The blog*spot of Dale Wayne Campbell, NOW coming at you from Auckland, New Zealand. (!)


Justice - June 24, 2007

Tonight’s topic is, of course, ‘Justice’. It is, truly, one of the most relevant topics to the 21st century world. Most of you know me well enough to expect a mention of Tom Wright at least somewhere in this message, so I’ll waste no time and make a reference to one of his many books, ‘Simply Christian’. In it, he opens with 4 chapters under the heading ‘echoes of a voice’. He discusses the 4 key areas of relationships, beauty, spirituality, and of course, Justice.

He describes how in each of these areas – not least in the area of Justice – our search for them goes well unfinished. We can imagine what true justice might look like in the world; we can imagine a world where no one goes hungry, where wages are fair, where judgements and decisions are made apart from distortions of personal or other gain. But… we find ourselves completely helpless in our efforts to bring such a world into being.

In keeping with his metaphor of ‘echoes of a voice’, we hear, as it were, the voices of true relationships, true beauty, true spirituality and true justice ‘echoing’ as if coming from just around the corner. We walk curiously around the corner to find that the echo now seems – elusively – just around the next corner. We just can’t seem to ever quite get there.

Simply put, whether it’s things in our private lives, things in our families, things in our communities, things in our churches, things in our nations and yes – things in the world; ‘things’ are not ‘right’ – and these ‘things’ need to be ‘righted’. The biblical mandate, command, instruction, plea, instruction, etc. is for humans (as God’s image-bearing creatures) and especially the church (as the renewed version of that image!) to be GOD’S AGENTS in ‘righting’ what is not ‘right.’


Tonight’s message will follow the following basic outline: first, I will discuss ‘justice’ in ethical terms, and along the way show that ‘justice’ is, in fact, a thoroughly biblical theme; second, I will discuss how ‘justice’ works together with ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’, and highlight the need for all three – not just one; finally, we will look at a few things that perhaps keep us from being people of justice.

‘Justice’ in Ethical (and biblical!) terms

In the past weeks, we’ve talked about several of these Christian virtues (love, courage, etc.) in terms of being balanced between two vices. I think it is helpful to discuss true ‘justice’ in this way as well. Justice, like love and courage is not something or some action you DO, but a character, a virtue that is evidenced by how one reacts to or lives in certain circumstances. Last week the clear example was that true ‘patience’ is shown in un-patient circumstances.

Justice, then, is shown in the midst of in-justice. It has EVERYTHING to do with REACTING to injustice. We can OVER-react or UNDER-react. True Justice, I suggest, is between the extreme of OVER-reactive ‘vengeance’ on one hand, and the other extreme of UNDER-reactive ‘In-action’ on the other hand. Vengeance arrogantly tries too hard or in the wrong way to ‘fix’ the situation, and In-action, of course, does nothing. There is a time to act, and a time to not-act, of course, but the ‘vengeance’ and ‘in-action’ I am describing are mistakes for these reasons: On one hand, vengeance, thinking its extreme action will fix the problem, ends up making it far worse; on the other hand, in-action, thinking its passivity is ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’, leaves the injustice un-helped.

Also, how we THINK about injustice is HUGE. It is our THINKING about injustice that leads us to how we ACT concerning injustice – whether we act with ‘justice’ or one of the extremes of ‘vengeance’ or ‘inaction’. The aggressiveness of ‘vengeance’ is driven by attitudes of anger and/or hatred, while the passiveness of ‘inaction’ is driven by attitudes of apathy and/or carelessness.

Hopefully, as I’ve talked about our responsibility to respond to injustice and the ways in which we can respond wrongly, you have already thought of various Bible passages that confirm what I’m saying.

(On that note, I suggest that simply because a message or sermon is loaded with quotations of Bible verses, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is rightly dividing or rightly presenting the biblical material. The opposite is also true; just because a message or sermon may not quote many or any bible verses, doesn’t mean that it is expressing unbiblical ideas. Listening to a sermon or message is not an inactive or passive thing. You need to – you MUST – test every single thing that Peter, Shawn, I or anyone else says – especially Peter McGhee! :) )

At any rate, there are numerous verses that relate to these ideas. In Romans 12, a passage about not repaying evil for evil, but overcoming evil with good, Paul quotes the Law of Moses – ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay!’ which, of course, warns against the extreme action of vengeance. To demonstrate God’s heart against the other extreme of inaction, I would, perhaps suggest reading the opening chapters of Isaiah. Note the action-implied verbs in this famous but largely un-obeyed verse – Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do good, seek justice, reprove the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Learn! Do! Seek! Reprove! Defend! Plead! That is NOT inaction! It’s justice!!!

If that’s not enough, take Micah 6:8 where he sums up what God requires for his people – ‘what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God? Want more? Just about any book by an Old Testament prophet will do! If you have been deluded into thinking that the Old Testament ‘doesn’t matter for today’ then please read the words of John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul and John!!!

While you’re at it, you might want to consider actually paying attention to the excellent studies in Titus we’re doing! Perhaps you can count the number of times Paul uses the phrase ‘good deeds’ or ‘good works’ in one of his shortest epistles! Let me be clear, we’re not talking AT ALL about earning your way to God or being ‘good enough’ to be saved. But ever since Luther, we’ve almost been scared to death to tell anyone they should be doing anything! That’s precisely the role of the prophet!

OK, now that we’ve presented the case that justice is indeed a key biblical theme (!), let’s now consider how ‘justice’ works alongside the other biblical themes of ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’.

