Archive for July, 2018

JOHN THE BAPTIST-A MAN OF CONVICTION

Saturday, July 14th, 2018

MARK:6:14-29

The Boss was complaining that he wasn’t getting enough respect from the staff. Later that morning he went out and returned with a sign that said, “I’m the boss”. He taped it to the office door. When he returned from lunch he found that someone has taped a note to the sign that said, “your wife called-she wants her sign back”.   

Review story: John had been arrested by King Herod. WHY? Because John kept reminding Herod that he wasn’t above God’s law. He said,”It is not lawful for you to take your brothers’ wife”. Herodius, Herod’s wife resented John’s criticism and wanted to kill him. But Herod has refused because he regarded John as a holy man-a man of God. Finally with some scheming-manipulating she was able to achieve her goal and have John killed. Herod was please with Herodius’s daughters dancing.  As a reward he foolishly made a promise he came to regret.  Herodius seized the opportunity and told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Herod was greatly distressed at her request but he had backed himself into a corner and couldn’t get out of it. The point is: be careful about making promises.                But the story raises deeper issues: Questions like:” How could God let John the Baptist be treated like this? How could God stand by and let John who had devoted his life to serving God die like this? This question reflects the assumption of people who think that their faith is some kind of insurance against trouble-tragedy. They think that God is letting them down when problems-illness-tragedy hits them. They think that God is deaf to their prayers or doesn’t care about them if He doesn’t give help-healing right away        But nowhere in Scripture does God promise that just because we are Christians we can expect to be spared trouble or tragedy. You only have to read the Bible to see how many of God’s faithful servants suffered in a variety of ways. Eg Prophets-Jeremiah. Of the 12 disciples only John dies of old age. All the others became martyrs-died for their faith in Jesus. But is this so strange when we remember that Jesus himself suffered  and died for us-crucifixion was one of the most horrible ways to die. Life wasn’t easy for Jesus-no bed of roses.                          The thing that should astound us is not that we have to suffer at times but that we don’t suffer a lot more than we do.  That is particularly true of us here in Australia.  Dictators like Hitler-Stalin Mao Tse Tung –Pol Pot-and more recently Islamic Terrorism-ISIS i Iraq-Syria-Christians persecuted-killed. We have been fortunate in that we have escaped unlike Christians in some countries who suffer harassment-persecution. As far as our personal health  is concerned, considering how complex the human body is it’s a wonder we don’t have more health problems than we do.

We sometimes forget that God’s concern is not to fill our Bank accounts-to give us a comfortable enjoyable life-not to pander to our whims. His concern is that we serve him-become more like his Son Jesus. God’s concern is that His Will be done and that his Name is praised. It cost God dearly that we might have fellowship with him-it cost the life of his Son. We need to think about that when we think we are hard done by­-facing troubles-difficulties.

The main point is this: God would have us witness to him no matter what our situation in life. There are some people who whenever things go wrong let everyone know about it. But you don’t find John complaining-grizzling about being in prison. I’m sure he did a lot of thinking-praying while in his prison cell. But there is no mention of him complaining about his lot. But we are told that John speaks to Herod about the things of God. In fact it seem that Herod’s conscience led him to have a number of conversations with John. You sometimes hear people say that it is not necessary to speak about your faith. As long as you give a good witness with your life. I don’t believe that. The fact is most people don’t have any clear idea what Christianity is about. They think that as long as they try to live a “good life” they will be right. As long as they “do their best” God will treat them kindly. So if we think that our efforts to live a “good life” are going to convince people about the truth of Xianity- we are being naive. Especially when non Xians live lives that are just as good as ours if not better. We don’t have a monopoly in living a “good live. Frankly when we look at our own inconsistencies, our lives aren’t such a credible witness to Christ. The early apostles didn’t rely on the witness of their lives –they knew that many people worked hard at developing a virtuous life. They had something more glorious to offer. They declared that they were sinners under God’s judgement and so were others. The message was that despite the fact that all people were sinners, God sent his only Son Jesus to rescue them from their hopeless situation. Because sinners could not come to God through their own efforts, God came to them with his mercy-grace. He had given his own Son to pay price for our sins-the sinless One took upon himself the sins of the world and died for us. And to top it off Jesus had conquered death by his resurrection and given us the promise of eternal life. The apostles had a message to proclaim that gave hope-meaning for people’s lives.

