Win this nation back?

There are some worship songs that I really get into. And there are some bands and writers that I especially get into. At the moment, one of the bands that I’m absolutely loving is Rend Collective. They have this funky, Irish-Bluegrass type feel to much of their recordings, and their songs are just great to sing along to.

I’ve used some of their Campfire Christmas versions of Christmas Carols at Christmas time, and their albums are on a high rotation in my iTunes playlists. And one of my favourite songs – and one that seems to be gaining more and more traction particularly within The Salvation Army here in Australia – is Build Your Kingdom Here.

Continue reading “Win this nation back?”

There is no I in Church…

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, There is no I in Church, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 12 February, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 5:21-37.

The Vicar and the Ember

In a small village, somewhere in England, so the story goes, there was a man who had been going to church all his life, and had thought that he had heard every sermon that there was to be preached. So, one day, as his wife got ready for church, he decided that instead he would prefer to sleep in. His wife, though concerned, didn’t think much of it, thinking it was only one week.

The next Sunday came around, and the husband thought to himself – I’ve been reading my bible every day, and saying my prayers, but I really don’t want to go to church today. So, he announced to his wife that he wasn’t going to go to church again, and instead he was going to go fishing. And his wife, again concerned, hoped that it was just that week, and thought nothing of it. Continue reading “There is no I in Church…”

What does God value?

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What is it that makes you, you? What is it that makes you the things that you identify as?

There’s some sense in today’s society that the identifying characteristics of gender roles are no longer appropriate. Women are no longer expected to stay at home and look after the kids. They can if they want, but they don’t have to. And many would say that our workspaces are all the better for it.

But some people do seem to be taking a while in getting used to this. For example, this week, the NSW Liberals elected Gladys Berejiklian as their new party leader, meaning that she will be the NSW Premier in the coming days. Yet, it took just 15 minutes into her first press conference for someone to ask whether people wouldn’t be able to identify with her because she doesn’t have children.

But it’s not just females adjusting to these new roles. As men adjust to this new society, they are finding that roles traditionally filled by men – and used to define their masculinity – are no longer appropriate, and as such, there are men out there struggling to determine what it means to be a man.

What does the world tell us?

One such Google search on “What does it mean to be a man?” led me to this list, which was the top result on Google. They listed 10 things which makes a “real” man:

  1. A real man can defend himself – that is, in arguments, not necessarily in physical fights.
  2. A real man keeps his house in order
  3. A real man takes care of his appearance
  4. A real man makes his own fortune
  5. A real man strives to be a role model
  6. A real man’s word his his bond
  7. A real man doesn’t gossip
  8. A real man knows the importance of family
  9. A real man is focused
  10. A real man is strong.

Now, I look at that list, and I can see the value in many of those things. But at the same time – they are things that the world values, and they are things that is not exclusive to being a man. A real woman can do all of those things just as well as a man.

And unfortunately, some men – in some supposed need to strictly define their masculinity – seek to find clarity by over-exerting themselves on women, pursuing blatantly sexist behaviours, and seeking to deride feminists at any opportunity.

But this goes to show some of the values that are forced on us by the world. It’s important for men to be strong. It’s important for men to be rich. It’s important for women to be beautiful. It’s important for women to be maternal.

The Bible Tells us what God desires

Now, that’s all good and well. But we know that what the World wants and what God wants are often two different things.

The readings that we heard today are just two passages that highlight the sorts of things that God desires.

Our first reading, from Micah, we are in a hypothetical courtroom scene. We have the Lord, pleading his case before Israel, in front of the mountains and hills – the “enduring foundations of the earth” who will sit as judge in this case. The Lord pleads his case, “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” He goes on to say how time after time, he sent people to come and rescue the Israelites – he sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam; he sent Balaam, son of Beor; and he reminds them of “the saving acts of the Lord.”

Yet, the Israelites respond with their own question: What sort of offerings should we give to God? Does he want burnt ones, or thousands of rams, or should we sacrifice our first born children to seek forgiveness for our sins?

The Israelites are seeking to offer sacrifices to God, and these suggestions are the things that they think will please God. They think that he would be pleased with the incense of year old calves, a burnt offering that is giving up the future wealth and production that a calf would bring. Or maybe he desires quantity over quality – thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil. Or maybe, God desires the biggest sacrifice of all – the first born child – that which guarantees the continuation of the family line, the benefit of having someone to work for the family, to look after the parents, the wealth that comes with marriage – giving all of that up in order to please God.

I wonder whether sometimes, we think in the same way as those Israelites.

Do we think that there are certain sacrifices that we have to make, in order to please God?

Thankfully, we no longer take up human or animal sacrifices, but there are other things. Do you maybe think of your Tithe as a sacrifice, that you do it in order to make God pleased? Or maybe there might be soldiers amongst us who see our not partaking in alcohol, drugs, or gambling as a sacrifice, done in order to please God? I wonder if there are officers who see the sacrifices we make – sacrifices of better paid jobs, freedom to move, to live where we choose, to engage in other activities – I wonder whether there are those who see our sacrifice in this area as a sacrifice in order to please God?

But God comes back to the Israelites and reminds them of the things that are good – that is, the things that really please God. And we see that it isn’t sacrifices that God requires. It isn’t giving up things. It’s actually taking up things. To Do justice, to Love kindness, to walk humbly with God.

And then we look at the Gospel, where we have Matthew’s first lot of teaching from Jesus. And it’s here that we see more of the things that God values. And again, this is Jesus reminding the people about what they should already know – everything in here can be found in the scriptures.

God values the poor in spirit – or as we find it in Luke’s gospel – just the poor. In Jesus’ day, and even through the scriptures and particularly the Psalms, we see an alignment of God’s love for the poor, but also an understanding that poverty was linked with the spirit. What Jesus is saying here isn’t just that the poor are to be valued, but also those who are poor in spirit, those whose only identity and security is found in God.

This is different from what the world tells us, that the accumulation of wealth is to be sought after furiously, at the expense of others; and often that we need to take care of ourselves, even at the expense of others.

Jesus turns this upsidedown – these things aren’t valued in God’s kingdom.

God values those who mourn. Mourning is something that we all go through – we mourn the loss of a loved one, we mourn the loss of a friend moving away, there are lots of things that will cause us to grieve.

Yet the world would often tell us that we need to push aside that grief, that we can’t allow ourselves to mourn, because it gets in the way of us making money.

Jesus tells us that it is a good thing to mourn – whether over a death, a loss, or over an injustice, and those who mourn will be comforted. Mourning is something that is of value in God’s kingdom.

God values the meek. Now, meek isn’t a word that we overly use these days – but it means the quiet, the gentle, the patient. Yet this is often seen as a negative trait to have by the world – it might be described as someone who is easily imposed upon, who is submissive, or long-suffering, or resigned.

Our world values those who are loud, confident and can stand up for themselves. God values the meek, for in their patience, and in their quietness, they will find God.

God values those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Matthew spiritualises Luke’s version here, where God values those who hunger and thirst. And that is still here in Matthew, the hungry and thirsty will be filled, but in the same way, those who hunger and thirst for rightousness or justice, and who seek after it with the same voracity that a hungry person would seek after food.

And again, we see a difference to the world – where they would value eating to excess, and supersizing meal after meal; or they value activities which belittle others, and stomp on the little guy, or lock up those fleeing persecution – God values the opposite.

God values the merciful – and this isn’t just a merciful attitude, but is referring the physical acts of mercy. Yet, the world would have us believe that showing mercy is a bad thing – just look at the desire to bring back the death penalty following the incident in Bourke St last week. Yet Jesus says that we are to not only behave mercifully, but act mercifully.

God values the pure, yet we have a world where there is more and more dirt coming into our lives. Language is more and more accepting of swearing, we are seeing more and more skin on TV, many movies have scenes that would be hard to differentiate from pornography. But God values not just purity, but pure in heart, those who are single minded in their devotion to the one God.

God values the peacemakers. These are those who move to live against violence, who aren’t passive, but are active and making positive actions for reconciliation. But our world values violence. We take pride in our heroic military acts. We give millions of dollars away to see two guys beat their brains out – the biggest fight in 2015, Floyd Mayweather and Manna Pacquiao, took in an estimated $500 million, and that’s not including however much was spent on betting on the match. But God values peacemakers, and calls them his children.

God values those who have been oppressed. It’s not something that we should strive for – but if we find ourselves in a situation, we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. So often, the world wants to tell us to just bunker down, to not share with others the problems that we are facing. But if we do that, then no-one will know what we are going through. If we share, then it opens up opportunities for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – to allow others to help lift us up out of that situation, for the glory of God.

These values that God has as so against the grain of what the world wants us to live by.

And if we live this way, we will often rub people up the wrong way. They will tell us that we’re just goody too shoes, or they will tell us that we’re crazy, or tell us that we’re stupid for believing in something that we can’t see. They will make fun of us, to try and get us to live in the way the world does. If we live according to God’s values, these things will happen. And I’m not just saying that because it matches with the next verse – I’m saying that because there have been faithful people throughout history who have sought to live out these values, and have been reviled and persecuted. But God reminds us that when these things happen, we need to stay strong, because we’re doing what God values.

Go and live to God’s commands

So as you head out this week, go confidently, and choose to live by God’s commands. Give it everything that you have, all that you are. Walk with God wherever you go – and worship God constantly, because it is through living out these values that we can worship God.

You’re invited to sing this lovely song, With all I am. If you would like to come and commit your life to living out God’s values in your life, and not the values of the world, then you might like to come forward and spend some time in prayer. Or you might like to come and pray about somehting that you’re going through in your life – come, and let us bring it before God, and lift you up in prayer, so that you might be able to sing once again, with all you are.

I don’t need your gifts, only your presence

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, I don’t need your gifts, only your presence, was given at The Rochester and Elmore District Health Service Hostel and nursing Home’s Ecumenical Christmas Service on Tuesday 13 December, 2016. The Reading was Matthew 2:1-12.

What are the best Christmas gifts you’ve received?

I wonder what the best Christmas gift you ever received was? Can you think of any memorable ones?

To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember many Christmas gifts. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m certainly appreciative of everything that I’ve been given. But my memory is a bit hazy on whether I received it as a gift at Christmas, my birthday, or whether I bought it for myself.

But that’s not to say I’m not excited to see my Christmas gifts for this year. Already, I have one sitting under the tree – which I can only guess from the envelope is a couple of tickets to see the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

We can lose focus on the real meaning of Christmas

Now don’t get me wrong, but I find that there can be too much of an emphasis on gift giving, or more so, gift receiving, at Christmas time. I’m sure you have probably been asked before what the best present you’ve received is, but has anyone ever asked you what the best present you ever gave was? Even at Christmas time, we focus more on receiving than giving.

If we’re not careful, we can lose touch with what the real message of Christmas is. When we focus more on the gifts, we lose touch with the one who is the reason we give.

Seek out the Presence of Christ

I want to focus on the story of the Magi that we’ve just heard. The magi come, having followed the star and recognising that this particular star meant the birth of the King of the Jews. Now, we don’t know how they knew what that meant, but all the same, having recognised the meaning, they set out and sought to find this King of the Jews, in order to pay him homage.

But, having set out, and followed the star for so long, they ended up in Jerusalem, which if you were expecting a King to be born, it would make sense that it would be in the capital city. So the magi started asking around, and word comes to Herod – the so-called “King” – although he gave himself that title, as he was actually in his role through the authority of the Romans. When Herod heard that there was an actual King somewhere he was quite rightly nervous, and set his Chief Priests and scribes to search the scriptures to see where this child was to be born.

And so it was that it was discovered that in Bethlehem, a tiny town about 6km from Jerusalem, this “King of the Jews” was to be born. So Herod instructs them to search for the child, and report back to him so he may go and worship as well.

But here we see the difference of intentions. The magi had travelled far to come and pay homage – to worship this child, to be in his presence. They recognised that this child was someone special, and was worth them making the long trek to find him. On the other hand, Herod wanted only to hold onto his power – the power that was gifted to him by the Romans, and that he wanted to hang onto at any cost.

Herod was only thinking of his gift. The magi only wanted His – that is, Christ’s – presence.

We can find the true present

We know that when the magi came, they gave gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh – gifts known for being the most costly of the day, but gifts also found in the prophecies, in Isaiah 60, and the Song of Solomon. But more importantly, before they gave those gifts, they “knelt down and paid him homage.”

For the magi, being in the presence of Christ was more important than the giving of any gifts that they had brought.

In the same way, we need to make sure that we find the true present this Christmas – that is, to be in the Presence of Christ.

We don’t want to get distracted by the commercialisation of Christmas. We don’t want to get distracted by whether we give the best gifts, or receive more gifts than we did last year. We don’t want to get distracted by the power that might give us over another person.

We don’t need gifts. We only want your presence – the presence of Jesus Christ.

We don’t need gifts, we just want your presence.

This Christmas, I hope you will seek out the presence of Christ in your life. If you haven’t asked Christ into your life, there’s never a better time than right now, to ask Christ to be with you, and to sit in his presence. And if you have been following Christ for a long time, then there’s never a better time than at Christmas to be reminded of being in the presence of Christ, and how spending that time can transform our lives.

We don’t need gifts, we just want your presence.

The inspiration for the title of this message came from Phil Laeger‘s Christmas album, The Light Where It Leads You, (which is no longer available). Please check out some of Phil’s other releases and support the wonderful message that he brings through his music.

Faith in the Game Plan

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Faith in the Game Plan, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Trinity Sunday 5 June, 2016. The Reading was Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16.

I love this time of year. Well, this time of every couple of years. It will see me getting up early, staying up late, and even pulling the mattress into the lounge room so I can make the most of every single second. See, I love the Olympics. I was up early yesterday morning, to watch the Opening Ceremony… and then realised I got the time wrong. So after Men’s breakfast, I was back quick smart to keep watching it.

And yes, Liesl and I will most likely bring out the mattress at some stage so we can watch the games until we fall asleep. We love it. I love the stories that come about every year, of athletes pushing through adversity, of never giving up, and finishing, even when all hope is lost.

I was just six years old when this happened, so I have no idea if I actually saw it live, or have just seen it in so many replays and telecasts that it feels as if I was there, but this video captures so much of that Olympic spirit that I love. Continue reading “Faith in the Game Plan”

From Extremist to Evangelist: Paul’s Conversion and Ours

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, From Extremist to Evangelist: Paul’s Conversion and Ours, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Trinity Sunday 5 June, 2016. The Reading was Galatians 1:11-24.

Autobiography Titles

I’m doing a lot of reading at the moment. For my 30th birthday, I set myself a challenge to read 30 books in my 30th year – books that I had been meaning to read, or I really should have read, by my 30th. So I’ve already read books like Frankenstein, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and a the moment, I’m Reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, titled Long Walk to Freedom. And I was thinking this week about the titles of Autobiographies. And there are some fantastic titles out there. Such as the lead singer of the band KISS, Gene Simmons, who titled his autobiography, Kiss and Make Up. Or Davy Jones’ autobiography – They made a Monkee out of me. One of my favourites that I’ve read – Never have your Dog Stuffed: and other things I’ve learned by Alan Alda. There’s a wonderful spoonerism in Tori Spelling’s book, sTORI Telling. And David Hasselhoff plays on his name with his book, Don’t Hassel the Hoff.

Picking the title of your Autobiography can be quite tough. Trying to sum up your life in a short, eye catching phrase, or in just a few words. I wonder what your autobiography might be called. I’ve got a few thoughts for mine: This is my story, this is my song. Or maybe What’s a Violinist doing in the Salvation Army? Could be an interesting read.

Our reading today is Paul telling the Galatians a little bit of his own story. And I read through it, and I think I’ve got the perfect title for Paul’s Autobiography: Paul: From Extremist to Evangelist. What do you think? Would you read it? Continue reading “From Extremist to Evangelist: Paul’s Conversion and Ours”

Understanding and the Trinity

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Understanding and the Trinity, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Trinity Sunday 22 May, 2016. The Reading was John 16:12-15.

Trinity?

Today in the life of the Church is what is called, Trinity Sunday. It’s a day where we celebrate one of the great mysteries of the Church. One of the great Theological conundrums. That we worship one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our Third doctrine says that “We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory.” So we believe that our one God is three persons, but they can’t be divided. It’s something that can be a bit hard to understand. Continue reading “Understanding and the Trinity”

Feeling Safe

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Feeling Safe, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Mothers Day, Sunday 8 May, 2016. The Reading was John 17:20-26.

Feeling Safe

Liesl and I are very different in some respects. For example, I have no qualms about walking around at night alone. No worries at all. She, however, won’t step out at night unless she’s with someone. I would be more than happy to walk around the city at night, to take public transport or catch a taxi alone at night, where as those things would make her very nervous.

And I get it. I understand it. I am a privileged person. As a white male, I am less likely to suffer abuse when in those situations, than Liesl is. Still unlikely, but the unfortunate reality is that women grow up with an inherent understanding that if they are alone at night, they are in danger. Continue reading “Feeling Safe”

Listen to the voice of the shepherd

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Listen to the voice of the Shepherd, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 17 April, 2016. The Reading was John 10:22-30.

We listen for what we are trained

A guy was walking down Bourke Street, the hustle and bustle of everyone heading off to their jobs, trams going all over the place, cars beeping their horns, noise everywhere. And all of a sudden, a young guy taps him on the shoulder. The young guy says to guy, “Hey, can you hear that cricket?” And with an incredulous look, the guy says “Seriously? In amongst all this noise, you’re saying that you can hear the sound of a cricket?” So he stopped, looked at the guy, and dropped a coin onto the pavement. It was as if the whole street when suddenly quiet, as a number of people looked down to see where the coin was. The young guy said “I guess we hear what we want to hear”. Continue reading “Listen to the voice of the shepherd”

God’s Gifts

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, God’s Gifts, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 14 February, 2016. The Reading was John 21:1-23.

Societies Contrasting messages

As I’m sure you’re aware now, I turn 30 today. And it’s with these big birthdays that you start thinking about your life, about making sure that you’re doing things that you should be doing. So earlier this year, I went to get a skin check, and you probably saw me with a bandage on the back of my neck where I had a biopsy done. All clear, which is good, but it was a bit of a wake up as well. I want to make sure that I’m around for as long as I can be for my kids – but my word is the world a tough place to live in. Continue reading “God’s Gifts”