Posted by: ozziepete | 3 April, 2014

If God Wasn’t in Heaven…?

God promises his followers many blessings. In various places he promises peace, wisdom, love, presence, strength, eternal life, and the Holy Spirit, among many others. In making these promises God runs the risk that his creation will fall in love with his blessings rather than Himself.

  • Read Acts 8:9-25  here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

A couple of years ago I was blessed to read the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. This blog post is inspired by one of the major takeaways I had from that book.

On p62-63 he writes,

Our love for Him always comes out of His love for us. Do you love this God who is everything, or do you just love everything He gives you? Do you really know and believe that God loves you, individually and personally and intimately? Do you see and know Him as Abba, Father?”

Later (p10-101) he quotes from John Piper’s book God is the Gospel.

If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?

This has been a powerful question in my life. Do I love God, or just what God does for me?

Heart Blessings 01I understand that to some extent it is not possible to separate God’s love from His loving actions. John 3:16 tells us that “God loved the world so much that he sent His only begotten Son…” The sending of Jesus arises directly out of God’s love for us. As a result, we know that God loves us because he sent His Son. God’s sending action reveals his loving heart.

I then need to ask myself, “Am I grateful that I’m saved, or do I love the person that loved me enough to save me? Will I be happy to go through life without that person now that I’m saved, or is my life empty without God’s presence?”

We all know the right answer to this question.

We all know that we’re supposed to say we love God, not just his blessings.

So how do we love God? How do we include his presence in our lives? Is prayer a chore? Do we hate getting out of bed on Sunday morning in time for Bible Class? Is regular Bible reading part of our life’s schedule? Do we enjoy spending time with Christians friends talking about God? Do we value spending time with the poor and hurting and sharing God’s love with them?

How do we love God?

If we have trouble answering that question, maybe we don’t love God? Perhaps we only love what God does for us.

Thankfully, that’s not a final state.

Acts 8 tells the story of Simon the sorcerer, who saw the apostles performing miracles with the power of the Holy Spirit and wanted some of that. Simon offered them money in exchange for the Holy Spirit’s power. In response, Peter seemed surprised that God didn’t instantly smite Simon. He told Simon Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.

That’s the good news. That we can repent. We can reorient our attention away from God’s blessings and toward God himself.  As we lean more upon the Holy Spirit in our lives and less upon our own abilities and priorities we can bring our lives into alignment with God’s values.

We’re not told much more about Simon. His closing words leave us wondering… Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.  Did he sincerely accept Jesus as his saviour? Did he learn to love God? Did he submit his life to God’s direction? Or are these final words a shallow effort to say the right thing and avoid God’s judgement?

However we view Simon’s response, his words provide hope for us all. When said with sincerity, our loving God forgives us and accepts us.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.

Posted by: ozziepete | 28 March, 2014

“All people” Means “That Person” Too

When we allow ourselves some honest reflection most of us will admit that we struggle to like some people. Some people make us uncomfortable. Some people offend us. Some people hurt us. Some people oppose God and our faith. Does God really want me to be thankful for these people?

  • Read 1 Timothy 2:1-7  here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

Here’s my key text for this discussion, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” A little later (v4) Paul reaches the climax of his thought when he writes that God “wants everyone to be saved…”.

Pray for ALL people. God wants EVERYONE to be saved.

The first meaning of verse 1 is that we should pray for the salvation of everyone. This means that our prayers for others are not limited by class, by race, by nationality, or by any other distinction we humans have a habit of creating. God loves all people equally and wants all people to receive His salvation.

Apparently Paul felt he needed to make this point because the church in Ephesus had decided to stop praying for the salvation of some groups. William Mounce (WBC, 78) cites a comment by Chrysostom in the fourth century relating to this passage. He sarcastically asks, “Was Christ then a ransom for the Heathen? Undoubtedly Christ died even for Heathen; and you cannot bear to pray for them.

In the context of 1 Timothy I find it fascinating that this instruction to pray for the salvation of all people arises out of the previous paragraph where Paul describes how he handed two men “over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.” (The NIV and ESV include the word “then” right at the start of this verse. It could also be the word “therefore”. This word connects chapters 1 and two as a continuous and related thought.) Paul encountered opponents. Paul encountered people who turned their back on God. Paul encountered people who discouraged him. In all of this his response is to pray for their salvation.

