Good News for the Whole World - March 2016

Monday, March 07, 2016

Good News for the Whole World

It was a great question: “How do you feel about the fact that for you to live, someone has to die?” The interviewee sat there, lost for words. His lower lip began to quiver, and his eyes filled with tears. “I have no idea how to answer that.” Then his head dropped, and he said, “I would probably pray for that person – every day, for the rest of my life.” 

The interviewer was Dr. Robert Winston of the BBC TV program Superhuman. He was talking to a man waiting for a heart transplant in an American hospital. He was one man in a ward full of people who desperately held to the hope that before their own heart completely stopped working, a suitable ‘donor’ heart would be found for them. For these patients to live someone else had to die. Their life was totally dependent on the death of another. Easter is when Christians give thanks for LIFE that has been received because Jesus died and rose again.

Easter - the death and resurrection of Jesus - is God’s solution to the problems of our world. Our culture is deeply concerned about the state of our world; climate change, poverty, disease, war, pestilence, etc. It’s hope, however, is that our problems will yield to technological solutions if we throw enough time, money and effort into discovering a solution. The hope is that objective, detached human reason can solve what ails us. Psychology and medicine will help us adjust and overcome emotional and physical problems. Sociology will help us create a just society. Technology will figure out solutions to hunger, ageing, poverty and environmental calamity. 

Despite this hope in human reason, science and technology, there are a remarkable number of movies of late that depict the future of human civilisation as decimated. There is also a feeling that technology is dehumanising us by destroying our privacy, and leaving us vulnerable to exploitation. 

Christianity claims that the problems of our world have a much deeper source, and therefore solution. The central message of Easter is that every human being is in desperate need of new life. We have all rebelled against the God who has given us the gift of life, and the world as we know it is the consequence. The bible says we are ‘dead in our transgressions and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1); spiritually dead even while we are alive. When Jesus died on the cross, he died the death we so richly deserve. He died as a sacrifice for our sins. 

Christianity is far more pessimistic about the human race than our secular culture, but it is also far more optimistic about this world’s future than any other worldview. The Christian answer to the overly optimistic or overly pessimistic view of our future is the resurrection of Jesus. By Jesus’ death and resurrection our sins are forgiven, we are made right with God, and we receive the priceless gift of eternal life. This is what the most famous Bible verse says: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Thanks to his death on the cross in our place, and his resurrection defeating the power of death, the life Jesus offers us is eternal.

Our secular culture insists that this worldview should be private and kept out of the public domain as it has nothing to contribute to modern issues. However Easter says that the world supremely matters! It says that the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won. 

If Easter means Jesus Christ was only raised in a spiritual sense, then it is actually only about ‘me’ finding a new dimension in my personal spiritual life, but because Jesus is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes news for the whole world. It’s news that warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming our hearts. Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things, and so we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement the victory of Jesus over them all on our ‘Frontlines' and beyond. 

Take away Easter and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring the problems of this world. Take it away and Freud was probably right to say Christianity is wish fulfilment. Take it away and Nietzsche was probably right to say it is for wimps. 

For those of us who have already received the gift of life through Jesus, Easter is a very important reminder that the life we have received is for all people. We are surrounded by people who are in desperate need of life. Our new life, and this desperate need, ought to bring a certain focus and purpose to the new life we live. 

The Lord Jesus has called us to align ourselves with his vision: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV). 

Can the church of Jesus Christ have any integrity or authenticity unless the summons of our Lord Jesus to make disciples of all the nations produces in us focus and strategies and sacrifices and dedication and enthusiasm to see others have life? 

All of our strategies and ministries and leadership and governance are to constantly come under the microscope to ensure that they are best placed to serve the mission the Lord Jesus has given to us in our context.

The stakes are infinitely high. Do you sense the urgency of the mission we have been called to? The stakes and the urgency call us to give our attention and support and energy to it. Much like we would if we were embroiled in an actual fight for our lives. 