Mercy, Grace, AND Justice

First, and quickly, the difference between ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’. We’ve been talking about justice, as an attempt to ‘right’ what is ‘wrong’; to react appropriately toward injustice; to give injustice what it deserves. ‘Mercy’ is different to ‘justice’ in that ‘mercy’ does not give what is deserved. It pardons the criminal and lets him/her go free. Now, ‘grace’ takes it a step further, in that ‘grace’ gives what is undeserved. It is the language of ‘gifting’ or ‘gracing’ someone.

If justice is a biblical theme, and it is, then mercy and grace are most certainly also biblical themes. For some reason, I think we talk more about mercy and grace than we do about justice. In light of this, I think justice is particularly one of the more important areas of concern for the church today, especially for the comfortable, complacent, Western, affluent church. The people of God are called to be people of mercy and grace, yes (make no mistake!), but we are also called to be people of justice.

Not only do we need to show ALL three at various times, I want to suggest that we all will be met by all three at the hands of God Himself. God is not only infinitely merciful and infinitely gracious, He is also infinitely just. Like the mystery of God’s sovereignty AND our free will both being realities, I suggest that God’s mercy, grace AND justice are ALL part of His character.

God’s grace says that you will be given what you didn’t earn – i.e. salvation.

God’s mercy says that you will not be given what you deserve – i.e. punishment

God’s justice says that you will get what you deserve – i.e. rewards (good/bad)

God most certainly is an impartial judge, but he doesn’t have to blindfold Himself to do so. God’s judgements are perfectly in accordance with His character; and He is THE merciful, gracious and just God. Finally, let us consider some obstacles in the way of us becoming and being people of justice.

The struggle for True Justice

Half of these obstacles could be summarised by the great obstacle of all obstacles – our sin and selfishness. The other half could be put to simply ignorance. Ignorance of reality and ignorance of just how difficult things really are. We’ll look quickly at some examples as we close.

First, we are lazy. I found a quote by William Easterly, from his book, “The White Man’s Burden; Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest have Done So Much Ill and so Little Good”

[A tragedy of the world’s poor has been that] the West spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the last five decades and still had not managed to get twelve-cent medicines to children to prevent half of all malaria deaths. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get four-dollar bed nets to poor families. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get three dollars to each new mother to prevent five million child deaths.

… It is heart-breaking that global society has evolved a highly efficient way to get entertainment to rich adults and children, while it can’t get twelve-cent medicine to dying poor children.

Tonnes and tonnes of grain and resources have literally been parachute-dumped into poverty-stricken areas of the world, only to be quickly seized by local bullies or others with power. This and other troubling examples, show how simply ‘throwing’ foreign aid at the poor will not cause lasting change and has little or nothing to do with true justice. True justice is hard. This is what is encouraging about organisations like Tear Fund. They do the hard work and get involved in the communities they are trying to serve. They operate in ways that meet real needs in real and lasting ways. Aid without concern is dangerous. Aid to relieve guilt is dangerous. Lazy aid is no aid at all.

Secondly, we don’t care enough. This of course, has to do with the attitude discussed earlier – apathy. For too many of us, if everything seems fine in our lives, we would rather not think too hard or for too long about how things are in other peoples’ lives.

It’s probably not the best example, and not meaning to unjustly criticise any government, but it could be said that many welfare systems operate just well enough to keep people quiet. Actually moving people from being un-skilled and un-employed to being skilled and employed is very, very hard work. Many welfare systems don’t end up encouraging people to gain skills and work. Indeed, these are merely a few brief thoughts dealing with very complex and confusing issues, but I think it’s a fair summary to say that a good welfare system gives people a hand-up, not a hand-out. And this balance is simply too hard. I don’t think all the blame can go to government, either. The public doesn’t seem to care enough to pay the amount of taxes needed to develop and maintain a caring, working, balanced welfare project.

Which leads us to a third hurdle – justice is just simply HARD. It takes work. The fight for justice is against very tough, but real circumstances. One example might be the education systems like NZQA. There are very real and difficult inequalities in the world of education. How do we fix it? What does justice look like here? I’m thinking that helping the struggling ones is a good thing, and many attempts to do so look good in the short term; but how do we do that without lowering standards for them and crippling them in the long run?

Our work for justice needs to be a labour that is empowered and energised by love. Working for justice takes all of you – heart, mind, soul and strength. It takes endurance to keep going when things don’t work out like you thought. It is really, cool, hip and trendy to be all-out for fair trade or to sound the so-called ‘global warming’ alarm – and there are very real issues in both of these areas, but we need to be somewhere between jumping on the band-wagon on one hand, and scoffing at it on the other. With all these issues and more, there are difficult questions to be asked and difficult answers to search for. Justice is just simply HARD. But those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles. If you abide in Christ our life, our vine of spiritual strength you WILL bear the good fruit of justice. So – church – Learn to do good; Seek Justice.



Northcote Baptist Church

3 June, 2007 – Evening Service

I really appreciated Peter McGhee’s sermon on courage last week. Among other things he highlighted how all virtues are flanked on either side by vices.

Now, I think we have a tendency to think about virtues in terms of them being on the other end of the spectrum with an opposite vice – suggesting that one hand you have a given vice and on the other hand you have the opposite virtue, with the goal of being all the way on the virtue side. The English language works this way, actually. The ‘grammatical opposite’ of humility is indeed pride, but humility isn’t just a grammatical term! It’s a virtue! It has to do with character! And in terms of character, I think it works differently. I agree with those (including Peter) that view virtues as being centred between two vices.

