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

What I love about conservative theology

I recently read an article that was basically saying that liberal theology was a blight upon The Salvation Army and that it must be driven out in all its forms. As a Salvation Army Officer who finds that the label of liberal theology is the label that closest fits my own personal theology, reading this hurts. It makes me wonder whether I am an accepted part of the Army. It makes me wonder whether I have a place. It makes me wonder about my own beliefs. See, the hatred of liberalism is a common argument often put up by conservatives, particularly in Christian circles. As such, when an argument such as this is put up, it can make me wonder if I have a place in this wonderful place called Christianity.

My faith is stronger than that of course, and as I reflected upon the article, thoughts turned to what I could do about it. The standard human responses are to fight or flight. Flight was certainly out – I feel so strongly convicted about my calling to officership within The Salvation Army, and so strongly convicted about what others may describe as a liberal theology, that leaving these things behind is by no means an option for me. So I considered fight. I considered writing an article about how conservative theology was a blight on The Salvation Army – basically a rebuttal of the original article. I considered defending liberal theology in the Army, saying that there are many examples where it is perhaps the best fit to Salvation Army theology. But it still didn’t feel right.

Eventually, as I reflected upon my own liberal theology, one that prioritises love and grace over all, one that highlights the holiness doctrine that The Salvation Army cherishes, where I try to be more and more like Jesus, I realised that there was only one thing that I could do – because I love my conservative colleagues.

Three things I love about Conservative Christians

See, the thing is that while the article may hurt, there is always something that can be learnt out of it. And there are many things that conservative Christians do really well, and it’s worth pointing them out. It’s probably worth taking on board, and developing into the liberal theology as well, because it would make us stronger. So here are my three things that I love about Conservative Christians (because three is a holy number, and makes for memorable reading).

A complete and utter urgency about Salvation

Conservative Christians are fantastic about placing the importance on Salvation. Us liberals probably talk more about the journey towards Salvation, but for a conservative Christian, everything points towards Salvation, and they want to get people there as quickly as possible. The journey can happen after that, but let’s get them saved. And it’s true, Salvation is a wonderful thing and something that should be promoted and pushed. We never know when the return of Christ will happen, so it could be in 500 years, or it could be tomorrow. Either way, there is an urgency to get people saved, and that is something that the conservatives have done really well.

A love for every word of the Bible

Now, don’t get me wrong on this one – liberals love and cherish the Bible as well, but the love that conservatives have is certainly to be admired. Their knowledge and memory of the bible is something that is to be admired. I may be wrong here, but I feel like most conservatives have a higher level of recall – that is, more often they can quote passages of scripture word for word, where as many liberals may know the general gist of the passage, they may have to read the passage to quote it word for word.

A strong conviction about right and wrong

While liberals and conservatives may not agree on all the finer points, the final thing I love about conservatives is that they hold a very strong conviction about what is right and wrong. While the liberals often deal in the grey areas of our faith, it means that we hold a lot more flexible opinions, so that even when we do feel strongly about something, we are never as strongly convicted about it as the conservatives are, who will study an area, work out where they stand, and stick to it. This is something that is to be admired, and I feel like liberals often need to have this same sense of conviction about the things that they believe.

So that’s it. Three things that I love about conservative Christians (not that I don’t love more things, three just makes for a good, short blog post). And for me, while I hold strongly to my liberal theology, I value the input that conservative theologians add to our rich tapestry of faith, and strongly believe that through all of us working together – both on the fringes of liberal and conservative, and in the comfortable middle ground as well – we will all save souls, change the world, and be good and faithful witnesses of Christ’s love for our world.

The Lost Sheep

This is a guest post by my wife, Liesl. It’s a sermon she preached on Sunday 14 September. The text was Luke 15:1-7.

I read something recently that made it very, very clear to me that to general society and the greater world, I am not really that important.

You may be wondering what I would read that would reveal such harsh truths to me, what I would read that would allow me to possibly even say to some of you that really, society doesn’t care about us all that much.

Well the always informative literature that brought me back down to earth was nothing other than… Celebrity Gossip site – Radar Online! You see I found a whole story focused on celebrities who step outside… Wait for it… Without make up on!!!!!   And while wearing tracksuits and jumpers!!!!!!! It was called Celebrity slobs!!!!…..   GASP!