We must constantly ask ourselves the question: “What difference does faith in Jesus Christ make to this world now and for all eternity?” If the answer to that question is unclear, then it seems to me there ought not be any sense of urgency and sacrifice and attention and enthusiasm. If on the other hand the Easter event is God’s provision of life and the answer to the world’s problems, then the urgency in living for Jesus on our ‘Frontlines’ demands our sacrifice, attention and enthusiasm. 

Why not work against the culture that says Christianity must be private and invite someone to church this Easter.

Rev. Steve Jeffrey, Senior Minister


The Big God in Your Activate Group - February 2016

Monday, February 15, 2016

Each year the beginning of February marks the start of a new year of ministry at St Paul’s. We are the beginning of our 7th year of Vision 2020. Vision 2020 is our 11 year ministry plan (commenced in 2010) to focus our efforts towards one big, bold and broad ministry agenda to know Jesus, treasure Jesus and represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people. 

My desire is that as we plan and pray and labour towards this corporate vision we will see growth across St Paul’s. Growth in knowledge and love of God, and of each other - and more people treasuring Jesus. By God’s grace over the past year we have started to see some fruit of hard decisions in previous years. 

One of the key strategies for St Paul’s as we grow towards 2020 is our network of smaller groups - Activate. As a church grows the number of people we personally identify with shrinks. In a large and diverse church the primary circle of belonging is not the Sunday congregation but the small groups of the church. Our desire at St Paul’s is for every personal who calls us their home church to be committed to a small group. It is the primary place for connection, growth and pastoral care. I’d encourage you to sign up for an Activate group in the next couple of weeks. 

Of course, there are more important reasons and benefits for joining an Activate group than Vision 2020 and ministry strategies. A favourite insight into early Christian fellowship of mine is Acts 2. 

The book of Acts is a story of the first church — the first regular gathering of followers of Jesus. It’s an awe-inspiring story, but it’s much more than a story. In those 28 chapters, God gives us a glimpse of how he moves in a community captured and shaped by a joy in him. Acts offers a kind of formula for loving one another and welcoming the bigness of God into our lives together. Maybe it’s the formula for seeing God do spectacular things in your Activate group this year? If it is, it’s surprisingly simple.

The Big God in Your Everyday

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. . . Every day, they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. (Acts 2:42, 46–47)

It says the church in Acts 2 gave themselves to four things: 1. the apostles’ teaching, 2. the fellowship, 3. the breaking of bread, and 4. prayer. Much should be said about each of these critical pieces in a church’s ministry, but the flavour of this passage in general is one of regularity and intentionality. These disciples developed real rhythms of living together in Jesus and for Jesus. It wasn’t a two-hour routine reserved for one evening per week. It was a weeklong effort to keep each other in the faith and to be a winsome witness for the world around them.

Our love for another is a lifestyle, not a weekly activity. There’s no corner of our hearts or lives that God meant for us to keep from our local church family. It doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking hour with these people. It does mean they should be tied into your life in more significant ways than what seat you sit in on Sunday in church. Like that first church, we need to find creative ways to live together in the everyday, incorporating the word, prayer, food, and meaningful relationships. Our big God calls us to live together in the everyday, because that’s where he is and that’s often where he works.

The Big God in Your Gifts

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to everyone, as he had need. (Acts 2:44–45)

This group of men and women loved sharing any abundance with those with less. They felt each other’s needs as their own. They were carrying each other’s burdens — at least physically, but much more likely physically, spiritually, emotionally, and otherwise. The beautiful thread in this theme is that God was gifting some to provide for the needs of others, and vice versa. Needs were being met because God had covered them through others.

God deliberately gives you what you need, and he gives us what others need. It’s one way he gets more glory, by tying his children together in their dependence on him. He gifts us to fill what is lacking in one another. So in our Activate groups, we need to know each other well enough to know the needs, and we need to be aware what God has given us to spill over in sacrifice and generosity to others.

The Big God in Your Hearts

Everyone was filled with awe. . . (Acts 2:43)

The rhythms of the early church were a desire to meet God in his word (the apostles’ teaching), a desperation in prayer, a dependence on one another in need, and a regularity and intentionality in each other’s everyday lives. And what happened? “Everyone was filled with awe. . .” (Acts 2:43). As they lived, ate, and worshiped together, God inspired more awe in their hearts. He revealed more of himself — his love, his power, his glory — and so he awakened greater affections for himself.

The disciples were drawn more and more to God through ministry to one another. This joy in God was growing and spreading in the fertile ground of real, consistent, and sacrificial fellowship. God will capture more of our hearts through one another.

The Big God in Your World

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)

This church was not just God’s way of caring for Christians. It was his appointed, dramatic way of multiplying them. It was his means of making more and more people his own, drawing them into the kinds of communities that live and love like this. As they gave themselves faithfully to one another, he added to their number.

What did this addition look like? Was God just dropping people at the front door ready to receive the gospel and join the church? Probably not. People are added through the preaching of the gospel, the faithful testifying to Jesus as our greatest treasure. As we commit to one another in these Christ-exalting churches and small groups, we should expect God to make those communities attractive, even irresistible to others. God will make our love, joy, and worship contagious in the world.

As you sign up to an Activate group, have a high expectation that the big God might do something remarkable in your small group. 

Eager to see what God might do with us in 2016,

Rev. Steve Jeffrey

Senior Minister


Why was Jesus Born?

Monday, December 07, 2015

I’m confident that I speak for all the staff when I pray that during this Christmas season, God would enable you to treasure his incarnate and risen Son above all else. Here are twelve short reasons for why Christ came, may they help you to treasure him this Christmas:

1. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. (John 18:37)

2. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (1 John 3:8)

3. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Mark 2:17)

4. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. (Luke 19:10)

5. 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 10:45)

6. God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:5)

7. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

8. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)

9. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)

10. This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. (Luke 2:34f)

11. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed (Luke 4:18)

12. Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy (Romans 15:8-9)

Much was achieved from one birth! Have you ever asked yourself what would be different if Jesus had never been born? If Jesus had not come and not achieved for us what he did.

If Jesus had not been born:

  • This would not be the year of our Lord 2015;
  • We would never hear a single Christmas carol or Handel’s Messiah;
  • No city would be named St. Paul or St. Petersburg or Corpus Christi;
  • We would have never heard of William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, John Knox, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, John Hus, John Newton, Billy Graham, Elizabeth Elliot, Amy Carmichael, Corrie Ten Boom, C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, John Stott, JI Packer, John Piper, or… (make your own list);
  • There would be no organisations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators, Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Navigators, Moore College, The Red Cross, Anglicare, The Salvation Army, A21, CMS, OMF, Youthsurge and countless others;
  • We would have no such books as Tale of Two Cities, Dickens’s Christmas Carol, or even The Grinch Who Stole Christmas;
  • We would have no movies such as Ben Hur, The Cross and the Switchblade, Chariots of Fire, Narnia, and scores of others;
  • We would never ever had heard such songs as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “We Treasure You,” “Fairest Lord Jesus,” “Joy to the World”;
  • Idioms would never have been brought into our language such as the Good Samaritan, the prodigal son, lost sheep, or any of Jesus’ other parables;
  • We would not have teachings that have entered our every day speech such as ‘turn the other cheek’, ‘go the extra mile’, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, ‘God is love’, and ‘love your enemies’;
  • It could be easily argued that the Australian constitution would not be what it is;
  • There would be no St Paul’s Chatswood, or Sydney Diocese;
  • The Wuaorani Indians of Ecuador would still kill white men instead of baptising their children;
  • The Arawakan Indians of the Caribbean would still be cannibals;
  • Descendants of the Mayans in Chiapas, Mexico, would still sacrifice their children instead of teaching them to praise the true Creator;
  • The New Testament would never have been written; 
  • Prophecies would remain unfulfilled, Satan would not be crushed, we would not be delivered, God would be a liar, and death would not be conquered;
  • There would be no mediator between God and man, for the man Christ Jesus would not have been born;
  • We would remain dead in our trespasses and sins!