It is in this light that we need to understand the witness of John. He was in the power of a man who could have had him killed at the drop of a hat. But Herod had no peace. In search of peace he kept coming back to this uncompromising  man of God-who told him the truth –about himself and God.  Ironically, although John was in prison – he was free-in his conscience-mind. While Herod was a captive to his weakness- ambition. Throughout this period of Imprisonment, John did not complain-whinge.  Instead he witnessed to the Truth. May we pray: God use me for your glory’s sake and help me to witness like John, whatever situation  you place us in. Amen. 

Pastor. Haydn Blaess

Now,do you beleive?

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

Mark 6:2, 6

When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Have you ever been utterly dumbfounded? You think you know a person, you understand all the things that could possibly happen, then BAM! Something’s strange. Some of you might have felt that when the World Trade centres were hit by two planes. My dad was dumbfounded when my brother and I told him we had girlfriends, and again when I told him I was going to propose. And when Jesus’ family, childhood friends and workmates heard Him spout this wisdom, the Truth of God, they were dumbfounded, amazed, astonished. Where’s this from? What is this wisdom? What are these miracles? Isn’t this that bloke I grew up with? Who is He to preach to me?

Jesus had, by this point taught at quite a few synagogues on quite a few Sabbaths, but had never had a reaction quite like this. In Marks first chapter the people were amazed with the authority that He spoke with and told everyone about this new teacher, the new teaching, ‘God’s kingdom is here, repent and believe the good news.’ (Mark 1: 21-28; 15). Jesus healed them, and many around the city, but He only healed those who had faith that He could. But here, among His own people, His own earthly family, they didn’t believe and so He could only heal a few. This is the first time in Mark that a town rejects Jesus and the Good News and He marvels that His own people do not believe.

Now, do you believe? Do you believe that God’s kingdom is here, that you must turn from your ways, and that Jesus speaks the truth, the Good News? Do you truly believe that you are evil, that everything that comes from you is corrupt, your actions, thoughts and even desires? Or do you look at me instead of the message? ‘Who is this kid, telling us we’re sinners?’ ‘What authority does he have over us?’ Would you trust these words more if I were your son, or if I were a chippy, someone you knew well, but hadn’t seen for a bit suddenly telling you gotta change? Or would you dismiss what I have to say, maybe even get angry and kick me out as in Luke’s account when the locals try to kill Jesus (Luke 4:29)? This is what happened to Him, because He was a tradie, not a teacher, had a questionable birth, and was family, too familiar. Not just that, but also Jesus brought God’s Word and wisdom; that hard word that you are evil, turned in on yourself, stealing honour for yourself and in and of yourself rejecting the one who created you, loves you, sustains you and talks to you. You need salvation and Jesus brings it too you, and in Him with the Holy Spirit you are changed, forgiven, renewed, cleansed and made holy.

Maybe you’re less worried about who I am, but have become too familiar with the message itself. Do you still repent and try to change or have you become complacent in your Christian life? Do you think that though Christ died for your sins on the cross, that was not enough and you need to still do something for your salvation, that what you do can make God forgive you? Have you come to think that deep down, there is good in you after all, that you are not sinful to the core? You have heard this Word from God for years, perhaps your whole life. It is part of your history, your story, it has become familiar. Maybe you think you understand God’s Word and don’t need to hear it more, you’ve heard it once and don’t need to think on it and now you rely on your own memory and thoughts. But then you rely on your self, that self that Jesus tells you is dirty, rotten, wicked and must be changed. Maybe this message is so familiar that you ignore how offensive it is to you and every other, and Jesus’ childhood friends and family.

One thing that stuck out very clearly to me while reading this passage was this fact, the reject of Jesus by His family. Even though He spoke the truth to them, they did not accept it. And how often do we experience the same with our families. Interestingly after this He sends the twelve to spread His message in the region. Now I’m not certain of His aim there, but I do know that even if God’s Word from you is rejected by your family, He certainly can and many times does send others to them.

That is a hope we have, despite the offence that God’s message brings. And another thing, this message of God is true, and even though it is a hard truth, because it is true, it’s hard to ignore. We see it in ourselves, a sudden desire for violence or other sin, a subtle inclination for small but growing lies, an action without thinking that brings no good or godly result; and of course, we see it in others. We humans are by nature, sinful and unclean. This truth stands and we cannot get rid of it, maybe we can try to ignore it, distract ourselves or lie to ourselves, but the truth still remains. And if it remains for us it remains for all those we love too, and just like Jesus’ family there may come a time when we accept it and our family does too. Jesus’ brothers James and Jude who rejected Him here later became leaders in the Christian church, both with letters kept in the Bible. Despite that initial rejection and offence, they kept listening to God’s Word, to scripture, and through that the Holy Spirit produced faith. In the same way as your family hears God’s Word from you and others, and as you yourself continue to read and listen to God’s Word, God will work in you and them, reminding of the truth of our situation. You are wicked and sinful, and Jesus, sent by the Father, has saved you from that and The Spirit is changing you, making you holy and good.  Amen

Pastor Joseph Graham

Fighting with love

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

Mark 6:2,3
When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many people were there, and when they heard him, they were all amazed. “Where did he get all this?” they asked. “What wisdom is this that has been given him? How does he perform miracles! Isn’t he the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here?” And they rejected him.

A young couple had been married a few short and disappointing months. He never dreamed there were so many ways to ruin chicken. She couldn’t imagine why she ever thought his jokes were funny. Neither one said aloud what they were both thinking – the marriage was a big mistake.

One hot afternoon, they got into a terrible argument about whether they could afford to paint the living room. Tempers flared, voices were raised, and somehow one of the wedding gift plates crashed to the floor. She burst into tears, called him heartless and a cheapskate. He shouted that he’d rather be a cheapskate than a nag, then grabbed the car keys on his way out. His parting words, punctuated by the slam of the screen door, were, “That’s it! I’m leaving you!”

But before he could coax their rickety car into gear, the passenger door flew open and his bride landed on the seat beside him. She stared straight ahead, her face tear-streaked but determined.

“And just where do you think you’re going?” he asked in amazement.

She hesitated only a moment before replying, just long enough to be sure of the answer that would decide the direction of their lives for the next forty-three years.

“If you’re leaving me, I’m going with you.” 

This story about conflict has a happy ending. As so often is the case, conflict can result in a stronger and closer relationship between people. But as we know conflict can have an opposite effect. We can all tell of stories where conflict has led to a total breakdown of friendship between the people involved. So what is it that makes conflict a positive or a destructive force in our lives?

The question that should be asked first of all is whether Christians should ever be in conflict – in situations of confrontation, tension and agitation?
Whether you answer that with, “No they shouldn’t” or “Yes they can it depends on how they handle it” the fact remains conflict is part of our world and our life in this world. God never intended there to be conflict when he created the human race. Conflict came when Adam and Eve set on a course wanting to be like God. That ended in a headlong clash with God.

Well let’s look at what happens in Mark’s Gospel. Here we see Jesus in conflict with the people in his own hometown. The people of Nazareth knew him. They knew him as the son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter. They were familiar with his brothers, James, Joseph, Judas and Simon and his sisters. When they heard Jesus speak in the synagogue they wondered what this local bloke was up to. How can this man whom we have known since he was a toddler have such understanding and wisdom about the things of God? He didn’t even go to seminary; he was just a carpenter. How dare he speak as if he was an authority in these matters? In his own hometown, Jesus experiences sarcasm, rejection, and conflict. We are told he was rejected.

In John’s account of Jesus ministry we hear Jesus speaking about his relationship with the Father and that he himself was God in the flesh. And when he said, “Before Abraham was, I Am” (John 8:59) his listeners picked up stones to throw at him. Jesus must have known that his words would cause conflict.

In a seminar on Jesus, the group was reading some of Jesus’ parables. “Why did Jesus speak so many parables?” the seminar leader asked.
“Well,” said one member of the group, “he was trying to communicate with simple, rural people so he had to tell them everything in these little stories, so they could get his point.”
“If that’s so,” spoke up another, “then Jesus failed because most of the people didn’t get it.”

The group finally came to the conclusion that Jesus must have been using parables for some purpose other than to ensure that everyone got his point. He was willing to be misunderstood, rejected because the truth had to be spoken whether people were ready to hear what he had to say or not. The truth of what Jesus said didn’t depend on the acceptance of the listeners to give it validity. He spoke the truth with love even though it might lead to conflict. You and I know from experience that even when we try our hardest to speak with love to someone about an important issue, there is always the possibility that the other person will not receive it with the love that was intended and so conflict arises.

The English word conflict comes from a Latin word which means “to strike together”. Whenever two or more people go after goals that they perceive to be correct and whenever one person’s ideas and needs collide with another’s, conflict arises. If people did not make a move to fulfil their ideas, goals, or desires and they were not prepared to put forward ideas and test to see what others thought about them, then there is conflict.