But then Paul takes it a step further. Not only are we to pray that all people may be saved. Not only are we to petition God on their behalf. We are to give thanks for them.

Did you catch that?

We’re to pray for ALL people and give thanks for ALL people. I’ll be honest. There are some people I would like to pray for like this,

God, I know you created this person. I know that you love and care for them. I know that you see the possibility of good within them. BUT, they just ………… me. They make me mad. They hurt me. They scare me. I don’t like them. I will pray for their salvation because I know you died for them and you can perform miracles, but please keep them away from me because I wish I’d never met them and I hope I never need to talk to them again.

But through Paul God challenges me to give thanks for these people.

So how can I be thankful for people who do me wrong?

Ever person and situation is different. When we struggle to love people and see God’s nature within them it will require we spend extra time talking our reservations over with God in prayer. Here’s some other thoughts that might prove helpful:

  • God is the source of all life, including that person who offends us.
  • Christ died for me when I was his enemy.
  • Each person is made in God’s image and contains that image in some way.
  • Jesus asked God to forgive those crucifying him as he hung on the cross.
  • More often than not the biggest problem is with me, not the other person. I need to examine my heart.
  • Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matt 5:44).
  • Sometimes our character is formed in fire. It’s not pleasant or easy, but it’s good for us.

I will leave with this exception. There are times when people have removed themselves so far from the influence of God in their lives and have caused so much hurt that it may not be humanly possible for us to give thanks for them. Certainly not in the short-term and maybe not ever. I think of a friend who had his wife and son shot by a church member. There’s nothing there to be thankful for. It would be macabre to insist that he thank God his family is dead or that he thank God he met the man who killed them. (You can follow God’s work in Les’ life at his blog,

In these extreme circumstances it is often all a person can do to present their grief, questions and accusations to God, rather than cursing Him.

Those of us blessed not to encounter these extreme circumstances need to work at praying for the salvation of all, and giving thanks for them. Yes, we should want to even give thanks for those who make our lives more difficult because they prompt us to grow our character in the image of Christ.

Posted by: ozziepete | 7 March, 2014

Mark 5: MERCY

I believe we each have a story of God’s mercy in our lives. Our faith story may not be as dramatic as some of those in the Bible, but we’ve each seen God’s hand working in our lives. God wants us talking about this. Jesus sends us to tell others what a difference He makes in our lives.

  • Read Mark 5:1-20 here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

Throughout the Gospel of Mark the proximity of Jesus’ ministry and demons glares at us. The first of Jesus’ miracles in Mark is an exorcism (1:21-28). When Jesus selects the Twelve (3:14-15) for special training to “send them out to preach and to have authority to drive our demons.” In 3:22 the teachers of the law accuse Jesus himself of being demon possessed and driving out demons by the power of the prince of demons.

In chapter 5 Jesus crosses into Gentile territory. Again, his first miracle among the Gentiles is another exorcism. When Jesus does send the Twelve out in 6:7 he “gave them authority over evil spirits” and in v13 we read that “they drove out many demons“. In 7:24-30 Jesus again enters Gentile territory and drives a demon out of a girl he doesn’t even see.

Then in chapter 9  immediately following his transfiguration Jesus descends the mountain to find the remaining apostles unable to cast out a demon. Jesus expels the demon and explains to the Twelve that “This kind can come out only by prayer.” A few verses later John tells Jesus of someone (not one of the Twelve) also casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus gives this anonymous disciple his approval as someone committed to the mission of the kingdom.

Unlike healings that are often linked to the faith of the individual, none of the specific examples of exorcism involve a request by the possessed person. Twice a parent approaches Jesus on their child’s behalf. Twice Jesus takes the initiative for the possessed person. He shows them mercy when they’re unable to ask for it.

All of that isn’t very important to the point of this post. Of all the exorcisms the story in chapter 5 provides the most detail.

Jesus disembarks from a boat in the middle of the night having calmed a storm that the Twelve thought was going to kill them. Suddenly out of a graveyard a wild man covered in cuts and chains emerges and runs toward them. At this point, I’m pretty sure the Twelve have jumped back in their boat and are again in the middle of the lake.

Jesus talks to the man and tells the evil spirit to come out of him. You can read the rest of the story for yourself. As Jesus climbs back in the boat the former demoniac asks to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your won people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you , and how he has had mercy on you.”