Are you appalled?? That celebrities dare exit their houses without Hollywood style perfection??? How dare they do their shopping without a dress and heels, or a suit??

Perhaps you’re wondering how this brought me to the realization that the world was not deeply concerned or effected by me…

2014-09-13 23.06.17This.. This is how…

This is a pretty normal picture of me, this is how I would do my shopping, this is how I would happily exit the house… This is, to be honest my favourite outfit ever. I wear this in public and the only person who flinches is one of my aunties in Melbourne who hates clothing that isn’t in its prime. Even my mother gave up caring about 6 years ago that this jumper was my most worn outfit despite it being a holy, school jumper that she bought cheaply after I lost multiple expensive ones.

Nobody really cares… nobody took a picture to post online, nobody really made much comment or fuss.

I do not, in any way carry celebrity status.

As I’m growing up, my self-confidence takes a little less of a nose dive these days and my interest in fashion is even less than the little it ever was, but still it can be easy to feel insignificant in a big world.

Maybe it’s not your fashion choices you realize it, maybe its the realization that while certain people, politicians for example make stupid comments that get broadcast all over the news, sometimes we can’t even get our own children to hear us when we say things to them.

When someone famous dies, a whole world mourns, but daily average people are suffering and no one seems to notice.

Sometimes its challenging to find our place in this world – sometimes its easy to feel like our days just float on by without much meaning and purpose. That we are really just like a wave crashing on the ocean, moving on quickly.

It may feel that way, but if we live like that, as if we don’t matter and we have no real purpose or influence on the world then life becomes a meaningless and depressing state of being.

But if the world is quick to remind us that we don’t really matter, how then do we find our greater purpose and assurance of our importance and worth?

If I take my value and worth from things like trashy celebrity magazines and earthly values I will never match up and will never be able to find true worth, instead I need to find a better book to read.

Luckily – I have one!

You see when we look to the bible we realize that Jesus had this habit of challenging all kinds of social norms.  No wonder he came up against uncertainty and criticism by some people, he saw what was the standard way of life and the way they had warped what the scriptures were telling them and he called them on it, he did it differently and he challenged them all to live likewise.

More often than not he challenged those who were top Dog in society, he loved to have a go at the Pharisees, the religious teachers who prided themselves on being closer to God and having authority and knowledge. Jesus so often came along and pretty much I can imagine after a few times, wanted to just roll his eyes and go seriously guys, are you still not getting it? He so often tried to teach them that people were more important than the traditions and strict rules they were living by. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, even though it was considered wrong, he showed how deeply he cared for those who suffered, above what society considered right. When he hung out with women, lepers and tax collectors he challenged the idea of who was important. If Jesus was here today I wonder what he would think of the way we idolize some people yet as a society stamp others down and out.

Today I want to focus on just one of the parables Jesus told, which was that of the lost sheep.

The reading begins by telling us that these Pharisees still haven’t got it,  A group of people are sitting around wanting to hear Jesus, they are the sinners and the tax collectors ,they were sitting around listening and instead of the Pharisees rejoicing in sinners listening to this great teacher, they muttered amongst themselves about how he welcomes the sinners! I don’t know about you, but if I had a room full of what society called the sinners listening t Jesus, as a religious leader I would be thrilled! These are people who are not getting jut how much God loves everyone, including the sinners!

Jesus goes on to tell the story of a shepherd with 100 sheep, he says if one of them go missing, does not the shepherd leave the 99 to find the 1.

It seems crazy to imagine, a shepherd trying to tend his sheep and noticing one missing and then leaving all the others because of the huge value he places on a missing sheep.

Now, it doesn’t say in the Bible, but I feel pretty safe in assuming this wasn’t a celebrity sheep. It was just a lost sheep. If the bible had celebrity sheep, I’m thinking at least one of the gospel writers would have thought to mention it, they didn’t, so I’m assuming it was just a regular run of the mill, on of a hundred sheep.

But we hear that the shepherd goes and searches out that 1, returns him and further than that celebrates in his return.