We know that there is always a tension between the Christian and the rest of the world. Just as Jesus was faced with opposition and he was in conflict with the people of his time so are we faced with similar conflict. The values of the world are not necessarily those of the Christian.
The community in which we live might believe that casual sex, taking advantage of others, cheating, abusive behaviour and language, crude jokes, stories and actions are normal and so are okay. Everyone else thinks it’s okay so it must be okay.
I recall a discussion with a young teenage couple who attended a church where I was pastor asking me if it was okay for them to have sex since everyone else at school was doing it. They were stunned when I told them that God intended sex for marriage – for couples who were committed to each other for life – for those who were ready to take on the responsibilities that go along with having sex.
But it is clear that the standards of the Christian and that of the world can be poles apart.
The world may think that it is weak to seek reconciliation when it is clear that you are the one who has been wronged. The way Christ wants us to respond in a situation like this is to act in love and to make amends where there has been a falling out no matter who is in the right or the wrong.

The fact remains – no one likes conflict. No one likes to be ridiculed as “old fashioned” and “out of touch with the real world”, but in the end there can be no compromise. If we are followers of Jesus, then we will want to be what God intended us to be and to live the new life that we have in Christ. And there will be times when we will find ourselves in conflict with others because of our faith in Jesus. As long as we are in this world there will always be tension between the followers of Christ and the world. Doesn’t Jesus say, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”? To know Christ will more than likely put us at odds with the world and its values. Jesus even says that this conflict may even occur between members of the same family.

But what about tension in the church? Is there a place for conflict and unease in the church? The response I’m sure we would all give is that there should not any tension and conflict in the church. However, I was challenged with this thought I read recently.
In conflict, a group is energised. As an old pastor once said, “You can put out a fire easier than you can raise the dead”. Where there is absolutely no dissatisfaction, no vision of anything better, no pain, there is little action. A church in which there is a healthy amount of tension and conflict is a church alive.” The writer went on to say that the church needs to be exposed to the demands of Scripture, to be assured that there is a power for change, for good, and for meaning in our world, and that … there is something better than merely present arrangements.
Do you see his point?
A church that is no longer challenged;
a church in which there is no tension;
a church where there is no healthy conflict,
no critical examination of its ministry and mission,
no pain as it seeks out better and even more appropriate ways of fulfilling its mission in the world;
that church will do very little.

You see in the church there should always be pastors, lay people, or committees who will ask the question, “How can we do what we are doing in a better way”. There will always be those who will propose with conviction a certain direction the church should go in order to fulfil its mission more effectively. And there will be those who will propose a different direction. That is conflict.

If we didn’t care about Jesus, our faith, one another, the church, our own congregation or even those in our community and in the world, then there would be no conflict. We would be happy to go along doing what we always have done even if it doesn’t work very well. But we do care; we do have our own individual ideas of how the mission of the church should be carried out. We care about the kingdom of God and that’s why conflict in the church can be so vigorous. That’s is why two people, both sincere, both concerned about God’s work in their congregation, both dedicated to serving God can have opposing views. Both are seeking the best way to do God’s work.

The Gospel, the love of God for us sinners, the love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross, our faith in Jesus will not let us sit on our hands and do nothing to improve the way we are doing things. When there is tension because the church is being confronted with new ways to carry out God’s mission, then the gospel is being truthfully preached and enacted, and we are participating in the same kind of conflict that characterised much of Jesus’ ministry.

But the problem is this – we are afraid of conflict. We try to go out of our way to ensure that peace, calmness, acceptance and harmony reign supreme. There is a reason for this fear of conflict. Too often we allow conflict to become personal and we quickly label people as “hard to get on with” because they challenge our point of view. People get hurt, things are said that shouldn’t be said, harm is done to relationships, dirty tricks are used to get the upper hand, and some leave the church because of what has happened and the way the conflict got out of hand. What that happens Satan has won the day.

There are those times when either we have created conflict or fanned the flames of conflict, not for the good of the church and its mission, but because we have some personal need. There are times when we have let creative tension in the church or our families become destructive. When Jesus found himself in the midst of tension and challenges of his authority he always acted in love. Our wills and God’s collide more frequently than we are aware. But God always loves even though we are in conflict with him. He died for us, and forgives us.

Our prayer should always be this. Lord, stir us up and disquiet us by your Holy Spirit. Help us to learn to fight for what’s important and, in our disagreements with one another, to fight like Christians, that is with love, with truth, and with the conviction that we are all brothers and sisters here, all of us trying to be faithful to the One who has called us to be his church. Amen.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy