On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘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 neighbour as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The road to Jericho was known as “the bloody way”. One man found out just how dangerous the road was - robbers stripped him, beat him and left him half dead. He was a Jew. A priest and a Levite soon came along and saw him, one of their own, and each passed by on the other side of the road. They didn't want to get involved in the man's needs. In passing by the man they both passed by the clear teaching of the Bible to have mercy on even strangers in need (Leviticus 19:34). They appear to have put their schedule above their purpose.
A Samaritan appears. Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. All of the Samaritan’s training and experience should have led him to step on the poor victim not just step around him. Nevertheless, against all comprehension, the Samaritan "took pity on him." His compassion was full-bodied, leading him to meet a variety of needs - friendship, emergency medical treatment, transport, financial subsidy for accommodation, and a follow-up visit.
This parable is provocative. Jesus attacks the complacency of comfortable religious people who protect themselves from the needs of others. In the very last phrase we have nothing less than an order from our Lord in the clearest of terms, "Go and do likewise." Our paradigm is the Samaritan who risked his safety, destroyed his schedule, and became dirty and bloody through personal involvement with a needy person of another race and social class.
The expert in the Law didn't deny that the poor man needed caring for - who would? - he questions whether it's his responsibility. Are we not tempted to put limits on mercy too? You could imagine the expert as a typical Westerner: doesn't charity begin at home? I'm busy! Isn't it the government's job? I barely have enough money for myself. Aren't many of the poor simply irresponsible? I can't possibly make a difference.
Bible believing Christians have avoided the radical nature of the teaching of this parable. At most, we have heard it telling us to collect tins of food
and warm clothing for the needy each Christmas and winter, or to give money to relief agencies when there is a famine or earthquake in a distant country.
It is time to listen more closely to this parable. We live on the Jericho Road. Suffering and need surrounds us. Unemployment, underemployment, new
migrants, loneliness, broken homes, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health, the elderly, the dying, the sick, the disabled, the homeless.
These are our neighbours. Do we want to reach them with the good news of the gospel of the Lord Jesus? Then we must give our faith active expression
through deeds of compassion coupled with evangelism and discipleship. Ministry of mercy to our 'neighbour' is the responsibility of every Christian.
It is as fundamental to Christian living as evangelism, giving and worship.
It’s important to remember the context of this parable or we will easily fall into moralism. Jesus is seeking to humble us with the love God requires, so that we will be willing to receive the love God offers. Jesus' goal was to show the expert in the Law that he was desperately poor and in need. Imagine the most unsightly, smelly, decrepit homeless person, mindlessly wandering the streets in filthy rags. He has no resources at all. He has nothing to commend him. That is what we all are before God. Jesus was trying to show the self-assured, self-confident, self-justified law expert his own desperate need, and how God has mercifully met it. God has provided spiritual wealth by impoverishing his own Son. Jesus' spiritual riches and righteousness is given to those who trust him rather than themselves. The only true and enduring motivation to show mercy and meet need is an experience and a grasp of the mercy of God towards us in the gospel of the Lord Jesus. If we know that we are desperately needy sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God alone, we will be open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely.
This issue of mercy is something that we'll be looking at a little more closely during Mission Month. It will challenge us biblically on the issue of mercy and justice - an area that evangelicals are traditionally weak in (people like me). One of our corporate goals is to raise $10 000 for Ropes Crossing Anglican Church which ministers in the Mount Druitt area of Sydney. We’ll also seek to raise a further $5000 to resource our current ministries of mercy in ESL and Grace Ministries (ministry to sex workers in Chatswood).
Mission month is not to be our only response to the Good Samaritan, it is part of the journey towards us growing as a church of love and mercy because we are growing more in our experience and grasp of God's love and mercy towards us. Those who are loved much, love much.
‘Leadership’ is a word that is shared by Christians and non-Christians alike, but the concept of leadership can often be quite different. Last night I watched a documentary on the rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. He ruled Libya for 41 years, initially as a revolutionary with a vision for Libya’s prosperity then as a despot who would torture and murder anyone who threatened his rule. He declared himself the “King of Kings of Africa” later in his rule. He went mad with grandiose visions of himself before being murdered by his own people in 2011. At the time of his death he had amassed personal wealth of approximately $200 billion (3 times richer than the official richest person in the world at the time), while his country starved under the weight of UN sanctions.
Jesus gives us a clear vision of the character of Christian leadership when he contrasted it with the standard form of leadership his disciples experienced in their world: ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10:42-45). These words are the reversal of all human ideas of rank and greatness and personal ambition. If we define greatness as this world does then we end up with leaders (and church members) motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency pursuing self-ambition for the purpose of self-glorification. We are surrounded by this definition of greatness and leadership but it is in stark contrast with the pursuit of leadership as the bible defines it: serving others for the glory of God.
As a church we desire for all leadership, as we do for all members, to live out our corporate life together under God by embracing our core values: Christ-Centred Bible Saturation, Devotion to Prayer, Radical Generosity, Humble Authenticity, Treasuring Jesus Together, Servant Leadership, Local and Global Impact. All leadership is to united around our Mission, Vision and Core Values, and setting an example in Christian discipleship and maturity. Too often, churches appoint leaders based on longevity in the church, or as a representative of a particular ‘constituent’ within the church. The other danger in our church tradition is to appoint leaders who have Biblical literacy and theological knowledge without really assessing whether they have ‘heart disease’. That is, people who have a dysfunctional personal relationship with the Word of God, where the study of the Bible becomes a world of correct ideas rather than a world of submission to the Lord whom those ideas introduce and define. We want leaders who know the God of the Bible personally and are living it out for all to see.
There is so much more that could be said about Christian leadership but it is the crucial foundation that we are to bring to our Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Monday 20th March. At the AGM we get to elect part of the leadership of St Paul’s, particularly Wardens and Parish Councillors.
A number of years ago the Parish Council of St Paul’s went through a process of re-thinking the structure of our leadership and governance. In the context of seeking to resource Vision 2020 more effectively, the Wardens and Parish Council decided it is appropriate to move away from a traditional model of governance in an Anglican church, and move towards a model which provides accountability for the Mission, Vision, Core Values and the setting of goals and policies to guide the Senior Minister and staff.
The following is a summary of the leadership and governance model that fits within the guidelines of the Sydney Anglican Churches Administration Policy, and yet ensures that the key issues of authority, power and humility are addressed for good governance. St Paul’s Wardens and Parish Council have been working to this model since 2011.
Clarification of St Paul’s Roles
1. The Head of the Church - Jesus Christ
The cornerstone to the structure of St Paul’s leadership is the belief that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:22, 5:23). As a result, God’s will must be sought for our church in all circumstances. In order for this to occur, the members of St Paul’s must acknowledge God’s Word as authoritative and it must be taught with love, obedience and reverence for God himself. The Lord Jesus leads, rules, guides and cares for his people by his Word, as it is read, taught, believed and obeyed.
In the Bible, it is clear that as the Head of the Church, Jesus intends His church leaders to be responsible for leading, teaching and caring for the church (Rom 12:8; cf. 1 Pet 5:1 – 14; Heb 13:17). The leaders of the church are referred to as: “elders” (Acts 20:17; 1 Tim 5:17); “overseers” (Acts 20:28; Phi 1:1); “leaders” (Rom 12:8; 1 The 5:12); and “pastor/teachers” (Eph 4:11). These terms are used in the New Testament to ensure servant hearted leadership in the church. Therefore, the priority of church leaders is to equip and empower the church members for the work of the Gospel (Eph 4: 11 – 13).
2. Parish Council
The Parish Council is a democratically elected body of church members whose primary role is to:
a) seek God’s agenda for St Paul’s policies and procedures and to be custodians of them;
b) keep the Senior Minister accountable to the Mission, Vision, Core Values and ministry goals of St Paul’s; and
c) model personal discipleship.
The Wardens are members of Parish Council who act in two ways:
a) they have a special responsibility to oversee the finances and property of the church including the appointment of a Treasurer and signing off on the Annual Financial Reports for the church
b) they are the Executive body of the Parish Council who work with the Senior Minister to:
a. make decisions relating to finances and property issues week by week;
b. assist the Senior Minister as a sounding board on other issues such as staffing;
c. keep the Senior Minister accountable to the Mission, Vision, Core Values and ministry goals of St Paul’s; and
d. model personal discipleship.
4. Senior Minister
The Senior Minister is appointed to St Paul’s by the Anglican Archbishop of
Sydney. The Senior Minister’s primary role is to:
a) teach the members of St Paul’s the Word of God;
b) lead the members of St Paul’s to maturity in Christ and grow God’s Kingdom;
c) lead the intercession for the members of St Paul’s;
d) cast Vision for the direction of St Paul’s, and organise around the Vision;
e) recruit and lead a staff team to achieve the Vision;
f) raise funds for the Vision; and
g) model personal discipleship.
Each staff member is appointed by the Senior Minister with the assistance of the Parish Council to:
a) evangelise, teach, equip and empower church members for the work of the Gospel;
b) fulfil the Vision of the church as a team under the leadership of the Senior Minister; and
c) model personal discipleship.
Decision Making Structure
One of the keys to good governance for any organisation, especially for churches, is for authority, power and humility to line up appropriately for decision making. One way of stating it is that the people who have been given authority to lead, exercise power to make decisions (use power), for the sake of others (humility). Used in this way, power is a positive term. It is simply the ability to implement decisions that one has the authority to make, and for the sake of others (rather than self). My own experience of churches is that too often it is people with power, but without authority, making decisions for their own ‘constituents’ and preferences rather than the pursuit of a corporate vision. In this system there is no accountability for the use of power.
This new governance model allows for mutuality of authority and accountability for all church members. The Parish Council and Wardens are elected and empowered by the church members to take care of the well-being of the church. The Parish Council has final say in policy matters, finances and property in consultation with the Senior Minister. The Parish Council, in turn, empowers the Senior Minister to lead the church with the staff. As a result, the Senior Minister has final say on Executive Matters relating to theology, vision and direction in consultation with the Parish Council. The Staff and Volunteer Leaders are freed up to make Operational Decisions that will practically assist ministry programs. The following table provides a clear structure to the decision making process.
Decision Making Level
Parish Council decides Policy matters with input from Senior Minister
Senior Minister decides Executive matters with input from Parish Council
Senior Minister decides Executive matters with input from Staff
Staff decide Operational matters with input from Volunteer Leaders
Volunteer Leaders decide Operational matters
“Policy Matters” refers to the governing guidelines by which St Paul’s is run. This includes:
• Financial policies and budget approval
• Church constitution issues set by the Sydney Anglican Diocese
• Human resource policies e.g. senior staff employment, staff recruitment policy, etc.
• Major goals for the church e.g. 5 year goals
• Holding the Senior Minister accountable for policies and goals set for the church.
“Executive Matters” refers to the theology, vision & values and church strategy by which St Paul’s is run. This includes ministry and operational matters such as:
• Church stand on important issues e.g. divorce and remarriage, church discipline, mode of baptism, leadership structure, etc
• Ministry vision and direction
• Ministry strategy, priorities and supporting goals.
“Operational Matters” refers to the practical operational outworking of the Executive matters of vision and strategy via ministry programs and organisation, for example:
• Ministry programs
• Ministry logistics and administration (operations)
• Ministry details.
St Paul’s Wardens and Parish Council has changed over the years to accommodate for a larger sized church which brings with it an increase in complexity, staffing, volunteer numbers and administration issues. The Parish Council has an oversight and accountability responsibility in relation to the Senior Minister and Wardens. The monthly Parish Council meetings are an opportunity for the Senior Minister and Wardens to demonstrate how they have been living out the Mission and achieving the Vision, goals and policy decisions of the Parish Council.
Each AGM we seek church members who have demonstrated a clear commitment to the Mission, Vision, and Core Values of St Paul’s to nominate for Parish Council and Warden roles (and others). Prayerfully consider whether you will stand, nominate another, and who you will vote for come the 20th March.