He goes on to say that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than  99 righteous people who do not need to.

Now, this isn’t saying when we become saved and have repented God no longer interests in us, this story is a challenge to the pharisees, those who believe themselves to be righteous and above the need to repent. It’s about those who view themselves to be perfect and beyond the need for saving by our God.

It takes me back to my opening thought, that you know sometimes in this world it is easy to feel unimportant, to feel not enough in a world with perfect people in it.

Next to a celebrity I may not seem like a whole lot, next to people who literally have changed the world our small acts of service and dedication may not seem huge. I also know what it feels like to be a Christian who is struggling around a room full of seemingly perfect Christians. To wonder why they have it all figured out and I don’t.

But I tell you today, if you are around a perfectly saved Christian, with no faults and no need for salvation anymore, chances are you are around a Pharisee. Someone who has forgotten that life with Christ is not about building our selves up but humbling ourselves to serve others.

The story tells us that God isn’t interested in seeing Christians pretend to have it perfect. He isn’t interested in those who live good all the time and claim to be righteous people with no faults. He is interested in the one with the flaws, who admits the faults. He is interested in those who feel not enough. He is interested in hose who are real and bringing them back to the shepherd, back to God.

Because when we admit our short comings we can accept grace and wholeness in God. We do find completeness. But we don’t become like the 99 who feel complete and stop striving for more, we instead know that our wholeness and perfection is because of What God has done in us and we know that we will always need to keep coming back to that.

To be in relationship with God, we don’t need to be perfect, we don’t need to be the most important, the celebrity Christian.

We live in a broken world, we live in a place full of hurt and imperfection. God knows about our struggles, he sees our tears, he recognizes our depression, he sees our issues with self-worth, he sees our sin, he sees all the reasons we may feel like we are not enough. It would be understandable to see the faults and walk away deeming it too hard, deeming us too unworthy, ill stick with those who appear to have it figured out. But he doesn’t, that’s the exciting news. He seeks us out, he picks us up and he carries us home to a place where he can work in our lives and teach us what wholeness and love in Christ looks like.

To the world we may only be a person, who doesn’t have it all together and doesn’t seem like much, But to God – he searches for us. To God, we are his child who he loves and if you have ever seen a parent who can’t find their child, you can geta  glimpse of the pain of God when we are far from him.

So today is your opportunity to be found.

It’s not a day to focus on all the reasons we aren’t enough, or we aren’t good enough. It’s a day to let God bring you home.

Maybe you have used your weakness and struggles as an excuse, or you have let them define you. Maybe you don’t feel enough to have that deep close relationship with God, or to do the ministry he is calling you to or to just fully accept just how important you are to our God.

But today, Today God is calling you to him, he sees those things you carry and he offers rest and grace. They may still plague you, but they will not define you, because instead, you will be called a child of God:

One who is loved,
One who is sought after
One who was created

You are, exactly as he wants you, as long as you are willing and ready.

This morning  I invite you to be found, to come home. To let God take over all the reasons you may be pushing him away and to come home completely, every little part.

Theres a beautiful song by casting crowns that will play as we seek God,

It’s called Who am I? and it articulates what I have been wanting to share with you today. It asks the question, who am I? Who am I that the god who is the great creator of all would look on me with love? And it says, it’s not because of who I am but because of what you’ve done, not because of what I’ve done but because of who you are.

We can’t let our faults and mistakes keep us away, because even if we hadn’t done them, we still would not have done enough to earn what was given for us – Jesus life. It is because of his love and his death that we are welcome.

So as it plays I invite you to pray and let God speak truth into your life and be reminded of that truth: You are loved, just as you are he wants to call you child.

The Gift of Grace

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, The Gift of Grace, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 21 September, 2014. The Reading was Matthew 20:1-16

Have you ever received a gift, but it wasn’t what you were expecting? I’d like to tell you about a guy who was going to college in America. His father had told him that on his graduation, he would get the same present as his brothers – a new car. Now, this wasn’t just any car, but it was the top of the range, Porsche 911

A 2014 Porsche 911 GT3

A 2014 Porsche 911 GT3

, with all the trimmings. It was this that kept him going through college. He pushed through every class, he studied hard every night and passed his exams, and eventually came to graduation. He got up on stage, got his paper, and after the ceremony, his dad came over to him and handed him a present. He opened up the present, hoping to see the keys to his new car, but instead, what he found was a bible.