How wonderful that Christ was born! May the realisation of the sweeping impact of his birth, life, death, and resurrection bring you a very Merry Christmas.

From this God of salvation take joy this Christmas,

Steve Jeffrey

Senior Minister


Vision 2020: St Paul's on Mission

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost.

Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding areas, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew. 

Some of the new members of the lifesaving station felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency stretchers with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members. Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired life boat crews to do that work. The mission of lifesaving was still given lip-service but most were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the lifesaving activities personally.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal pattern of the club. But some members insisted that lifesaving was their primary purpose. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did. As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old and yet another lifesaving station was founded.

If you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but now most of the people don't get rescued.

I’ve used this little parable a number of times. It is a pertinent reminder of how easy it is for any organisation - including churches - to lose sight of purpose. Our mission statement is a purpose statement. It is the reason we exist. It states that St Paul’s exists To Know Jesus, Treasure Jesus and Represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people. It is a statement that it is impossible for me to over-communicate because it sits over all that we are and seek to be at St Paul’s. I don’t want us to lose sight of it. Our Vision Series for this year will be focussing on our mission statement.

As a church in a post-Christian, secular society we have many challenges and opportunities in front of us as we seek to be on mission and fulfil our purpose. The move away from the era of Christendom (where the state protects and supports the church) into a post-Christian era (where there are high levels of distrust of the church) means that the way we do ministry has to change too. The church can no longer run its ministries assuming that a stream of Christianised, traditional/moral people will simply show up at worship services. We have to go beyond simply including evangelism as one ministry among many, to become thoroughly missional. That means adapting and reformulating absolutely everything we do in worship, discipleship, community, and service, so as to be engaged with the non Christian society around us. 

In his book, Centre Church, Timothy Keller suggest four key ministry areas for a church like ours to focus on in order to be missional: 1. Evangelism and evangelistic worship (raising people up to God); 2. Ministries of mercy (lowering ourselves to reach the marginalised); 3. Missional community (equipping those inside the community); 4. Integration of faith and work (reaching over to those outside the community). 

Over the past 4 years we have made progress in points 1, 3, and to a lesser degree 4. I thank God for Sam and Nick who have led our progress in evangelistic worship that brings the gospel to both the believer and the sceptic at the same time. Our major deficiency is area 2 - ministries of mercy. Addressing this deficiency - while building on the progress - will be a focus for us in 2016. What are the needs of Chatswood and how do we seek to meet them? Will you join with me in praying for guidance and wisdom in how we might ‘lower ourselves’ to love Chatswood. 

I’ve asked Deb Gould to plan a series of sessions designed to equip us in how to engage with some current issues of our society, serve believers and sceptics with life skills (eg. parenting workshops), and connect with our community. I plan to preach a series of sermons called Life on the Frontline. It will bring clarity to how God might use us for his glory outside the walls of the church in a secular society.

At the end of this month of vision we will be having our annual Commitment Sunday. It is an opportunity for each of us to renew our individual commitment, or commit for the first time, to God’s mission in Chatswood through St Paul’s. There are two financial matters I want to draw to your attention and have you contemplating and praying about as we head towards Commitment Sunday. 

Firstly, for the 6.5 years that I have been at St Paul’s we have had the wonderful blessing of additional staff being funded through Youthsurge to the tune of $120,000 per year. In recent times these staff include David Lawrence, Tim Jones, Victor Ng, Jess Bakic and Angela Sharpe. This funding, except for 3 days for David Lawrence (who will mainly work on the development of ICS), will cease at the end of the year. I am grateful for the individual who has invested so much over many years to support Youthsurge. The consequence of this decision is that I have given notice to Angela Sharpe, Tim Jones and Jess Bakic. They will finish their employment at St Paul’s at the end of the year.  

