Life returns to Sale again and everyone is welcome.
Is there more to life?
Jesus Christ says there is. We’d love you to join us at Life to explore what he says about this question and many more, such as:
- Who is this man called Jesus? Isn’t he simply an urban myth?
- Is there any real evidence? What about his resurrection from the dead?
- Does my life have purpose?
- How can you trust the Bible? Hasn’t it been changed over time?
- Why should I care about all this stuff?
You will have plenty of opportunity to ask questions. Regardless of how difficult or controversial, we won’t be offended.
Is Life for you?
Life is for anyone interested in exploring the big questions of life. Everyone is welcome, no matter age or background. The night includes good food, coffee, a short talk, and opportunity for discussion and questions – all in a relaxed atmosphere.
Life series details
Life series begins on 18th February and includes 6 Tuesday nights for coffee and dessert.
location: Tall Poppy Cafe, 344 Raymond St Sale (Opposite Harvey Norman)
cost: $2 (includes coffee and dessert)
time: 7:30pm – 9pm Tuesday nights starting 18th February
questions: contact Dan Godde (0437) 218 641 or here.
It’s a very common complaint today, and with good reason. The large church institutions of the past have a mixed track record in how they’ve used their power. Sometimes that record is blown out of proportion. Like the claim that all the wars have been started by religion. The Encyclopedia of Wars claims that less than 7% of the world’s wars have been fought over religion. But one war caused by a large church institution is one war too many. Christians agree that the churches have a chequered past and much to apologise for. The same can be said for the instances of abuse, and even worse – cover-up, among churches. There is and never will be any excuse for such behaviour. What is it essentially that we hate about organised religion? It is the hypocrisy.
If you hate the hypocrisy of organised religion then you’re in good company. So did Jesus. In fact he saves his most stinging criticisms for the religious leaders of his day. Check out some of the things he said:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 5 “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ 8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. 13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. 14 15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are… 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:1-15,25-28)
Jesus hates the way that they look good on the outside, but on the inside they’re just as bad, if not worse than those they condemn. Many of us have seen churches just like that: in the history books, in the media or we’ve had personal experience ourselves. But does that mean that Jesus isn’t into church? Is the answer to follow Jesus and avoid church? Not at all. Notice what Jesus also says earlier in Matthew’s Gospel:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:13-18)
Church is Jesus’ idea. He’s not talking here about massive human institutions, but the heavenly gathering around himself. Just as Jesus’ kingdom is a heavenly kingdom, so also Jesus started a heavenly church. It’s his heavenly church that meets locally in your town – the local church. If you’re into Jesus then you’ll be into your local church. So if you’re going to follow Jesus you’ll steer clear of organised religion, with all the associated hypocrisy, but you’ll be deeply into your local church. After all, it was Jesus’ idea in the first place.
Want to hear more? Come and listen to the talk here.
There’s something profoundly true about that, isn’t there? This was the second most popular response in our recent survey. Faith is an individual choice, and it is not the role of the government to decide people’s faith for them. Both those ideas are taught in the Bible. Christian faith is about a personal relationship with Jesus. Christians are to convince and persuade people to take up their faith, not to bully people into it, especially by using the government and laws. But does that mean it’s ok to believe anything we want? What if I believe that I should be a suicide bomber? Is that ok? Well, now we need a caveat: you can believe anything you want as long as it doesn’t harm someone else. This has been a popular expectation in Australia for the last 50 years or more, and as far as laws and public policy go, we would have to say it has been good. But is it good morality? Is it a good way to live personally?
One of the popular ways we’ve used to decide if something is good morality or not, is to ask the question: what if everyone did it? What if everyone restricted their behaviour to the standard: not harming others? What would our society look like? There would be no expectation to volunteer, no expectation to venture out and meet the neighbours, no expectation to think of others before ourselves. Society would have low levels of volunteering, become more lonely, and self-focused. That’s exactly what’s happened to our society over the last 50 years, and many see it as a tragedy.
Christian morality, however, calls for a different standard. In a post I did a while back I showed how the golden rule leads Christians to selfless initiatives for others. This is an ideal, but one Christians are encouraged to live up to after the supreme example of their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Christians believe that the greatest good they can do is share the life-saving and life-changing message of the gospel. This however, will lead to a discussion, and discussions can easily become arguments. Arguments lead to pain and angst. One motivation behind the phrase ‘individual and private’, I suspect, is a desire to avoid the arguments, and the pain and angst that go with them. If we just cut faith out of our discussions we can cut out pain and angst. But it hasn’t worked out that way. We still argue, we still live with pain and angst. It’s just over different topics now. e.g. smoking. Smokers must be the most persecuted people in Australia. Even if a smoker manages to find the only legal location left where they might light up in public, someone will feel utterly vindicated to cross the street to tell them that it’s a disgusting and filthy habit that’s going to kill them. You would be safer swearing at your children then you would be smoking a cigarette in public.
The secular vision for peace is to retreat away from topics like religion that may lead to arguments. The problem with this approach is that it leads to loneliness, and loneliness is at epidemic proportions in Australia today. The Christian vision is a community that comes together in love and peace, but the problem is, how do you do that?
The apostle Paul confronts one of the biggest rifts of his day in the letter to the church in Ephesus. It was the divide between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles). He points out to them that when we have peace with God, we can have peace with each other.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:13-18)
He then gives them three images to show them how they share powerful things in common that build a community of peace together: fellow citizens (shared identity), fellow household (i.e. family) members (shared resources), built together as a temple (shared focus – God).
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Through peace with God we can have peace with each other. We can have a faith that’s shared and public without the pain and angst. We’ll still rub up against each other a bit, but the peace that Jesus has won for us on the cross leads to a genuine peace between each other. Don’t believe it’s possible? Why not take a visit down to your local church and find out… Want to hear more, check out the sermon over here.
This was by far the most common response from our recent survey. There’s certainly a lot of truth in that statement. We all know people who are very nice who don’t go to church. We’ve at least heard of, if not know personally, people who aren’t nice , who do go to church. Given that there are nicer people who don’t go to church than do, why would I go to church? Especially if I’m a good person already?
This only makes sense if church is about making people good. What if church is about something different? If that was the case, then this reason wouldn’t make sense. It’s like saying, ‘I don’t go to the supermarket because I can watch movies at home.’
It’s interesting to see what happens when Jesus meets a good person. In Mark 10:17-27 Jesus meets the quintessential good bloke. He’s never broken most of the 10 commandments (v19-20). He calls Jesus a good person and expects that Jesus will say the same back to him. What Jesus points out instead is that he has devoted himself to wealth instead of to God (v21-22). Jesus uses this as a teaching point to his disciples – if even a good bloke can’t get into heaven by his own good works, what hope do the rest of you have? (v23-25). But then he delivers the most wonderful news of all – even good people and bad people can get into heaven: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Getting right with God is what the Bible calls salvation. God gives salvation as a gift. Salvation is impossible for us to do, but it’s not only possible with God, he will happily give it to anyone who asks, free of charge. Do you have salvation?
Church isn’t about making people good, it’s about getting right with God. Want to hear more? Listen to the talk here.
Sale has had their say and the survey results are in. 81 people responded to our survey and explained to us why they don’t go to church. Here’s a look at the results:
The top 4 reasons given, in descending order, were: I can be a good person without going to church, I believe belief is individual and private, it isn’t relevant to my life and I don’t believe in organised religion. As promised, these top 4 reasons will be the topics for our sermons in January. Why not come along on a Sunday afternoon at 3pm at Guthridge Primary School hall and hear us address these issues honestly, openly and frankly. You’ll be welcome not just to listen, but also to ask questions and give responses. Here’s the dates:
Jan 5 – I can be a good person without going to church
Jan 12 – I believe belief is individual and private
Jan 19 – I don’t believe in organised religion
Jan 26 – It isn’t relevant to my life
Can’t make it on a Sunday? You can always download the talks here.
Over many years I have heard many excuses why people can’t make it to church. Many of them are good reasons, like a child is sick, or I work shift work and can’t make it this week. One I hear commonly is that people are skipping church for the sake of evangelising a friend. Now in many ways this is pleasing because in more than a few churches people wouldn’t think of evangelising at all. But the more I think about it, the more I think that skipping church to evangelise is self-defeating.
Why do I say that? It comes from the nature of what evangelism is. You see, if evangelism is simply introducing people to a personal, individual relationship with Jesus, then it makes perfect sense to skip church, especially if the opportunity may not come up again. But if evangelism is more than that – if it is inviting people to join the church, the body of Christ, then we send very mixed messages when we skip church to evangelise our friend. On one hand we’re saying, ‘Come and join the church, because there is nothing more important that God is doing in this world than building his church’, and on the other hand we’re saying merely by our non-attendance, ‘You are more important to me than church’. It’s a mixed message. Perhaps a more powerful response would be, ‘I’d love to, but I have church on at that time, and I love to go to church and wouldn’t miss it for the world. Is there another time we can do it?’ Our friends are unlikely to believe us when we say one thing with our lips and another with our feet.
But is evangelism inviting people to join the church? Absolutely. As Paul says to the church in Corinth:
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Cor 12:13)
Baptism during the early church was carried out at conversion, and so Paul here is talking about what happened when they became a Christian – they joined the ‘one body’ of the church. It’s not something that we opt into later only if we happen to believe in ‘organised religion’. It’s something that a Christian is converted into. To become a Christian is to join the church, and so we make it our weekly habit of attending our local church for the rest of our lives. We miscommunicate this important element of Christianity when we skip church to spend time with our friends, despite our best intentions. So, showing a strong, even sacrificial, commitment to church does not inhibit evangelism, but compliments it. It will mean, however, that we’ll have to find more time in our week for non-Christian friends…
Here’s your chance to have your say. We want to know what you think. Most people in Sale and the surrounding areas don’t go to church. If they do, it may only be a few times a year. Why is that? We’d love to know. If you’re one of those people, then here is your chance. You can tell us by filling out this very quick 30 sec survey just below. We’ll collect all the info and publish the results on our website at the end of the month. We’ll take the top four responses and address them in a series of talks at church through the four Sundays of January. You can actually choose our talk topics for January! Why not take a few seconds to fill out the survey below…
Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.
It’s been called the golden rule, largely because every society seems to have had it somewhere in their tradition. But have they? As I thought about the golden rule this week it struck me that few people in our society actually understand it. Do you really understand the golden rule, or is your rule made from pyrite (fool’s gold, like in the image to the left)? I have a lot of friends who tell me that they don’t like much of Christianity, but they agree with the golden rule, and point out it’s widespread acceptance. But I suspect we don’t really understand what the golden rule actually says. I suspect most people understand the golden rule to say something like this: be careful to make sure that whatever you do to people is only something that you’d be happy for them to do to you. We hear different ways of saying the same thing: if it doesn’t harm anyone else, then why shouldn’t I be allowed to do it? Another way to conceive of it is as a form of reciprocity: I’ll only do things to you that I want you to do to me.’ In that sense it creates a kind of social contract where people voluntarily restrain antisocial behaviour on the belief that it will build a better society. In this form it can be found in ancient Babylon, China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. It can be found in the religions of Baha’i, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Humanism, Islam, Sikhism, and the list goes on. But is that what the golden rule in the Bible actually says and means?
We find the golden rule in a number of places in the Bible, but I want us to focus today on Luke 6:31.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
The first thing to notice is the lack of the word ‘only’. This is not a rule that restrains action. It is not a restriction. It is a command. It’s a command to do something. What? Do to others what you would have them do to you. It expects deliberate action. In other words, it’s a command to be radically other-person centered. It’s a command to be obsessed with serving others rather than yourself. How can we be so sure? Look how Jesus continues on from the golden rule:
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” (Luke 6:32-35)
The golden rule does not sit in a hermetically sealed container. It comes in the context of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus unpacks for us the golden rule. Love people who don’t love you. Wouldn’t you desire to have your enemies come and love you and reconcile with you? Of course. Well do it to them first. Wouldn’t you love people to give you things that you don’t deserve? Of course you would. Well then, do it to them first. The golden rule, when pushed to its limit ends up like this: love your enemies (both Luke 6:27 and 35). Now, how many of us do that? Let me be the first to raise my hand and confess that I do not live a life radically centered on serving others. That’s not something I’m proud of. It’s something I want to do, but fail at continually. It’s something that I confess to Jesus and come on my knees begging his forgiveness every day. The great news is that Jesus offers forgiveness to people such as me and you precisely because he obeys his own golden rule. Even to us who are selfish and undeserving, Jesus offers love. The golden rule is a crushing weight that none of us can claim to have kept, and yet Jesus did, and offers to take that weight off our backs through his free forgiveness.
How far has our society departed from the golden rule? It struck me this week that we can see it clearly in the drug debate. Is it ok to smoke cannabis? About a quarter of all Australians think it should be legalised. Few Australians would think more deeply about the morality beyond asking this question: is it hurting anyone? But that is a long way from the golden rule, at least as far as Jesus taught. The question isn’t, ‘does it hurt anyone?’, but rather ‘does it serve anyone?’ If not, then why do it? It’s pure selfishness. If I get wasted and am no use to others, isn’t that selfishness? But hang on, why take issue with cannabis at this point? Doesn’t this happen among a significant portion of our youth every Friday and Saturday night using alcohol? (Not to mention a growing proportion of more ‘mature’ parts of our society). The problem at heart isn’t with cannabis, it’s with hedonism: that life is primarily about my own happiness and enjoyment. Few in Australia would dare to challenge such a statement, and yet it is here that Jesus makes his stand. Jesus says a very loud ‘NO!’ Life is about serving God and serving others. Ironically, the scientific research into happiness points out that the happiest people in society are those who dedicate themselves to serving God and serving others. So not only is our modern society morally bankrupt but foolish as well.
So which golden rule is it that you follow, the one made form gold or pyrite?
God loves you. We here it all the time. A lady in our town shouts it out to everyone who passes by. Have you ever stopped to wonder why God loves you?
The most famous verse in the Bible sheds some light on the issue:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Here we find out how much and in what way God loved the world. He loved the world in this particular way: he gave his one and only Son. That gives everyone this amazing offer: believe in him and have eternal life. The fact that God loved the world in this way clues us in to just how much God loves the world – enough to send his one and only Son. As a father of three boys I can get a glimpse of the size of that love. But only a glimpse. Jesus’ life is far more valuable than any of my boys. Yet God gave his life for us. But why?
Here comes the clue. Who is it that God loves? The world. The world in John’s gospel is not so much a huge place as a bad place. e.g. Jesus says “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil.” (John 7:7) What makes God’s love amazing isn’t that he loves so many with such an intense and generous love. It’s that he loves the world which is so very bad and undeserving. So that immediately rules out some big possibilities for why God loves us. It’s not because we deserve it. It’s not because he sees our inner goodness. There is nothing in us that prompts God’s very good love. Why does God love us? He chooses to. A similar point gets made to Israel in the OT.
“The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors” (Deut 7:6-8).
God tells Israel that there was nothing about them that made him love them. It was because he chose to: a choice he announced ahead of time to their ancestors. Likewise God loves us, not because we deserve it but because he has chosen to. This is the love that characterises Christian living, as we try to reflect the love that God has shown us. We aim to love those who don’t deserve it. So Jesus says, ‘Love your neighbour’ or even ‘Love your enemy’. The same love will persevere in a ‘loveless’ marriage, continuing to love the spouse who no longer seems to deserve it. We will love our kids unconditionally, even when they don’t deserve it. But it’s only ever a dim reflection of the love of God for us: an amazing, undeserved, self-giving love of monumental proportions. God so loved the world.