The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Being led by the Spirit – John 16:12-15

John 16:12-15

This sermon was preached at Wesley Church, 26th May 2013. A fuller text of the sermon is provided below.

In a news article I read recently, a mother and her daughter in North Carolina were found walking down the street naked. When stopped by police, the mother informed them they were walking down the street naked because God had told them to.[1]

In another article, a South Boston made was charged with disorderly conduct for ‘train surfing’. He later informed police that God told him to do anything he wanted.[2]

In a much more disturbing article, a mother accidently suffocated  to death her 3 year old daughter believing her daughter had a demon, and that God had told her to exorcise the demon. She was committed to a state mental health institution for six months.[3]

News articles like theses may well see us asking: what does it mean to be led by God, or by his Holy Spirit?

As Christians, we have experiences which we may describe as being led by the Holy Spirit. We may particularly seek out guidance by the Holy Spirit when buying a house or a car. Or searching for a job. Or considering a marriage partner, or whether to marry at all. And I don’t wish to put the legitimacy of those experiences into doubt. Even I, myself, sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to which passage I should preach on today. I was given a choice of 4 passages by this church, and I felt led to preach on John 16:12-15.

But these experiences do not define the norm for what it means to be led by the Holy Spirit. For if we keep pushing this kind of thinking, we will end up seeking the Holy Spirit over which breakfast cereal we should eat – which is just ridiculous. For if that is how we think of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, there’s not much, if anything, that separates us from those in the news. So, we are still left asking: what does it mean to be led by the Holy Spirit?

Can I say from the outset, that the work of the Holy Spirit is not to diminish our responsibility, but to enhance our responsibility as followers of Jesus. To understand how the Holy Spirit does this, we must understand who the Holy Spirit is, where he and his authority comes from, and what he actually does. Once we have done this, we’ll be in a much better position to know what it means to be lead by the Holy Spirit.

Before answering those questions, we may wonder why is the Holy Spirit needed? In John 16:12, we find the disciples suffering a bit of ‘information overload’. When you consider that this is one of the longest single discourses of Jesus we have recorded, it’s understandable. But this is not the main cause of the information overload. It starts way back in chapter 12 with the celebration of the Passover.  In 14:8, the discourse takes on a sharp focus with Phillip’s request for Jesus to show them the Father. In other words, Phillip is asking Jesus for a fuller, richer experience of what it means to be his disciple. They’re about to receive that experience in 1 week’s time when they witness Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. But they’re not going to understand it. That’s why they can’t bear what Jesus is saying to them now. Their eyes are glazed over, and nothing Jesus is saying is going in. How are they to continue on in the absence of Jesus, especially when they’re so thick?

The answer is the Holy Spirit referred to as ‘Spirit of Truth’ in v13. It’s not the first time he’s been mention in this discourse. So to find out more about him, and how he solves the problem, we’re going to look at other parts of this discourse.

So, who is he?

In 14:17, he is again referred to as the ‘Spirit of Truth’. There, we learn he is not of this world. He does not blend into this world. He cannot be received or recognised by the world. Why? I suggest it’s because his agenda is different to the world’s agenda. He does not entertain worldly passions. Do you want the Holy Spirit to lead you to that nice sports car, or that luxury yacht because your workmate has one? I suggest it’s not going to happen. The Holy Spirit’s concern is different from the world’s concerns.

In 14:6, 26 and 16:7, the Greek word used to refer to him is paracletos, and is usually translated as ‘helper’ or ‘counsellor’. I suggest another helpful word might be ‘coach’. He coaches us in our relationship with God. A sports coach doesn’t play the game for you, nor tell you what to do at every single point in the game. But he does point you in the right direction, and equips you to play the game well. Don’t expect the Holy Spirit to do your decision making for you. But look to him so you do make good decisions.

Where does the Holy Spirit and his authority come from?

In 14:26 we learn that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father in Jesus’ name. He is sent by the Divine Father who has been revealed by the Divine Son. This should give us a clue as to why he is not of this world, and cannot be engaged by the world. Because he is of God, and is God he is engaged in God’s work. His concerns are God’s concerns.

That’s why in 16:13, we learn that he has no authority is not his own. He takes what is God’s and what belongs to Jesus, and makes it know to us. So if you find the spirit is saying one thing, and the Jesus is saying another in the Bible, I suggest to you whatever spirit your listening to is not the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit does not speak of his own authority, but only the authority of the Father and the Son. And we know what the Father and the Son have said, because it’s been recorded for us in the Bible. There’s no guess work for us!

So, what does the Holy Spirit do?

In 14:26 we learn that the Holy Spirit reminds and teaches us what Jesus said. In 16:7 we learn that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is in direct relation to Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’˜ ministry was to make atonement for sin in his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit applies that ministry to us. That’s why Jesus says in 16:7, “if I don’t go, he wont come”. Jesus was going to make atonement for sin, and unless that happened, they’d be no atonement for the Holy Spirit to apply. And if there’s no atonement to apply, there’s no work for the Holy Spirit to do. Follow??

In 16:13, we learn that the Holy Spirit guides us in all truth. Does this mean that Christians don’t need to study for exams? I can’t see any of my former lectures at Bible College being convinced of that kind of thinking! The force of what is said here is that the Holy Spirit will immerse us in everything Jesus has said. The disciples hardly understood anything Jesus said to them. But it was still truth. It was still relevant. The disciples needed to be immersed in that truth by the Holy Spirit so they could understand it with their minds, and have it seep into their hearts, and out through their bodies as they lived out that truth.

We also learn that the Holy Spirit declares the things that are to come. Does that mean that there’s more revelation to come? For us, no. For the disciples, yes. Remember, in 1 week’s time, they will see their beloved Lord crucified, buried and resurrected, and though they may believe, they will not understand. In 20:8-9, Peter believed but didn’t understand. In v13, Mary Magdalene thought someone had moved Jesus’ body. And in v25, poor old doubting Thomas needed physical proof!

It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit came that they understood why Jesus had died, and was resurrected. The Holy Spirit reminded them of everything Jesus had taught, and made known to them the meaning of his death and resurrection. That when he died, he was taking their punishment, in their place, for their sins against a Holy and Righteous God. That they were no longer their own to do as they pleased, but they now belonged to God, PURCHASED by the precious and pure blood of Jesus for eternity. That they no longer belonged to this world with all of its selfishness, all of its lust, and all of its greed. But they now belonged to a new order, a heavenly order, where the good of the other is sought in love, and God the Father and his Son Jesus are worshipped alone, and are made known.

The same is true for us. We need to be immersed in that glorious truth by the Holy Spirit. The truth that we have been PURCHASED. We no longer belong to this world, so why on earth do we insist on living like it? We belong to God, and we live according to a heavenly order. The Holy Spirit guides us and enables us to do that. We owe Jesus praise and worship, big time!

It’s no wonder, then, that in 16:14 we learn the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus. The Holy Spirit keeps pointing back to Jesus. There is nothing more to know about God apart from Jesus. Jesus says, “Everything the Father has is mine…” Everything! … Everything concerning God, who he is, what he’s doing, what he will do, it’s all found in Jesus. All that the Holy Spirit talks about is Jesus. This is why Jesus says in v15, “… he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Are you starting to notice a pattern here? Being led by the Holy Spirit is not about our activity, and God responding to our small-time ideas. It’s about God’s saving activity in Jesus, and us responding to God’s ideas for eternity!

Being led by the Holy Spirit is about Jesus. Knowing Jesus and glorifying Jesus. There is nothing else to know or to be revealed apart from Jesus, because everything concerning God has been given to Jesus.

Therefore, being led by the Holy Spirit involves much more than our decisions. It involves our thoughts and our attitudes. We are to look for ways where we can be immersed in the truth about Jesus, growing in our knowledge of him, and glorifying him.

So, when it comes to buying a house, or a car, ask yourself, “How will this glorify Jesus?” When looking for a job, or a marriage partner, ask yourself, “Will this help me grow in my knowledge of Jesus, or is it a distraction?”

And if you really can’t make up your mind between Cornflakes and Cocoa Pops, there’s a very easy solution – have both! God gave us food to enjoy. Don’t make it any more complicated than what it has to be!

Being led by the Holy Spirit means growing in the knowledge of Jesus, and glorifying him in all we do.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2013

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Bible, Sermons | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Worshipping God in Difficulty

The following sermon was delivered at Gosford Presbyterian Church, 27th January 2013 on Psalm 98.

I suspect everyone here would agree that worshipping God is important. God deserves to be worshipped, and we were created to worship God. But if we are honest, we can find worship difficult. Perhaps one of the main reasons why we find worship difficult is wrong motives. We can end up thinking that God exists to bless us the way we want. Then when we don’t get what we want, we struggle to worship God. I admit, I find it easier to come to church when I’ve had a good week, rather than when I’ve had a bad week. Worse still, we can face the very real temptation to stop worshipping God all together.

On the other hand, correct motives sustain us to worship God. So it’s worth asking, what should motivate us to worship God? A good place that helps us answer that is the Psalms.

Psalms 96 – 99 form a block of Psalms that celebrate God’s kingship. These Psalms give us insight into correct motives for worshipping God. They’re worth reading through, in your own time, noting what the Psalmist mentions, and perhaps what he doesn’t mention.

Today, we’re looking at Psalm 98, which begins by inviting us to worship God by singing a new song v1. The idea being expressed by the Psalmist of a new song means to look beyond our present circumstances – our frustrations, our weaknesses, our disappointments – and look forward to the NEW work of God in the future, which we’ll look at in a minute.

But some of you might find this a big ask. Some of you may find your circumstances so painful, you just can’t see past them at the present time. Well, there is a solution. Before you look forward to what God will do, look back to see what God has done, and all the positives he has provided. That’s exactly what the Psalmist does!

in v3 The Psalmist looks back to the time when God made salvation for his people. It’s likely that the Psalmist is referring to God’s salvation in general terms. But it is also likely that he was thinking of the exodus – when God saved his people from the tyranny of slavery in Egypt, and after many years, brought them into the Promised Land. Just as he had promised their forefathers generations before.

For us today, we need to look back to the salvation that God made for us in Jesus – when we were saved from the tyranny of sin. When Jesus died on the cross, our wrong doing before God was removed so we could enter a right relationship with him. His resurrection assures us that sin has been conquered, and the work of salvation continues.

Whether it’s the salvation that Israel experienced in the exodus, or the salvation we experienced in Jesus, we are to understand that salvation is entirely God’s work. In v1 it is stated that “God’s right hand and holy arm have made salvation”. This gives us confidence to depend on what God has provided for us.

If I make something, trust me, you know it will fall apart. The same is true for our salvation – if we try to make our own salvation, it will fall apart. We can’t put confidence in our own efforts. But, because God has made salvation, it can’t fall apart. If you trust in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, your relationship with God is secure. Nothing can change that – not our frustrations, weaknesses, or disappointments.

So here is the right motivation to worship God. We worship God not because he gives us what we want – although sometimes he does, and we should thank him for it. But we worship God because he gives us what we need – a right relationship with him.

So, what will this worship look like? How are we to worship God? In a word, publicly and loudly. Occasionally I hear about the idea of a ‘private Christian’ – someone who keeps their faith to themselves and never lets on they’re a Christian. Such an idea is inconsistent with Psalm 98. In v4 the psalmist’s invitation goes out to th`e whole earth, which involves making music. Until the invention of headphones, music was not a private affair! Music that is out in the open is noticed by anyone nearby. There is nothing private about music. So, according to Psalm 98, neither should there be anything private about our worship of God. Everyone is invited to worship God.

So, when it comes to right motives for worshipping God, we need to be looking beyond our own circumstances, because it’s God who makes salvation, not us, and our response in worship is to be public.

Now, I’ve made mention that our circumstances can be painful. But in focusing our attention on the salvation that God has made for us, I do not intend to be dismissive of such circumstances. I know when I’m hurting, and my concerns are dismissed, it only hurts even more. I don’t want to do that to anyone. We should be looking to support each other any time one of us is hurting. But at the same time, we must recognise that the support we get is not the final solution to that hurt.

The final solution to our frustrations, weaknesses, and disappointments is judgement. We see that in vv7-9. Judgement is a part of salvation. They go hand-in-hand. Judgement will see a time when things are put right. Not just improved. They will be made right! A time when evil and wickedness will be punished. A time when the righteous will be protected. That is, for those who are trusting in God’s promises, harm and injury will be done away with. Suffering will be no more.

It’s important to note the difference in who pays attention to salvation and to judgment. While we might expect that salvation gets the most attention, its actually judgement that gets the most attention. With salvation, everyone on earth pays attention, which when you think about it, that’s a lot of attention! But in vv7-9 judgement not only grabs the attention of everyone on earth, it grabs the attention of creation itself. The fish, the animals, the rivers, the mountains are all caught up in the worship of God, looking forward to the judgement that is to come.

Our motive for worshipping God is bigger than ourselves; bigger than our circumstances; bigger than our lives – what we’re doing, and what we hope to do. Our motive for worshipping God is God himself: What he has done in making salvation. For us, that salvation is through Jesus; and what God will do in judging the earth.

We need to see that our motive for worshipping God should not be restricted by our circumstances.

So when I have a bad week, I still come to church. When I’ve had a discouraging day, I still go to Growth Group. When I’m angry and want to tell someone off, I still pray. When I feel like hiding at home, I still look for ways to share my faith. When I feel like escaping reality by watching a movie or playing a computer game, I still read the Bible. When I’ve been ripped off, I still look to be generous with what I have.

I don’t abandon God just because I don’t like my circumstances. And neither should you. Instead, we are to persevere in our worship of God, looking beyond our circumstances. And our worship is to be motivated by the salvation God has made, and his coming judgement.

In this way, we can truly sing a new song, and worship God, just as the Psalmist invites us to do!

January 28, 2013 Posted by | Sermons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – December 2012

2012 saw the end of a course of study that began in July 2002. To think I entered PTC timidly, concern I wouldn’t meet the standards required of a degree, to come out the other end being able to debate interpretations of the Bible from the original languages, along with other abilities, has truly been a blessing from God. It was also the kind of year where meeting an Ewok look-a-like Cavoodle that did meerkat impersonations didn’t seem all that out of place! More of the dog later.
I began the year with optimistic valour. I thought, “Just a language to learn, and a thesis to write. How hard could that be??” I had to ask… When I learned Greek,  I thought that was hard. But, compared to Hebrew, Greek was a walk in the park! Or should that be ‘a walk in the λάχανον’? Anyway, I found Hebrew extremely difficult, and I can now understand why everyone I spoke to discouraged me from doing it. But I had to be stubborn! In the first 3 weeks, while my classmates were flat learning the language, I was flat out learning how to access the language.
Not being able to use paper and pen means doing everything via a computer. At the start of the year, my main computer was my Windows laptop. Changing from English to Hebrew and back again wasn’t as straight forward as one would hope. So then I tried my Mac which, thankfully, was much more streamlined. Then I found sophisticated word processing applications (like MS Word, Mac Pages) couldn’t handle right to left text (Hebrew runs the other way to English). So I had to buy a word processing application that could handle bidirectional text. Then I found many of the processes and methods I had developed for learning Greek weren’t going to work for Hebrew.
At every step in the journey, I incurred frustration. I seriously pondered whether I needed to withdraw. But, I was told of some vocabulary applications for the iPhone, and they pretty much made all the difference. Then I was left to struggle with the same issues as everyone else – vowels that changed for no apparent reason, and vocabulary that had no bearing with English. But now, I am ever so pleased I had taken on the challenged – and succeeded! The strange thing is, while Greek was easy to learn, it’s hard to read, Hebrew is hard to learn but easy to read. Many others have made the same observation.
As for my thesis – ey! Emotions are still raw as I write this. I only submitted it in recent days – for the second time! It was toward the end of November. My thesis had been submitted 3 weeks prior, my final Hebrew exam had been completed, and I began to celebrate. My studies were over! So I thought. Alas, those celebrations were short lived. 4 hours later, my thesis came back. Not good.
    The topic I had chosen was ‘The work of the Holy Spirit in the person with a disability, and their relationship with the church’. Now, if you ever wanted a challenging topic to write on while adhering to the Reformed theological tradition, this would be one of them. I chose this topic for 3 main reasons. Firstly, my Pentecostal friends often speak of the Holy Spirit, and I wondered if he really did some of the things they claimed. Secondly, I wanted to provide a theological basis for disability inclusion. I have come across disabilities ministries that are completely segregated from mainstream churches. They do a wonderful service in ministering to people with disabilities, but I wondered if they capture God’s vision for his people (there’s only one!) and the ministry of reconciliation. Thirdly, as a would-be Presbyterian minister, I wanted to state very clearly what my theological agenda is from the perspective of disability – I want to see people with disabilities included in the life of main stream churches as an expression of God reconciling all things to himself through Christ.
So the thesis gave me an opportunity to explore these issues. Unfortunately, the examiner wasn’t happy with my arguments (and rightly so, I’ll readily admit), although they applauded my efforts. So in the past month, I’ve had to come up with a new argument, and rewrite half my 8,000 word thesis. Not to mention attending several speaking engagements, organising a Christmas service, and going to Melbourne for 3 days during the process. Now, 8,000 words may seem allot, but when you have a mind as hyperactive as mine, I can assure you it’s not! My biggest frustration was cramming all my ideas under the word limit. I have enough discarded bits and pieces around here to publish a book. That’s before I develop them any further so a nonacademic could actually understand! Of course, I’m happy for people to read my thesis, so long as they’re prepared to contend with Greek, and a bit of Hebrew. As I write, I still don’t know whether I’ve actually finished my studies. I’m still waiting for the result.

2012 also saw plenty of opportunities for me to speak and teach, which I’m most thankful for. In March I preached on John 9 at St. Clements Anglican Church, Mossman. The same sermon was delivered at Temora Presbyterian Church in June where I also spoke to them about how they could be more inclusive of people disabilities. This is where I met this strange dog that would frequently sit upright on its hind legs with its front paws drooping downward, and have a good look around the room. It was quite funny to see. I was able to preach the same sermon again to Buxton community church, which was an eye opener into the workings of community churches in December. In October a ministry for people with intellectual disabilities called ‘Jesus Club’ invited me to preach at their supporters night on Matthew 28:16-20. This was a great opportunity to meet new people and encourage them.
Raising the awareness of disability also kept me busy as I introduced the Luke14 program (a disability inclusion initiative by Christian Blind Mission), to Anglicare in Campbelltown in May. I was also able to speak to the Presbyterian Women’s Home Mission Committee in June about the needs of people with disabilities and their families, and my desire to equip churches to meet this need. Similarly, I had the opportunity to speak about disability at the ‘Flourish’ Presbyterian Conference in July. St. James Anglican, Turramurra, had a disability awareness Sunday asked me to speak for 10mins on ‘Loving People with Disabilities’ in relation to 1 John at all 3 morning services in December. This also was very well received. My answer? We love people with disabilities the same way we love anyone – the way God has loved us in Jesus.
My last college mission saw me going to McClean on the north coast of NSW. There, I was able to give my testimony to the local Presbyterian Church. One of the members saw an opportunity, and the next thing I knew, I was off to Grafton Christian School to give my testimony there as well. It was very encouraging to see how the students responded to what I had to say. I think I’ve remembered all the speaking I’ve done… My apologies if I’ve left out anyone!
Aside from these opportunities, I continued to teach year 2 Scripture. This has been an extremely valuable experience for me in learning how to relate to kids. It’s always interesting looking at the lesson in the teacher’s manual thinking, “That’s not going to work for me…” Then coming up with my own approach. Computer produced find-a-words based on a Bible passage and colouring in pictures from the internet have come in very handy.
Church services at the Allambie Heights Cerebral Palsy Alliance continued this year, and it was great to have so many willing volunteers to help me out with the ministry. This year we went through Genesis 1-12, looking as some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith: that God loves us, he provides for us, he wants to restore us and the rest of the world from sin, and we need to trust him in that regard and obey him. Recently we’ve been going through the Sermon on the Mount, understanding it as an appropriate way of responding to the grace God has given us. At the end of the year we had our Christmas Service. A number of people got a band together so we could sing carols. Everyone involved put in a huge effort. People came to the service who don’t usually come, and they were able to hear about how Jesus gives us peace with God, which is where peace on Earth starts. It was a really encouraging time.

So, all that was quite allot on top of my studies. Pending the response to my thesis, I’m assuming the formal part of my studies is over. So what happens next? In a word: DUNNO! However, I’m hoping to be licensed to preach on the 3rd January (again, pending the thesis result). This does not mean I’ll be ordained, it’s just one of the last steps toward ordination. How and when ordination will happen remains a mystery. Nothing has been planned in terms of employment for 2013 (that I know of!). There are a couple of leads I’ll be chasing up in January. Apart from this, I’ll continue teaching Scripture, running the church services at Allambie Heights, and providing a bit of pastoral support. I’m hoping that the opportunities I have to speak and teach around the place will continue, and develop into something sustainable.
Apart from this, I have a small stockpile of books to keep me occupied. In many ways I feel I’ve only done the preliminary part of my studies, and now I’m free to get on with the real work. There’s a number of issues I’d like to address, as well as developing my thesis further. In terms of further formal study, I’ll be taking a break to recover from the prolonged pressure of study, and to discover what ‘normal’ now means for me. But the possibility wont be too far from my mind. As such, The Student’s Desk will remain, even though my former studies are over (for now). I look forward to exploring and learning even more.
It’s been a really, really long journey, and I’m thankful that so many have stayed with me on it. Especially those who have been with me from the beginning. Whatever happens now, I feel hugely blessed by, not only in being able to do theological studies, but to actually excel in them. This is a privilege and a grace.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | Leave a comment

Peace on Earth?? You gotta be kidding!

The following message was preached on 8th December 2012 at the Allambie Heights Cerebral Palsy Alliance.

Reading: Isaiah 9:1-7

Peace on earth. It’s one of the things we celebrate at Christmas. But as we look at the world, and our relationships, and even within ourselves, we may start to wonder where is this ‘peace on earth’ we’re meant to be celebrating?
I looked at the world section in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, and saw stories about violent clashes in Egypt, people being killed by typhoons, spies being poisoned to death. Peace on earth? Are you serious?
Then in our lives, we so quickly find ourselves arguing and bickering with the people we love! I know I’m one who’s always up for a good argument, and I sometimes wonder why some people are still talking to me.
Then if we’re not arguing and bickering with other’s we’re getting frustrated with ourselves, and our limitations with trying to get things done! We’re now into the Christmas season, and my past three weeks has been anything but peaceful. I’ve been down to Melbourne, and I’m convinced that anyone who finds that flying is peaceful can’t be normal. Last weekend I was down in the Southern Highlands, preaching. Today I’m here. Tomorrow I’m at Turramurra Anglican. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I’m trying to re-write a major paper so I can graduate college. And then there’s the local shopping centre! Peace on earth? You’ve gotta be kidding! How can we as Christians seriously talk about peace on earth?
Well, I’ll tell you how. A long time a go – a REALLY long time ago, there was a guy called Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet. Now, what prophets did was they spoke on the behalf of God. Isaiah was telling people what God was about to do. If you think things today are pretty wild, the kinds of things that Isaiah was talking about were ‘off the planet’. Because God’s own people were disobeying God, Isaiah was predicting a time when God’s people would loose their country and their city, and nothing of their city would be left. Absolutely nothing! They’d be forced to live in a foreign country where they spoke a foreign language. A time that was not peaceful in any sense.
Yet, Isaiah wasn’t all bad news. He also spoke about a time when these people, who had lived in this very dark time would also see a very bright light. A time when everyone and everything against them would be stopped. Because Isaiah also predict a time when a mighty ruler would be born – a King. A King whose kingdom would be world wide. The law of this land would be justice and peace, and will last for eternity. Forever!
Despite the turmoil that Isaiah saw coming, he could still talk about peace. Whether or not Isaiah knew it at the time, this Mighty King he was talking about was Jesus. Isaiah was talking about Jesus over 700 year before Jesus was born. Jesus would be the King of this everlasting kingdom and bring about this peace.
So how does Jesus bring about this peace? The problem God’s people had in Isaiah’s day was they had disobeyed God. And it’s the exact same problem we have today. As long as there’s sin, we can’t have peace with God. Unless someone takes our sin away. And guess what Jesus did? He took our sins away. This was the whole reason why Jesus was born. Jesus was born, he lived, he died, and he rose again so we could have peace with God. That in his very death, he took all of our sins, all that we’ve done, and ever will do, and they were destroyed, done away with, finished. Peace on earth starts when we have peace with God, by putting our faith in Jesus, trusting what he has done.
Isaiah says that people will rejoice over this, like at harvest time. Now, none of us are farmers, and we don’t know the joys of harvest time. But I take this is something to get excited about. So what do people get excited about around Christmas? They get excited about Santa, presents, decorations, shopping (unless you’re male). People get excited about food. My Bible study group had a Christmas dinner on Thursday night, and when the  food came out, boy, did I get excited! That homemade dark chocolate cheesecake was something else! But here’s the question: how excited do we get about Jesus. How much do we praise Jesus, talk about Jesus, cherish the life Jesus has given us? Because as good as that cheesecake was on Thursday night, it pales into insignificance compared to the peace we have in Jesus. Jesus is worth getting excited about.
The world is messy, our relationships are messy, and our lives are messy, but when it comes to ‘peace on earth’, we are serious. We’re not kidding around. Because peace on earth starts when we have peace with God, and this is what Jesus has achieved for us now. As believers, we look forward to the time when Jesus return to establish his kingdom where we wont only have peace with God, but we’ll also have peace with everyone else. Now that is something to get excited about! Let’s spend Christmas praising Jesus and talking about him.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

December 23, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ‘Great Commision’: The ins and outs of making disciples

Based on Matthew 28:16-20

This messaged was preached at the ‘Jesus Club’ supporters night, 22nd October, 2012.

Well, how are we going with the ‘Great Commission’? Sharing our faith is a walk in the park, right? Perhaps not. The notion of sharing any part of our faith can lead to a feeling of unease. Perhaps we feel inadequate for the task. Maybe I lost my patience the other day, and some naughty words slipped out. Or I wasn’t kind to that person I bumped into last week. What kind of a witness is that?? Or maybe I’m not up on the latest evangelism techniques, and the most effective way of talking about Jesus. Or I really don’t know enough about the person. Perhaps we struggle with who we are – who am I to tell people they need to repent and put their trust in Jesus? Either way, sharing our faith can be a daunting experience.

As we look at the ‘Great Commission’, we discover that Jesus spoke these words who stumbled and slipped in their faith. That sharing our faith isn’t about evangelism techniques, or knowing about people (although they can help. The ‘Great Commission’ is about Jesus authority, and his task in calling together the people of God.

So, what do we need to carry out the ‘Great Commission’ and make disciples? Firstly, we need to be disciples ourselves. This may sound it goes without saying, but we need to think about what it means to be a disciple. Being a disciples means enjoying a right relationship with Jesus. After Jesus had been raised from the dead, he appeared to his disciples at Galilee – where Jesus’ ministry had started. In response, the disciples worshipped him (v17). Well, most of them. Some doubted. Why were some in doubt? Did they doubt it was Jesus? This is possible. But I suspect the kind of doubt the disciples had was one where you’re not sure of yourself. You’re not sure where you stand, or what you can expect. So you hesitate about what you should do. You’re in doubt! After all, the disciples had abandoned Jesus during his arrest. A relationship had been broken. What kind of a reception would Jesus give his disciples? You can just sense the tension in the room as the disciples and Jesus eyed off one another. Yet Jesus’ approach to them is one of hospitality. It’s one of restoration as Jesus comes toward them and speaks to them as his disciples. So we see that making disciples is about enjoying a right relationship with Jesus.

Do you believe in Jesus? Are you enjoying spending time with him, reading his word, praying to him? I’m not asking are you doing these things. I’m asking, are you enjoying them? Have you ponded the depths of his grace for you? Are you just overwhelmed that God would have you as part of his family? That God’s sinless Son would choose condemnation of life, and assume your place on they cross. If that is your joy, you are able to share your faith. Sharing your faith begins with enjoying the relationship we have with Jesus.

Secondly, what authority do we have to make disciples? Our authority is Jesus’ authority, and that authority finds its expression through the church, God’s people (v18). What kind of authority are we talking about? An authority for what? The answer is basically, everything. We’re talking about an all encompassing authority. And authority that sees a kingly realm that covers the whole earth. Even death itself comes under this authority, since Jesus has just defeated it. It’s an authority that makes all people answerable to Jesus. This is why Jesus instructs has disciples to go to all the nations making disciples.

Now, if that sounds unnerving, it’s probably because it is. Imagine being a disciple during this discussion. You’re a Jew. As you were growing up, you were taught ‘Jew, good. Gentile bad.’ You did not associate with Gentiles. You had nothing to do with Gentiles. Gentiles were filthy, God-forsaken people. You knew this because God picked the Jews to be his chosen nation, which meant ever other nation must be condemned, right? Now you have Jesus saying to go to all the nations and make disciples. Guess what that meant? Talking to Gentiles! Oh, boy!!

The ‘good / bad’ dichotomy is still around. There are plenty of instances today. I believe one of them in our culture is disability. We’re taught, ‘ability good. Disability bad’. It’s all over our media. People do not want to be associated with disability. Against this, Jesus says, “On the basis of my authority, go and make disciples of all nations…” Now, I know at this point, I’m preaching to the converted. But I want you to see that what you do here at ‘WeBelong’, and ‘Jesus Club’ is very much part of the ‘Great Commission’. It involves pursuing those who society has deemed ‘unworthy’, and telling them about Jesus, as well as those who society has deemed ‘worthy’. Jesus’ authority is all encompassing.

Thridly, when are we to ‘make disciples’? Us modern metro people like having a box for everything, don’t we? We have a box for our work life, a box for our family life, a box for our hobbies, a box for our sporting life, a box for our Christian life. Within our Christian box, we might have our evangelism box. We just love our boxes, don’t we? The more boxes the better! Except, Jesus knows nothing about boxes. When we read v19, we get the idea that we need to drop all our other boxes, and pick up our evangelism box, and run with that. But that’s not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying, as you are going, as you are going about you’re everyday life, picking the kids up, doing the shopping, working your job, paying the bills, kicking the ball… make disciples. Making disciples is just an organic part of our lives. If we are enjoying our relationship with Jesus, it can’t be anything else. Jesus will just come up in conversation, wont he?

Fourthly, how are we to make disciples? Through baptism and teaching. What? Why baptism? Isn’t baptism just a sign? Baptism never converted anyone. Why is Jesus talking about baptism? Both those things are true, and at this point, I’m going to show my true Presbyterian colours, and say, what is significant here is not so much baptism, but what baptism represents. Baptism is a declaration of a person being a member of the community of God. Behind Jesus’ instruction for baptism is a concern to see people included in the church. So if talking about Jesus just isn’t your thing, inviting them to church, seeing them included, is still very much part of the ‘Great Commission’. We may also note that sharing our faith is not simply an individual effort, but it is a communal effort. We are in this together to make disciples.

This makes sense when you think about where do you hear Jesus teaching. The church. And in teaching people about Jesus, what are we teaching them? I hope we are teaching them how to respond to grace. Let’s be clear, Jesus is not advocating some kind of legalistic righteousness. It’s very easy to grab hold of something like the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, and turn it into a stack of rules. But that’s not what Jesus is on about at all. The issue is, we have experienced grace. We have God’s blessing. How are we to respond?

Fifthly, how are we enabled to make disciples? Jesus has not left us to our own devices. Jesus has promised us his presence will be with us until the end of the age (v20). I believe this is especially true, when we make room in the church for people’s brokenness, and be constantly reminding each other of the grace God has lavished upon us.

Making disciples is based on Jesus’ faithfulness in preserving the relationship we have with him, even when we’re unfaithful. Making disciples is not dependent on our cleverness, or the latest evangelism techniques. Making disciples begins when we enjoy the relationship with have with Jesus, and worship him. It’s only in relationship with Jesus that we can go beyond our comfort zones, and pursue those that society would rather forget. We must also remember making disciples is not meant to be a solo effort. Jesus presence is with us, and that presence is made manifest in his church.

As you go, make disciples. Include them in the church, teach them his grace.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

October 23, 2012 Posted by | Bible Exposition | , , , | Leave a comment

Who are God’s people?

Matthew 5:1-16 

Who are God’s people? Who are the one’s that enjoy God’s blessing? Who are the ones that can really have an impact for God, and change people’s lives? We might first think of religious leaders. People like Ghandi, or Mother Theresa. Perhaps even the Pope. Or we might think of people who can do lot’s of stuff for others. People who work for charities like Red Cross, or the Smith Family. Or help with food and disaster relief. Or, people like politicians or business people. People who use their money and power to do good in society. Well, if we take Jesus’s words seriously, we have to say that the people who have the most impact for God is us. It’s those who have their faith and trust in Jesus that can have a monumental impact. Maybe not on a world scale, but you have an impact for God, one person at a time.

Well, how is that possible? People in Jesus’ day were allot like us in the way they thought about these questions. Like us, they would’ve thought God’s people are the religious leaders, the wealthy, the do-gooders, and the well-to-do. Jesus takes this whole way of thinking, and flips it upside-down. God’s people, Jesus says, are the down and outers. The ones who have the power to have an impact, have no power at all. Let me explain.

Jesus says, those who feel they are not good enough for God, they’re the ones who know what it is to repent. They’re the ones who know their thoughts, their attitudes, and what they’ve done are not what God wants. And they are sorry for that, and they ask forgiveness. These are the one’s that enjoy God’s blessing.

Jesus says, those who have no joy, those who grieve over their own sin, and the sin of the world, they’re the ones who have God’s blessing. These are that find comfort. The kind of comfort that can only be found in God’s grace. It’s only in God’s grace in sending Jesus to die for our sins that our sins are dealt with and finished. We can enjoy the comfort of knowing when we approach God, he will accept us. If you’re not aware of your own sin and the sin of the word, why would you seek forgiveness? If you don’t seek forgiveness, how will you ever find God’s grace. It’s awareness of our sin that causes us to learn on his grace, his blessing.

Jesus says, those who are gentle, who control their desires and seek the benefit of others, the ones who aren’t grabbing everything for themselves, they are the ones who will have everything. Because they know everything belongs to God anyway. There’s no point squabbling over it!

Jesus say, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who really want to do what God wants, and not just pretend they do, they’re the one’s who’ll find satisfaction. They are the one’s who will enjoy God’s blessing. They’re the one’s who will be fulfilled. Because they will know God! Not know about God, like I know about the Queen. But they will know God in a personal relationship.

Jesus says those who show mercy, not strength, they’re the ones who’ll get mercy. It’s those who feel unworthy, who grieve over sin, who are gentle, who want to do God’s will, who aren’t worried about rights, and justifying themselves. They know mercy is needed, and they show it.

Jesus says those who really want to be friends with God, and have set their hearts on eternity, and nothing else, they’re the one’s who will be friends with God.

Jesus says those who seek to make peace, and not trouble and division, they’re the ones who are called the Sons of God. Don’t worry, that includes girls too. It’s those who look to lessen tensions, not add to them. Who seek solutions, and make sure everyone has understood them. They’re the ones who really reflect what God is like. Like father, like son.

Jesus says those who get picked on and made fun of because of their faith, they’re the one’s who really have eternal life. They know how good it is, and they hang on to it, no matter what!

That’s a long list, but what it boils down to is this. If you are fairdinkum about believing and trusting in Jesus, it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you’ve done, or what you can or can’t do. The issue is, what is you’re heart set on. Is your heart set on the stuff of world, and you’re only pretending to follow Jesus. Or is your heart really set on the stuff of God?

If your heart is set on the stuff of God, rest assured, you are one of God’s people. You have been given forgiveness, comfort, everything in Christ. You’ve been given knowledge of God, mercy, friendship, and are able to reflect what God is like in the way you live.