He was furious. He said to his dad, “I’ve spent four years working as hard as I can, to get the grades to let me pass, and all you give me at the end of it is this stupid book!” He marched off home, and threw the book in the corner of his room, never even opening it. He never talked to his father again.

Years later, one of his brothers called him to tell him that his father had died. He’d moved many times since, but he still had that bible. He opened it up, and found a letter, tucked inside. The letter said, “I am, and always will be, proud of you, my son. Your car is waiting for you at the dealership, all you need to do is pick it up.” Continue reading

Reforming Society (Vision and Mission Part 5)

This is part five and the final part in my Vision and Mission sermons at The Salvation Army Devonport. View all of the sermons here. The reading for today was Luke 4:14-30.

What will you fight for?

This speech is one of the most famous quotes of The Salvation Army, and has served for years as a rallying cry. It speaks of the battle that we as an army face – that while there is still one person in need, that we will fight, we will fight to the very end.

Where that end is, we do not know. But, still, we must fight, and fight as if the end is both tomorrow, and in the next millennium.

This quote fits so incredibly well with the words that Jesus spoke in today’s reading. Quoting from Isaiah, this passage speaks of Jesus’ mission, that would shape his mission and ministry from that point in.

Jesus fights for Justice

Jesus returned to Nazareth, to his home town, and went to the Synagogue to read and teach. He found his way to this quote from Isaiah, and declared: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

These themes that this passage highlights bare particular emphasis in Luke’s gospel, but it should also be noted that this passage is found in Mark as well. But all through Luke’s gospel, we see the themes of justice, inclusiveness and freedom included as a central part of Jesus’ message. Let’s have a quick overview of Luke, to show these themes.

Luke’s birth narrative focusses in on Mary, and includes what is (I believe) the longest monologue by a female in the bible, in what became known as the Magnificat, or the Song of Mary. The first people to see Jesus, besides his parents, were the shepherds, not exactly the most well respected people in the bible, but the ones chosen by God. Following the reading we had today, Jesus begins his ministry, and heals a demoniac, Simon’s mother-in-law (separate people, I’m not saying Simon’s mother-in-law was a demoniac), a leper, a paralytic – the people generally avoided by society. He calls his first disciples, a fisherman and a tax collector, and teaches on the plain giving praise to the poor, hungry and sorrowful, and declares love for all as what is expected. There’s more healings of women in Luke’s gospel than in the others, and it’s in Luke’s gospel that we hear that there were a number of women who followed Jesus in the same way as the 12 apostles did.

More and more, all the way through, these themes are realised in Luke’s gospel, even through to it being the women who first see Jesus after he had risen.

Jesus is here to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, make the blind see, and to free the oppressed, declaring the year of God’s favour. Jesus is fighting for Justice, so that all may live in the kingdom of God.

The Salvation Army fights for Justice

Similarly, The Salvation Army has had a long history of fighting for justice. Now, I just want to first clarify that there are two aspects here: Social Action and Social Advocacy. Let’s put it like this: Social action is applying first aid when we see someone fall over and get injured. Social Advocacy is seeing that multiple people have fallen over in that same place, and campaigning to make changes so that others won’t fall at the same place. Social action is meeting a person’s immediate needs, and social advocacy is ensuring that people won’t need our social action again. Both are important, and both are necessary.

The Salvation Army has had a long history and is well recognised for meeting someone’s immediate needs. But we also have a long history of campaigning for changes in society.

In 1885, The Salvation Army, by way of the Founder’s son, Bramwell Booth, was involved in what would become known as The Maiden Tribute crisis, where W.T. Stead, an English publicist and editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, devised a scheme to purchase a 13-year old girl under the assumption that she would get sold into prostitution, but was instead whisked away to a Salvation Army home in France. The corresponding story written by Stead caused so much hysteria in England that the UK Parliament was forced to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16, as they understood that opposition to the bill meant denying that child prostitution existed, but it was also condoning it.