Ever had that terrible feeling at Christmas that you’ve forgotten something important? Maybe you forgot to put the turkey in the oven before you came to church? Maybe the present for the Aunty who’s coming for lunch? Maybe that Christmas card that you meant to send to someone important, until you got a card from them in the mail on Friday. Or maybe it’s the scenario from the movie Home Alone? Remember the scene? The whole family is on the plane heading to France for the Christmas holidays, and they realise they’ve forgotten Kevin. Kevin is home alone.
I remember seeing a Playmobil advent calendar many years ago. It was a nativity scene complete with a stable, with stars, a horse, a cow, sheep, a feed trough, and even an angel. Right at the centre of it all, the focus of everyone’s attention, was Santa Claus! They’ve left out the most important person of all - Jesus. Jesus, the reason for the season, is nowhere to be found.
They made a pretty big blunder. They had forgotten Jesus. However, I want to say that Christmas is not just about remembering Jesus, but adoring him. Christmas is not first about witness, but about worship. So, come, all ye faithful. Come, joyful and triumphant. Let us adore our Christ.
We also need to beware of our standard of who we think can come in worship. At Jesus’ own birth, it wasn’t the squeaky-clean, religious elites of biblical faith who bowed the knee in worship. Rather, they bowed their back, and it was the ‘dirty pagans’ who streamed in to adore him.
We need look no further than the Magi of Matthew 2 for our model of the “faithful.” To call them “three kings” is overstated. “Wise men” is positive spin. These guys are more like sorcerers. They are star-gazing, pagan astrologers, watching for who-knows-what in the skies, rather than the Scriptures, and God in his grace comes to them through the very channel of their sin. Even here at Jesus’ birth, he is making wizards into worshipers worldwide. Even from the priestly class of pagan religion. Don’t miss the message of the magi: If such sinners as these can approach the Christ and fall down in worship, so may all. Pagan astrologers prostrate in adoration is a stunning emblem announcing that all sinners may come.
You know the well-worn lines from Matthew 2:10–11. But let’s travel these trails again and see the magi adore the Jewish Messiah. When they saw the star [resting over the place where the child was], they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew piles up the joy language so that we don’t miss it. They didn’t just rejoice, but did so exceedingly. Added to that, they did so “with joy” — and even more, “great joy.”
Perhaps we would have thought of the shepherds in Luke 2 as the crazy emotional types, while these scholarly pagan astrologers keep calm and collected. But the joy language explodes here in Matthew 2 with even greater gusto than Luke 2 when the angels announced “good news of a great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10) and the shepherds “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). Here our wicked wizards, Matthew says, “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”
Such explosive joy is not disconnected from their worship of the baby Jesus. Exceedingly great joy is the stuff of true adoration. The essence of worship is not physical actions and mere motions of homage. At its heart, worship is in “spirit and truth,” as Jesus says in John 4 — true things about Jesus and a spirit of great joy about him — spiritually looking to Jesus and rejoicing exceedingly with great joy.
But what does it mean here that the astrologers “worshiped” this child? Did they know he was God in the flesh? Were they worshiping him as the God-man? They may merely be paying homage to one whom they anticipate will be a great earthly king. Maybe. Perhaps the magi heard from Jewish exiles in Babylon about the Balaam prophecy in Numbers 24:17, “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” It seems more is going on here. If by “worship,” Matthew merely means that they paid him homage, as subjects pay homage to their king, then it seems odd to travel so far and redundant to say “they fell down.”
Falling down is the physical posture, but “worship” is what is going on in their hearts as they see this newborn king who will reign not only over Israel but the whole world, thus making them his subjects even though they aren’t Israelites
At least in some sense, they are worshiping better than they know, and Matthew wants us to see that. In chapter one, he has already told us of the virgin conception and that this baby is called “Immanuel, God with us” (Matthew 1:23) and that he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). In this Gospel, Matthew will unfold the surprising story of how this child born king will walk an excruciating path to his cosmic reign — a path literally excruciating, in dying odiously, and sacrificially, on a Roman cross en route to glory.
Since we Christians now know more, we adore him all the more, and come to Christmas with no less joy than these emotionally enthused magi. Our Christmas worship is more like these star-gazing “wise men” than it is of the scrupulous Jerusalem religious elite, who know their Scriptures, but won’t bow their knee. We come as sinners, struggling, unclean, unimpressive. But it doesn’t mean we come joyless here to this Christmas season.
Our Lord Jesus is marvellously merciful — because his arrival is Grace Incarnate (Titus 2:11 - For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people), because he came to seek and save lost (Luke 19:10 - For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost), to call the sinners (Matthew 9:12 - On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners), to serve the spiritually broken (Mark 10:45 - For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many), and destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8 - The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work) — we come joyful and triumphant.
Sinners come, even in star-gazing rebellion so great as ours, and we adore Christ the Lord with joy — rejoicing exceedingly with great joy. Come, let us adore him.
God’s grace to you this Christmas season,
The Rev’d Dr John Stott died in 2012 after a public ministry that lasted more than 60 years. In 2005, Time magazine ranked Stott among the 100 most influential people in the world. He wrote over 50 books. He wrote his last book at the age of 88 (two years before he died) titled The Radical Disciple. Stott asserts that the main reason he wrote the book was that we who claim to be disciples of the Lord Jesus will not provoke him to say again: ‘Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46). For genuine discipleship is wholehearted discipleship (p.16). Basic to all Christian discipleship is our resolve not only to address Jesus with polite titles, but to follow his teaching and obey his commands. Stott makes an interesting point in the preface of Radical Disciple: Both words (Christian and disciple) imply a relationship with Jesus, although perhaps ‘disciple’ is the stronger of the two because it inevitably implies the relationship of pupil to teacher. The title 'Christian' means a whole range of things in our culture. The title 'disciple of the Lord Jesus' is somewhat more specific.
The final characteristic of the radical disciple of the Lord Jesus that Stott deals with in his book is death. He writes: Christianity offers life - eternal life, life to the full. But it makes it plain that the road to life is death…Life through death is one of the profoundest paradoxes in both the Christian faith and the Christian life…The radical biblical perspective is to see death not as the termination of life but as the gateway to life…In short, the Bible promises life through death, and it promises life on no other terms (p115, 117).
The paradox of life through death has profound implications for the life of discipleship. Jesus himself puts it bluntly: Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35).
If we had lived under Roman occupation in Palestine and seen someone carrying a cross we’d know immediately they were a condemned criminal on the way to execution. This is the dramatic image Jesus chose to help his disciples understand the level of commitment Jesus expects. Jesus expects his disciples to deny themselves. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” What is more, according to Luke we are to take up our cross every day (Luke 9:23), and if do not do so we cannot be Jesus’ disciple (Luke 14:27).
Jesus’ words about ‘saving’ and ‘losing’ our ‘life’, although can be applied to martyrdom, are not restricted to it. The word ‘Life’ = SELF. So a way to paraphrase Jesus would be, whoever is determined to hold onto themselves and live for themselves, will lose themselves. But whoever is willing to die, to lose themselves, to give themselves away in the service of Christ and the gospel, will (in the moment of complete abandon) find themselves, and discover their true identity and deepest satisfaction and joy. Jesus promises true self-discovery at the cost of self-denial; true life at the cost of death.
I look forward to this time each year at St Paul’s, our annual Vision series. It is a time when I call us as a church, and myself, to ‘die a little more’ in order to live a little more. It is time to give up some more…surrender some more…commit to Jesus some more...obey Jesus some more...and find more freedom and joy in Jesus as we do. It is explicit in our church's mission statement: Know Jesus, Treasure Jesus and Represent Jesus for God's glory and the joy of all people. When we make much of Jesus for the glory of God we discover our deepest joy.
This is the 8th Vision series I’ll be leading us through at St Paul’s. Way back in 2009 I launched Vision 2020, the next phase in the over 100 year history of ministry at St Paul’s. In launching Vision 2020, my intention was to lead us into a new era of significant personal sacrifice for the glory of God in our area. My call then is the same today: may we tremble, not with fear that it will cost so much to achieve Vision 2020, but with fear that God will be displeased that we did not aim at something greater. May we tremble not that the price is too high but that the Vision be too small. Our purpose statement and our core values at St Paul’s call us to be radical disciples of the Lord Jesus.
In the years since 2009 quite a lot of attention has been on our purpose statement, and our Core Values, as we have gone through the process of rediscovering who we are as a church and disciples of the Lord Jesus. The consistent message from the leadership of St Paul’s is that Jesus is the greatest treasure anyone could have.
What excites me for this Vision series is that this journey of rediscovery of purpose has led to clarity on what we are to do. That is, knowing what we are to do is a consequence of who we are. For the past 18 months or so I’ve had a secret concern that we needed to have a clear vision of what we are seeking to do as a church. Purpose and values were clear but where was it leading us? What are we seeking to do as a church? What is the vision of a better future that would keep us moving forward and see people treasuring Jesus with us? This Vision series I will be taking us through a vision that will shape our ministry practices into the foreseeable future.
When I launched Vision 2020 back in 2009 it included a vision statement (along with a new purpose, core vales and strategies). I jettisoned the vision statement almost as soon as the ink was dry! It is still in print around the place but it has never shaped our planning for the future. Seven years later it would seem our vision has found us. In July this year a small group of our leadership were away, working on what is next for us as a church, when our vision for the future became clearer. Since July I have been refining the core concepts of our vision with Parish Council, Staff and a few other leaders in order to bring it before the whole church this Vision series. These past months of discussion has led us to the following:
St Paul’s exists (Purpose): To know Jesus, treasure Jesus, and represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people…THEREFORE…
(Vision) we are united in our desperation for the world around us to encounter Jesus, and our desire to represent the diversity of Chatswood.
Over the four weeks of this year’s Vision series I plan to preach on four key implications of this visions statement; what it means for our unity, our diversity, the world around us, and for us both individually and corporately. I’m excited about this vision because it so clearly flows out of who we are, and connects with so many of our passions and values as a church.
Seeking to die to self a little more this Vision series,
Steve Jeffrey - Senior Minister
I am often amazed by the ways in which God works. Even though I probably shouldn't be, I am regularly surprised by the ways in which God has orchestrated circumstances, relationships, opportunities and all areas of my life to achieve his purposes. Sometimes it feels like he has been leading me in a really obvious direction but its not until I’ve nearly arrived that I begin to realise where he is taking me. And then, of course, I get the chance to rejoice as I recognise his goodness right throughout the journey up to that point.
It feels like we, as a church, are in a similar situation right now. Recently the Purpose Pastors spent a few days away together praying and planning for the future. We were trying to seek God’s mind and heart for us as a church and as we did so we had what I can only describe as a ‘God moment’. Having stepped back from the day to day pressures of ministry we were probably for the first time, able to see with clarity what God has been building among us and what we believe God is calling us to pursue as we move forward.
It was a hugely encouraging time as we began to recognise and give thanks for what God has already done among us, for the ways he has been shaping our hearts. And I think we all had trouble sleeping that night as we begun to dream about what the future would hold if we boldly, prayerfully and sacrificially pursued the vision that God was laying before us.
God has been bringing new people to join our community, calling people to follow him, we’ve seen people place their trust in Jesus and be baptised. We’ve seen guests among us every week in our services, new ministries and new opportunities to share God’s love with our community, imagine what could be next!
As a result of our time away we have begun the process of crafting a new vision statement for St Paul’s. An explicit goal and something to measure ourselves by. A statement that would answer the question ‘What are we trying to achieve?’ It’s the bit after our purpose statement, which in case you’ve forgotten is:
St Paul’s exists to know Jesus, treasure Jesus and represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people.
Our vision statement begins with the word ‘therefore’, as a result of our reason for existing we hope to achieve something, and that something is what we believe God has been clarifying for us over the last few months.
During this year’s Vision Series we will unveil this statement which has been worked on by staff, parish council and several key volunteers. This Vision Series will be our opportunity as a whole church to grab hold of that vision and own it. An opportunity for us to realign all that we do as a church so that we can be single minded in our commitment to achieving what God is putting in front of us.
This year we will begin our Vision Series in a reoriented church! Our 9.30 congregation has been bursting at the seams this year and in order to create space for more growth we will be turning the church sideways internally, which will create upwards of 80 extra seats! But not only that, it will also enable us to deliver better clarity of amplified sound, better sight lines for those with hearing difficulties and a more connected experience of corporate worship for all present.
Please be praying for the team who will be making the reorientation happen in time for Vision Series to start.
Our Vision Series will begin on Sunday 30th October and run for four Sundays, all of them will be exciting and there will be a lot of important information for the year ahead. We will kick off the series at our Heartbeat night on Wednesday 26th October. With an opportunity to pray, open God’s word together and begin lifting our eyes to what God is doing through us collectively.
Every year during our Vision Series we take the opportunity to pledge our financial commitment for the following year, this enables our wardens, staff and parish council to utilise the resources we have. please begin prayerfully considering what it will look like for you to be radically generous with your regular giving in 2017 and also to consider how you might contribute to our annual project (more details on this coming soon).
The other really important part of Vision Series is the opportunity to sign up to serve. We believe God has equipped all his people with gifts and abilities that are designed to be used for the building up of His kingdom. We are really keen to help you figure out how God has gifted you and where you might best use that gift to bless as many people as possible.
I believe I have one of the best jobs in the world, I love what I do and I love working with people like you. But I can honestly say that I am more excited by what lies in front of us right now than I have ever been about ministry. St Paul’s is a great church and through us God is doing a great work.
Let me encourage you to take time to thank God for what we get to be a part of together. And as we approach our Vision Series this year, ask Him to show you again how you might play your part in what we’re part of.
Cheer Up Sydney was the title of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald late last year. It suggested that Sydney-siders possess a legendary preference for complaint. Whether it's property prices, Saturday morning traffic or the cost of living, few things escape the gloomy gauze through which the city's citizens see the world. Cost of living, traffic and housing affordability were the most pressing concerns. All this at a time when Sydney, and NSW, have a strong economy and a popular government. What’s more, Sydney is regularly ranked among the 10 most liveable cities in the world by organisations like the Economist Intelligence Unit. Psychologist Suzy Green, CEO of the Sydney-based Positivity Institute, says Sydney-siders have plenty of reasons to cheer up. She says: “We live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and generally, people are kind and caring. We aren't living in a war-torn country.” So if we could minimise those negative circumstances and appreciate the good things like Sydney’s beaches, parks, culture, and employment opportunities, then we would be happier.
It is a little confusing that we live in one of the top ten liveable city’s in the world and yet are a pretty miserable bunch. More so if you live in Chatswood and its surrounds; we are living in one of the top 5 locations of this ‘top 10’ city. If circumstances are the issue then we should be happier than most? I’m pretty sure that no matter where we are on the joy scale, none of us would complain about getting a bit more joy in life. I can’t imagine anyone saying that I have just about as much joy as they can take right now! Our secular, post-Christian, culture places the maximising of joy and happiness in life as one of the greatest pursuits in life. How many times have you heard: do whatever makes you happy…the most important thing is that you are happy…he died doing what made him the happiest. Christianity is after the same thing; do what brings you the most amount of joy, only that Christianity would suggest that God is central to a life of joy.
Our current sermon series in Philippians - JOY FOR EVERYONE - connects so profoundly with the reason we exist as a church - know Jesus, treasure Jesus, represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people. But what is this joy that we are pursuing? A good starting point for us is a definition of joy. What does joy mean? What is it to be joyful? Here are a couple of options that I like for various reasons:
Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation - Kay Warren
Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world - John Piper
I like that both are God centred, and therefore, not circumstance reliant. Romans 14:17 tells us that JOY is a Christian virtue: For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. God places a high importance on the fruit of joy in our lives. Without joy our lives are not very pleasing to God. Without the fruit of joy in our lives, God doesn’t look so great! As we saw last Sunday in Philippians 2:14, Paul said, do everything without complaining (murmuring, grumbling). Grumbling robs the Christian, and the Christian community, of joy. Grumbling is an evidence of little faith in the gracious providence of God in all the affairs of our lives. Little faith is a dishonour to him. It belittles his sovereignty and wisdom and goodness. The only effective way to deal with a grumbling, joyless, heart is to look to our great God and his attitude towards us. When the circumstances are tempting us to joylessness and grumbling we must be reminded again of everything we have in God through Christ. The Bible reveals many promises of God’s good will towards his children. He is...
Do you believe these things? If our faith is strong in these promises, then we will not grumble. An ungrateful heart (which all are by nature) must be transformed by the renewal of the mind. This transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit as we fill our minds with the word of God. We tend to think that life comes in hills and valleys. In reality, it’s much more like train tracks. Every day of our life, wonderful, good things happen that bring pleasure and contentment and beauty to us. At the exact same time, painful things happen to us or those we love that disappoint us, hurt us, and fill us with sorrow. These two tracks — both joy and sorrow — run parallel to each other every single moment of our life. True joy, however, is not at the mercy of life’s circumstances working out how we think they ought to be. We rejoice when things are going well, but there is nothing especially Christian about rejoicing when things are going well. Doesn’t everyone do that? What is extraordinary about Paul, as we’ve seen in Philippians, is how unbelievably stable his joy was when things weren’t going well. For example: I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. (2 Corinthians 7:4). Or Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you (Colossians 1:24). There is no doubt that the Apostle Paul was an extraordinary man. He knew the ups and downs of life. I suspect he knew how to rejoice when things went well, but he also knew how to rejoice when it was really tough. He wrote these words while rotting in a first century prison: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4). He is not suggesting that we rejoice but commanding it. Rejoicing - or joy - is not a feeling because you can’t command a feeling, but you can command an attitude. Joy is what God expects of those who follow Christ. Where does this come from? Did Paul have an unusually strong constitution? No! First of all it was taught by Jesus: Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. (Luke 6:22-23). Second, it comes from the Holy Spirit, not our own efforts or imagination or family upbringing. The fruit of the Spirit is ... joy (Galatians 5:22). Third, it comes from belonging to the kingdom of God. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Fourth, it comes through faith - from believing God. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him (Romans 15:13). Fifth, it comes from seeing and knowing Jesus as Lord. Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4). Sixth, it comes from fellow believers who work hard to help us focus on these sources of joy: we work with you for your joy (2 Corinthians 1:24). Seventh, it comes from the transforming effect of hard times. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4).
I’m not enough like Paul, but I’m wanting to be. In fact, he calls me to be. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). In facing circumstances with joy - circumstances that would have tempted him to grumble - Paul was like his Lord. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). Paul’s eyes were fixed on Jesus. He followed Jesus. He calls us to follow for joy. For most of us this is a call to filling our heads and hearts with the word of God, and earnest prayer. After all, the life of boundless joy is a supernatural life gifted to us by God. Needing to learn Paul-type, Christ-centred, boundless joy,
Steve Jeffrey - Senior Minister
Steve Jeffrey - Senior Minister
Esther’s words If I perish I perish (Esther 4) have again sparked in me a dream to be free from domesticated, comfort-seeking, entertainment-addicted, maintenance mode, Christianity. Our mission statement - St Paul’s exists to Know Jesus, Treasure Jesus, and Represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people - calls us to be bold and courageous for the cause of Christ. Risk is right when it is done for God’s glory and the joy of others.
It seems to me that God intends for us to live in uncertainty and risk. James 4:13–15 says: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.
We don't know if our heart will stop before breakfast is over. We don't know if some oncoming driver will swerve out of a lane and hit us. We don't know if the food we’ve just eaten has some deadly virus in it. We don't know if some person with a rifle will just start shooting at us in a shopping centre. We are not God. We do not know about tomorrow, therefore risk is built into the fabric of our lives. We can't avoid risk even if we want to. Christians must explode the myth of safety, and be delivered from the seduction of security. Security in this world is a mirage. It doesn't exist. The tragedy is that in the myth of security we are paralysed to take any risks for the cause of God, because we are deluded and think it may jeopardise a security which in fact does not even exist.
There are a few great examples of risk for the cause of God in the Bible. Firstly, 2 Samuel 10:11-12; Joab said, “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you. 12 Be strong and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The LORD will do what is good in his sight.
In verse 11 they pledged themselves to help each other. Then came this great word in verse 12: Be strong and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The LORD will do what is good in his sight. MAY THE LORD DO WHAT SEEMS GOOD TO HIM.
Joab had made a strategic decision for the cities of God and he did not know how it would turn out. He had no special revelation from God on this issue. He had to make a decision on the basis of sanctified wisdom. He had to risk or run. He did not know how it would turn out. He made his decision and he handed the results over to God. It was so right.
Secondly, Daniel 3. The setting is Babylon and the Jewish exiles. The king is Nebuchadnezzar. He sets up an image of gold and commands that when the trumpet sounds, all the people will bow down to the image. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, however, will not, did not, bow down. They worshiped the one true God of Israel. In verse 15 Nebuchadnezzar threatens them and says that if they do not worship the image, they will be thrown into the fiery furnace. Verses 16–18 is their answer:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
This is sheer risk. They did not know how it would turn out. They didn’t have a special revelation from God. They handed the outcome to God. It was so right.
Thirdly, the apostle Paul in Acts 21. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem. He had collected money and he was going to see that it was delivered faithfully. He gets as far as Caesarea, and it says in 21:10 that a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
When the believers hear this, they beg Paul not to go. Here is his response in verse 13, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Then, in verse 14 Luke says, “When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’”
Paul believes that this trip to Jerusalem is necessary for the cause of God. He does not know what would happen there. Arrest and hardship for sure. But then what? Death? Imprisonment? Banishment? No one knew. So what do they say? On one thing they can agree, "The will of the Lord be done!"
It is right to risk for the cause of God but not because God promises success to all our ventures in his cause. There is no promise that every effort for the cause of God will succeed, at least not in the short term. John the Baptist risked by calling a spade a spade when Herod divorced his wife to take his brother's wife, Herodias. John got his head chopped off for it. Paul was beaten and thrown in jail in Jerusalem and shipped off to Rome and executed there two years later. There are many graves around the world because thousands of young missionaries were freed by the power of the Holy Spirit from the seduction of security, and risked their lives for the cause of God. None of it was failure, although it might appear to be.
Why risk for the glory of God and the joy of others? That’s easy! 1 Peter 1:3-5: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us now birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” The gospel. The heart of Christianity says that Jesus risked everything for us so that we might have eternal security with him.
The more we grasp that our security is in Jesus, and is rock solid, the more free we’ll be to risk for him now. What risks are you taking now? I’m not saying give everything away, but I am saying what steps are you taking to bring glory to God and joy to others? Take a risk by joining a Community Group (or a different one). Risk by giving more to ministry and charity. Risk by ‘coming out’ as a Christian, visiting a lonely neighbour. The list is endless, but that ought not freeze you from action. Just take one risk.
What about us as a church in Chatswood? We’ve taken some risks but we must keep looking forward lest we settle into a comfortable pride. Here are three risk issues/questions before us:
Trusting Christ for the next risk,
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:3-7,11-16 NIV)
The body was the Apostle Paul’s standard illustration for making clear the inner life of the church. There is one church universal which is invisible in its own nature. It is the gathering of those who have living faith in Christ and so are united to each other because they are united to Jesus. This universal church becomes visible wherever the people of God, either many or few, meet together to worship, pray, maintain the ministry of the Word, spread the good news about Jesus, have fellowship, and celebrate the sacraments. Paul, writing to the local church at Corinth says, ‘You are the body of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 12:27). He would say the same thing, no doubt, to every church he would address. Each local church is a small scale representation and an authentic sample of the church universal. When people look at any local church, they should see the life of the universal church concentrated in that one place.
What sort of life should they see? Body life. The life in which all parts are contributing to the welfare of the whole body. Our bodies give us trouble when any part is not working properly. For instance, the parathyroid glands are four tiny glands, located in the neck, that control the body's calcium levels. Each gland is about the size of a grain of rice. Proper calcium balance is crucial to the normal functioning of the heart, nervous system, kidneys, and bones. I didn’t know they existed before they were damaged when I had my thyroid removed many years ago. The result was my brain function was diminished (something I can’t afford!), and my nervous system was out of whack - literally. My doctor would slap me on one side of the face and the other side would twitch. I also put rosters together at church that made no sense. One of my young adults came to me just after returning to work and said to me Steve, I’ve got a problem with the roster; you’ve put me on 6 things tonight, 3 of which are at the same time. Also, I’m down to play the piano - I can’t play any musical instruments. Tiny parathyroid glands matter! When the parts work properly, the body’s life is a wonderful thing. It’s like watching Olympic athletes in action - every part of the body is trained and straining for the goal (except for golf, and I’m sorry to say, shooting).
In the same way Paul wants us to understand that the life of a church is a wonderful thing as, in the power of God’s Spirit, each limb, unit, bit, piece, joint, and muscle does its best and contributes to the health of the whole.
Body life is a term for the network of mutual relationships which Christ both calls and causes the limbs of his body to build. The Bible spells out the ethics of body life in terms of valuation and service. The racial, social, economic, cultural, and sexual distinctions which operate as restraints on our acceptance and appreciation of each other cannot be totally abolished. However, the limits that they impose must be transcended. In Christ’s body all must welcome and value each other as ‘members of one another’. You might not get that from watching what goes on in church sometimes, but God wants life in his new society to be a perfect blend of affection, goodwill, openheartedness, and friendship - love, actually.
Service is love in action. Christ’s body builds itself up in love. This love is more than sweet talk and smiles; its true measure is the evil that you avoid inflicting on others and the good you go out of your way to do for others. How is the church built up and edified in love? By each part working properly in fellowship: sharing what, by God’s gift we have, and are. This sharing is the service or ministry to which every Christian is called. Either we all advance towards Christlike maturity together through mutual ministry (lay people to lay people, lay people to clergy, clergy to lay people and clergy to clergy…ie., everyone to everyone), or we all stagnate separately.
A good place for each of us to start is personal reflection. Take a moment to identify any ‘them and us’ attitudes that you might have which could make it harder for your fellowship to be a ‘perfect riot of affection, goodwill, openheartedness, and friendship.’ How could those attitudes start to change? Make every effort to to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
A second step (simultaneous with the first step) is to express gratitude for all the ‘hands’, ‘feet’, ‘arms’, ‘noses’, ‘ears’ - all the parts of the body - around St Paul’s who are serving you. Gratitude is the heartbeat of the Christian life. There are people standing in the car park welcoming you, and helping you park. There are people vacuuming floors, handing out information, leading worship, preaching sermons, serving food and drinks, setting up tables, leading creche and Kid’s Church (the list is long). Everyone of them is vital to the body functioning. Express gratitude for loving service.
A third step (simultaneous with steps one and two) is to become a functioning member of the body. Join one of the teams serving at St Paul’s. Take a practical step to advance towards Christlike maturity together through mutual ministry.
Pursuing healthy unity with you,
Share the Benefit
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘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 neighbour as yourself.’”He answered, “‘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 neighbour as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The road to Jericho was steep and dangerous. So dangerous that people called it "the bloody way". Travelling the Jericho Road in those days was like walking through a dark alley in the worst part of a modern city. The man in Jesus' story found out just how dangerous it was - robbers stripped him, beat him and left him half dead.
A priest and a Levite soon came along, and each passed by on the other side of the road. They didn't want to get involved in the man's needs. We shouldn't be too quick to scorn these men, or we may find we are convicting ourselves. How might you react if you were anxiously taking a shortcut through a dark alley and discover a man groaning on the ground? What if a quick assessment reveals he has been beaten by a group of thugs, and recently? Surely the wisest thing to do is hurry off and send in some 'official' to look after the poor victim?
In passing by the man they both passed by the clear teaching of the Bible to have mercy on even strangers in need (Leviticus 19:34). The irony is that both men were the very members of God's people charged with helping the needy. In this case they appear to have put their schedule above their purpose.
Another man appears - a Samaritan. Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. All of the Samaritan’s training and experience should have led him to step on the poor victim not just step around him. He faced the same dangers and uncertainty as the other two. Nevertheless, against all comprehension, the Samaritan "took pity on him." His compassion was full-bodied, leading him to meet a variety of needs - friendship, emergency medical treatment, transport, financial subsidy for accommodation, and a follow-up visit.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is provocative. Our Lord attacks the complacency of comfortable religious people who protect themselves from the needs of others. In the very last phrase we have nothing less than an order from our Lord in the clearest of terms, "Go and do likewise." Our paradigm is the Samaritan who risked his safety, destroyed his schedule, and became dirty and bloody through personal involvement with a needy person of another race and social class. Though the expert in the Law sought to limit the concept of 'neighbour,' Jesus expands it by showing that anyone in need is our neighbour.
The expert in the Law didn't deny that the poor man needed caring for - who would? - He questions whether it's his responsibility. Are we not tempted to put limits on mercy too? You could imagine the expert as a typical Westerner: doesn't charity begin at home? I'm busy! Isn't it the government's job? I barely have enough money for myself. Aren't many of the poor simply irresponsible? I can't possibly make a difference.
For decades, Bible believing Christians have avoided the radical nature of the teaching of this parable. At most, we have heard it telling us to collect tins of food and warm clothing for the needy each Christmas and winter, or to give money to relief agencies when there is a famine or earthquake in a distant country. It is time to listen more closely to this parable. We live on the Jericho Road. Suffering and need surrounds us. Unemployment, underemployment, new migrants, loneliness, broken homes, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health, the elderly, the dying, the sick, the disabled, the homeless. These are our neighbours. Do we want to reach them with the good news of the gospel of the Lord Jesus? Then we must give our faith active expression through deeds of compassion coupled with evangelism and discipleship. Ministry of mercy to our 'neighbour' is the responsibility of every Christian. It is as fundamental to Christian living as evangelism, giving and worship.
What will make Christians and the church merciful? It is not enough to manipulate Christians to feel guilty because they are so 'rich'. We must remember the context of this parable or we will easily fall into moralism. Jesus isn't telling us that we can be saved by imitating the Good Samaritan, even though he is clearly charging us to follow his pattern. Instead, Jesus is seeking to humble us with the love God requires, so that we will be willing to receive the love God offers. Jesus' goal was to show the expert in the Law that he was desperately poor and in need.
Imagine the most unsightly, smelly, decrepit homeless person, mindlessly wandering the streets in filthy rags. He has no resources at all. He has nothing to recommend him. That is what we all are before God. Jesus was trying to show the self-assured, self-confident, self-justified law expert his own desperate need, and how God has mercifully met it. God has provided spiritual wealth by impoverishing his own Son. Jesus' spiritual riches and righteousness is given to those who trust him rather than themselves. The only true and enduring motivation to show mercy and meet need is an experience and a grasp of the mercy of God towards us in the gospel of the Lord Jesus. If we know that we are desperately needy sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God alone, we will be open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely.
This issue of mercy is something that we'll be looking at a little more closely during Mission Month this May. I'm delighted to be partnering with Anglicare's Share the Benefit program this year. It will challenge us biblically on the issue of mercy and justice - an area that evangelicals are traditionally weak in (people like me). We'll also have an opportunity to experience what it is to be on a low income and at the same time raise money to meet needs and show mercy. Our corporate goal is to raise $10 000. What we raise will be split between two ministries -Anglicare and Ropes Crossing Anglican Church (ministering in Mount Druitt area of Sydney).
Share the Benefit is not to be our only response to the Good Samaritan, it is part of the journey towards us growing as a church of love and mercy because we are growing more in our experience and grasp of God's love and mercy towards us. Those who are loved much, love much.
I recently watched “THE MAD WORLD OF DONALD TRUMP” on TV. His rise to prominence as a contender for the President of the USA is astonishing. He presents himself as one who will boldly stand against the political establishment and speak up for the silent majority of ‘true Americans’ (apparently that means white, uneducated, middle-aged men). His language is often inflammatory, and has been accused of inciting violence. He especially reserves his vitriol for anyone who stands in his way or challenges his ideas. I couldn’t help but conclude that he wanted the ‘top job’ for the sake of power - for his own glory.
Watching Donald Trump in action got me thinking about leadership, service, and St Paul’s. We have a Core Value that shapes the way we think about leadership and service at St Paul’s - SERVANT LEADERSHIP.
In the Presence of Greatness
My fear is that maybe there is a little bit of Trump in us all. The first disciples of Jesus weren’t immune from pride and self-glory. Take Jesus’ interaction with them in Mark 9: They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. They were walking with the ultimate example of humility and they were having a full-scale dispute over who was the greatest! It should have been obvious - JESUS IS!
In Mark 10 the dispute seems to have been settled in the minds of James and John as to who was the greatest. They approach Jesus with a special request: Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory. Their hearts are on full display with that request. There is nothing subtle and nice and acceptable about it. James and John have tasted greatness and power and position, and they want it. Of course they recognise its Jesus’ glory, but they want to be right there with him so that they get a bit too.
Thankfully, Jesus is merciful and gentle with pride driven hearts. He calls in the disciples and turns their values on their head: You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).
These words from Mark 10 are the reversal of all human ideas of rank and greatness. If we define greatness as this world does then we end up with individuals motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency pursuing self-ambition for the purpose of self-glorification. The words from Mark 10 are the profound reversal that MUST occur in each of our lives if we are to have any possibility of true greatness in God’s eyes: whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
However, we need more than a definition, and even more than Jesus’ personal example of humble service. To learn true humility what we need is Jesus’ death: For even the Son of Man didn’t come to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. True greatness is not possible without his unique sacrifice.
Jesus is the only one who has given his life as a ransom for the sins of many, and this is what separates him from every other form of sacrificial service that people render. Jesus’ sacrifice alone makes it possible for us to achieve and experience true greatness in God’s eyes. At the source of all Christian service in St Paul’s, and across the world, is the crucified and risen Lord who died to liberate us from our bondage to ‘SELF’ and into selfless service. Our selfless Christian service exists only to draw attention to its source – the Lord Jesus. If we serve in order to make a name for ourselves we rob Jesus of the glory that is due to him for setting us free to serve.
Jesus is the Starting Point
The starting point for many Christians when considering how they will serve in the local church is their ‘gifts’. They start by looking inwards, asking: “what are my gifts?” It’s a mistake; Jesus is the starting point. Philippians 2 calls all Christians to have the same attitude of humble service as Jesus demonstrated:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
The next verses then go on to reveal the selfless, sacrificial, servant mindset of the Lord Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
During an interview on “Face the Nation” with John Dickerson, Donald Trump said he possesses more humility than many would believe. I agree with him, many wouldn’t believe it! Trump’s self-assessment of humble character doesn't seem to be obvious. Unlike the description of Jesus in Philippians 2. Jesus is the greatest example of selfless service and humility. We are to look first of all to Jesus.
So is now the time to talk about our gifts? Not yet! Having looked outward to Jesus we keep looking outward to the needs around us. Before the question of what my gifts are is the question of what needs does the church have? Another way to put this might be, ‘what is the church working towards together and how can I be part of that? Ironically, we often discover new gifts when we are meeting needs.
Having looked outward to Jesus and needs, its time too look inward - but not at gifts! When it comes to serving others there is something far more important in the Bible than gifts - our character. Unfortunately, it is possible to have gifts without graces. There are only a handful of passages in the Bible about gifts but every page challenges and forms our character. The fruit of the Spirit is a great place to start: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness (integrity), faithfulness (courage), gentleness (humility) and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23a). Leaders need to display these fruits, and recognise them, and encourage them in others.
After looking to Jesus, then needs, then character we can now look at gifts. Every Christian has been gifted with gifts for service of God and his people. One of the roles of leadership is to recognise and encourage and release gifts in God’s people. That is the biblical pattern of 1 Timothy 4.
In the next couple of years I would like to see St Paul’s reject the spectator culture that gives rise to the rule that 80% of ministry is done by 20% of people. I’d like us to be a church OF ministry teams, rather than a church WITH ministry teams. A church WITH ministry teams is a culture that says: ‘there are opportunities that are there if you want to - if you are keen’. A church OF ministry teams says: ‘everyone needs to be served, and everyone has a role to play in serving others.’ Being a church of ministry teams is not the easy way. When we take our eyes off Jesus it’s easy to want to be served by others more than to serve others, or to only serve in ways that are comfortable to us. But as we keep our eyes on Jesus we will remember why we serve, and the source of our power and motivation to serve.