Because of this we are able to have an impact for God and change the lives of the people around us. This is what Jesus meant when he said we are ‘salt’ and ‘light’. By living out our faith, by being obedient to Jesus – providing wisdom, making peace, reflecting God’s character. We don’t do this to be saved! Jesus has already saved us!! We do this so others might worship God as well.

God’s people are those who have the hearts set on the stuff of God, and live out there faith in such a way, others can’t possibly miss it. Let’s respond to what God has given us in Jesus by set our hearts on the stuff of God, and living out our faith before others.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

September 28, 2012 Posted by | Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Sermon on the Mount | , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing ‘Worship’

Genesis 4:1-16

What is worship? I suspect when we think of worship, we tend to think of giving thanks, praise and adoration to God, and praying to God. This is absolutely right, worship is all these things. But here’s the thing: we can so easily distort worship, and twist it into something else as we give thanks and praise and pray to God. For us, worshipping God can become a means of scoring brownie points with God. Doing things to make God happy so he will bless us, or give us what we want. Ultimately, this kind of worship becomes about us trying to manipulate God. This kind of worship is a major problem, because it doesn’t reflect God’s character. God is a God who blesses. Who provides. Who is gracious. God doesn’t sit back and wait for us to do the right thing, and then he blesses us. God has blessed us. God has provided for us. Abundantly! When we worship God, and pray to him, his blessing and his provision need to be reflected in our worship.And this is where a man by the name of Cain came undone.

Cain was the son of Adam and Eve, and he had a younger brother named Abel. One day, both Cain and Abel worshipped God. God accepted Abel’s worship, but not Cain’s. And it’s not immediately obvious why it was so. But I think it’s got to do with their motives. It’s an issue of the heart. You see, when Abel worshipped God, he was whole-hearted. Abel recognised how much God had blessed him, and he gave the best thing he had to God. He didn’t want anything back. He just wanted to acknowledge God’s blessing on his life.

Cain on the other hand, he was half-hearted. Cain gave some of what he had. It wasn’t the best. Actually, to me, it sounds like Cain gave God his leftovers. Does God give us his leftovers? No! He gives us what’s best for us. So Cain’s worship of God didn’t reflect God’s character, and how much God had given him. Cain wasn’t truly thankful for how much God had given him. The problem with half-hearted worship is we’re not really focused on God. We’re actually focused on what we want. And that’s what sin is, wanting what we want, and not wanting what God’s wants.

Because we’re not really focussed on God, we end up trying to manipulate God to get what we want, and we become frustrated when God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want. Then we are tempted to take matters into our own hands. This can have terrible consequences.

Cain took matters into his own hands, this led to the murder of his brother, Abel. Cain was envious of Abel because God accepted Abel’s worship, and not his. Cain was so angry about his brother, he actually planned his murder. Cain had it all figured out – when and how to murder him, and how to get rid of the evidence. Perhaps Cain thought if he bumped off his brother, God would have no choice but to accept his half-hearted worship, and bless him with what he wanted.

The thing is, God won’t be manipulated. God won’t let himself be accountable to us. God is God, and we are accountable to him. He can see straight through us. Cain was a worker of the ground. He knew how to dig a hole and make a body disappear. He could con his parents into thinking Abel was alive and well, but not God. Cain relied on his expertise as a man of the land to cover up his sin. No one could ever tell what happen, except God. God saw straight through it. By burying his brother’s body, he thought that would cover his sin. Instead, the act actually convicted him. And the question was never about how well Cain could cover his sin. It was a question of the state of his heart. When God questions Cain about where Abel was, a very cold and hard heart is revealed. Cain couldn’t have cared less about Abel. All he could care about was himself, and what he wanted. Cain’s worship was half-hearted from the beginning, and that’s why God didn’t accept his worship.

What about our worship? Is our worship whole-hearted like Abel? Is our focus on God? Are we thankful for everything God has given us? Or has something else got our attention, so we end up trying to manipulate God like Cain to get what we really want. Because the thing is, God has given us so much more than what he gave Abel. God has given us Jesus so we could have a personal relationship with him. Jesus worshipped God the way God deserves. Jesus didn’t just give his best to God. He gave everything to God. Even his life. And Jesus did it with us in mind. Jesus worshipped God for us, and God accepted his worship. That’s how we can have a personal relationship with God now. That personal relationship needs to be reflected in how we worship God. Our worship of God doesn’t just involve praising God and praying to him. It involves our whole life – how we treat people, and what we do. It’s worth asking the question, “How does your personal relationship with God affect what you do?” This is your worship as well!

Worship is not about earning brownie points with God, to manipulate him and get what we want. We can’t be half-hearted about it, wanting something else as well. Neither is worship about us, and what we want. Worship is a whole-hearted response to what God has given us. Especially as Christians who know that God has also given us Jesus. Worship is recognising God’s character – that God is a God who loves us and has blessed us. He has already provided what we need. Finally, worship is made possible by Jesus. Jesus alone has worshipped God as he deserves. True worship begins when we put our faith and trust in Jesus.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

June 1, 2012 Posted by | Bible, Devotionals, Genesis | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus, our Advocate (Easter 2012)

Luke 24:36-53

I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve had a disagreement or an argument with someone that’s seriously affected our relationship with the other person. We’ve either lost our temper or offended them in some way, and we feel as though we’ve burned our bridges with that person. There’s nothing we can do ourselves to mend the broken relationship. In such cases, we need an advocate. Someone who can represent us and our cause to the other person in the hope of undoing what we’ve done to offend them, and mending the broken relationship.

When it comes to God, we have all done things to offend God – whether deliberately, or accidentally. This is what the Bible calls sin. This has seriously affected our relationship with God, and all of us have burned our bridges with God. There is nothing any of us can do ourselves to mend that broken relationship with God. We need an advocate. We need some who can represent us before God. We need someone who can undo the sin we’ve done to cause God offence. We need someone who can mend our broken relationship with God.

But our advocate can’t be just anyone. I can’t represent you before God. I’m a sinner as well! I’ve caused God offence also, and need an advocate myself! Our advocate needs to be someone who has never sinned. Someone who can meet God on his terms. Someone who pleases God. There’s only been one person to match this description – Jesus. The whole point of Jesus’ life was to represent us before God, undo the sin that we have done to offend God, and mend our relationship with God. Jesus came to be our advocate.

But how can we be sure? How can we know Jesus was able to do all this? Any crackpot can stand up and say they are our advocate before God, and be mistaken. We can be sure that Jesus is our advocate before God because of the resurrection. When Jesus died, he was properly, properly dead. Crucifixion was designed only to have one outcome – death. People who were crucified did not survive, it’s that simple. After this, Jesus’ body was wrapped up, and placed in a tomb for three days. Any prospect of Jesus coming back to life was the furthest thing from the disciple’s minds, as we can see from the part of the Bible we read.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, they were frightened. This was a completely unexpected event, and their minds went in search of other explanations. Perhaps they were seeing a ghost! But Jesus had a body like we have a body. The disciples could actually reach out and touch him. Ghosts don’t have a body like ours, so maybe this really was the same Jesus. But they still weren’t to sure. They really didn’t expect Jesus to come back from the dead, and it just seemed too good to be true! So Jesus ate a piece of roasted fish. Now, think about it. If a ghost were to eat a piece of fish, what would happen? The piece of fish would drop to the ground, right? But that didn’t happen with Jesus. It was the same Jesus with the same body eating a piece of fish as he had probably done countless times before. Jesus had indeed come back from the dead.

So, how do we make sense of all this? Why did Jesus come back from the dead? In a sense they should have known, because it was talked about all through the Old Testament. But, the thing is, we can’t understand the Bible without God’s help. When Jesus opened their eyes to help them understand the Bible, he was able to explain to his disciples that he came back from the dead so that people would be able to repent and have their sins forgiven. In other words, Jesus came back from the dead to be our advocate. To represent us before God, to undo the sin we’ve done that offends God, and to mend our broken relationship with God.

We know that because of Jesus, we can repent and have our sins forgiven because Jesus was carried up into heaven – body and all. This shows that God accepted what Jesus did on our behalf. That Jesus’ death was sufficient to pay for our sins, and Jesus is the one who can be our advocate before God. Jesus is the one who can represent us before God, undo the sin we’ve done that offends God, and mend our broken relationship with God.

We can be certain that Jesus did come back from the dead because he had a real body. We no longer have a problem in our relationship with God because Jesus’ resurrection allows for repentance, and forgiveness of our sins. In Jesus, we do have an advocate who has dealt with the problems between us and God, and the only right response is to worship him. Jesus has made the impossibility of us being God’s friend possible for all eternity.

Easter is a wonderful opportunity for us to remember how Jesus became our advocate before God, even though we had burned our bridges with God, and we who follow Jesus now have peace with God.

(C) The Student’s Desk, 2012

April 6, 2012 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Jesus Wants…

John 17

What Jesus wants…

What Jesus wants. It seems a straight-forward question to ask, “What does Jesus want?” The answers that might come to mind are, Jesus wants us to be good; be kind; pray; read the Bible; go to church. I put the question on the internet to see how others would answer. One said Jesus wants our life. Another said our money. Another said peace.

All of these are certainly part of what Jesus wants. But there’s something deeper than all of these. Something more important than anything else. Something that Jesus wants more than anything else. The problem is, we can become so busy, or become so focus on these things, we actually miss what Jesus really wants. We become focused on doing these things to get what we want as Christians – God’s blessing. So the Christian life becomes all about us, and what we’re doing to get into God’s good books. The fact of the matter is, we, as Christians, already have God’s blessing. We’re already in God’s good books because of Jesus. The Christian life is about Jesus, and what he is doing in us and through us. If that is true, we need to go back and ask, “What does Jesus really want?” To do this, we need to read the Bible, and understand what Jesus really wants. Once we understand that, we learn what it is to follow and obey Jesus.

In John 17, we have one of the last prayers of Jesus before he dies, and the longest prayer. There’s nothing like imminent death to prompt someone to sort out what they really want. Jesus reveals what he really wants in this prayer, and 3 things come out in Jesus’ prayer. Firstly, Jesus wants to be glorified (v5). Secondly, Jesus wants his followers to be one (v11). Thirdly, Jesus wants the world to know that he was sent to earth and did what he did by God. But, what’s really interesting is how Jesus’ wants are fulfilled. Jesus’ wants are fulfilled through his followers, and they are given what they need to fulfil Jesus’ wants. Jesus never leaves his followers to their own devices to do what he wants.

Firstly, Jesus wants to be glorified, and the other 2 wants feed into this. But what does it mean to glorify someone? It means to give recognition to someone for who they are and what they have done. It means to elevate them, to see them as being more important than other people and other things. Often when we glorify someone, we give them more recognition than they really deserve. But in the case of Jesus, he deserves all the recognition we give him, and a whole lot more! The reason is, God the Father has given Jesus authority over all things, to give eternal life (so people can go to heaven), and has done all the work God the Father gave him to do. What’s interesting is Jesus asks God the Father to give him the recognition through Jesus followers. It’s through us that God glorifies Jesus. Have you ever thought of that? That we are caught up in a heavenly act of worship of Jesus. How is this possible? By God keeping us. By guarding us, protecting us, watching over us. There are a million and one ways for us to be distracted from giving Jesus recognition in this world. But God is continually teaching us and providing for us so we can give Jesus the recognition he deserves.

Secondly, Jesus wants his followers to be one. It’s important that Jesus’ followers are one because Jesus is one with the Father. Jesus doesn’t do anything to oppose the Father, and the Father doesn’t oppose Jesus. They work as one, and are one. Now, looking around at the modern church, you’d might think Jesus’ followers are anything but! There’s a difference of opinion on every point of doctrine, and I’m another person with their own set of opinions. But we need to understand what Jesus meant for his followers to be one. Our oneness does not depend anything we do. Again, it’s about what God is doing through us. God is sanctifying us. What this means is we have been set aside for God’s purpose. We’re all here for God’s work. It’s not just the guys with theological degree and whatever else that are involved in God’s work. It’s all of us. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been set aside for God’s work. That is how we are one. We might have differences, and that’s fine. We are one for the work of God.

Thirdly, Jesus wants the world to know that God sent him, so they might believe in him. This would be done by his followers being one in being set aside for God’s work. Jesus’ followers are empowered for God’s work by sharing in Jesus’ glory. This means receiving God’s revelation. That God has revealed himself to us in Jesus. Do you realise that we can know God, personally; and we can tell other people about God. That we are in relationship with God the Father, and show people what God is like? Only Christians can do that! No one else. As I’ve already said, we have been set aside for God’s work, and this is also part of sharing in Jesus’ glory. Jesus desire for the world to know that God has sent him is met through us! And God gives us what we need to make that possible.

We need to recognise that the Christian life is not individualistic. It’s not something you keep private between you and God. It’s communal. It involves the people around us. What dos Jesus want? Jesus want to be glorified, in the way we relate to people, and treat them; in the way we speak – what we say, and how we say it; in the way we conduct ourselves – what we do and how we do. This is what Jesus wants. So the world will know he is sent by God.

(C) The Student’s Desk, 2012

March 10, 2012 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, John's Gospel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s work through disability – John 9

Yesterday I had the privileged opportunity to preach at St. Clements Anglican at Mosman. Preaching at all four services was a test of endurance. I was pretty wasted when I returned home at 11pm after being up at 5:30am. But the effort was worth while. God did amazing things as people were impacted by what was said.
To listen to the sermon, click here for the web page. I’ve provided a transcript below…
From John 9

As Australians, we can be obsessive about a number of things. One of those things is ability. We love to celebrate those who have ability. Doctors, academics, particularly sports people. Think of the amount of money sports people earn. It’s remarkable.

And so we should celebrate ability. We ought to thank God for the abilities that God gives people. But there is a dangerous flipside for people with disabilities. They are often perceived as not worth celebrating. To be minimised. Perhaps even to be avoided. They are also often perceived as not being able to work, or make a contribution. Such thinking can cause much difficulty and hurt for those with disabilities. But when we bring that thinking into the church, it causes even bigger problems. Such thinking affects the whole church community as it faces the very real prospect of missing out on God’s work – which is the touchstone of Ch. 9. What does it mean to be doing God’s work? and who can do God’s work?

In the time of Jesus, God’s work was clearly defined by the religious leaders, and it had severe implications for the disabled. If you were disabled there was a very simple explanation for it. You deserved it. You or your parents had done something to offend God, and God was punishing you with a disability. So you were perceived as rejected by God, and were ostracised by God’s people. Particularly if you were blind you were perceived as incapable of receiving God’s revelation. So you certainly could not do God’s work if you couldn’t receive God’s revelation. Hence we have the disciples’ question in v2 “Who sinned, that this man was born blind?”