In the 1890s, William Booth saw that many poor people were developing the fatal disease, “Phossy Jaw”, due to their working in factories producing matches with Yellow Phosphorus. Booth sought to show that matches could be produced safely and at a profit using Red Phosphorus, a process that had been invented back in 1855 by Swedish Chemists. Through providing the workers decent living wages, and campaigning to get grocers and shopkeepers to stock only safety matches, they were able to close their factory in 1901, having forced other factories to improve their working conditions and wages, and use red phosphorus exclusively.

Even today, The Salvation Army is fighting hard for justice in our world, taking a lead with Stop the Traffik, an international campaign to end human trafficking, and also playing a large part in the Fair Trade movement, with many corps moving exclusively to Fair Trade tea and coffee, and the Salvos in PNG producing a coffee that follows fair trade principles of a fair price for the farmers who produce the coffee beans.

We must fight for justice.

In the same way, we as a church, as well as ourselves individually, must fight for justice. Through our Doorways program, we are fighting to stop generational poverty. No longer is giving food enough, but instead we must be looking for ways to help get families out of the poverty cycle. Through our Doorways2Parenting, we are giving skills to parents that will help them to be better parents, which in turn models those parenting skills to their children.

There are many issues of injustice that we can fight for today. Slavery still exists in this world – not just in poor, third world countries, but here in Australia as well. Sexual Slavery is one of the highest forms of slavery in our modern world, and women from all over the world are trafficked and forced to take part in prostitution, pornorgraphy, and other degrading activities. The Stop The Traffik campaign aims to highlight the issue of slavery and human trafficking, with the aim of one day stopping this vile practice.

A lot of our food and clothing is produced in third world countries, where many workers are exploited, and not paid a decent living wage. There are a variety of different certification systems around, such as Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, or UTZ certification, that enable us to be sure that the products we are buying have been ethically produced, and the source producers have received a decent wage for their product. Certified Tea, Coffee, and chocolate is becoming more and more widespread – for example, the coffee at McDonald’s is Rainforest Alliance certified, and Nestlé have announced that they are on track to have 100% of their chocolate products being Fair Trade certified by the end of 2015.

Domestic Violence is a major issue in our society, and one that we must stand up to wherever we see it. While most people think of it in terms of Physical Violence, it can occur in many different forms, be it physical, financial, emotional, psychological, or spiritual abuse. Whenever we see something happening, we have to stand up and say, “No, that’s not how we do it here.” We can support initiatives such as White Ribbon Day, which aims to stop violence against women – which is the predominant form of domestic violence – by encouraging men to swear to never commit violence against women, or to stay silent when they witness violence.

Homelessness is still a major issue in our society, with governments seeming to not want to act on the issue. There are many differing programs around, but one of the best things that we can do is to write to our politicians, at a National, State and Local level, and ask them to take this issue seriously. Governments in the US are beginning to realise that by providing houses for the homeless, they can actually reduce the cost of healthcare and other service costs more than what it costs to house them. The sooner our government realises this, and begins to provide affordable accommodation for the homeless, the sooner we will be able to see a noticeable change in our society.

The Australian Government is continuing to push it’s harsh line of border protection, but at the same time trampling on long standing agreements contained within the United Nations Refugee Convetion, as well as Human Rights conventions, and our duty of care for children. There are lots of organisations that are trying to work with the government to present a fairer solution, such as Amnesty International – which you’ve got some of their materials in your sermon notes today – the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, and many more, and we can support their campaigns, as well as writing to politicians, and other actions to encourage our politicians to show the love of the stranger that our faith encourages, and the fair go culture that we believe Australian culture has always had.

At the beginning of my sermon, you heard the words of the founder, in his famous “I’ll Fight” speech, and some modern day responses. As Salvationists, we are called to fight for this world, and whether you identify as a Salvationists or just as a Christian – or even just as a human being – I think we are all called to fight for change in our world. Mahatma Gandhi once said “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.” Or, as it is often simplified to, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We have the opportunity – not only as a church, but as individuals as well, to fight for change, to fight for the Transformation of our society. So what will you fight for?