The word that grabs my attention in this story comes at the end of the section. What is the message that Jesus gives this man? Tell people how the Lord has had mercy on you. MERCY. The mission Jesus gives him doesn’t call for repentance, or predict a terrible judgment coming. His mission is to tell his story of God’s mercy in his life. When he tells his story of mercy he prepares the way for Jesus to come later.

In this sense he became a Gentile version of John the Baptizer because in 7:31 Jesus will return to the region and people will seek him out to heal their loved ones.

I believe we each have a story of God’s mercy in our lives. Our faith story may not be as dramatic as this man’s, but we’ve each seen God’s hand working in our lives. This is something God wants us to be talking about. God wants us to tell others what a difference He makes in our lives.

We may not recognise the demon-possessed people in our society as Jesus did, but we have those people who intimidate us. Sometimes we allow fear to prevent us from showing mercy. We see a person that intimidates us, maybe not a demoniac, but how about someone we know is gay? Does the vocal atheist in the workplace make us head for the boat as she approaches? Do we run from the kid in the schoolyard that bullies us, or that guy at church who’s always complaining? In Matthew 5:7 Jesus teaches us, Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Sometimes we become fixated on bringing unbelievers to a point of repentance. Sometimes we want to proclaim fiery judgement on all the moral decay we see around us. But that wasn’t his man’s job and it’s not always ours. Sometimes our job is simply to tell and demonstrate God’s mercy. Sometimes our job is just to plant seeds and allow God to make them grow.

This man didn’t hold a tent meeting with thousands of conversions. He did prepare the way for Jesus.

Do our conversations and lives prepare the way for Jesus? Do we present Jesus in a positive light so that down the road someone might be willing to learn more about him?

Sometimes it’s just about mercy.

And then we need to get back in our boat.

Posted by: ozziepete | 7 February, 2014

Mark 4: Faith

The word “faith” is often used as a noun to describe a set of beliefs. The word is also a noun that describes the motivation behind ones actions. Does God value one definition of “faith” over another?

  • Read Mark 4:35-41 here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

The person that gave us chapter divisions in the Bible provided some head scratchers. Mark 4 is one of these. Mark 4:1-34 contains a series of parables, while verse 35 launches a collection of four miracles that end with the ending of chapter 5. While it seems more logical to place the chapter division between verses 34 and 35 of chapter 4, we can also gain some valuable insight from the continuity of the traditional division.

In the parables Jesus lays out his vision for the kingdom of God. He gives the disciples he just called in 3:13-19 a primer on his mission and ministry. He begins with individual receptivity to the Gospel message, and closes describing his vision for the growth of the kingdom.

Then at the close of this section we’re given this summary,

With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

The disciples received the blessing of sitting at Jesus feet during his master class – Interpreting Parables & God’s Vision for His Kingdom 101.

Presumably they were sponges soaking in every word.

Taking detailed notes.

Asking questions of clarification.

They were building a strong faith.

What Jesus said made sense and they accepted it as truth.

They felt justified for leaving their homes, their families, their jobs, and their security to follow this teacher around the countryside.

As the disciples get in the boat with Jesus in v36 they probably felt pretty privileged and possibly even a little smug at all the learning they’d just received. The crowds didn’t understand it all, but Jesus had explained everything to them!

storm boatJesus then takes them on a trip to the wild side. They find themselves sitting in boat, in darkness, in the middle of severe storm. Fearing the boat is about to sink they wake Jesus in a panic. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” While their fear seems very natural, the question seems to irritate Jesus.

After commanding the storm to cease, Jesus confronts the Twelve, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?

The disciples’ question accused Jesus, the one whose call they had accepted, of not caring about them.  It questioned the core of their relationship with him. All those basic questions about Jesus’ identity the purpose of his mission, God’s motivation in sending him… All those notes they’d taken and teachings they’d heard… The faith they’d been so proud of when Jesus handed out the quiz scores from their earlier class… It all went by the wayside as they questioned the heart of Jesus, “Don’t you care…?

If Jesus’ humanity was anything like mine (and I presume it was) then he was quietly thrilled as he interacted with his disciples in the Master Class of v34. He rejoiced as their understanding and enthusiasm expanded. He celebrated their thirst for knowledge and the questions they asked.

