The Christ Crowd

I want you to think back to your high school days. That might be easier for some, or harder. It might bring back pleasant memories, or painful ones. But we all know that in high school, there was generally two groups. There may have been lots of different groups, but in general, they broke down to two main groups – the In crowd, and the out crowd. Which one were you in?

I know that for me, I was most certainly in the out crowd. I wasn’t one of the popular kids. I didn’t fit in. And try as I might to try to get in with the popular crowd, I most certainly never did. I didn’t have the right look, the right speech, the right hair, the right interests, whatever it was that I needed to be part of that crowd, I didn’t have it.

Now, you might see similarities in our society today. There are the in crowd and the out crowd. Those favoured by society, and those despised by society. Those who have it and those who don’t – whatever it is. Abe Simpson, saying "I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it is strange and scary to me... It'll happen to you"I’m reminded of a scene from the Simpsons, where Abe Simpsons says “I used to be with it, but then they changed what *it* was. Now what I’m with isn’t *it*, and what’s *it* seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you…” Whatever is it now, will eventually be not it later. Keeping up with it is difficult, unfulfilling and eventually not worth your time. Continue reading

Holiness drives us out to Mission

Has anyone here ever sculpted anything? Started off with a block of something and made it into something else? You may have heard of the quote falsely attributed to Michelangelo, who apparently said about his statue of David, that he started with a block of marble, and just chipped away anything that didn’t look like David. It’s that simple! You just chip away anything that doesn’t look the way that you wanted it to look.
You may remember a while ago, Liesl got me to bring in something that I had made – Picture of wooden sculpture - a Salvation Army Shield carved from Huon Pine on a disc of Huon Pine. Made by Ben ClaptonHere’s the finished product. This part here, it was once a square piece of huon pine. Then I decided what I wanted to make, and I just removed anything that didn’t look like what I wanted. With that in mind, I want you to watch this video. Continue reading

Refugee Sunday

Zahra and Ali* were Iranian Christians, persecuted because of their faith, and had fled with their family to seek safety. After having spent some time on Christmas Island, they were moved to Manus Island, and it was here that I met them on one of my first shifts. They were sitting underneath a shelter, and in an attempt to escape the heat, I wandered over and said hello. They introduced themselves, and offered me a cup of tea. Despite the circumstances that they found themselves in, they knew the importance of being hospitable, and welcoming this stranger into what was effectively – for the time being – their home.

Over my time there, Zahra and Ali were the family that I connected with the most. Every shift, I would seek them out, to see how they were doing, and even just to sit with him and chat for a while. I still think of them often, and while I don’t know whether they are still in detention, or whether they have received visas, I pray that one day our paths may cross again. Continue reading

Preparing for the Work

Have you ever competed in a race?
I have, and I can tell you, it’s hard work.  I first competed in the Melbourne City2Sea, a 14km fun run, back in 2012. I had taken up running that year, and it was my first real challenge –  having never run anything over 10km before.  In the lead up to the race, I followed a plan that slowly increased the distance that I was running, so that I was able to complete the race.

Ben and his session mates doing the 2013 City2Sea

Ben and his session mates doing the 2013 City2Sea

The following year, I did it again,  following a training plan and getting myself ready for the big day. Then last year, I convinced myself to get out in the rain and run it one more time, this time 15km.

Each year, in order to reach my goal, I needed to prepare. You can’t just wake up on a Sunday morning and go, “I’m going to run from the MCG to St Kilda today. No, you need to put in some preparations beforehand.  You need to put in the hard yards, run the kilometers, and get your body ready for the race.   Continue reading

There is nothing you can do that will stop God from loving you

I believe we all know that I am a bit of a geek… and a geek who loves Star Trek. So I hope you’ll forgive me when I say I’d like to show you a clip from Star Trek. Let me set the scene. Khan has set off the Genesis machine, after a battle with the Enterprise. The Enterprise is damaged, and can’t jump to warp speed to escape. Spock hears this, and heads into the radiation filled warp chamber, and fixes the warp drive, knowing that it will kill him. They escape, then Kirk is called down to the engine room.

wrath of khan“I have been, and always will be, your friend.” It’s possibly one of the most famous of Star Trek quotes. And it got me thinking – that quote kinda sums up how God feels towards us. He has been, and always will be, our friend. And as I was reading this passage, that’s really what I could see – that no matter what, God has been, is, and always will be our friend.

The thing is that we often don’t recognise that. We say that we can’t possibly have God’s love after the things that we’ve done. There are things that I’ve done in my life that I’m deeply ashamed of – surely God can’t love me knowing that I did that.

The passage we heard of today tells of the prophet Jonah taking God’s message to the city of Nineveh. That message was “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” But what do we know about Nineveh?

Well, we actually know a fair bit. Nineveh was founded by Nimrod, the first on earth to become a mighty warrior. It was condemned by Zephaniah for its arrogance and forcast for destruction. Zephaniah 2:13-15 tells us that Nineveh will be made into “a desolation, a dry waste like the desert,” where “Everyone who passes by it hisses and shakes the fist.” In the book of Nahum, which is all about the destruction of Nineveh, we read Nahum describe the city as the “city of bloodshed, utterly deceitful, full of booty – no end to the plunder!” By all accounts, Nineveh was evil incarnate, and deserved to be destroyed.

And from what we read as well, we can see that people weren’t willing to show God’s love to Nineveh, either. You can see Zephaniah prophesied against it, and Nahum is a whole book celebrating its destruction. When Jonah is told to go and bring a message to Nineveh, he runs away, he doesn’t want to go there. And we read his reason why in chapter 4, “Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” Jonah didn’t want to go tell Nineveh about God’s message because he knew God wouldn’t destroy them.

You look at that and you can see that we do both things. We put ourselves in boxes, and say that we don’t have the right to deserve God’s love. The things we’ve done are so bad that God couldn’t possibly love us.

But we also do the same thing as Jonah. That person over there, you don’t want him God. Don’t you know what he’s done? He’s a liar, a cheat, he does this, he is that. Surely, you don’t want Him God.

Yet let’s look at how Nineveh, that city of bloodshed, that despised, hated city, who is evil incarnate, is described in the book of Jonah.

  • 1:2 “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city”
  • 3:2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city”
  • 4:11 “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city”

And you know what – each description there? That’s God speaking to Jonah. God describes Nineveh as a great city. And despite of everything you’ve done, God describes you as a great person.

We can repent and turn back to God

But just because we can be assured that no matter what we do, God loves us, doesn’t mean that we can do anything we want. God still sent a message to Nineveh and that message had a threat of destruction in it. God gave them 40 days, and if nothing happened then Nineveh would be overthrown. So what does Nineveh do? Firstly, the people believed God. The message is shown to us and the first thing we must do is believe.

Secondly, they acted. They proclaimed a fast and everyone put on sackcloth – an act of repentance. When news reaches the King, even himself covered himself in sackcloth and ashes, and says “All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

While we may have done bad things in the past, we are always able to stop, to repent, turn around and go in the direction that God is calling us.

We can live in the love of God

And what is that direction? We read in a few different places what God requires of us. In Micah – the book after Jonah – we read “He has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” In Matthew, we read Jesus tell a Lawyer what the greatest commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”

That’s really what it all boils down to. When we repent, and accept God’s forgiveness, we then start living as Christ calls us to live. To love God humbly, with everything that we have. To love others, showing kindness to them and ensuring that we have justice for all. And to love ourselves – because how can we love others if we do not love ourselves?

Accept God’s love in your life, and offer it to others

So today, I invite you to accept the fact that God loves you. There’s nothing you can do to change that. Nothing you can do will change the fact that God loves you, and loves you so much that he sent his son to die for your sins. Just as Spock sacrificed himself, so that the rest of the ship could live, so Christ sacrificed himself so that all who believe in him will live. It’s Christ, there on the cross, saying “I have been, and always will be your friend.” So how will you respond to God’s love? Will you repent of your sins, and turn to follow Christ and how he’s calling you to live – loving God, loving others, and loving yourself? Will you offer that love to others, knowing that God’s love is available for all?