Last week, Peter presented the virtue of true courage as being between the vices of rash over-confidence on the one hand, and false fear on the other hand. I want to suggest this week that – like true courage – true humility is found between two vices. But first, a word about humility.

We often think of ‘humility’ in terms of doing humble things, and might expect a sermon to instruct us ho to be humble. But humility is not a ‘thing’ you ‘do’. It is a virtue that is evidenced in certain circumstances. Humility may be one of the most elusive virtues, because the harder you try to show it, the less truly humble you are! As for myself, I think I’m progressing toward full humility quite well - probably further than most!!! :)

As a short aside I’ll quote from the Book of Moses – meaning the books that were written by him. Deuteronomy 34:10 – keep in mind that this verse is within the books of Moses – “But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses.” Good ole’ Moses showing the humility! Now for those that are worried about Moses’ character right now, let me put you at ease. This section of Deuteronomy records the events after Moses’ death, so it would have had to have been written by someone other than Moses. It just makes for a quick joke.

OK, now let’s look at the relationship between the virtue of humility and the pair of vices on either side of it.

I looked for a while at Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and let me tell you, there is more that has been written in the field of ethics than you care to read! Different people have discussed ‘humility’ with different categories and using different contrasts, and it all gets quite extensive very quickly. Nietzsche actually called humility a weakness and a false virtue, saying it hid people’s weaknesses. Others contrast ‘humility’ with ‘vanity’, having ‘pride’ in the middle as the desired virtue. So the connotations tend to shift a bit, I think. Peter McGhee lectures in Ethics, so talk to him if you have detailed questions!

Basically, humility has to do with how we view ourselves. I’d like to suggest that true humility is somewhere between self-AGGRANDISEMENT and self-ABASEMENT. It’s just as important not to think too highly of ourselves as it is not to think too lowly of ourselves. We – get – this – messed – up – so – often!

Psalm 8 contains a beautiful passage that I think expresses the proper balance. To those that are a bit on the prideful, arrogant side, verses 3-4 say, When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?

But lest we forget the dignity of being made in the very image of the Creator, verse 5-8 remind us how great we were created – Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands. You have put all things under his feet; all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea; whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

We weren’t made to grovel around constantly reminding ourselves that we’re ‘just human’ – as if that had anything at all to do with being humble. We were made to rule over the earth! If you don’t believe me, read Genesis 1 again! That’s what David is drawing from in Psalm 8.

All too often we speak of humanity as if it were a mistake or something that holds us back! When we think and speak that way, we are actually more in agreement with Greek philosophy than the Scripture! Now don’t get me wrong, sin is real and has greatly distorted God’s original intent, but the creation is still beautiful and declares the glory of God and humans are still made in His image. It has been well said: “it’s not that humans are the problem, they have a problem - sin.”

I’m not trying to minimise sin or the wrath of God. Most certainly not! God’s holy, righteous nature demands that he must hate and punish sin, but we must remember that God is angry not with how he made us, but with what we’ve done with ourselves! Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed not because they were humans – made in God’s image, but because they had irreversibly shattered that image. I think the Flood and the destruction of Canaan should be understood in this light as well.

My grandpa has had to shoot and kill some horses that were dying in a field due to neglect. Their hoofs had overgrown. Therefore, they could not walk; therefore they couldn’t get enough food for themselves and were starving. They simply could lie on the ground as they literally were wasting away. My grandpa had horses of his own, and loved them. He literally hated shooting them, but he had to. Tom Wright describes this as happening with humans as well. In a sense, he says, when humans rebel and resist God and neglect each other, they become less and less human in doing so – bringing themselves to destruction. Again, humans aren’t the problem – they have a problem.

It’s not a problem for us to exert ourselves as human beings – morally, spiritually, physically or otherwise; but it is a problem for us to exert ourselves independently of God! As Psalm 8 says, we have been made ‘a little lower than God’! In other words, if you look around, you’re not going to see anything that comes closer to being God than a human being. No one is calling upon plants or animals to solve the problem of poverty. No one is depending on cats and dogs to sort out the violence in the world. This is the job of God’s image-bearing creatures – you and I.

I actually think that being made in the image of the Creator should lead to the appropriate kind of humility that we need. We are not, nor ever will be God – we are His Image. So, we have NO valid reason or motivation to think too highly of ourselves. On the other hand, we aren’t simply worthless collections of atoms – we are made in God’s Image! Makes sense, doesn’t it? God opposes the proud, and gives grace to the humble.

So, pride is bad – and self-hate is just as bad. OK. Now I want to show how both pride and low self-esteem can be a bit sneaky. We all have probably seen pride in its most obvious form – i.e. someone who has no problem letting everyone know just how cool they are! But there is another kind of pride that is masked with a kind of false-humility. This is a little more sneaky. Someone may think they are really cool, but always ‘play the cards’ so they appear really humble.

It’s also true with low self-esteem. We know what low self-esteem in its most obvious form looks like – someone who honestly thinks and acts like they are worthless. But there is another version of this that is masked with a kind of false confidence – a false bravado. This is quite sneaky. Someone really feels miserable about themselves, but exerts a lot of effort to convince everyone – including themselves? – that they are actually quite cool.

Of course, this is most common in Western, affluent culture. We have ‘stars’ and ‘famous people’ to compare ourselves with. On MySpace you can compare your profile with others – more comments, more friends, etc. This rank and file individualism is the very toxic wasteland that has people always thinking about how ‘they’ look or how ‘they’ measure-up to the culture around them.

This individualism show up in all kinds of ways in the Church. Our notions of ‘spirituality’ have everything to do with how spiritual ‘I’ am, what experiences ‘I’ have, how spiritually fulfilled ‘I’ feel, etc. instead of the kind of spirituality suggested in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, self-control.

As a matter of fact, both the false-humility AND the false-confidence mentioned earlier are most certainly present in the Church – except they are uber-spiritualised. We’ve got all these modern notions of what a ‘spiritual’ person looks like. We’ve got all these expectations of what ‘spiritual’ people do. Talk about pressure to perform!

Perhaps the most troubling thing I see in this regard is the rampant positivism in many churches today. This is not humility! If things aren’t going well, a humble person admits it and doesn’t use various positive Christian words to cover it up. God forgive us for being too structured and too busy to allow and encourage this kind of honesty and humility. God forgive us when our systems of church actually encourage fake-ness and positivism.

We must be a community in which people can be REAL – sharing their faults – and ALSO at the same time a community with doesn’t leave people unchanged. Now THAT is a tough balance. We have to be BOTH accepting and challenging. Forgiving and Rebuking.

So, we’ve talked about how being made in the image of God leads to appropriate humility. We’ve talked about the false-humility and false-confidence that is so fuelled by the individualism of our culture. And, we’ve talked about the need to be REAL in our church communities. To use technical language, we’ve discussed three things relating to humility: anthropology, sociology and ecclesiology.

But, I must say that a sermon can have an infinite number of ‘ologies’, but if it doesn’t have a good Christology, then it’s going to be an incomplete sermon. So, in closing, let’s review these three categories as we consider Jesus Christ right smack-dab in the middle of each.

Anthropology. Humanity. What does it means to be human? Jesus Christ is the MAN. The image of God (in which we are all created) doesn’t get ANY clearer than Jesus Christ, who (as Philippians 2 says) being in very nature God, didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped at, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even the death of the cross.

THAT is a robust Anthropology. Go forth in THAT kind of humility.

Sociology. Culture. How do we relate to the world? Jesus Christ is the word made flesh – the light that has come into the world, and in the same way we need to ‘incarnate’ ourselves INTO the world – our light needs to shine in the darkness. But the darkness (in our case, the darkness of individualism) cannot overcome the Light of Christ, who (John’s Gospel says) was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him… But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.

THAT is an intentional, incarnational Sociology. Go forth in THAT kind of ethic.

Ecclesiology. Church. How are we to BE the church? Jesus Christ is the One full of Grace and Truth, and we must be so in our actions and attitudes toward one another. With Grace, we must forgive and accept each others’ failings; both being real, and encouraging realness in others. And with Truth, we must challenge and correct one another; all the while being open to this ourselves. We must love with the fullness of Christ, for (as John’s Gospel says) of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

THAT is an Ecclesiology of Grace and Truth. Be THAT kind of church.

May we, in our Christian communities, in relation to and life in the World and in our robust Image-of-God humanness, look to Christ as our pattern for true humility.


Hope: Anchor and Ethic

Northcote Baptist Church

Evening Service – 20 May 2007

As I thought about tonight’s message further, and especially listening to Shawn’s excellent message this morning, I considered re-naming it to… “Hope – Death caught with its pants down.”

But, alas, I’m sticking with my original title, “Hope: Anchor and Ethic

All too often, Christian faith (or so-called ‘faith’) is expressed in terms of “me” ticking a box of belief that I hadn’t ticked before, and therefore, I get to “go to heaven when I die.” The basic picture here is that, simply, your ‘affirmation’ ensures your ‘escape.’

I want to present a picture of hope that is more than a mere ‘affirmation.’ (‘I affirm the doctrine of eternal life…’ or ‘I affirm the resurrection’, etc.)

Rather than hope as ‘affirmation’, I want to present HOPE as ANCHOR.

An Anchor is something that gives you stability in a storm.

It is strong. It is firm. It does not move.

Also – and equally important! – I want to present a picture of hope that is more than a mere ESCAPE from this world. (‘This world’s not my home; I’m just a-passin’ through.’ Or the more modern ‘wipin’ off dust from my sandal sole, ‘coz I just got here and now I plan to go.’)

Rather than hope as ‘escape’, I want to present HOPE as an ETHIC.

An Ethic is something that ANIMATES your to ACTION.

It drives you. It moves you. It characterises you.

First we’ll look at HOPE as ANCHOR, and then as ETHIC…

To show how the SHAPE of HOPE progresses, please close your eyes and imagine this scenario…

Imagine walking down the street and seeing a man in the distance walking toward you. He’s dressed in a fire-fighters uniform, carrying the helmet. As he gets closer, you can see that his uniform is obviously not new, but has obviously seen many fires. By now, he’s close enough to see that the helmet’s face guard is broken. At the same time, you actually recognise that it’s your old friend from school. He has already recognised you and is smiling. As you stop and greet each other, you notice now that he has a few scars on his face that he didn’t have a few years back. (you can now open your eyes)

In a sense, I think that is one way of understanding how God’s revelation of Himself grows over time in the Scriptures. God’s rescuing character was always known, but as the rescuing history unfolds, more and more of His attributes are seen and the ones you’ve already seen become clearer.

In the first 5 books of the Bible, known as the Torah, the Pentateuch or ‘the books of Moses, the word ‘hope’ is strangely absent, though it could be said that the idea is there even if the specific word is not. Like many themes in the Scripture, the theme of HOPE gets richer and richer – fuller and fuller – as God reveals Himself more and more over time.

