This message was preached at Woodvale Baptist Church on Sunday the 7th of May 2017.
May is the month in which we honour our Mums, but I also like to think it is a good opportunity for us to show our appreciation for women in general. (And not just once a year – showing respect and care for women is something that should be a natural part of our lifestyle, regardless of our age or gender)!
And one of the women I admire the most is a lady whose story I first read about over 40 years ago – the late Corrie ten Boom.
Corrie and her family gave shelter to Jews in their home in Haarlem, Netherlands during WW2.
When their activities were discovered, Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were arrested and subsequently imprisoned in Nazi Concentration camps.
Betsie died in the camp but Corrie was miraculously released and after the war she went on to speak to countless people around the world about the love, forgiveness and grace of God.
She also wrote about her own very personal encounter with forgiveness:
It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,’ he said. ‘To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!’
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I who had preached so often to people …of the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? ‘Lord Jesus,’ I prayed, ‘forgive me and help me to forgive him.’
I tried to smile. I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.’
As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know that bitterness and resentment destroys relationships and I have seen many times how this has fatally eroded marriages.
Philip Yancey said:
Ungrace causes cracks to fissure open between mother and daughter, father and son, brother and sister, between scientists, and prisoners, and tribes, and races. Left alone, cracks widen, and for the resulting chasms of ungrace there is only one remedy: the frail rope-bridge of forgiveness.
Faced with her hurtful past and former tormentor that day in Munich, Corrie ten Boom chose to travel the path of forgiveness and both she and the man before her were set free.
How are your relationships today, especially your marriage?
Faced with past hurts and angry words, will you choose to hang on to them or will you choose to forgive?
He who cannot forgive another breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.
Perhaps it is time for you to take a walk over the bridge of forgiveness.
“I HAS NO REGRETS!”
If you have seen the film, The BFG, you will know that this is the response of the evil, human-eating giant, Fleshlumpeater, when he is asked by Sophie if he is sorry for all the bad things he has done.
Regret is one of those emotions that eats away silently at our souls and rare indeed is the person who has no regrets.
Regret is so damaging to our well-being it compelled one author to state:
Regret empties anticipation, flattens dreams, and suffocates hope, because regret is a form of self-punishment … regret beats us up with the past.
I have come to realise that I have lived for far too long with many regrets and like the quote above says, they have beaten me up.
Many of you reading this understand precisely what I mean.
A father and son argue heatedly with each other and the father shouts out, “You’re not my son! I disown you!”
The door slams furiously as the son walks out and father and son never speak to each other again.
In the midst of a tense confrontation a husband spits out at his wife, “I wish I had never married you” and he opens a wound of rejection in her that may never heal.
A young girl rues the day she gossiped behind her friend’s back, wishing she could have the moment over, to take it all back.
Or a demanding mother with high expectations for her children makes it clear that she regards them as “failures” and an embarrassment to her.
Regret comes in all sizes, takes many forms and more often than not, it involves broken relationships.
Regret keeps us up at night, forcing us to maintain a sleepless vigil as we rehearse our failures and shortcomings over and over in our minds.
Bear in mind, I am not talking about hindsight.
Hindsight is that wonderful gift which enables us to process the mistakes from our past in a healthy way and, importantly, to learn from them.
I remember the time I stuck my finger into a live electrical light socket at my grandmother’s home, wondering what would happen.
I soon learned and the subsequent jolt I received taught me a valuable lesson: “I will never do that again!”
Hindsight enables us to learn from our past mistakes.
Regret wants to keep us imprisoned by them.
Consider then, how Jesus deals with regret.
On that first Easter, there are regrets aplenty!
Judas, betrayer of Jesus, filled with remorse, dies a lonely, despairing death by his own hand.
Peter is humiliated and ashamed.
Once the proud boaster who said he would follow Jesus anywhere and even die with him, he is haunted by the words that fell from his lips, three times, no less:
“I do not know the man!”
And two walk a dusty road together, filled with sorrow over the death of Jesus and what might have been.
But in the middle of all this sorrow, Jesus bursts out of the grave alive, confronting everyone’s regret and changing things forever.
Peter is restored.
Two travellers have their hope renewed.
Disciples are commissioned.
“The time for regret is over” says Jesus. “Now take this message of hope to the whole world!”
Here is what I am discovering.
I do not have to be held hostage by my regrets!
Because not only did Jesus die for my past mistakes, he completely obliterated them – and yours – when He rose from the dead!
In that decisive act, our past failures were dealt with once and for all and he has given us new life.
This changes everything, including our relationships.
We cannot change the past, but we can live free from it.
And we change our present when we rest in the fact that because of Jesus, regret can no longer “beat us up!”
IN NOVEMBER, 1990 I was standing in Pearl Harbour listening to an elderly, retired United States navy man tell his story about the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour.
I had joined a free, guided tour around the harbour and the scene of the United States’ entry into World War Two.
Our guide was around 19 years of age at the time of the attack and as he retold his story the day I was there, he also spoke of the anger and rage he felt as he fired round after round into the sky at enemy planes.
Then he said something that caught my attention.
“Folks”, he asked kindly, “Have you ever felt like you are out of the will of God?”
Given the silence of the rest of the group around me, he obviously had their attention as well!
He went on to explain that in that very moment of anger, death and destruction, he knew he was out of the will of God!
Quite a statement from an elderly man to a group of tourists.
He then told us how he had signed up to the navy despite the fact he knew God had called him to be a preacher.
So, upon the conclusion of the War, having been discharged from the Navy, he obeyed God and became a Presbyterian minister for the rest of his life.
Then came the punchline to his story.
He went on to tell how one of the Japanese pilots bombing Pearl Harbour also became a committed Christian and minister after the war.
Decades later, the two former enemies met with the Japanese pastor preaching in the old navy man’s church in Hawaii!
As he brought his story to its conclusion, he held up a photograph of the two men, once alienated by culture, hatred and ideology, now embracing each other and reconciled before the Cross that stood in the church.
Every one of us is living in a world divided bitterly along racial, political and ideological lines.
News services bring us reports every day of nations at war with each other or the latest violent protest over an unpopular decision.
And we read of relational breakdowns in marriages and families that all too often end with murder or suicide as the only “solution”.
Russian author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, once commented:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
When a marriage breaks down, it is all too easy to blame the other person, thinking he or she needs to change.
But as Solzhenitsyn points out, “good and evil” courses through the heart of every human being.
Blaming the other person will not reconcile us.
Ignoring or trying to change the past will not reconcile us.
Mere words will not reconcile us.
But Jesus will.
That is the point of the Cross. There a dying thief finds reconciliation and peace with God.
There a man, Peter, who denies his Lord, finds reconciliation.
And there I have found peace and reconciliation – with my sin, my past, with people and with God. I still struggle a lot and I don’t always love people as well as I should.
But I know this: reconciliation begins with me, reaching out to people who at times both annoy and drive me crazy but with the sincere hope that perhaps they will see Jesus in me and be reconciled to Him.
Is your marriage in trouble?
My prayer for you is that you will ask Jesus to bring His peace to your hungry and wounded soul.
Then take the first step yourself to reconcile with your husband or wife.
FOR A FEW YEARS now my wife Karen has selected a word to meditate upon and use as a theme for her life throughout the year to come. It is an enriching experience because it serves to focus her thoughts, prayers and actions at a personal level and in her relationships with others, including me!
As I reflect on my own life over the past twelve months, the word “enough” is a great description of how my life has been.
During this past year, God led me into the wilderness again, and along the way, He turned my thoughts to Psalm 63, written by David when he too, found himself in the wilderness.
David recalls moments when he has seen God’s power and glory – God Himself – in the house of worship (verses 2-5). He writes,
“I have beheld…your power and your glory…”
“What was it he saw?” I wonder. “And when have I seen evidence of God’s power and glory in my life?”
More importantly, David saw God in the sanctuary. I take this to mean that God Himself is the One we seek, a greater blessing by far than His acts of power and glory.
So right there in the wilderness, David chooses to praise and rejoice in God. His will be a life of constant praise and of giving glory to God with his words and songs. And the reason for all of this is a quite remarkable statement in verse 3-
“Because your love is better than life…”
To know the love of God in your life, and the peace, comfort and security this brings, is a greater gift than life itself, even in the wilderness. For David, this is enough –
“God Himself is enough for me and my soul is satisfied.” (v5)
The message for me was straightforward enough: “No matter what I might be facing right now, God is all I need!”
The Christmas/New Year period can be a very lonely one fore many people. They suffer through the break up of a marriage, family or friendship that “came out of left field!”
“I didn’t see it coming…” is a sad, but often heard refrain from many broken-hearted souls.
The devastation of losing someone that you had invested yourself in so completely can leave you feeling as if you will never recover or be a whole person again.
If that is you right now, I want you to know that there is real hope. Your circumstances may not change, but I can assure you that God has not forgotten you, He loves you deeply and He can be enough for you.
I am learning, in my times of being in the wilderness, to choose
To live a life of constant praise to my Father and to thank Him every day.
To live my life for His glory.
Above all, to rest in the peace, comfort and security of God’s love for me.
In the wilderness, I find I am able to tell God how much I love Him; I can thank Him for every good gift in my life – His love, family, friends, life itself – and for teaching me again about humility and my need to depend utterly on Him.
In this my soul is satisfied – in and with God Himself.
He is enough … and He can be enough for you!
Scanning through my FB feed this morning, I came across a link to a page announcing itself as the “Unchurching Community”. The initiative comes from a former pastor, Richard Jacobson, who left his role as a pastor in 2003, following a crisis in his faith. His doubts were not about God or the church. Rather, his crisis consisted of him “having doubts about the way we do church today.” Unchurching the church then, is an attempt to draw together all those people who, despite having not abandoned their faith, nevertheless are seeking “genuine church community outside the box” which they did not find in more traditional expressions of the local churches they have left.
They “unchurched” the church.
What I appreciate about the site is that the clear intent is to promote “constructive dialogue” about the church without resorting to “verbal fistfights.”
It is in the spirit of being constructive that I write this article and it is my genuine hope that it will cause us all to re-think the church.
My premise is straightforward enough: It’s time we re-churched the church.
Next March I commence as the Senior Pastor of what will be my fourth church and coincidently, the day of my induction also falls on my 33rd anniversary in pastoral ministry.
I have been a pastor since I was 23 years old!
I have seen and learned a lot in that time and my view of the church today, now in my 50s, has matured greatly to what it was when I first stood before that tiny congregation in rural Queensland. Back then, I saw a lot of what I believed needed “straightening out” in how people were living their Christian lives and I was the man for the job!
These people “need to mature in Christ” was my catch cry.
And I needed to as well…I just didn’t see it myself at the time.
My point is plain enough. There are always going to be deficiencies, failings and immaturity in every local church.
There have always been and always will be churches who do community poorly. And there will always be a generation of Christians who will rise up and say, “We can do better!”
And I genuinely thank God for those who are willing to step out in faith and launch into fresh expressions of the local church. After all, surely that is what we would expect from a community that claims to have at it’s centre the Risen Jesus Who has made everything new?
But allow me to make some cautionary observations.
Think carefully about what you are looking for.
When people state that they are looking for a church “where we can all do life together and live in genuine community”, I am amazed at how undefined their idea is of what this actually looks like.
Usually the conversation turns to, “Well, we want to be like the Early Church was…you know?”
And my response usually is, “Which Early Church do you want to be then?”
Corinth was filled with partisanship, spiritual pride and sexual immorality.
The churches of Galatia struggled with legalism.
The church in Ephesus had to not only battle heresy but also the sin of gossip.
These are hardly the types of churches that we would hold up as our model for “doing life together” and yet, that is precisely what they are. These people were certainly doing life together, but it was life at its messiest and filled with shortcomings, immaturity and a distinct lack of love.
Yet Paul still called them saints, “holy, set apart ones” no less and he relentlessly called them to pursue and live a lifestyle worthy of the name.
So you want a Christian community like the Early Church? Great!
Just remember that “doing life together” is more than sitting in a circle, holding hands and singing “Kumbayah”.
Genuine Christian community is experiencing life when it is at its messiest and still loving each other.
Over a four year period in a church I was pastor of we ministered to over 200 men who had been broken by their sexual sin.
When it comes to mess – listening to the stories of men held in sexual bondage for most of their lives – it doesn’t come much messier than this. And well over 90% of them were Christians.
But out of it came genuine community. We learned to support each other, care for each other, pray for each other and hold each other accountable.
We did life together.
By all means, develop a church based on the Early Church. Just remember that it will involve a lot of mess and brokenness.
And that you do not simply “unchurch” the group when it is not living up to what your ideal is.
Remember why the church exists in the first place.
Deeper love for and fellowship with, each other is an admirable goal for all Christians.