I invite you to come and respond to God’s love here today. While we do that, we have this song that says “Lord, I come, I confess” – we need to confess to God of our sins. “Without you I fall apart” – we can’t do anything unless we have Christ with us. “You’re the one that guides my heart” – when we’ve confessed, Christ guides our heart into right action.

While we sing, you’re invited to come and confess to God, to come and repent of your sins. Maybe you’re holding onto something that’s stopping you from fully accepting God’s love. Maybe things you’ve said have stopped others from coming to accept God’s love. Maybe you just want to come forward and pray. Someone will come pray with you, or you can bring someone with you if you prefer. But this is your time, to accept the love of God that’s always been there, and turn around and follow Christ.

Creation Stories

In the beginning… In the beginning, God… In the beginning, God created… it’s such an Iconic opening sentence, and it holds so much power and understanding for us. And depending on how you want to break it up the first few words can put a whole difference spin on the creation story. In the Beginning, tells us that this story starts at the very beginning – there is nothing more before this. In the Beginning, God, tells us that from that very beginning, there was God. And In the Beginning, God created, tells us about this God – that God is a creative God, one who isn’t content to be there alone, but wants others as well.

Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider

Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider

I watched an interesting video the other day that talked about creation stories of various superheros, and how they reflect who we are, and what we are fearful of, and what we aspire to. For example, he highlighted how in the early mythology of Spiderman, he got his powers from what? Continue reading

Happy New Year?

As I viewed the multitude of Happy New Year posts, and posts reflecting on our years, I noticed a bit of a trend. A lot of people were commenting on how this year was really tough. And you know what, I hear that. Liesl and I have had a really tough year, a trial by fire if you will into the world of officership. It certainly says something when both your Divisional Secretary and Divisional Commander both say that we’ve experienced more in our first year of officership than many experience in their career. But as I thought on it, I wondered whether I really had a tough year.

I think of those who have it a lot tougher than me, like the Families of the 30,000 children who die every day from starvation.

I think of the Asylum Seekers who have been locked up indefinitely with no idea of when things will change.

I think of Peter Greece and his colleagues, who has been locked up in Egypt, only for doing his job of reporting the news in a fair and balanced way.

I think of those in Australia whose benefits are being stripped away simply for the sake of improving an economy that is already the envy of many others in the world.

I think of the number of people who are forcibly displaced from their home every year (in 2013 it was over 50 million).

Within the posts on Facebook lamenting their tough year, they would always be looking forward to a great 2015, that things were going to change and this year would be a lot better. While I agree with the sentiment, my prayer, my hope is that 2015 might be the year that we treat all people with love and respect, and start changing some of the depressing and oppressive situations mentioned above.

Prince of Peace

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, The Prince of Peace, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 21 December, 2014, for our Christmas with the Salvos Carols service. The Reading was Isaiah 9:2-7

I chose the passage for today a few weeks ago. The theme for this Sunday was chosen a few weeks earlier than that. And as I sat down on Tuesday morning, in a coffee shop just down the road, only 24 hours after a siege in another coffee shop in Sydney had started, which ended up costing three people their lives, and changed the lives of countless more, I had to wonder how I could possibly preach on peace, when our peaceful existence has been so shockingly changed.

We live in a world characterised by it’s non-peacefulness

The unfortunate reality is that we live in a world that is characterised by it’s non-peacefulness. Wikipedia currently lists 13 Wars and conflicts currently happening around the world. So far, in 2014, that has resulted in at least 113,804 deaths. Over 100,000 deaths in this year alone. That is almost as many as the average number of deaths per year during the Vietnam War. If you add in those classed as minor skirmishes and conflicts, you have 44 Wars, Conflicts and skirmishes, with pushes it up over 118 thousand deaths in this year alone. Some of this conflicts have been going on since 1948 – the cumulative fatalities caused by these active skirmishes tops 6.5 million. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reported that in 2013, we had 51.2 million forcibly discplaced people. This is the highest on record. During 2013, conflict and persecution forced an average of 32,200 individuals per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere – up from 23,400 in 2012 and 14,200 in 2011.

But it’s not just armed conflicts that we have to worry about. Life seems to get busier and busier. That business leads to stress, which means that we can’t perform at our best, and can lead to mental and physical health problems. Elsewhere in our society, people are dealing with poverty, drugs, violence, domestic violence and more. All of these things chip away at that ideal, peacefilled existence. Continue reading

Don’t get stuck in the room

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Don’t get stuck in the room, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 23 November, 2014, in our first Sunday back in our building following renovations. The Reading was John 20:19-23

Who knows what next Sunday is, in the Church’s calendar? That’s right, the first Sunday of Advent. Hands up, who puts their Christmas Decorations up on the first Sunday in Advent? And who puts them up on December 1? And who’s got them up already?

Here’s a trickier question – who knows what today is, in the Church Calendar? Today, in the Church Calendar, is what’s known as Christ the King Sunday. And it’s this day that confused me for a long time with the set readings for the day.
If you don’t know, many churches use what’s called a lectionary, which is usually a three year cycle of readings that they will use for their services. There’s a few different ones around, but for the most part – particularly for the high feast days, they will have the same, or similar readings. And this day is one of them, where they will usually have a story related to the crucifixion.
Now, I never really got that until recently. It seemed to make no chronological sense – we were right about to get into Advent, the period of time where we prepare for Christmas, and all of a sudden, we’re brought back to Easter.
I didn’t get it for a long time, until a realised that – through the lectionary – we were being reminded that the whole purpose of Christ’s birth, the whole reason we have Christmas, was so that he would eventually die on that cross, and rise again, and be able to invite us all into eternal life. Continue reading

Go All the Way

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Go All The Way, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 9 November, 2014. The Reading was Mark 10:17-31

Vince Lombardi (Source: Wikipedia)

Vincent T Lombardi was born in Brooklyn in 1913, to Italian immigrants. His father ran a butcher shop that allowed the family to prosper during the great depression. His family attended Mass every Sunday, which was always followed by dinner with friends, extended family and local clergy. Vincent graduated from the eighth grade in 1928, and then went to Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in Brooklyn to become a catholic priest. After four years, he decided not to pursue the priesthood, and instead headed to St Francis Preparatory high school in 1932. He was offered a football scholarship in 1933 to Fordham University, where he was aggressive and spirited on the football field. After leaving university, he tried his hand at Semi-pro football, and as a debt collector, but failed rather quickly. He enrolled in Law, but withdrew after one semester. In 1939, He accepted an assistant coaching job with the St Cecilia High School in New Jersey. By 1942, he was head coach, and in 1943, St Cecilia’s was recognised as the top football team in the nation.

In 1947, he was coach of the Fordham University Freshman teams, and in 1948 an assistant coach of the varsity team.

In 1949, he started as an assistant at West Point, before eventually joining the New York Giants in 1954 to start his NFL Coaching career. He accepted a head coaching role with the Green Bay Packers in 1959, and was named Coach of the year. He turned the team around from its worst record in history in the 1958 season, to a completely sold out season in 1960, and the Packers have sold out every home game since. The Packers won the 1960 NFL Western Conference, and made it to the NFL Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in what would become his only ever championship game loss. He led the Packers to three consecutive NFL Championships in 65, 66 and 67, and win the first two Superbowls in 1966 and 1967, and would eventually have the Superbowl trophy named after him.

Religion was always a constant part of his life. While at St Cecilia, he would attend mass every day, and when he was head coach, he lead his team to Mass before each home game. While coaching the Packers, he would stop at St Willebrord church every day. His faith, and his experiences when growing up, affected his coaching – seeking to break racial prejudice that was rampant in the league, in a time when the Civil Rights movement was only just getting started. He viewed every one of his players the same, saying he “viewed his players as neither black nor white, but Packer green”. He even went as far as telling all Green Bay businesses that if they didn’t accept his black players as well as his white players, then their business would be off limits to the entire team. Continue reading