But then, like preachers and teachers today, he wondered if it would really make a difference in their lives. Would these students exhibit lives of faith? Would they integrate the lessons learned into their daily routine? Would the words he spoke return to their thoughts when they encounter challenges? Will God’s truth lead to personal transformation?

I’m hardly breaking new ground by pointing out that faith is a two-sided coin. Scripture often contains the pattern of teaching followed by action. The lesson from Mark 4 demonstrates the importance of implementing head knowledge (faith) into our lives so that we live a life of faith.

I closed my sermon this week with the suggestion that we take some time to consider this question, “After all the Bible classes and sermons you’ve heard, what part of your life requires faith? What part of your life expresses your faith?

Posted by: ozziepete | 29 January, 2014

Mark 3 : PRIORITIES – Unity

Over the next 6 weeks I’m going to be preaching from chapter 3-8 in the Gospel of Mark. To cover these chapters in 6 weeks I’m going to focus upon one word from each chapter. In chapter 3 I’m providing the summary word “Priorities”.

  • Read Mark 3:13-35 here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

This passage in Mark has a “sandwich” structure. Verse 21 tells of Jesus’ family coming to confront him about his health and well-being. Verses 22-30 describe a  debate between Jesus and the Jewish scribes. Then verses 31-35 pick up with Jesus family approaching him.

This literary style uses two stories to emphasise a central point. It then becomes our task to identify the commonalities and learn from that point.

Here are a couple of themes that overlap:

Discipleship – In verses 13-19 Jesus calls The Twelve. These twelve disciples are appointed to “preach and cast out demons”. The calling of the Twelve provides a vital context for examining verses 20-35.

In verses 21 and 22 we meet two groups of people who do not accept the call to discipleship: Jesus’ family think he’s crazy, and the scribes accuse him of being possessed by the Prince of Demons! So when Jesus identifies his “family” as “whoever does God’s will” he is describing disciples. This combination provides a stark contrast. While some sit back and throw stones, even calling the work of the Holy Spirit demonic activity, Jesus’ loyalty is to those who accept the call to discipleship.

Unity – The central point of Jesus’ response to the scribes argues how illogical it is that Satan would cast out demons. That would indicate division in Satan’s kingdom and predict its resultant implosion. Satan wouldn’t do that. Jesus quotes or creates this proverb in v25, “ If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.

With that rebuttal ringing in our ears we turn our attention to v31-35. Although Jesus’ statement that his true family is not his biological family seems harsh, it emphasises the unity of God’s kingdom. Jesus will not desert his new disciples and his ministry even for some of his mother’s famous chicken noodle soup. Having called the Twelve to abandon everything he demonstrates a reciprocal commitment to them.

When I think of all the ways churches divide themselves and the little issues that become big issues I think it makes God sad. It certainly undermines the power of God’s kingdom. While Jesus gave his disciples priority over his family to encourage unity, too often Christians seem more willing to promote division than unity. We would all do well to remember that “ If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.

What do you sacrifice to promote unity in the body of Christ?

Posted by: ozziepete | 21 January, 2014

Love Your Samaritan

We all have dreams, ambitions, and goals for our lives. Some of us have written “bucket lists”. We think of things we’d like to do, and perhaps people we’d like to do them with. God wants us to expand our dreams.

  • Read Luke 10 here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

I didn’t really plan this intersection, but the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day I spoke on the topic of “Love Your Neighbour.”

We all have dreams, ambitions, and goals for our lives. Some of us have written “bucket lists”. We think of things we’d like to do, and perhaps people we’d like to do them with.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus challenges us to expand our dreams.

At times, we can get so caught up in “loving one another” (Jn 13:34) that we fail to raise our vision outside ourselves. God’s mission isn’t neat. God is holy and pure, but his mission is messy. If we’re going to join God’s mission we’re going to find ourselves with people who need rescue, not just with those who God’s already rescued.

Children of God experience so much of God’s love and grace, but what will we do with these blessings? Will we sit around congratulating ourselves that God loves us, or will we allow God to use us in spreading his love and grace into a hurting world? Will we sit on our pew and criticize the world “out there”, or will we work to make a difference? Will we highlight hurt, or will we provide healing?

Sadly we often spend more time pointing at problems than loving those people.

What are your dreams? We all have some sort of dreams and ambitions don’t we? Meet the right person? Find the right job? Fund my retirement? Travel? See my Grandchildren? Pay off my mortgage? Get out of school?