While women weep, as they do now, will you fight?
While little children go hungry, as they do now, will you fight?
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, will you fight?
WHile there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, will you fight?
While there are people seeking asylum, who are forced to live in harsh conditions, will you fight?
While there are farmers producing food for major corporations with massive profits, but don’t have money to feed their own family, will you fight?
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, will you fight?

Will you fight? Will you fight to the very end?

Making Disciples (Vision and Mission Part 4)

This is part four in my Vision and Mission sermons at The Salvation Army Devonport. View all of the sermons here. The reading for today was Luke 6:12-49.

We’re into part four of our series on our Vision and Mission, and today we’re talking about Disciples. Specifically, how we can make disciples, and how we can be disciples. So, I want to start with a bit of a question to get you thinking: What influential moments have you had in your journey of Christian Discipleship? By that I mean, what teaching, studies, reading, actions, retreats, mentors, personal relationships have been most influential in your journey to be a Christian Disciple? Let me share a couple with you.

When I was in year 11, I was still part of the Anglican Church. The Anglican Diocese in Perth was trialling a new idea that (it was hoped) would encourage young people to consider seriously entering into ministry in the church. So a group of us headed down to Rockingham in the Southern Suburbs of Perth, and had a retreat with the Bishop, and a few other priests, looking at ministry and life as a Christian. It was a big success – of the 5 people who went, 3 have moved onto different denominations, one is notionally attending, and one has entered ministry… in a different church. But the reality was that this time was a period that planted the seed of ministry service in my life.

The other influential time for my discipleship was through a retreat community called Chrysalis. This was a three day retreat that looked at various aspects of Christian life and discipleship. While the initial retreat was awesome, what was more influential for me was being involved in the community after that. Serving in various roles, from general support, to musician, to an assistant lay director, and speaking on various topics, helped focus my own Christian life and helped me work through some of the issues that I had in my life.

Both of these retreats had three common aspects that relate to our Christian Discipleship, and we see these aspects coming through in today’s readings. They are calling, Teaching and Doing.

Calling

For both of these retreats, I was invited to attend. My priest put my name forward for me to be invited to attend the ministry exploration retreat by the Bishop, and I was invited to attend Chrysalis by one of my good mates who had attended a retreat before me. We see similar things in Jesus’ calling of the twelve apostles. Traditionally, Disciples sought out a rabbi and asked to follow him and learn from him through question and observation. Jesus flipped this on its head, and sought out and asked Disciples to come and follow him.

We don’t hear about all of the Disciples calling, but earlier in Luke’s gospel, we hear about some of them. Simon was cleaning his nets after fishing on the lake of Gennesaret, when Jesus sat in his boat to start teaching. After catching nothing all night, Jesus told Simon to go out again, where he caught so many fish his nets were beginning to break. Jesus said, “from now on you will be catching people” and Simon left his boats and followed Jesus.

Levi was sitting at the tax booth, and Jesus walked up to him and said “Follow me” so he left everything and followed Jesus.

Both these guys (who would have their names changed – Simon to Peter, and Levi to Matthew), were called by Jesus to come and follow them, and they listened and had their lives changed.

Similarly, a lot of our discipleship has been part of a calling. Maybe you can remember who first invited you to come to church. Or maybe someone invited you to take part in a bible study that ended up changing your life. Or someone invited you to come along on this camp or retreat where you learned something new about God.

Teaching

The next part of my discipleship experiences is teaching. All of my significant moments contain a bit of teaching. My ministry retreat contained teaching from the Bishop, as well as some other priests, as to what ministry can look like – both biblically and in today’s society. Chrysalis contains as the crux of it fourteen talks about different areas of Christian living – Faith, Means of Grace, Marriage and the Single life, and others. In every discipleship moment, there must be an element of teaching, because it is through the teaching that we grow to be more like Christ.

Let’s look at Jesus’ discipleship moment here. He came and stood on a level place, and the multitude from all over the place came to hear him. So he looked up and started speaking. First, in Luke’s version of the Beattitudes, Jesus highlighted the values that he revered, and the values that he didn’t. Blessed are the poor, woe to the rich. Blessed are the hungry, woe to the full.

