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Cross focused or Resurrection focused?

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Cross focused or resurrection focused, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Easter Sunday April 21, 2019. The Reading was Luke 24:1-12.

Right place, wrong time

I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase, Right place, wrong time. It’s this whole idea that you might be where you are supposed to be, but you’re either too early or too late to make the most of you being there. Or maybe, you’ve been in the wrong place at the right time – for example, maybe you late for something that you were meant to be at, but by being late, and being in the wrong place, it allowed you to make the most of an opportunity, to have a chat with someone that really needed to have a chat. The reality is that neither of these things are bad… it’s just not ideal. You just don’t want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In our Bible reading today, we have something similar told to the ladies who come to visit the tomb. They are told that they are looking for the right thing, in the wrong place. Well, not exactly. They came to the tomb looking for the right thing in the right place – that is, they came looking for the dead body of Jesus, which would be expected to be in the tomb, right where it had been left. Because, really, apart from Lazarus, there hadn’t been many examples of dead bodies just getting up and moving.

Jewish tradition valued care of the deceased, and so it was right for the ladies to come and anoint the body with spices and incense.

And so, it seems really odd to hear the angel tell them that they are in the wrong place. They were looking for the dead among the dead. They were in the right place at the right time for what they were intending to do.

Cross Focused living

I think many Christians are in the same spot as the women were. They’re doing what they think is the right thing to do, and doing it at the appropriate time if it was the right thing to do. They’re just missing an important piece of information. They are cross focused.

What I mean by that is that many Christians put their focus on what Christ did on the cross as the most important thing. That Christ dying on the cross is the most powerful and significant thing that Christ did.

But Crucifixion isn’t unique to Christ. Jewish historians Josephus and Appian both refer to the crucifixion of thousands of people by the Romans. Crucifixion isn’t what makes Christ special. Many thousands of people were crucified and stayed dead.

When we, as Christians, become too cross focused, and live out our life and faith in a way that is cross focused, then the way we interact with others becomes cross focused as well. That is, we become focused on the punishment.

We live out our lives in a way that says “we don’t do this” or “We don’t do that”. Even in Salvation Army Soldiership, we sometimes get too cross focused, as when someone asks what soldiership involves, we’ll say “we don’t drink, smoke, or gamble.” Surely, there is more to Christianity than what we don’t do.

When we become too cross focused, our evangelism methods become less effective. Cross focused evangelism tells people that if they don’t change their ways, they will be punished. It seeks to convert based on fear. And the only way for cross focused conversions to continue is to keep establishing that fear. If you back slide, you will be punished. If you do the things that we say are bad, then we will be very disappointed in you – we might even throw you out of our club and not let you back in.

Stop looking for the living among the dead

But the angel tells the women to stop looking for the living among the dead. Because Jesus isn’t dead. He’s not among the dead, he has risen.

You’ll notice that in our church, we don’t use a crucifix – that is, our cross doesn’t have a body attached to it. This signifies that Jesus is no longer attached to the cross – he is living, he is risen.

And as such, we need to stop looking for the living among the dead – that is, we need to stop looking to bring people to faith with cross focused thinking. Fear isn’t going to bring people into faith. And as hard as it can be for the church to realise that, it is what we need to do.

Throughout history, the Church has held a position of power within the community, and was able to utilise that fear to bring people to faith, and keep them there. But these days, the church does not hold that same position. As such, perhaps we need to look to Jesus’ response to sin, and see how we might respond.

In Mark 2, Jesus heals a paralyzed man, having first said to him “Son, your sins are forgiven.” He doesn’t write out a big list of them, doesn’t ask him to repent, doesn’t say “Unless you follow me, I will not forgive your sins”. He just forgives them.

Similarly, in Luke 7, where a pharisee objects to a woman he declares as a sinner anointing Jesus’ feet with tears and perfume, Jesus tells the pharisee a story, and then says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” She didn’t ask for forgiveness. Jesus didn’t lecture her and scare her into repentance. He just forgave her.

Often, Jesus would forgive their sins and then tell them to go and sin no more. He wouldn’t say what those sins were, and he didn’t go into the details of consequences for not leaving their life of sin. There was no fear, just an instruction to not sin any more.

Resurrection focused living

You see, while Jesus was very well aware of where his life was headed, he didn’t engage in cross focused living. He didn’t scare people into repentance so that he wouldn’t need to die on the cross, because he realised that the cross was not the end game – it was just the necessary step on the path to the resurrection so that we can live resurrection focused lives.

Jesus didn’t tell people what not to do. He didn’t teach through fire and brimstone sermons. In fact, his harshest sermons and criticisms were reserved for the pharisees who were so focused on cross centered living. Most of his teaching was not telling people what not to do, but instead showing them how to live.

Jesus shows his disciples that the way to live is to show love, forgiveness, and mercy to all people. To show that life is better with Christ than without.

Because I absolutely believe that life is better with Christ than without it. And if you’re here today and you haven’t invited Christ into your life, then I want to invite you to believe in Christ – not because you’re going to go to hell if you don’t, not because there’s some sort of punishment. No, I want to invite you to believe in Christ because I believe in Christ, and I know that my life is better with Christ in my life, and I know that your life will be better with Christ in your life.

Now, some may say to me, But Ben, what about all those lists of sins that Paul lists in his letters, and I want to say to you that for the most part it’s just good advice anyway – but unless you base that living in the love, forgiveness, and mercy that Jesus teaches, then you’re still focused on the Cross – you’re looking for the living among the dead. Jesus is alive, and wants to share that life with you.

Resurrection power

So go out and live a resurrection focused life. Go and live a life filled with Love, forgiveness and mercy. Go and live a life that is filled with resurrection power living on the inside. Because life is better when you are filled with resurrection power, living a resurrection focused life, and sharing Christ’s resurrected love, forgiveness and mercy with all people.

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Call and be called

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Call and Be Called, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday October 28, 2018. The Reading was Mark 10:46-52

Places of welcome

Last week, Liesl and I ran off at the end of the service. So I apologise to anyone who wanted to speak to us, but we weren’t available. Remember, you can always pop in and see us during the week, or call us and we’d be more than happy to come round and have a chat, if that’s what you need. But I wanted to share with you a couple of experiences that I’ve had this week.

As you know, our wonderful Davey has been diagnosed with Autism. And because of the way that his brain is wired, it means that we often don’t go out. We’ve got a few places that we’re familiar with – the playgroup at Nanneela, Gravity Shack at Echuca, Mainly Music, Church, etc. But taking Davey to somewhere new is often really difficult. On our holidays just recently, there were some Sunday’s where we didn’t go to Church, because going to a place where we have this unstated expectation that he sit down, be quiet, and not noticed is just sometimes too much for us. We end up stressing over what he might do next, that we don’t end up getting anything out of the service. And so there were some weeks where we just stayed home, or only one of us went, because it was better for our soul to do it that way.

Continue reading Call and be called
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Who will you serve?

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Who will you serve?, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday October 14, 2018. The Reading was Joshua 24:1-15, (16-28).

Quotable quotes

In the Bible Reading we’ve had today, there is a bit of a “quotable quote”. That is, a short, memorable verse that people like to remember, or get printed up on coffee cups, keyrings, or decorative wall plaques. “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Very nice. Short, punchy, memorable.

I wonder if there’s any others like that which you can remember.

Phil 4:13 Coffee Mug

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13.

Ps 23:5 Travel Mug

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Ps. 23:5. Good one for a coffee cup.

John 3:16 Tie

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16.

Ps 46:10 Coffee mug

“Be Still and Know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

“His father scolded him, and said “What kind of dream is this that you have had?” Genesis 37:10

Continue reading Who will you serve?
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Holiness and New Life

Replacing Addictions and Habits

Black Coffee in a Red Keep Cup
Coffee

I don’t know if you’ve ever been addicted to anything. According to Liesl, I’m addicted to coffee. It’s true. I do love the stuff. And it would indeed be a rare day that I would not have a coffee. And I keep saying to her that I could give it up any time, I just don’t want to.

Alright. So maybe I am addicted.

But I have gone through times of giving it up. Sometimes for health reasons, sometimes to prove to Liesl that I wasn’t addicted. But I have successfully gone for periods of not drinking coffee. And what I’ve found is that in order for me to give up something that I may or may not be addicted to, I need to replace it with something else. Preferably something that is healthier.

So for example, when I gave up coffee, I would replace it with water. I would drink lots of water, and I would have hot water to replace the social aspect in my brain of having a hot drink.

In the times that Liesl and I have come into contact with Salvation Army rehab units, we’ve discovered a similar thing. Most recovering drug addicts and alcoholics take up smoking, and most centres are ok with it, because it is giving up a damaging addiction and replacing it with something less damaging. They realise that if you take the addiction away but don’t replace it with anything, then it won’t be a long term solution.

Or maybe you’ve tried to get rid of an old habit? In the very same way, it is a deliberate action that we must take to replace a bad habit with a good habit.

Continue reading Holiness and New Life
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End times?

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Worship as Lifestyle, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 15 November, 2015. The Reading was Mark 13:1-13.

end-is-nearHear Ye! Hear Ye! The End is near! War is upon us! Syria is rising up against the world! Russia and the United States are arguing. Israel and Palestine! Earthquakes all over the world. Famines through Africa. A shortage of Baby Formula in China. Donald Trump being an US Presidential Candidate. Starbucks not putting Merry Christmas on their coffee cups. Bunnings rising up next to K&D. These are the end times people! Jesus is coming! Look Busy!

As the human race, we seem to have an addiction to wanting to know when the end of the world will happen. The Great Fount of All Knowledge, Wikipedia, lists 168 Apocalyptic predictions, dates when various people have predicted the end of the world would happen. There are also 13 future estimates currently listed, including three scientific predictions over when the earth will no longer be habitable.

Some of these predictions, we seem to laugh at – such as Harold Camping, who had six attempts at predicting the end of the world. But others are from people that we respect, such as Sir Isaac Newton, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church from where The Salvation Army traces its lineage, and Martin Luther, the man who started the Reformation.

We want to know. We want to see Jesus. We want to know how much time we have left. We want to know whether it’s worth us doing the washing, or whether we’ll have enough clean pants to see us through… Continue reading End times?

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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 The Christ Crowd

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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 Refugee Sunday

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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.

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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 Creation Stories

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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 Prince of Peace