF REPAYING IT. It’s IMPOSSIBLE! Which is the FIRST lesson we learn from this story. WE ALL owe a debt to God we can’t possibly repay.

But notice that doesn’t stop the servant MAKING THE OFFER. Look at his response there in v26. When the king orders his family sold into slavery,

26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back EVERYTHING.’

Not just PART of the debt. (5 or 10%). He’s got the cheek to promise THE WHOLE LOT. Who does he think he’s trying to fool? He doesn’t realise the extent of his debt. Or his ability to repay it. He’s living in dreamland!

But it’s a common attitude from people/ when it comes to GOD. That’s who the king REPRESENTS in this story. When it comes TO GOD, people think they’re not REALLY that bad. At least compared to OTHERS. Their debt isn’t THAT big. And won’t be that hard to pay off. They try all sorts of strategies. Thinking they can RESTORE their heavenly bank balance. They think being NICE to people will do it. Or sponsoring a World Vision child. Or recycling their plastics. Or buying Fair trade coffee. Or getting solar panels. Or being tolerant and not judging people. Doing GOOD DEEDS that, somehow, cancel out the BAD DEEDS. As if going UNDER the speed limit somehow cancels out your speeding ticket for going OVER the speed limit!

But people who TRY/ are just FOOLING THEMSELVES. They’re not fooling God. Because there’s NO repayment plan you can come up with to cancel your debt. The reality is/ WE ALL owe God a debt we can’t possibly repay. Good or bad. Young or old. Educated or not. Rich or poor.

Our lives involve pleasing the most important person in our lives – OURSELVES. That’s our basic human nature. At the same time as IGNORING our Creator, our Sustainer, our Saviour. Which is the ULTIMATE sin. The root of all the rest.

We MIGHT be doing good deeds. But all the while, we’re spending up from the ATM of God’s patience. Building an unpayable debt. With a spending spree of REBELLION and INDEPENDENCE and “I know best” in thoughts and words, attitudes and actions. We’re headed for a DAY OF RECKONING. A heavenly AUDIT. When the King of the Universe will call US to settle accounts.

The problem with holding grudges. And keeping score. And refusing to forgive. Is the SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS and PRIDE of it. Because it forgets that WE ALL owe a debt we can’t possibly repay. Who are WE to hold a grudge against those people who sin against us?

Your debt has been extravagantly cancelled

But the incredible thing about this story/ is that despite the over-confidence of the servant. The audacity to think he could come up with his OWN repayment plan. … the king showed him MERCY. V27.

27 The servant’s master TOOK PITY on him, CANCELED the debt and LET HIM GO.

One minute this man owed MILLIONS. The next, he had a CLEAN SLATE. Transferred from hopelessly drowning in debt, to owing NOTHING. Free as a bird. It’s grace that’s EXTRAORDINARY! And shocking and UNFAIR! The servant didn’t DESERVE it. It doesn’t seem FAIR – certainly not for those who owed LESS, and probably still had to pay. His debt was EXTRAVAGANTLY CANCELLED.

Which is the second thing Christians learn from this parable. Your debt has been EXTRAVAGANTLY CANCELLED. God promises us UNEARNED FORGIVENESS in place of JUDGMENT. GRACE in place of JUSTICE. INNOCENCE instead of GUILT. FREEDOM in place of SLAVERY. And FRIENDSHIP in place of HOSTILITY.

Jesus TEACHES it. But he does more than TEACH it. He’s the one who EARNS it. He takes the just punishment your sin deserved. So you can gain the restored relationship with God that JESUS deserves.

It seems SO UNFAIR! If you’re a Christian, whose sins are forgiven, you deserve NONE OF IT. It’s NOT because you work harder. Or understand it better. Or are a nicer person. It’s not because you’re better educated, or a better parent. Or have a more important job or place in society. It’s not because you’ve read the right books, or even that you were in the right place at the right time. God showed you GRACE when you DIDN’T DESERVE IT. You owed a debt you couldn’t possibly repay. But your debt has been EXTRAVAGENTLY CANCELLED. Two EXTRAORDINARY truths.

It’s why Christians SING! We really DO have something to sing ABOUT! We sing words like these.