Jesus’ dreams featured making the lives of others better. In Jesus’ dreams he died for me. He also died and for you. Do you have a dream? Do you have a dream not only for your own life, but for the life of your community, for the lives of your neighbours? Do your dreams include your friends? Do your dreams include the Samaritans in your life? The people you don’t like, or the people you don’t care about?

Loving our neighbours means including Samaritans in our dreams. It means making our neighbourhood, our community, our world a better place for everyone.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Do this and you will live.

The life of Martin Luther King demonstrates what it means to include your neighbours in your dreams. Here are some of his famous speeches and writings.

The full version of King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

The following is excerpts from Dr King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and will take about 10 minutes to listen to. But you need to listen. Here is dispassionate discourse. Here is why Dr King was, and is, necessary. The person reading is not King. The images are commentary on the text. Please do yourself a favor and take the time to listen and watch.

The full recording of Dr King’s final speech before his death in Memphis. “I Have Been to the Mountaintop.”

Posted by: ozziepete | 15 January, 2014

Why Don’t People Love Me?

As Jesus watches Judas walk out the door to betray him and start the dominoes falling that will lead to his death, he gives his disciples a new command, “Love one another.” In saying this Jesus implicitly also tells us, “Let the church love you.” Which of those commands do you find easier?

  • Read John 13:33-35 here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

At Lawson Road we emphasise three “love commands” as part of a theme we call LR-cubed.

  1. The Great Command – Love the Lord your God.  (Matthew 22:37-38)
  2. The Second Command – Love your neighbour as yourself.  (Matthew 22:39)
  3. A New Command – Love one another. (John 13:34-35)

In this post I’m talking about the new command – Love one another.

I want to come at this command from a different perspective. We rightly think of this command as an attitude for us to integrate into our lives. It’s all about transforming the natural self focus into an other focus, beginning with those closest to us: our spiritual family.

Often overlooked in this command is the assumption that we want to be loved. And that we’ll let people love us.

self-made man

In our culture there’s a tremendous honor with being a self-made man or woman. We generally value rugged individualism more highly than great collaboration skills. A business launched from a garage gains more acclaim than one that results from years of study and education. This emphasis upon individual achievement encourages our society to hide our weaknesses. Vulnerabilities can only prevent us from achieving our goals.

So allowing ourselves to be loved actually pushes against some deeply ingrained cultural values.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul wrote about God “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

God’s strength isn’t made perfect in our self-sufficiency, or our inner strength, or our ability to resist temptation, or desire to “soldier on”. God’s strength becomes evident when we willingly share our limitations and weaknesses, and the areas of our lives where we need God to pick us up.

Is this Faith Development?

Here’s a process I often see. People start coming to church because we’ve got stuff going on in our lives that prompt us to question our bigger picture. The church loves us and helps us work through those issues. We discover our need of God and commit our lives to following Him, accepting Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins.

Then, once we’ve moved past those initial questions and problems we start to feel like God’s in our life and we should have our stuff together. God’s supposed to have “fixed” me, right? So we begin to keep our problems and struggles to ourselves. We begin to create distinctions between what’s for the church, and what’s personal. Even though deep personal issues may have brought us to this loving church in the first place, we develop a list of private topics that are off limits to others.

As this pattern evolves we paint ourselves into a corner to where we look up one day and say, “I don’t know if I really want the love of the church.” Deep inside we do, but we now realize it’s going to cost us something.  And we’ve grown comfortable over here.

We brought in the La-Z-Boy.

We’ve hung a couple of pictures.

I’ve got a flat screen on that wall, book shelf under it.

The coffee pot sits on the bookshelf.

Occasionally, we let people into our corner where we can have a polite conversation, perhaps about the problems a friend’s experiencing, or a book we’ve read recently. Very civil.

We long to share our pain and receive comfort, healing and renewal. In the deep places we long to break out of our corner, but to do so requires some words that we’re not ready to utter:

  • Boasting about weakness;
  • Confession (James 5:20);
  • Submission (Ephesians 5:21);
  • Accountability;
  • Transparency;
  • Openness; and
  • Authenticity.

Sadly, it’s often more comfortable to be eaten by a La-Z-Boy than to step out of the corner and share our hearts. But the church can never “love each other” if we never acknowledge and share our need for love.

How’s your heart? Will you let the church love you?