But is not the only goal.
If you are seeking a fellowship which has as its primary aim the seeking out of other disillusioned Christians and who gather together to discuss the shortcomings of the established church, then please think again before you commit.
Fellowship is only one reason for the church.
There are also the important purposes of prayer, worship of the Risen Christ, teaching and mission. (See Acts 2:42).
The church exists for the express purpose of calling people from every nation, tongue and tribe to join a community of people who are intent on relationship with the loving God Who created and redeemed them.
The church calls out to all people everywhere to be a part of a community that is, I believe, God’s best hope for the world in seeing people restored to wholeness through a relationship with Jesus.
To belong to a community that has as its sole purpose the care of others “who think like us and are as fed up as us” is to aim too low.
Aim high! Shoot for God’s purposes and you will find that a loving community is the natural by-product.
Love the church you’re with!
“What?” I hear you cry! “Don’t you get it? The church I belong to does not know how to do community, much less know how to love each other and you’re telling me to love them?!”
So show them.
Show them how to love and how to love each other.
Among the many distinctly uncomfortable things that Jesus said, one of them jumps right out at you: “Love your neighbour as yourself”. (You choose the reference for this one – He said it a few times!)
He even went so far as to say, “Love your enemies”. (Matthew 5:44).
“Okay Lord. Loving Mother Teresa I get…but Donald Trump? Seriously?”
Jesus said that there are two distinct hallmarks of the servants of God:
Loving God seems to come quite naturally to us as believers. We are overwhelmed by His grace, love and compassion for us and our hearts open up to Him in love and devotion.
But our love and devotion is severely tested by the elderly person who scowls at us for sitting in “their” seat at church or the person who makes a point of seeking out the preacher every week in order to enlighten him about the shortcomings of his particular view of eschatology!
Nevertheless, we are called to love each other and to love each other well.
Paul’s remedy for the faction ridden church at Corinth? “Love each other!” (1 Corinthians 13).
In fact, he went so far as to say that the goal of all Scriptural teaching is that we love better; God and each other. ( 1 Timothy 1:3-5).
I love good Bible exposition but if it doesn’t challenge me, or the people I serve, to love God and people more, then what is the point?
So here is my radical thought. Rather than leave the church you are in because of its perceived failure to love and do life together, why not become an agent for change there?
In other words, love the church you’re with.
Believe me, like you, I have many reasons for un-churching the church. When I left the first church I pastored, I was disappointed. I had not given up on God, the church or ministry, but it is safe to say that I felt that the responsibility for the church’s problems lay with the people.
Were they spiritually and emotionally immature? Certainly! But so was I and thankfully, through the work of God in my own heart, I came to see that more clearly and I began to grow.
Over the course of my next two ministries, in Cairns and then Perth, I came to understand what it meant to love a group of people in spite of their flaws and shortcomings.
And I discovered that they loved me, with all of my own baggage, in return!
This change in me came about because I began to apply a truth that had been taught and modelled to me by two or three outstanding men in my life.
Rolling what they all said together into one short statement, it was this: “Be careful how you treat the church because Christ loved her and gave His life for her…”
Looking back, the moment I began to live that truth out was when, with faltering steps, I started loving God’s people, His church. I see now that it was also the moment when I and my ministry, began to mature.
Imagine what could happen in our churches if each of us took the bold step of trying to love each other well? I believe it would launch a spiritual revolution in the wider community that would realise the vision Francis Schaeffer had: “When the church is just a little of what it should be, people will come.”
Love the church you’re with!
Loving well is about being emotionally mature.
How we love God and each other says as much about our emotional maturity as it does our spiritual maturity.
And it also involves healthy boundaries.
While the idea of being part of a community that “does life together” sounds idyllic, it can also have a number of pitfalls. Geri Scazzero highlights this in her book, The Emotionally Healthy Woman. Speaking from experience, she explains how she often suppressed her own feelings of being stifled by so much community with others, including her own desire for personal space and reflection. In time, she learned that healthy community does not mean that you have to know everything about everyone or do everything with them. Its okay (and necessary) to set healthy boundaries for yourself and others and because you do, it does not follow that you are not loving others well.
In fact, emotionally and spiritually healthy people know how to set wise boundaries while still loving God and people well.
So you want a church community that loves well and does life together?
Great, because so do I!
Will you join with me then, in re-churching the church?