He then went on to describe a new way of living. This is such a long reading, and each section could quite rightly have a sermon in itself, so I’m not going to get into each section, but through all of this teaching, Jesus shows the crowd a new way of living, that will usher in the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is one of equality, and one of non-violence, where Love is the central theme, not power.

You might like to start thinking about some of your discipleship moments where you’ve experienced some great teaching – and it’s ok, it doesn’t have to be one of my sermons – but while you do that, realise that it doesn’t have to be a single event. While the time’s I’ve illustrated were retreats – that’s what was significant for me. I’ve also enjoyed sharing time over the past few weeks sharing with people who have spent significant time just reading their bibles, and the teaching that they have learnt from that one book alone could well be more than could be gained at a single retreat.

Discipleship isn’t just a one time event. We must be continually learning, accessing the teaching of Jesus, maybe even looking further afield at some of the writings of other great Christian teachers, to get an understanding of what God is telling us, and how he is shaping us into being more of him.

Doing

The final aspect of our discipleship trifecta is the aspect of doing. Now, we don’t earn our faith because of the good works that we do. God loves us, all of us, no matter whether we do great works or not. However, the teaching of Jesus is so rooted in things that we can do, that the only real response to accepting the teaching of Jesus is to say, “Yes Lord, I will do that” – I will live in that way, I will love my enemy, I will turn the other cheek.

I’ve been reading a book recently called Jim and Caspar go to Church. Jim is a former pastor turned author, who employed an Athiest, Caspar, to go with him to various churches and critique their worship services. It’s a fascinating read. Reading through it, I noticed one of Caspar’s common critiques was that the service focussed too much on the inward, and didn’t result in a demonstratable action that could be done. Once the sermon was over, there was no call to action, no “Come do this” or “Go do that”.

Caspar, I feel, hit the nail on the head. Yes, a lot of our faith is an internal, private affair, and that’s how it is. But the result of the love of God that we experience should propel us into action.

James wrote about this in his letter, saying “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  This isn’t to put an emphasis on works above faith, or faith above works. They come out of each other – because we have faith, we do works.

My discipleship moments all had strong elements of doing. My ministry retreat sought to encourage me to go out and explore ministry, to go and experience it and see where God was leading me. Chrysalis had a strong action call at the end of the retreat, to apply Christ’s teachings to your life and to step up into ministry.

When we get out there and apply Christ’s teachings to our lives, we also have the opportunity to learn from what it does to our lives. We grow as disciples through our works.

Conclusion

The wonderful thing about all of this is that we can do it no matter where we are on our journey of discipleship. If you’ve been here for 80 years, God’s still calling you, still teaching you, and still encouraging you to action. If this is your first time here, something or someone has called you to be here, and you have the opportunity to learn from Jesus’ teachings and go apply it to your life. Whether it’s your first day or your 800th, Christ is giving you the opportunity to progress along your journey of discipleship.

And the wonderful thing is that we as a church can support you in that. As individuals, we can invite people to come along, to give them that calling so that they may start the next part of their journey. As a church, we have bible studies, we have classes, we have opportunities to apply that faith into works, so that we can all share in our discipleship journey together. But of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and maybe God has put on your heart something that he would like you to do. Maybe Christ is calling you to get back into your bible reading. Maybe the Holy Spirit is leading you towards a retreat, or a bible study, or to share what you’ve experienced with someone else.

Hear God’s call on your life. Learn from the word of God. Go out and do it in community.

Caring for People (Vision and Mission Part 3)

This is part three in my Vision and Mission sermons at The Salvation Army Devonport. View all of the sermons here. The reading for today was Luke 10:25-37.

For some strange reason, people seem to be on an unending quest to live forever. Some scientists believe that the first person to live to 150 years of age has already been born –they obviously never read about Methuselah. Some also believe that within the next two decades the first person to reach 1000 years of age will be born. From miracle pills to

The Holy Grail from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The Holy Grail from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

miracle cups, people are on a never ending quest to be able to live forever.

So when we read this question from the lawyer, we can kind of understand. We want to find this everlasting life, this eternal life. And I can relate to him. He asks Jesus, “what must I do”. He wants to have something that he can go, right, that’s done, I’m good. Do this, and you’ll get this. Nice and simple. Complete this task, once it’s done, you’ll get eternal life.

But Jesus is never simple like that. And he does what Jesus does best – answers a question with a question. He turns the question around and says to the lawyer – what do you see in the scriptures. When you read God’s word, what does that tell you that you need to do.

And then the Lawyer says something incredibly interesting. He quotes the same two passages that we hear Jesus quote in the books of Matthew and Mark as the two great commandments. Here, Luke has turned it around, and has this Lawyer saying that this is what he’s got out of the torah – these are the two things that can be read. To Love God with everything you’ve got, and to love your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus responds positively, answering the initial question: do this, and you will live.

Who is my neighbour?

But the man thinks, this can’t be it. It’s not a task with a finite finish date. I can’t go and know when I’ve finished it. So he asks another question. “Who is my neighbour?” And Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The problem is that we’ve lost a lot of what Jesus was trying to get through with this parable. So, if you’ll permit me, let me put a modern spin on this story.

A Roman road from Jericho to Jerusalem

A Roman road from Jericho to Jerusalem

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of gang members, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  Now, by chance, a member of the IDF was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side, thinking that it may be an ambush. So likewise a Rabbi, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

A Palestinian man

A Palestinian man

But a Palestinian while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having cleansed them. Then he put him in his car, and took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day, he took out a day’s pay and gave it to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”

See, the Samaritans were the most hated group of people by the Israelites. They did not interact with each other, and they certainly didn’t touch each other – even moreso when one of them was hurt and bleeding. Travelling Jews would even take longer routes to avoid going into Samaritan land. So when Jesus described the actions of the Samaritan as the one to be held up as ideal, he really shocked a number of people.

Maybe your Samaritan is something different. Maybe it’s the Good Centrelink Employee. Maybe it’s the Good Boat Person. Maybe it’s the Good Politician. Maybe it’s the Good Christian. Whoever that person is, the actions that flow from that is what counts.

Go and do likewise

In Jesus’ day, it was thought that the priests and the Levites were the people that were good. They knew the law and they followed it. They knew that to touch someone who was bleeding would make themselves unclean. But for Jesus, these two commandments override everything else. So sure, remain clean, but not at the expense of loving your neighbour. Jesus poses a question to the lawyer and asks who was a neighbour? The lawyer can’t even bring himself to say Samaritan, so he says “The one who showed him mercy”, but he is the one that Jesus says to emulate in their behaviour.

So what are we to do? We must make sure that through our programs we are caring for every person that comes through our door. The way that care looks might look a bit different for each person , but we need to meet them where they are, meet their immediate needs, and minister to them in that way.

William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, once said, “What is the use of preaching the Gospel to men whose whole attention is concentrated upon a mad, desperate struggle to keep themselves alive?” I guess that’s the whole idea behind the traditional Salvo saying of “Soup, Soap and Salvation” – you won’t save a man if he’s hungry and not clean. Indeed, there’s a theory in the Social Services called

Maslow's Heirarcy of Needs

Maslow’s Heirarcy of Needs

Mazlow’s Heirarchy of needs, which defines different levels of needs for a person to function in society. The basic theory goes that if one of the lower level needs aren’t met, a person can’t begin to process any of the higher level needs. So if someone’s worried about where their next meal is going to come from, there’s no point trying to convert them to Christianity. Instead, meet their immediate needs – get them some food.

Like the Samaritan in our parable, he didn’t try to convert him, or to seek out revenge against the bandits. His first action was to get the man to a safe place, then look after his wounds, and when he could stay no longer, he made provisions for his continued healing.

Similarly, while we are called as a church to go and do likewise, you in your life are called to go and do likewise as well. Jesus said that the love of neighbour was one of the two great commandments, and to be neighbourly, we need to show love and mercy to all that we meet, caring for their lives – both physically and emotionally, and living out the Gospel of Christ in our lives.

So go. Be like the Samaritan, and show mercy and compassion to all that you meet. Go and live life with your neighbours, whoever they may be. Get in along side them.