Now, before we charge these religious leaders with disability discrimination, we need to understand that these beliefs developed out of a desire for holiness. These were devout honest, men who wanted to remain pure; who wanted to live up to God’s standards in keeping the law. Especially when it came to the Sabbath. For these men, the work of God meant separation from those who they considered condemned by God – erecting barriers between themselves and undesirables.

We may not go to the same religious extremities that the leaders of Jesus’ day. But our response to disability can be just as questionable. Disability can make us feel uncomfortable, and some can find disability very confronting. One reason for this is disability may remind us of our own brokenness. Once reminded, our self perception and self worth are threatened because in our culture, they are so closely tied to what we can do.

I turn 37 this week. For most of my life I’ve been trying to prove to myself and everyone else that I am not disabled. For some reason it hasn’t quite worked. I did this through cycling – I would ride anything up to 250km/week. I’ve learned to drive a car, sail a boat, and cook. I’ve travelled and camped on my own. I’ve done what most sensible able-bodied people wouldn’t do! Mostly because it was fun. But partly because I wanted to disassociate myself from disability, and show I’m just as important, just as valuable as anyone else. For the record, all that effort has failed. My importance and value has nothing to do with what I can do.

Or, another reason may be that we think we need to hide our brokenness to provide a good witness. That for God and his gospel to have any credibility, we need to appear as though God has solved all our problems. That our brokenness is mended. That as Christians, we have our life together, and we’re just cruising through life. Otherwise, if we are still struggling with brokenness, maybe there’s something wrong with our faith, or perhaps God isn’t the real deal. I know an elderly man who, when you ask him how is, he’ll answer “I’m fighting fit”. But probe a little deeper, and you’ll find he’s battling some serious health issues. For some reason, we are reluctant or even embarrassed to expose our brokenness, and can be desperate to hide it.

Often we do not have a place for disability in our Christian thinking. The result is it affects who we engage with and form relationships. We can easily find ourselves erecting barriers between us and who we regard as broken. The reality is, we’re all broken, no matter how much we try to hide it. None of us are self sufficient. All of us need God’s grace. All of us need the support of others. The main difference between many of you and myself is my brokenness is allot harder to hide. Yet, we still find ourselves erecting barriers.

Where the religious leaders and, to a lesser extent, us today see disability as a barrier to doing the work of God, Jesus does not. In response to his disciple’s question, in v3 Jesus says, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus takes this whole understanding of disability, and turns it on its head. Rather than the person being rejected and condemned by God, Jesus understands that this person is at the forefront of God’s work.

The whole aim of Jesus ministry was reconciliation. Reconciling people to God, and to other people, in his name. It’s not a wishy washy reconciliation where we get rid of anything that might cause conflict, so no one believes anything anymore. It’s reconciliation by Jesus. Ultimately, this was achieved in Jesus’ death and resurrection. But this was also being demonstrated in his earthly ministry.

This had implications for the disabled as it was through them along with other broken people that God’s grace would be demonstrated. This is why Jesus says in v4, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” Jesus time on earth was short, and in this blind man, he saw an opportunity to demonstrate God’s grace. This grace would be vividly demonstrated by removing what was thought to be a sign of God’s rejection of him – his blindness. The result was making this man a recipient of God’s revelation, enabling him to display God’s grace in his life, and to believe and testify to Jesus. In this Jesus was redefining the work of God. It was about tearing down barriers that stood between God and people, and between people themselves.

One of the biggest barriers at the time of Jesus was Sabbath. To be a person of God, you needed to observe the Sabbath tradition. But for Jesus, showing mercy and doing the work of reconciliation in his name is more important then tradition, or the way things are done. In this, Jesus changed what it means to do the work of God.

So how did people respond to this new way of doing God’s work? Well, just like people don’t like change now, they didn’t like then. In the text, we have 4 groups of people responding in 5 different ways to the news.

The first group is the neighbours in vv8-13. They haven’t a clue what’s going on. They can’t even decide if it’s the same man, and refer the whole matter to the religious experts. People today can have the same attitude toward disability – ‘it’s too hard, let someone else handle it’.

So it’s onto the second group in vv14-17, the Pharisees, the religious experts. When they hear the man’s testimony, they were divided as to whether this was God’s work. Some doubted pointing to the fact it was the Sabbath and concluded it was impossible for the man’s testimony to be God’s work. Others disregarded the issue of the Sabbath and simply considered what had happened and concluded the man was worth listening too. Yet these people felt the pressure of their peers and changed their view of the man. I’ve seen this before where people value the person with a disability, until someone with a louder opinion comes along, and people change their minds, or remain silent.

The third group are his parents in vv18-23. They readily admit the man is his son, and that he was born blind. But that’s as far as their support goes. They avoid the whole issue of the man’s testimony, otherwise they’ll run the risk of rejection. Instead of supporting their son, they’ll let him sort out his own problems. For his parents, they were more worried about what people might think if they became involved with their disabled son, and acknowledged the work of God that had occurred in his life.

So it was back to the Pharisees for a fourth response in vv24-29. They respond a second time by maintaining the Sabbath barrier. They hold fast to their own traditions, and conclude on one shred of evidence, as sure as this man is born blind, that Jesus is a sinner, and do not listen to the man. The stupidity of their conclusion is brought out by the blind man when in v30 he says, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” This is an emphatic statement. In other words, “You have labelled Jesus a sinner, and you don’t even know where he comes from!” They are rejecting the man’s testimony when they haven’t even done the basic checks! All because of their view of a person born blind.

Four different reactions, yet with one thing in common. Whether it was general confusion, peer pressure, fear of rejection, or maintaining tradition, all four groups were not able to receive God’s work because they refused to accept this man’s testimony due to his status in life and position in the community.

There is a fifth reaction I haven’t mentioned yet, that of the blind man in vv31-33 – receiving the work of God, and becoming part of the work of God. Against the Pharisees with their one shred of evidence, he begins to stack up the evidence for his healing being a work of God. Firstly, God listened to Jesus. Secondly, no one has opened the eyes of a man born blind before. Thirdly, if he Jesus wasn’t from God, he wouldn’t have been able to perform the miracle. The man knows that to understanding his healing as a work of God, he’ll face identity issues, he’s going against religious tradition, he faces the denial of his parents, he faces banishment from the religious community, and yet believes. In believing, this man was able to do the work of God, not by performing miracles, but by testifying that Jesus was sent from God.

You see, this man was able to do the work of God, not by what he could do, but by who he believed – Jesus. When Jesus caught up to him in vv35-38, Jesus revealed himself to the man as the Son of Man – the one who reveals God. In response he worshipped him.

Since involvement in God’s work does not depend on what we can do, we, in the church, can not afford to obsess over ability like those outside the church. If we do, we run a very real risk of erecting barriers between ourselves, and those who we consider less able, and miss out on the work of God in our midst displaying his reconciling grace.

We must recognise that the work of the gospel is reconciliation – reconciliation between God and people, and reconciliation between people. This means removing barriers where ever possible. This doesn’t come natural. Allot of the time it may not be easier. It may involve going against social norms and traditional concerns. It may involve spending more time and effort getting to know someone as it would somebody else. Certainly in my case, it takes more time and effort to listen. But by removing the barriers, we’ll soon discover that all followers of Jesus are involved in God’s work of reconciliation, regardless of ability or disability.

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Sermons | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment