Dealing with Shame

Posted: June 17, 2018 in Uncategorized

the-heart-of-man-movie-review

Shame is that feeling that most people experience at some stage. A feeling that you just want to run away and disappear. Feelings of unworthiness attached to shame make it very difficult to accept love and kindness from others and even make us think that we don’t deserve forgiveness ourselves, and consequently are unable to forgive others.

In about a week, cinemas will be showing the movie The Heart of Man (check out the trailer). The Heart of Man is described as a cinematic retelling of the parable of the prodigal son, interwoven with true testimonials of personal and sexual brokenness. Narrative storytelling and documentary filmmaking combine to reveal the compassionate heart of God that illuminates an age-old truth: shame is not a barrier to God’s love, but a bridge to absolute transformation, victory, freedom and hope.

Check it out at a cinema near you (if you live in Australia).

As I have been working my way through the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew chapter 5, I’ve come to Jesus’ comments about adultery. Put simply, Jesus makes it clear that there aren’t too many people who can wriggle out of this one. So what do we do? Hide away in shame or pretend we don’t know what he’s talking about?

Receiving God’s forgiveness through confession is critical to our ability to deal with shame and guilt, and shame, when it’s handed over to God becomes a bridge rather than a barrier.

Check out my podcast here.

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A Culture of Life

Posted: June 10, 2018 in Uncategorized

In my last blog I talked about Jesus’ teaching about the law. I’m working my way through what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount, (recorded for us in Matthew chapter 5), and immediately after giving his summary about the law Jesus began to talk about murder. “You’ve heard it said, you shall not murder,” he explained, “but I say to you….”

What Jesus proceeded to do, was to draw  a picture of the extreme opposite of murder – extreme love.

In an effort to understand what Jesus was saying I’ve put together some diagrams that may help.  The law that Moses handed down from Mt Sinai said very clearly, you shall not murder.

THE LAW GRAPHIc1

The fence around that statement is very clear and the people in Moses’ day got the message pretty clearly.

But in time people started to knock down the fence by coming up with ideas that would help us to address what we saw as problems with this very finite law. After the fall of Rome in 410AD Christianity came up with the ‘just war’ theory to solve the problem of how to kill people if there was sound justification for war. People found reason to support capital punishment, and other laws were introduced to soften the harshness of the statement: You shall not murder.

Then we discovered that we could change our language to soften the law a little. We can talk about abortion, euthanasia, or assassination, as slightly softer ways of describing the act of killing. Ultimately we began to argue that that old law was so broken that we could just ignore it altogether.

THE LAW GRAPHIC2.jpg

As Jesus was talking to his disciples, he explained that this old law would eventually reach its fulfilment. That time came when Jesus died on the cross. That momentous event marked the fulfilment of Moses law.  What came into effect after that was the law of Christ. The next diagram shows that Jesus came and established new boundaries.

He didn’t tell us to ignore the law and become lawless. He didn’t tell us to go back to the old law with the broken down fences. He introduced a new law, which is the law of love. Here’s the diagram to represent this change.

THE LAW GRAPHIC3

Christ’s law was completely different from the old law because it focussed on the sanctity of human life. It recognised that everyone is created in the image of God and God loves each person with an inexhaustible love. Murder is no longer a relevant way of dealing with people we don’t like, because a new law is in place.

Jesus explained it by saying you don’t even call a person a fool and if someone has something against you, go and sort it out. Jesus’ law was the very opposite of murder, it was a law of extreme love.

Instead of contemplating murder, the role of the person who follows Jesus is to be a voice who lovingly and directly speaks to the worth and value of life; and actively works toward cultivating a culture of life.

I wonder what the culture of life will look like?

This is the fourth in a series I am presenting at Maida Vale Baptist Church. Read the first here, the second here and the third here. You can also listen to the whole series of messages on podcast here

It’s the Law

Posted: June 3, 2018 in Uncategorized

One day Jesus is sitting on a mountainside talking to his disciples and a great crowd of people, and he decides to address the question of the law. It’s a tricky topic, but he’s not in the habit of avoiding tricky topics, even though everyone in the crowd would have had an opinion about the law and how it was to be interpreted.

He starts off by saying: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. What was he saying? Well, here’s a way of understanding it. If there was a game of football, and part way through the game, the umpires called for the game to stop and told everyone to go home, the game would have have been cancelled – or abolished. If the game was allowed to come to its natural end, it would be fulfilled.

When Jesus came, he lived within the law of the land, and the religious law. He did not abolish the law while he was one earth. But at his death on the cross, Jesus cried out, “it is finished.” At the cross, the law had reached its fulfilment.

Jesus went on to say to the people there on the mountainside:  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. If we argue that the law is still in place we suggest that Jesus death did not accomplish all he set out to do. We’re claiming that the cross was only a partial accomplishment, which goes against Jesus’ own teaching, and the whole teaching of the New Testament, that in his death, Jesus accomplished all that God had sent him to do.

So what does that mean in practical terms? Watch out for next week’s blog when I get into the nitty gritty of observing the law.

 

Being Salty

Posted: May 27, 2018 in Uncategorized

Jesus was up on the mountainside one day. His disciples were there, along with a great crowd of people, and he began to teach them. He was telling his disciples that they were the salt of the earth. Salt, you’ll appreciate is ideal in bringing out the taste in food. In other words, Jesus was saying that his followers should be bringing out the best in the society in which they live. Their influence should be like salt that makes everything around them taste better.

But as Jesus was speaking to his follower there on the mountainside, there was a great crowd of people who were listening in. Some of them may have thought of becoming followers of Jesus, in which case they were hearing what would be expected of them. But it was almost as if Jesus was saying to this crowd, see these men here who are going to become my followers, you need to keep them accountable.  I’ve told them they’re to be salty in the way they interact with the rest of their community, you need to know that’s what’s expected of them.

survey

I wonder what would happen if I were to hand out a survey like this one to a group of my friends, and ask them to mark me on my ability to be like Jesus. I wonder how many people would be prepared to give out a survey like this to their colleagues at work and ask them to judge you on how “salty” you are. I wonder how Jesus’ disciples were feeling that day on the mountainside, knowing that their friends were listening to Jesus and may have been thinking, “well, Matthew’s been a thieving so-and-so in his time, I wonder if he’ll change now he’s a follower of Jesus?”

If we say we want to follow Jesus, are we prepared to be accountable to our friends and workmates for our decision?

“Being Salty” was the theme of a message I presented at Maida Vale Baptist Church. Check out the podcast

Next Steps

Posted: May 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

This morning at Maida Vale Baptist Church I am starting a new series called Next Steps, based on the Sermon on the Mount recorded for us in Matthew’s Gospel of the Bible. Matthew tells us that there was a big crowd of people around Jesus so he called them together, and he sat on the hillside to speak to them.

There were no microphones, sound systems or fancy powerpoint presentations. Just a bloke on a hillside, speaking clearly and making use of the natural acoustics.

Matthew says the purpose of Jesus’ sermon was to teach his disciples, but he was surrounded by this great crowd of people. It struck me that Jesus was able to achieve two things at once. He wanted his disciples to learn some things so that they could go on and teach other people in the future. But there were no secrets, no special messages for the faithful that others weren’t allowed to hear.

His message was open to all, and the different listeners were able to take what they heard and take the next step they needed to take on the basis of what they heard. When we hear the words of Jesus, we can’t just listen and walk away … we need to think about the next step we need to take in response to his words.

Check out this blog each week – I’ll probably update it each Sunday afternoon and let’s consider our next steps.

Reporting the Regions

Posted: November 27, 2016 in Uncategorized

Sometimes people research history. Sometimes people discover what has already been written. Sometimes people are responsible for writing history, and only discover later the significance of what they have written.

Over two decades between 1973 and 1993 I worked as a journalist around regional Western Australia, and for whatever reason, took the time to keep the clippings of many of my stories. When I looked back on these stories I realised that they represented a significant re-telling of history. At the time many of them didn’t seem all that interesting, but on reflection I realised each one contributed to an understanding of what has happening at the time.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “We are not makers of history, we are made by history.” I have had the privilege of being able to record history over a period of time, and I realise that some of the stories represent experiences that helped to make me the person that I am today. There is great value in reflecting on the past and learning from the past. There can be great disappointment when we fail to learn from the past.

In doing this exercise I have recognised the importance of thanking God for the journey he has taken me on through my life and in that journey, teaching me, moulding me and preparing me to be the person he wanted me to be. I am still learning, still being moulded, and still in preparation, but I have a deep assurance that God is with me, guiding me all the way.

I haven’t blogged for a while but have been prompted by the news today of the death of Leonard Cohen, one of the great poets of the 20th and 21st century. In fact, I had just written this piece and recorded it for Sonshine fm this week.

The 82-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter has just released a new album and one of the songs, called treaty seemed to be asking a question about his relationship with God.

It reads like this: I’ve seen you change the water into wine
I’ve seen you change it back to water, too
I sit at your table every night
I try but I just don’t get high with you
I wish there was a treaty we could sign
I do not care who takes this bloody hill
I’m angry and I’m tired all the time
I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty
Between your love and mine

I don’t want to pretend to know exactly what Cohen was saying. People have been trying for years to explain his rather enigmatic lyrics. But, there’s a strong religious flavour in his latest album, and I think what he is saying in Treaty is a reflection of the thoughts of many people.

We’ve heard about God. We’ve heard about Jesus. But there are aspects of the story that Christianity tells, that we find extremely hard to grasp. We’re angry and tired all the time and don’t feel like entering into argument or discussion on theological or ethical issues.

But we wish there was a treaty between God’s love and mine. Some sort of agreement about what actually makes up that love.

You see the God of the Bible is described as a God of unconditional love. And in some ways that’s a bit hard for us to handle. Because if God loves us unconditionally, it kind of makes us stop and think about how we respond to that.

And we suddenly realise that we can’t love God in the same way. We realise our own shortcomings, and our failure to really love him. And that can make us feel guilty.
It makes us feel like we want some kind of treaty with God. Some kind of agreement about what our love should look like. If only he didn’t love us so much we wouldn’t feel so guilty. We wouldn’t feel as though we’re inadequate in our love.

But that’s the great thing about God’s love. His love for us is so expansive, so far reaching, so mind blowing, that we realise we really are inadequate to respond appropriately.

But it’s in our inadequacy and our guilt, and our feelings of uselessness, that God reaches out to us, and he says, I can take all of that stuff. That’s now my problem, not yours.

So in a way, we don’t need a treaty in the way that Leonard Cohen suggests. But perhaps there already a treaty in place. The Bible talks about a covenant. A new covenant.

That covenant, or treaty is based on God’s unconditional love. It’s about Jesus coming to earth and giving up his life, making the ultimate sacrifice, so that we could know God’s love and forgiveness. So that discovering his love isn’t about what we have to do, or what not to do, it’s about accepting. It’s about receiving.

Leonard Cohen says: I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty
Between your love and mine. There is, you know. That treaty is Jesus. And he invites us to give up our feelings of guilt and our efforts to find love, and to accept his free gift of love.

See the fireworks Rob’s Ramblings created by blogging on WordPress.com. Check out their 2015 annual report.

Source: See the #fireworks I created by blogging on #WordPressDotCom. My 2015 annual report.

Croesus

The Croesus Mine, Kalgoorlie. Sketch by WH Douglas c.1960’s

Growing up in Kalgoorlie the name Croesus was very familiar to me. One of the mines situated halfway between Kalgoorlie and Boulder was called the Croesus mine. It was just across the road from my high school so all my high school years were spent breathing in sulphur fumes from Croesus. In between the school and the mine was a large area of public open space on which we played football and other sports, commonly known as the Croesus ground.

Common as the name was to me, I don’t think I ever investigated where it came from. From 560BC to 546BC the King of Sardis in what is now western Turkey, was King Croesus.  Much of what we know about Croesus has come down through legend but it’s understood that he developed a means of purifying gold, that he may have produced the first gold coins and in fact, currency as we know it, is said to have been developed first by King Croesus.

This the latest in a series of posts featuring the seven churches addressed in the first three chapters of the book of Revelation in the Bible. Today I’m looking at the letter to the church in Sardis. (See Introduction to this series)

Perhaps it was Sardis’ reputation as a wealthy city that prompted Jesus to say to this church, through the apostle John: “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

But the funeral hadn’t started yet … The letter then goes on to say: Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Sardis was built at the foot of Mt Tmolus, a steep spur that formed a citadel at one end of the city. Throughout the history of Sardis there were a number of occasions when the city was attacked. One occasion that became legendary was the time that Sardis under King Croesus fell to Cyrus King of Persia. Croesus sought advice from many people including the famous oracle of Delphi who announced that a great empire would fall.

Croesus believed that was evidence that his own Lydian Empire would put the Persians to flight.  Sardis was well protected on all sides except Mt Tmolus which they believed served as a natural protection. But because it wasn’t being watched, the enemy were able to climb up the mountain and get into the city without being seen. Croesus’ own Lydian Empire fell on that occasion.

Two centuries later Antiochus III did exactly the same thing. Once again the city was complacent about the dangers of not guarding Mt Tmolus. Once again the city fell after soldiers sneaked into the city through the same route that Cyrus’ soldiers had discovered.

Then, within the lifetime of some of the people who were still in the church a great earthquake had destroyed the city. Pliny described the earthquake in 17AD as the greatest earthquake in human memory, and Sardis never really recovered though the emperor did much to rebuild the city and provide financial relief.

The way in which the city had been infiltrated by laziness on the part of the military on at least two occasions was recorded in history and became part of folklore. The city was still living with the effects of a major earthquake that came upon them unexpectedly, so when Jesus said: I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you, they knew exactly what he meant. They knew about the embarrassment of being caught out sleeping on the job. And they knew they needed to listen to Jesus’ warning.  Wake up.

The principle still applies to the church in the 21st century. We need to be aware. We need to be alert. We need to be awake.

The last part of the letter says: Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.  The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Later on in Revelation we have a picture drawn for us of an amazing event in heaven where there is a description of people wearing white robes and holding palm branches. These people are described as having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

This reminds us of the words of the prophet Isaiah who said“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

Jesus, described as the Lamb of God, gave his life for us that we may be made pure in his sight. It’s not of our own doing, or our own efforts at goodness. It’s about the grace of the Lord Jesus who gave everything for our salvation. And it’s about our willingness to put our faith in Jesus for every aspect of our life.

The message to the church in Sardis was a message to people who were hoping that everything would be OK, but they weren’t ready. They still had unfinished business with Jesus. We are invited to deal with any unfinished business we have with Jesus so that we may be awake and ready for Him.

See the beginning of this series of posts: Introduction, or go on to the next poist.

Blue Jeans became a symbol of youth culture in the 50’s and 60’s and most of us still wear blue jeans at some stage. While synthetic dyes are used today, originally the colour came from indigo dye which is a plant-based dye. Long before blue jeans became popular indigo dye was highly valued and was the main industry in a city called Thyatira.

This series of posts is based on the letter to the seven churches in the first three chapters of Revelation. Look back to see messages to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum. This post is about the message to the city of Thyatira.

The ancient city of Thyatira, in western Turkey is situated in a valley that served as a valuable transport route through Asia Minor. It is now now the city of Akhisar and is situated on the highway that runs between Izmir and Istanbul, Turkey’s most important ports. But it’s always been on important trade routes, and was an industrial city back in the time when John wrote his letter to the church at Thyatira. Among other things it was the centre of an industry in dyeing cloth, and in particular the indigo trade. In Acts 16 we discover that a woman by the name of Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from Thyatira, was one of the foundation members of the Philippi Church in Greece. Indigo made its name in Thyatira, a long time before blue jeans became popular.

There have been a couple of other archeological clues to the history of Thyatira. Inscriptions found in the old city tell us that this was a major centre of guilds. In addition to dyeing guilds, inscriptions tell us there were guilds of wool-workers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers, and bronze-smiths.

BMC_34We also know from coins that have been found that Thyatira had a military history, but at the time of John’s letter that city’s military strength was probably only a memory. In fact, history tells us the city may not have been as powerful as it seemed. To a city that has a memory of military strength but is now relatively weak in military terms, Jesus is introduced as someone of great strength. The letter commences: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.  I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

This is followed by a warning about a woman who clearly had a position of leadership in the church but was leading people away to idolatory and immorality. In a society where employment was dependent on being a part of guilds, this woman, along with others, would have encouraged people to participate in the great banquets run by the guilds at which all the idols and statues around the room were toasted, and as the night progressed would degenerate into drunkenness and immorality. It was seen as just a normal part of life and necessary to a person’s acceptance as a tradesperson.

The call to the church at Thyatira was the same as Jesus call to us today. We need to allow the eyes of Jesus to look into every part of our lives …. our work, our social life, our church life, and our thoughts to see that we are remaining faithful to Jesus. In the olden days before power steering, as you drove your car you would be continually correcting the steering wheel to stay on track. Repentance on a daily basis recognises the potential to be drawn away from the truth, and the need to keep short accounts with God.

Thyatira was a city whose military strength was only a distant memory. In their weakness they were told that Jesus would be their strength. The characteristic of Jesus is the All Powerful One.  The characteristic of a victorious church is an obedient church. Now at the end of the letter is the promise of a reward for a victorious church. It talks about them being given authority over the nations. From a position of weakness there is the promise of strength. But it’s not military strength. It’s strength that comes from Jesus.

This church, overwhelmed by weakness and infiltrated by people who were bringing it down by their idolatry and immorality, were promised that they could be victorious. Jesus comes to bring hope; the resurrected Lord Jesus, as promised to the church in Thyatira, is the bright morning star who outshines all others.

This is the latest in a series of posts based on the letter to the seven churches as recorded in Revelation chapters 1 to 3 in the New Testament. You can read it for yourself here. Go on to read Listen Up, Church #5