1. Amazing GRACE! How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.

 

Or we sing

How deep the Father’s love for us, How vast beyond all measure, That He should give His only Son TO MAKE A WRETCH/ HIS TREASURE. How great the pain of searing loss, The Father turns His face away, As wounds which mar the Chosen One Bring many sons to glory.

I will not boast in anything, No gifts, no power, no wisdom; But I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. Why should I gain from His rewards? I cannot give an answer, But this I know with all my heart, HIS WOUNDS HAVE PAID MY RANSOM.

They’re words you can ONLY sing truthfully if you’re a Christian. Wonderful words of praise. That express the incredible, unbelievable, SHOCKING truth that, in a world full of guilty people, (people who owe a debt they can’t possibly repay, who justly deserve punishment), there are SOME whose debt has been EXTRAVAGANTLY CANCELLED.

But perhaps that’s NOT you. Perhaps you look at your own life and you know truth number two DOESN’T describe you. You know your debt HASN’T been extravagantly cancelled. Perhaps you know truth number ONE only TOO WELL. That you owe God a debt you can’t repay. And perhaps that repayment plan’s been worrying you for years. Then accept the wonderful offer of truth number two. God is offering to cancel your debt. To forgive your sin. And all you need to do is ASK HIM. And then you can know the wonderful truth of lesson number two. And can sing those words with CONVICTION. I guarantee it will change your life!

You show that you understand such grace by reflecting that extravagance towards others.

BUT, that’s not what happened with THIS SERVANT. V28. No changed life. No thanks. No songs of praise. Just this. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

Perhaps the equivalent of a few thousand dollars. Not insignificant. But certainly something that you COULD repay. Which the poor guy suggests. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

Almost identical words to the FIRST servant. But the response is THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE. Instead of cancelling his debt. Instead of paying it forward. V30 “But he REFUSED. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

The servant was SHOWN mercy, but refused to show MERCY HIMSELF. He’d been forgiven, but failed to forgive. As we hear the story, we’re SHOCKED. It seems so UN-NATURAL to respond to grace the way this guy did. And his fellow-servants are shocked too. And when they tell the king the news of what’s gone on, the miserable servant’s done for. V32.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled ALL THAT DEBT OF YOURS because you BEGGED me to. 33 Shouldn’t YOU have had MERCY on your FELLOW SERVANT JUST AS I HAD ON YOU?’

It seems so obvious. So NATURAL. That when you recognise the size of the debt that YOU’VE been forgiven. That any debt someone has to YOU just can’t measure up. And it’s just OBVIOUS to show mercy similarly. As it says in Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. FORGIVE AS THE LORD FORGAVE YOU.

It’s BECAUSE we’ve been forgiven, we know what it feels like. And we’re ABLE to forgive.

You see, Jesus is calling US to see things the way GOD sees them. To see BOTH parts of the story. Not just the SECOND. That’s the point Jesus is making. If we only heard THE SECOND part of the story. Where the servant found the man who owed him money, and threw him in jail. It wouldn’t seem so wrong. It’d be JUST. TOUGH, but FAIR. The sort of thing people do every day. It’s NATURAL, in our world, for people to seek justice when others owe them a debt.

But it’s the FIRST PART of the story. That gives THE TRUE PERSPECTIVE. That highlights the hypocrisy. And that makes his behaviour so unforgivable.

The point is that NON-Christians only know the SECOND half of the story. They don’t know what it means to be forgiven an unpayable debt. And so, it seems NATURAL for them to hold grudges, to not forgive, to demand revenge. But if you’re a Christian, then you have a FIRST PART of this story. Your impossible debt has been extravagantly cancelled. So, it’s UNNATURAL not to reflect that extravagance to OTHERS.

And that’s the THIRD truth we learn from this story. YOU SHOW THAT YOU UNDERSTAND SUCH GRACE BY REFLECTING THAT EXTRAVAGANCE TOWARDS OTHERS. It’s the NATURAL RESPONSE for people who’ve been SHOWN great mercy, to SHOW mercy.

So, whatever sin’s been committed against you. Whatever hurt you feel. Whatever bitterness you hold. No matter how HUGE it seems. How frequent the slip-up. Jesus calls you to forgive heartily. To show GRACE WITHOUT LIMIT. Because it can never measure up to the debt YOU’VE been forgiven.

You see, ultimately, to hold a grudge, is to DOUBT GOD. And to FORGIVE / is an act of FAITH in a just God who’s better at being fair than me. Romans 12:19-20 puts it like this

19 Do NOT TAKE REVENGE, my friends, but LEAVE ROOM FOR GOD’S WRATH, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Leave the justice up to GOD. That’s what he’s GOOD AT. If someone’s harmed you, LET IT GO. BLESS those who persecute you. Live in harmony with one another. Don’t be proud. If they repent, FORGIVE them. It’ll be good for your blood pressure, and your mental and spiritual health. God will make sure justice is done.

The World is hungry for grace like that

But as for YOU, Jesus calls you to forgive heartily. To show grace without limit. He’s calling us to be people of GRACE. Of forgiveness. Calling for a RADICAL REFORMATION of the way we treat people. He wants his church to be A HAVEN OF GRACE. A SECURE LITTLE ISLAND OF FORGIVENESS. Not that we’ll be PERFECT. But where we show patience to people. We’re quick to confess sin to each other. And quick to FORGIVE. Too often, churches AREN’T places like that. But they SHOULD be. More than any other place. Jesus calls us to be an island of grace in a stormy ocean of UN-grace. Because the reality is/ that’s the way the world is. In the world/ it’s UN-grace that’s the natural response. The way of the world. The way of people who haven’t know a debt extravagantly cancelled. Resentment, bitterness, judgmentalism, and unforgiveness means there are broken relationships ALL OVER THE PLACE.

We live in a world of UN-grace. Of striving and me-first. The early bird gets the worm. No pain, no gain. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Demand your rights. You get what you pay for. But what separates Christianity from all the world religions. Is GRACE. We are in THE UNIQUE POSITION of offering GRACE to people. We are the only ones who have an ACT ONE to our story. Whose debt has been extravagantly cancelled. Rather than just an “Act two”.

And the FOURTH truth that flows out of this story is that THE WORLD IS HUNGRY FOR GRACE. They long to know forgiveness and acceptance, reconciliation and restoration. The world is full of bitter, twisted, angry, hardened, frightened people. People who’ve been consumed by unforgiveness. Who have been HURT, but who refuse to forgive. Who’ve DONE wrong, but never been able to say SORRY. People who’ve never known someone who’s shown grace to THEM.

The world is full of people waiting for THE OTHER PERSON to make the first move. Refusing to admit our fault. Because that’s weakness. Refusing to apologise or forgive. Husbands waiting for wives. Fathers waiting for sons. Mothers for daughters. Brothers for brothers. Ex-best friends who know longer speak. And it CRIPPLES people. DESTROYS them.

The world is full of people like this because to forgive is ACHINGLY difficult. To forgive is UN-NATURAL. It’s UNFAIR. It’s unfair to be expected to simply overlook hurt, to forgive, to do NOTHING in response to being hurt. To wish WELL someone who’s wished you HARM. Someone who’s HURT you SHOULD be punished. Not forgiven.

To forgive is COSTLY. You BEAR A COST whenever you forgive. It might be financial, or emotional. But the Christian is ABLE to do it, because the cost of sin has ALREADY been borne. By ANOTHER. By Jesus, the suffering servant, pierced for our transgressions, crushed of our iniquity. Christianity has something unique to offer the world. Because only GRACE can break the cycle of UNgrace. Of justice and vengeance. And only Christians who understand grace. Who’ve RECEIVED grace. Can dispense it.

So if you’re struggling to forgive. Jesus gives you the ANTIDOTE. Begin by recognising you owe a debt you cannot possibly repay. Second, if you’re a Christian, then YOUR DEBT HAS BEEN EXTRAVAGANTLY CANCELLED. It’s as you understand BOTH THOSE truths, that you’ll genuinely be able to live out truth number three. You show that you understand such grace by reflecting that extravagance towards others.

Forgiveness is like AIR YOU BREATHE. If you hold onto a lungful and refuse to breathe it out to others, you can’t breathe in God’s forgiveness. Breathe in God’s forgiveness deeply. Remind each other, in speech and song and prayer, of those first two truths. We owe a debt we can’t possibly repay. We’ve had our debt extravagantly paid for.

And when we breathe that truth in deeply. We can BREATHE OUT the fresh breath of forgiveness to those around us. We can show that we understand such grace by reflecting that extravagance towards others. Towards a world that’s HUNGRY for grace.