Posted by: ozziepete | 19 December, 2013

Where Is the God of Justice?

When Israel complained about God’s apparent detachment from their lives he responded by promising to first send a messenger to prepare the way for his coming. While the Israelites sought for God to free them from foreign oppression, instead God warned them that his application of justice would begin with them. In God’s eyes justice involves much more than political and military oppression, although they can be horrible. Justice also involves how society treats those living on the margins.

  • Read Malachi 2:17-3:5 here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

I recognise that this is an odd approach to thinking about the nativity. I’m taking this course because Mark 1:1 quotes Malachi 3:1 to introduce John the Baptist, who in turn introduces Jesus.

In Malachi 2:17 the prophet accuses Israel of “wearying God with your words”. One of the specific examples he offers is the question they ask, “Where is the God of justice?”

Ruled by the Persians, the Israelites longed for the return of autonomy. They apparently also longed to keep the tax money they paid to Persia. In their mind God should pour out just judgement upon the Persians and grant Israel freedom.

In response (3:1) God promises a “messenger who will prepare the way before me.” The messenger is only a precursor to the coming of God.  But when God himself appears, rather than bringing justice against the Persians he will appear and hold court in His temple in Jerusalem. The first to be judged will be his representatives, the Levites.

Since Mark 1:1 (and Jesus in Matthew 11:1-10) identify “the messenger” as John the Baptist then it seems natural to identify Jesus as the Lord and judge Malachi anticipates.

What fascinates me is the list of people going to be judged:

  • sorcerers,
  • adulterers,
  • perjurers,
  • employers who exploit their employees,
  • those who oppress the widows and orphans,
  • those who deprive foreigners of justice, (those who are inhospitable to the homeless. The Message)
  • anyone who does not honour God.

In our society when we think of justice we tend to think more like the Israelites than like God. Our list of people needing God’s justice might include: thieves, drunk or careless drivers who cause injuries, medical malpractice, politicians lining their pockets, big companies who hurt communities through pollution, gangs, drug dealers and anyone committing violence in our community.

The big discrepancy between God’s list and ours is his focus upon the margins of society. Sure he starts and ends with those who pursue other gods, but in between he cares for:

  • those betrayed by their spouse,
  • those abandoned by a corrupt judicial system,
  • unpaid employees
  • widows and orphans
  • foreigners, refugees, the homeless, those without family support systems.

How would our world be different if we defined justice by how these social groups are treated?

How would our churches be different if we expressed God’s justice by addressing these issues?

In Jesus’ ministry we also see that he didn’t bring the style of justice the public expected.

Like Jonah and Micah, “the messenger”, John the Baptist, first came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) Then in Mark 1:15 we see Jesus message summarised in similar terms “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

The justice Jesus first preached wasn’t condemnation and destruction, it was repentance and forgiveness. We also find God’s concern for the poor and defenceless throughout the New Testament. The very setting of Jesus birth, in a stable, places him among the homeless. His parents then flee to Egypt as refugees to escape Herod’s persecution. In Matthew 25 Jesus identifies himself with the marginal when he says “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Over in James 1:27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

These messages of justice didn’t appear in a vacuum, they reflect God’s heart as expressed in Malachi 3.

Nelson Mandela recently died at age 95. The fall of apartheid in South Africa may not have been quite as dramatic as the fall of the Berlin wall, but it was equally profound. Mandela became the figurehead of the movement pushing for change and was the first president of South Africa post-apartheid.

By the end of his life, Mandela had grown to become an icon for forgiveness and reconciliation. As a leading representative of a marginal and oppressed class of society, it would have been so easy for him to call for justice in the form of retribution and violence. Instead, like Jesus, he modeled the peaceful, but difficult, path of forgiveness.

The baby in the manger was the God of justice the world sought. But for the world to recognise Him we need first to accept His definition of justice and sacrifice ours.

HERE’S some more reading on this text from Malachi.

Posted by: ozziepete | 11 November, 2013

Ostrich vs Attack Dog

ostrich head sandI wish ostrich tactics worked. In my utopia ignoring hurts, problems, conflicts and sins would make them disappear. I know some people with the opposite personality. These people seem to thrive on on comforting hurts, solving problems, negotiating conflicts and correcting sin. It’s overly simple to say one of these approaches is more correct than the other.

  • Read 1 Corinthians 5-6 here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here soon.

In 1 Corinthians Paul writes to address issues that are causing division within the church. In that sense he assumes the role of peacemaker. I don’t know about you, but when I think of peacemaker I think of someone softly spoken who respects each person in the room and seeks to foster a spirit of understanding between the parties. Generally, this is a person who is mostly warm and fuzzy.

Paul takes a very different approach to peacemaking in these early chapters. In chapters 1-4 he tells the various parties, “You’re all wrong.”

Now in chapters 5 and 6 he jumps in the deep end of the doo-doo pool and addresses sexual ethics! (At times in this letter it seems the only unity he’s going to create is that everyone will be upset with him!) His first response to the blatant sexual sin tolerated by the Corinthian church is to kick the man out of the church. “Hand this man over to Satan“. Wow!

I don’t know what that means, but it sounds bad.

Our culture often encourages us all to go through life with our heads buried in the sand. Sin is subjective. Conflict is bad. Judging is terrible.

On the other hand it seems evangelical Christians have a special mission of shining the spotlight on moral decay in society.

In 5:12-13 Paul lays down a basic principle that many people seem to overlook.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

Sadly, my initial inclination is exactly the opposite. I want to avoid uncomfortable conversations with people I know. It’s far easier to point the finger of condemnation at at broad segments of society or at individuals I’ll probably never meet.

Although the words in this passage seem harsh, the loving side of Paul’s motivation is revealed in 5:5, “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Despite the depraved nature of his actions in sleeping with his father’s wife, this man is not beyond the scope of God’s grace. If he will repent, Christ will still claim him as His own on the day of His return.

It’s easy to be critical of this situation. The sin seems obvious and extreme.

Likewise in chapter 6 Paul confronts the issue of Christians taking other Christians to court. In the course of this discussion he lists behaviours that will exclude people from the kingdom of God. Then he writes this powerful testimony to the grace and mercy of God.

And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

The church is no place for pride or smug superiority. We were all outside God’s kingdom before Jesus let us in. We were all condemned in our sins before Jesus removed them. We were all separated from God before His Spirit moved within us.

From this whole ugly episode I’ve extracted a couple of principles.

  1. Sweeping sin under the rug doesn’t produce unity.
  2. When addressing sin in the life of another, remember who you were before you met Jesus. In fact, let’s just make that a mindset, whoever we’re interacting with.

If you lean towards approaching life as an ostrich, we learn from this passage the importance of confronting sin. Sin never heals itself. It always requires intervention.

If you find yourself relating more to an attack dog, Paul reminds us of the grace we’ve received and the grace we need to give. Yes, God calls us to confront sin, but the attitude with which we do so is vital. We point out sin not because we’re somehow superior, but because we care about the person caught up in the sin. We judge others not because we want to condemn them, but because we want them to repent and receive the forgiveness they need.

How about you? Which of these principles do you find the most difficult to apply?

Posted by: ozziepete | 4 November, 2013

When the Heart Hurts

Today’s post is the latest in a series of guest posts centered around my church’s annual theme of “Healthy Hearts”. This month’s contributor is Tim Gunnels. Tim blogs about Christian Spirituality at and he is currently writing a book about spiritual transformation. You’ll find a more complete bio at the end of the article.

The late Dallas Willard was a professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, and devout disciple of Jesus Christ. Willard challenged people without being difficult.  He wished for everyone to pursue their own spirituality, but he came at it from a Christian worldview. Though he wrote several books related to spiritual formation, two were most influential on me, Renovation of the Heart and Revolution of Character.

In Renovation of the Heart, Willard suggests that there are six basic aspects of every person’s life.[1] The six aspects are 1) thought, 2) feeling, 3) choice, 4) body, 5) social context, and 6) soul. True spiritual formation, he says (and I agree), takes place when these six essential parts of the human self are effectively organized around God.[2]  In Revolution of Character, Willard exchanges “thought and feeling” for “heart”.

“The ideal of the spiritual life occurs when all six essential parts of the human self are effectively attuned to God as they are restored and sustained by him.  Spiritual formation in Christ is the process leading toward that ideal end—the self fully integrated and attuned to God.  To mature in spiritual formation means to love God with all of the heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.” [3]

Here is the bottom line.  All the parts of our life are interrelated.  Our thoughts and feelings influence our choices.  Our body is the part of us involved in the physical world around us, and it does the things that we choose based on our thoughts and feelings. Our social context is our interpersonal relationships with others, and certainly we cannot separate our thoughts, feelings, choices, or body from those relationships.  The soul is the part that integrates the other five into one unit.

In the remainder of this post, I want to elaborate a little more on the role of thoughts and feelings (the “heart”) on our well-being, generally, and our spiritual maturity, specifically.  So, for our purposes, I will refer to them collectively as “the heart”.

desert landscape 02

I have suffered through two major depressions in my adult life.  The first was brought on by unresolved grief and newfound loneliness shortly after I graduated from college.  I had lost a dear friend to death, and I had not dealt with it appropriately.  I also had moved to a small town where there was no one my age and little to occupy me.  In the second instance, I became emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted while trying to mediate a terrible situation between three families.  I gave everything I had and it was more than I could bear.  I entered into the darkness a second time, but with several things in my corner: a wonderful wife, a dear friend who was a nurse, and a great church support system.  Plus, I had been through this before, and I knew better how to work through it.

The reason I am sharing this is because it is directly related to “the heart”.  Again, “the heart” combines thoughts and feelings.  Both times that I was depressed, my heart became heavy and overwhelmed with stress and grief.  My thoughts turned inward and self-centered.  I was filled with dread.  I began to feel sorry for myself and could no longer see anyone else’s needs.  My thoughts focused solely on me and my own miseries.  My feelings were raw.  Everything agitated me.  Everything pushed me over the edge emotionally.  My “heart” was not functioning properly.  It was not organized around God; it was organized around Tim.

My Dad (a minister and counselor) had given me a book around 1990 that I had in my library but had never read.  During my first depression back in 1992, I saw it on my bookshelf.  It was “Telling Yourself the Truth” by William Backus and Marie Chapian.  The concepts were simple and Biblical.  When we turn inward and focus on the negative in our lives, we become anxious and depressed.  However, when we begin to think about our blessings and turn “the heart” outward toward others and toward things that are excellent and praiseworthy, we begin to become healthy again.

One of the suggestions in the book is to take out a piece of paper and write out all the things that are good in your life.  Write out all the blessings, all the positives, all the things that are going well and then think about these things every day.  Invariably, those who are depressed believe that the whole world has turned on them and that nothing is okay anymore.  The truth is that that is a lie.  We must tell ourselves the real truth.  The truth is that we have a lot of things going well for us, even when a lot of things are bad.  When we recognize the good, the bad begins to diminish.  We need to turn our thoughts more toward God and hand our feelings (emotions) over to Him.  When we do these things then our life choices will impact how we treat our body, how we interact with other people, and thus lead to a healthier soul.

I am not saying that this is the cure for everyone’s depression.  In fact, if you are feeling hopeless, helpless, and overwhelmed by anxiety, then you should seek professional help right away (that is what I did).  By all means, go see your family doctor, talk with a friend, or make an appointment with a counselor or minister.  Whatever you do, don’t believe the lie that life can never be better again.

When we get caught up in the idea that life is all about us, then we are headed down a dangerous road.  Instead, we should focus on our blessings, turn our anxieties over to God, and start telling ourselves the truth.  The truth is threefold:  I need a relationship with the One who made me and knows me best; I need to recognize that there are other people in my world who need me and need to be served; I need to turn to God in prayer and my thinking to things that are pure, lovely, and admirable.  Then, the peace of God will guard my heart.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:6-8)

[1] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), 30-31.

[2] Ibid, 31.

[3] Don Simpson and Dallas Willard, Revolution of Character: Discovering Christ’s Pattern for Spiritual Transformation (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005), 23-37.

Tim Gunnells has been in full-time ministry for over 20 years, serving churches in Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  He is currently the senior minister for the Canyon Church of Christ in Phoenix, Arizona and was recently named the Director of University Relations for Amridge University ( in Montgomery, Alabama.  Tim holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Harding School of Theology.

Tim Gunnells has been in full-time ministry for over 20 years, serving churches in Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  He is currently the senior minister for the Canyon Church of Christ in Phoenix, Arizona and was recently named the Director of University Relations for Amridge University ( in Montgomery, Alabama.  Tim blogs about Christian Spirituality at and he is writing a book about spiritual transformation.  Tim holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Harding School of Theology.

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