Now, just because Abraham and Moses and others didn’t have the Nicene Creed, etc., doesn’t mean their faith was somehow ‘less’ than others. Doctrines and Statements of Belief matter, but knowing God and doing His will is not so much an exercise of the brain, but one of heart, soul, mind and strength. As we shall see later, it’s what we DO with the revelation given to us that matters most. Unto whom much is given, much is required.

By the time of the first century, the people of God had plenty of experiences to look back on. The story was well developed. They had been delivered from the Egyptians, They had been judged, delivered, gone into exile, retuned from exile, and at that time the Roman occupation made them feel like they were in ‘exile’ in their own homeland! Expectations were high and varied. Many eagerly anticipated an ‘exodus-like’ deliverance from the enemy Romans. Some expressed their HOPE in terms of a complete renewal of heaven and earth. In the New Testament Gospels, one particular belief takes centre-stage (or at least very near the centre!) – Resurrection.

Not all Jews believed in resurrection in the first century, for example, the Sadducees didn’t. To put it simply, Jews believed that resurrection would happen at what was called ‘the Last Day’. They didn’t think that just Jews would be resurrected, but rather, ALL people would be raised ‘at the last Day’, and then God would judge humanity according to their deeds. Thankfully, Jesus not only believed it and taught it himself, but He showed them what it looked like!

The resurrection of Jesus, in and of itself, would have been the most surprising thing imaginable! Remember, they weren’t expecting ‘it’ to happen to ONE person before ‘the last Day’, but God was supposed to raise ALL people ON the last Day. Jesus’ crucifixion would have seemed like the embarrassing defeat of a would-have-been Messiah, who would-have-been the great deliverer they wanted.

Without the Resurrection of Jesus, none of the subsequent history makes ANY sense. You wouldn’t have bold Apostles, but instead scattered disciples looking for another Messiah. You wouldn’t have ANY of the New Testament. And so on…

So looking back, you see how their hope became more and more defined. The shape of their hope became clearer and clearer. The SHAPE of their HOPE was the SHAPE of the Resurrected Christ! As Tom Wright and others have well said, with the Resurrection of Jesus, the ‘first-fruits’ of God’s future came bursting into the present!


As the Church expanded and grew the Resurrection was so much more than simply something amazing that had happened. It was a full, bright, crystal-clear colour picture of their HOPE. It was their ANCHOR. And it is ours as well.

And it was not only their ANCHOR, it also became their ETHIC.

We desperately need to grasp this – or should I say BE grasped by it.

We are often guilty of thinking about the Resurrection in terms of LEAVING this world. We ought to think about the Resurrection in terms of RENEWING the world.

Our HOPE has nothing to do with a great ESCAPE. Our HOPE is a future REALITY, that has manifested itself in the Resurrected body of Christ. Our HOPE is guaranteed by the deposit and/or seal of the Holy Spirit with and in us.

Let me be crystal clear about the point I’m making:

Christ didn’t die, rise again and give you His Spirit so you can simply ‘know you’re going to heaven when you die.’ At the end of the Story, We don’t so much leave Earth and fly off to heaven, but rather HEAVEN INVADES EARTH.

God is in the business of making ALL things NEW. If anyone is in Christ, they are a NEW CREATION. One day, He will Return and – not lead us in a great ESCAPE, but he will RENEW ALL THINGS. Every wrong will be righted. Every tear will be wiped away. Every injustice will be balanced. Every… thing… will be RENEWED.

And we talk and think like there’s really not much to do but sit around, sing songs, gather each week and WAIT for it to happen???

The HOPE of Resurrection is BOTH an ANCHOR and an ETHIC!

We are to be about God’s business of making all things NEW! Especially the areas that seem so hopeless! Through much prayer, and in the power of the Spirit, we CAN – and are MEANT TO – make a difference.

In Third world nations and Third form classrooms.

In the courtroom, the board room, the living room, and any other room.

We will not, of course, bring Heaven to Earth ourselves. But we are to be about God’s business of NEW CREATION. Not the world’s business of going out and trying to be successful, or fashionable, or comfortable, or popular or any other such disgusting and ungodly aspirations.

May we be people of HOPE. May it be the ANCHOR in our lives. May it animate us to the ETHIC of New Creation in our lives and all over the world.

But just like Love, Integrity and Faith – our Hope is often most revealed in the midst of SUFFERING.

As we now turn to take Communion together, let it sink in just how different the Way of Jesus is to the Worlds. It is a way that is NOT marked by ticking religious boxes of belief (as important as doctrine is), nor is it marked by aspiring to ESCAPE all things. It is a way of Faith, Love, Courage, Integrity and Hope… and it is seen most clearly in the sacrificial death of Christ our Lord.

May we live according to THIS Hope. This ANCHOR. This ETHIC.


Love That Hurts

Love That Hurts

Northcote Baptist Church

Evening Service Sermon - 22 April, 07

Some people are hard to Love.

Why are some people less ‘love-able’ than others?

Why can’t everyone just be like me?

Don’t each of us wish people were just like ‘I’? (personality, beliefs, etc.?)

Well, like it or not, not everyone is as cool as ‘I’…

The whole point of Love is to learn to Love the people that we are least likely to Love.


I’m NOT going to talk tonight about how sick and wrong the world’s definition of ‘love’ is… You probably already know that.

I’m NOT going to read 1 Corinthians 13 – even though it truly IS one of the greatest statements EVER about love.

There are SO MANY Bible verses on Love that are simply Brilliant, but I’m NOT going to try and highlight all of them…

And No, I’m NOT going to list the various Greek/Hebrew words for love… J

What I AM going to do, however, is to talk about God. And you and me, of course…

God IS… Love.

If we are going to get even the slightest idea what love looks like and if we are going to even barely get a suggestion of what love in OUR lives might look like, we have nobody else to talk about than God.

We need to talk about God and His story WITH and IN the world.

We need to talk about OUR PLACE in God’s story.

God’s story, you see, is the Story of Love. Not some cheap, push-over Love that comes and goes, but a Love that is powerful-yet-gentle, uncompromising-yet-welcoming and just-yet-forgiving. We need to know, experience and share this kind of love.

To the Story we go.

God is pure, eternal, unbounded and unrestrained Love.

Trinity = 3-way love relationships

God has barely created Adam and Eve before He is wounded deeply by their rejection of Him. Whatever we think about ‘talking snakes’ and ‘trees with knowledge growing on them’, the point of the Garden story is that the first humans rejected God.

God was wounded. Only a PARENT with a child who’s gone astray can understand in the least bit how God feels when we disobey.

His justice sent them out of the garden – out of direct fellowship with Him - but His mercy and grace gave them clothes to wear. BOTH were acts of Love.

Later, (and many times in-between, of course) God was wounded AGAIN...

This time it was the entire human race. In Genesis 6, ‘the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that EVERY intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.’

A few verses later tells us that ‘the earth was filled with violence.’ We probably can’t imagine the level. (‘sons of God’ taking women in 6:2-4???)

His justice sent the flood… but His grace and mercy found Noah and saved Him.

This pattern continues in big and small ways – in personal and national ways. The Tower of Babel - Sodom & Gomorrah; the Israelites and the Exodus; the cycle of Judges and Kings of Israel; the divided Kingdom.

Through the captivity of His people in Babylon

Through their oppression under Nebuchadnezzar

Through their oppression under Roman rule…

God suffers because of the actions of humanity.

God suffers over the plight of the world.

God suffers with His people.

God suffers a lot.

Guess what else????

Right through the whole story…

...God’s PEOPLE suffer a lot as well.


Suffering when they’ve cut themselves off from God…

Suffering under oppression from others…

Suffering when tragedy strikes…

God’s people suffer INDEED.

What do YOU do with suffering?

The truth is, we don’t have much to do with suffering at ALL.

We’re safe and warm within our Western affluent lifestyle.

Right NOW there are suffering believers ALL OVER THE WORLD, and we’re sitting here very comfortable and safe.

So, what does GOD DO WITH SUFFERING???

He embraces it.

Jesus embraced the suffering and the shame of the CROSS.

Guess what led Him there? Love.

Suffering was the reality under the Romans. What did Jesus do with it?

He could have chosen the path of REVOLT. But NO.

He could have chosen the path of ESCAPE. But NO.

He chose the path of ENDURANCE.

He chose the path of Love. Love that hurts.

Jesus chose not to ATTACK

Jesus chose not to ESCAPE

Jesus chose to ENDURE

Please listen carefully as we look at how these three options are lived out in situations WE encounter. (HAVE PEOPLE REPEAT 3 OPTIONS)

Marriage Attack = trying to change, manipulate or control

Escape = separation, emotional withdrawal, affair

Endure = communication, sacrifice, mutual submission

Politics Attack =use power to force legislation, ‘Christian right’

Escape =withdraw completely from (Jehovah’s witness)

Endure =salt and light, persuade (take faith INTO party)

Business Attack =adversarial competition (banks, telecom/v-fone)

Escape =withdraw from business (commune / Amish, etc.)

Endure =Justice, Fair Trade – (Warning: UNSUCCESSFUL)

WHY do we Attack or Escape… and not ENDURE???

This is key.

We would rather have happiness than JOY.

The world RUNS on the pursuit of happiness.

The way of Love comes with – NOT happiness – but JOY.

Happiness is determined by what HAPPENINGS. Joy is present in ALL happenings.

MERE happiness…

Happiness wants to change the other person to make me Happy

Happiness wants to escape the UN-happy circumstances

Happiness wants to skip the weakness and have strength

Happiness wants to skip the foolishness and have wisdom

Happiness wants to skip the death and have life

Happiness wants to skip the dying on the cross and go straight to resurrection.

It would be a great tragedy if Jesus had been concerned with the pursuit of mere happiness.

Let us seek to Love like Jesus, ‘…who for the JOY set before Him…

Skipped the cross and went straight into resurrection?

Built a military army and tried to over-throw the Romans?

Ran out into the hills and joined the Essenes?


“…for the JOY set before Him, ENDURED the cross, despising the shame, and THEN… only THEN… has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The next verse in Hebrews 12 goes on to say, “consider Him who ENDURED such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged…”

I know this message seems like it’s all about walking around all depressed and sad… so let me be clear; THERE IS JOY, but REAL joy is on the other side of hardships. NOT from running around or away from them!

Which relationship do you respect more? The 14-year old couple with their hands ALL over each-other in the mall? Or the 75 year-old couple that has stuck together through thick and thin? Which represents Love?

I’m not trying to be depressing, I’m trying to be REALISTIC. There are moment of INTENSE and ABOUNDING joy in the Christian life, but the pattern for the Christian life is fixed by the DEATH and RISING of Jesus.

It’s not just abstract Theology. It’s a WAY OF LIFE.

Take up your suffering, weak, unpopular, unfashionable, foolish Cross and Follow Jesus. THAT’s the way of Love. True Love.

Love that hurts.

We have a God who loves so much that it Hurts Him. Matter of fact it Kills Him.

That’s not a cheap, feel-good, happy love. That’s a Love that confuses the wise, and gets mocked by scoffers… AND happens to be a Love that can and WILL change the world.

Love that hurts.

Mark 4:35-41 - Through The Storm

Mark 4:35-41 – Through the Storm

Northcote Baptist Church

Morning Service Sermon - 22 April, 07

Last week Peter shared about the meaning of the cluster of parables Jesus gives in verses 21-34. I really appreciated the teaching on the Kingdom. It doesn’t happen like we may want it to. It is slower, smaller and more secretive than we often wish it to be.

This passage follows directly on from this, and continues the theme. We’ll work through the verses and then look at the continuing theme of the Kingdom…

Verse 35-36

To the Other Side

Jesus had been preaching to a BIG crowd (a GREAT multitude) from a boat. He had been teaching about how the Kingdom comes, and how its power works. And the evening of the same day, they take him – verse 36 says ‘in the boat as He was.’ Maybe just more of Mark’s quick-editing, fast-paced style.

Then, Jesus says, “Let us cross over to the other side. Now, 5:1 tells us where they went. Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. They had been in the Jewish area of Capernaum, and Jesus was wanting to go ‘to the other side’ – to the region of the Gadarenes – a Gentile area. I’ll say more about this later, but the Gentiles in this area were the owners of the pigs that Jesus was about to send the ‘Legion’ of demons into in chapter 5. (Remember, Jews don’t eat or even own pigs) And the man who had been possessed goes and proclaims it in the Ten Cities – or Decapolis (another Greek identifier). Then, they beg Jesus to go (remember, these are not Jews), and he heads back to the Jewish side and ends up healing the daughter of a synagogue ruler.

So, do you see the to-and-fro of the context? Parables to Jews; then over to the Gentiles with their ‘unclean spirits’ and ‘pigs’; then back to the Jews for some more faith lessons. It is in the middle of this flow that we look at these verses.

Other ‘little boats’

Jesus was not in the other boats, but in the boat with the disciples. He was ‘with them’ and they were ‘with Him’ – and they ‘still’ end up having no faith.

Verse 37-38

A Great Windstorm and a Sleeping Saviour

Then comes the wind and waves. Apparently, even to this day, the Sea of Galilee can get rough and rowdy quite quickly. This was no different. It was even beginning to fill the boat.

Now, to Jews – especially at that time – water meant more than just water. It symbolised chaos – the very chaos out of which God ordered the creation of the Earth in Genesis 1. Water features quite often in the Scriptures. The Lord Himself was seen (in the Psalms and elsewhere) to be the One who could calm the waters with His powerful word. It was the Lord who had opened the waters of the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians. It was the waters which produced the monstrous and oppressive empires in Daniel’s vision. And, in the case of the disciples, the only thing on the other side of the water was Gentile land and Gentile people. Not exactly motivation for making the trip in the first place! But Jesus had said, ‘Let us go,’ so there they were – in the middle of this intense storm, fearing for their lives!

And Jesus was sleeping on a pillow in the stern. Sleeping we can understand, right? I mean, He’d just spent hours teaching – from a boat. But sleeping during this storm? The disciples are losing it. They wake Him up and say, ‘Don’t you care that we’re perishing?’ The irony is that while Jesus is sleeping in their hour of distress, they will be the sleeping ones during Jesus’ own hour of distress in Gethsemane! Indeed (NIV App. Comm.), their future slumber seems to indicate that they are the ones that don’t seem to care that Jesus is about to perish!

Verses 39-40

Jesus doing what God does

Matthew and Mark have the order of Jesus’ response slightly differently, but Jesus ‘arose’ (we’ll come back to that) and with the words from His mouth - like God speaking order out of chaos – stills the waters. His words, “Peace, be still” are as though He is quoting Psalm 46 to the waters, “Be still and know that I am God.” Believe it. There’s more to Jesus than meets the eye.

Isaiah 43 can be put along side this passage in its wider context with striking results. Indeed, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with You” – the “You” being none other than Jesus the Lord. In short, He’s acting like God!

His rebuking question to the disciples shows His disappointment that even with the private explanations of the parables and the wonders He has worked so far, they ‘still’ had no faith.

Verse 41

Only God can do that!

Their questioning response to each other shows that they still haven’t quite realised – or we might say they haven’t LET themselves realise – just who Jesus is. He’s acts like God, He speaks like God – and they are still unsure.

Whole Passage & Gospel

A Small view of the Big Picture

OK, now I want to show you something that is SO exciting for me. More and more as I study the Gospels, I am amazed at the precision and care with which they were written. The stories and content are carefully crafted by the writers. The Gospels are more than dry, lifeless, historical reports – they are majestic works of art.

Now obviously, some have asserted that the Gospels are such works of art that they are not historical reports at all. This is most certainly not the case. We could go into much more detail, but suffice it to say that 1st century Jews didn’t write fiction like this. The Gospel narratives were birthed out of real history, real events and real life – otherwise we would not have them.

Now, I believe Mark has placed key words/phrases in this passage (and throughout the whole Gospel) that give hints, glimpses and fore-shadowings of the entire message he is presenting. The Big picture, the ‘gospel’ if you will, is seen in amazing ways through this passage.

Part of what made the Gospel a ‘stumbling block’ for the Jews was that it was going to mean including the Gentiles. This passage and the surrounding context strongly hint at this. They leave the Jewish ‘multitudes’ to ‘cross over to the other side’ – which, of course, was the Gentile side. That’s the Gentile-friendliness of the Gospel showing through there. Also, the Gospel shows how Jesus defeats evil on the Cross; and this passage features Jesus overcoming the chaos of the evil sea. That’s the evil-defeating power of the Gospel showing through.

Now, here’s my favourite (and perhaps the most obvious) bit. You have Jesus ‘asleep’ in the boat, and the disheartened disciples. Think of the disciples’ sorrow while Jesus was ‘asleep’ in the tomb. Then… here it comes… THEN, Mark says Jesus ‘arose’ and stilled the storm. HELLO! Jesus is RISEN! Is He not!!?? The Greek word for ‘arose’ here is from the root ‘diegeiro’ (dee-eg-i’ro) – having been raised thoroughly. Jesus, having been raised thoroughly, stilled the storm. WOW. I find it interesting that in chapter 16 verse 9, where it reads, ‘when He rose early on the first day of the week’ the Greek word for ‘rose’ is not ‘diegeiro’, but from the root ‘anistemi’ (an-is’-tay-mee) – having stood up. Almost seems better suited for the boat scene, doesn’t it? I wonder – and this is totally just my pondering here – if Mark is pointing forward to the resurrection in chapter 4, AND hearkening back to the boat scene in chapter 16. Maybe. Maybe not.

No time to explain, but there are fascinating connections with the Jonah story; showing HUGE contrast to Jonah and Jesus – indeed, Jesus said He was the ‘Something greater than Jonah.” Aren’t these pointers to the Gospel astounding? It is the God of Jews AND Gentiles. It is God who dwells WITH His people. It is God who we can trust even when He seems to be sleeping. It is God who RISES and defeats the Evil one. It is God whom we trust.

The Challenge to Us

On Board with The King

And it is precisely that Trust and Faith that we need so desperately in our World, and even in the Church. As we heard last week from Peter’s message on Jesus’ parables, the Kingdom is smaller, slower – and, as we see in our passage – sleepier than we sometimes want it to be. We dare not try to INFLATE, SPEED-UP or WAKE-UP God to re-make Him into the God we want.

Therefore, may we remember just what kind of Kingdom it is! GOD’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has power over wind and sea and has RISEN in Power. But that powerful comeback of all comebacks was after the apparent weakness of the Cross. Let us not forget – there is GREAT power in apparent weakness. GREAT victory in apparent defeat. GREAT joy in apparent sorrow. GREAT life in apparent death.

At times it can seem that the only real things are death, weakness, defeat and sorrow. But – as the hymn we will now sing says – This Is My Father’s World - O let me ne’er forget! That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet!!

This Is My Father's World

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!

This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.

The Good, the Fallen, the New, the Perfect (notes)

(given at 'Parallel' service - Northcote Baptist Church, 28 April, 07)

Last Parallel, we talked about Pantheism, Deism and Biblical Theism…

We also talked about how these IDEAS about reality affect HOW WE LIVE…

So, they’re not just abstract, floating ideas, but they MATTER. They affect how we THINK, how we FEEL, and how we LIVE.

Like if you think the world is DIVINE, and your body is DIVINE, you will think you need to try to get in TOUCH with the DIVINE inside YOU, you will FEEL that way about yourself, and you will DO things to try and FIND YOURSELF, etc.

And if you think that ‘matter doesn’t matter’, and that your BODY DOESN’T MATTER, you will THINK that way, FEEL that way, and ACT that way.

We NEED to think about reality the way it REALLY is. God’s PLACE, or God’s REALITY - ‘heaven’ – OVER-LAPS with OUR place, or OUR reality – ‘earth’. God made the Earth and our BODIES very GOOD. That good-ness has been distorted and screwed up by SIN. God is in the business of MAKING IT RIGHT.

I DARE you to think THAT way.

I DARE you to FEEL that way.

I DARE you to ACT that way.


Tonight, I want to continue along the line of Option 3. The GOOD option.

I want to give you another way – an OPTION 3 kind of way – of thinking about life.

People often think of Christianity in terms of RULES, etc.

I want you to KNOW the BIG PICTURE.

I want you to KNOW the STORY.

Jews - Exodus.


It gave them HOPE

It gave them IDENTITY as a PEOPLE

It gave them DIRECTION for LIFE

Their HOPE, IDENTITY and DIRECTION weren’t in the individual.

‘YOU’ matter HEAPS to God, but the STORY isn’t about YOU.

‘YOU’ get to play a PART in the STORY, but the STORY is about GOD.

The STORY is a BIG story – MUCH bigger than YOU.



YOU have a ROLE to play in this HUGE story.

Let’s see what the STORY is… Bird’s eye view…



-God made the World GOOD – not ‘perfect’ but GOOD…

-It was not ‘


-His AGENTS/IMAGE was shattered by SIN

-God has been at work since then in big, small, personal and national ways to RESTORE it…

-God calls HIS PEOPLE to be HIS agents of this RESTORATION


-God’s PEOPLE had failed in their responsibility to be HIS AGENTS

-GOD HIMSELF stepped on stage in HIS OWN PLAY…

-HIS resurrected body was the PATTERN on which the universe will be remade


-New HEAVEN, and New EARTH

-No pain, crying, death, mourning

-‘Tending the Garden WITH GOD in PERFECT REALITY, not ‘idealistic’, but ‘complete’, ‘fully real’

The GOOD, the FALLEN, the NEW and the PERFECT…

We have the NEW already! In JESUS and HIS SPIRIT!!!

NOW but NOT YET!!! (‘Made of different stuff than when I began…’)


LIVE The STORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


-…for PEOPLE

-…for the EARTH

Tell People the STORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

-please STOP telling people the SMALL version of the Story.

-START telling them the BIG picture!!!

-in order to FULLY tell it, you MUST LIVE IT!!! (or they won’t hear)