Secondly, and related to the above, the project for this year is to raise $28,000 to fund three student ministers in 2016 (James Shepherd, Victor Ng and David Chang). James and Victor are known to us. David is entering 4th Year at Moore College next year and is a native Mandarin speaker. This target is significantly larger than previous years but I believe it is essential to resource our Chinese mission field. All three student ministers will work to build on the progress we’ve made in evangelistic corporate worship.

The last two sentences of the above parable are shocking: If you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but now most of the people don't get rescued. Despite the challenges that lay ahead may we have such confidence in the Lord Jesus that we will be determined to treasure him and stay on purpose. 

Steve Jeffrey - Senior Minister


The Irony in the Quest for Equality-Oct 2015

Monday, October 05, 2015

Facebook friends will immediately flee and label me a bigot just for the title of this piece. Most of them will not read what we have to say because they can reach their conclusion simply on suspicion that we might be on the wrong side of marriage equality. A great irony is embedded in that fact. And it’s an irony we must understand.

Prejudice

The heart of the irony involves prejudice. According to the Oxford Dictionary, prejudice is a “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” Prejudice is the enemy of equality, since it is a prior judgment about someone just because of, say, the colour of their skin, their religion, their gender, or their sexual orientation. If you see an African American walking down the street and automatically think he must be a violent gang-banger, that’s prejudice. If you see a Muslim and think she’s a terrorist, that’s prejudice. If you oppose gay marriage and are immediately named a bigot, that’s prejudice.

Prejudice is wrong and very often ignorant, and Christians are often guilty of it. Have Christians been prejudiced against gays and lesbians? Absolutely. Do we need to repent of that prejudice? Absolutely. Every man and woman has been created in the image of God, and is deeply loved by him, regardless of his or her sense of sexual orientation. Christians have no right to mistreat gays and lesbians because we know that, apart from the grace of God, we are all guilty rebels before him — as guilty as anyone else anywhere else.

But now the tables have turned. Christians are the new targets of prejudice. If we oppose gay marriage, we are automatically bigots. How did that happen?

Marriage Equality

The movement for marriage equality did two extremely clever things. First, it used the word, “equality.” Who could be against equality? Only bigots. There it is — if you’re on the wrong side of “equality,” you must be a bigot. A bigot is “a person who has very strong, unreasonable beliefs or opinions about race, religion, or politics and who will not listen to or accept the opinions of anyone who disagrees.” In other words, a bigot is someone who is strongly prejudiced. As soon as “equality” was introduced into the discussion, the quest for marriage equality was viewed alongside the Civil Rights Movement, women’s suffrage, and so on. Anyone against such positions is simply wrong. End of story.

The second clever thing the movement did was to assume the conclusion in the premise (also known as “begging the question”). That is, by calling gay marriage “marriage,” the conclusion has already been reached. We are then only talking about whether gay marriage should be equal to heterosexual marriage. Once the conversation begins there, there’s no way for us to oppose the idea of gay marriage and win. The real question is “Should we redefine what marriage is?” That is the fundamental question, since marriage has traditionally been understood to be an exclusive union between a man and a woman, who are not directly related.

The movement for marriage equality was clever not to frame the discussion in terms of “changing the definition of marriage,” because that would surely meet greater resistance than pushing for “equality.” Instead, pushing for marriage equality already assumed the conclusion in the premise: a homosexual union is a marriage.

The New Prejudice

These moves have been so successful that now the crowd cannot see the irony. If you oppose gay marriage, you must be a bigot. There is no way to think otherwise, since the discussion has been framed in terms of equality, instead of in terms of the redefinition of an established social institution. The prejudice is now on the other foot. Without even considering arguments to the contrary, people will form negative conclusions about others because of an alternate opinion. That is prejudice. Ironically, those who say that Christians are bigots are in fact engaging in bigoted behaviour. And not just against Christians, but against anyone who holds reservations about “marriage equality.” You do not need to be a Christian to recognise the problems with it. Remember that a bigot is “a person who has very strong, unreasonable beliefs or opinions…who will not listen to or accept the opinions of anyone who disagrees.” Society will now not even listen to alternate points of view on the issue. And therein lies the irony.

The Old Prejudice

Christians facing prejudice is nothing new. The first Christians faced it head-on in the Roman Empire. The apostle Peter encouraged his readers to conduct themselves honourably among the pagans so that “when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glory God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). Notice Peter’s phrase, “when they speak against you as evildoers.” How could genuine Christians be thought of as evildoers?

The Romans thought that Christians hated the human race (so recorded the historian Tacitus), that they engaged in incest because they were married to their “brothers and sisters,” and were cannibals because they ate the body and blood of Christ. All of these were obviously grave misunderstandings. But Peter’s exhortation is, in effect, let them get to know you. The only real solution to prejudice is knowledge. As a friend of mine once said, “It’s hard to demonise someone when you get to know them.”

We are now the targets of an irrational prejudice. But we should not pout, despair, or withdraw. Unjust opposition is nothing new for followers of the crucified Christ. We are called to suffer it well, following his example (1 Peter 2:21–25). So far as we are able, let’s allow those who vilify us to get to know us. If we are truly following Christ, knowing who we really are will go a long way to dispel prejudice.      

(by Constantine Campbell, published on the Desiring God website, 1 July 2015).


The End of Hypocrisy - September 2015

Friday, September 04, 2015

Hypocrisy is the gap between what we say and what we do.  It’s the label often given to Christians who speak of love and forgiveness but live with bitterness and repressed anger. We speak of sacrificial service and humility but demand our rights and seek our own good with as much energy as anyone. It is this disparity that stands between many people and a willingness to engage with the truth of the gospel.

This month we are kicking off a new series in the book of James called: “The End of Hypocrisy”.  One of the great struggles in our lives as Christians is the visible gap between who we know God calls us to be and how we actually live. The ongoing struggle with sin can cause us to feel defeated, to become comfortable with sin or to just give up on trying to grow.  

The book of James presents a bold call to all who would claim to have faith in Jesus but whose lives do not reflect that faith. James is the book that the great reformer Martin Luther famously ripped out of his bible and called the epistle of straw. For Luther, this call to wholehearted obedience jarred with his understanding of God’s grace and mercy and burdened him with guilt.

In case you were wondering, Martin Luther came to love the book of James and to see the place of works in the Christian life alongside grace like this:

“We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”

James is a profoundly practical book. It has much to say about how we treat one another, how we speak, how we dream about the future and much more. But it is still a book saturated in the gospel confidence found only in grace.

The emphasis of James is not on simple obedience but on the relationship between faith and obedience. We are saved by faith alone, through the work of Jesus on the cross to forgive us, wash us and restore us into a relationship with our heavenly Father. What James wants to show us is how our faith must impact and penetrate every sphere of our lives.

As Platt identifies, ‘the book of James addresses many practical issues: trials, poverty, riches, materialism, favouritism, social justice, the tongue, worldliness, boasting, making plans, praying, and what to do when we’re sick. As we’ll see, James moves from one issue to the next which can make it difficult to find the book’s structure, but he returns repeatedly to how faith impacts the details of our lives but also the lives of those around us - both locally and globally’ (Platt, D.).

It is our prayer that as we wrestle with God’s word through this series that it will impact not only our lives internally but the community we live in as well. The testimony of scripture is that when authentic faith is lived out in our workplaces, in our schools and in our families, it stands out, it shines and it is attractive.


This side of heaven we will never be perfect, but a trust in Jesus as saviour carries with it a trust in him as king. A relationship with Jesus results in life change and in hearts progressively shaped to love what he loves and to hate what he hates. By grace, when we fail we can confess and know that his love for us and commitment to us is unwavering, he will finish the work he begun (cf. Philippians 1:6), and so he calls us to persevere so that we might grow to maturity.

Please join with me in praying that this series would be a time of personal transformation for each of us. But more than that, that it would be a time of significant impact in our community for the glory of God and the joy of all people. 

Your brother in Christ

Sam Low 


Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian - August 2015

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Our world is divided. Man or woman. Old or young. Catholic or Protestant. Able or disable. Black or white. Difference divides us. Difference has been the stimulus for discrimination of all sorts: religious difference becomes denominationalism, difference in ability becomes ableism, sex difference becomes sexism, race difference becomes racism. 

Our focus over the next 5 weeks as a church will be racism (the title for the series is Bloodlines - unashamedly stolen from a book on race by John Piper). I’ve been on a significant learning curve as I’ve been researching the topic over the past couple of months. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the topic, and my own heart. 

Prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behaviour can remain deeply hidden in the human heart. These attitudes surface more as implicit racial bias rather than explicit racial prejudice. They effect how we unconsciously think about and act toward someone. It can lead us to treat people differently because of their race and ethnicity without us even realising it (eg. when, in 2010, a black hand held an iPod for sale on eBay, the auction received 17 percent fewer bids than when a white hand held the same item for sale at the same location at the same time). 

Most people harbour implicit racial bias that makes it difficult to integrate races and ethnicities in corporate life - but that is exactly what we are trying to do at St Paul’s! Our core value of Treasuring Jesus Together says that as a church we are committed to “welcoming people from every background” and “openness towards new people and the avoidance of cliquishness”. 

I believe that it is crucial for us to get a biblical perspective on race and ethnocentricity. Bloodlines will be important for us. As a starting point though, here are ten biblical reasons why racism is a sin and offensive to God. These 10 points are sourced from The Gospel Coalition website. They form part of a blog written by Kevin DeYoung and published on the 25th June 2015.

1. We are all made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Most Christians know this and believe it, but the implications are more staggering than we might realise… But of course, as a white man I am no more like God in my being, no more capable of worship, no more made with a divine purpose, no more possessing of worth and deserving of dignity than any other human of any other gender, colour, or ethnicity. We are more alike than we are different.

2. We are all sinners corrupted by the fall (Rom. 3:10-20; 5:12-21). Everyone made in the image of God has also had that image tainted and marred by original sin. Our anthropology is as identical as our ontology. Same image, same problem. We are more alike than we are different.

3. We are all, if believers in Jesus, one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). We see from the rest of the New Testament that justification by faith does not eradicate our gender, our vocation, or our ethnicity, but it does relativize all these things. Our first and most important identity is not male or female, American or Russian, black or white, Spanish speaker or French speaker, rich or poor, influential or obscure, but Christian. We are more alike than we are different.

4. Separating peoples was a curse from Babel (Gen. 11:7-9); bringing peoples together was a gift from Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11). The reality of Pentecost may not be possible in every community–after all, Jerusalem had all those people there because of the holy day–but if our inclination is to move in the direction of the punishment of Genesis 11 instead of the blessing of Acts 2 something is wrong.

5. Partiality is a sin (James 2:1). When we treat people unfairly, when we assume the worst about persons and peoples, when we favour one group over another, we do not reflect the God of justice nor do we honour the Christ who came to save all men.

6. Real love loves as we hope to be loved (Matt. 22:39-40). No one can honestly say that racism treats our neighbour as we would like to be treated.

7. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15). Sadly, we can hate without realising we hate. Hatred does not always manifest itself as implacable rage, and it does not always–or, because of God’s restraining mercy, often–translate into physical murder. But hatred is murder of the heart, because hatred looks at someone else or some other group and thinks, “I wish you weren’t around. You are what’s wrong with this world, and the world would be better without people like you.” That’s hate, which sounds an awful lot like murder.

8. Love rejoices in what is true and looks for what is best (1 Cor. 13:4-7). You can’t believe all things and hope all things when you assume the worst about people and live your life fuelled by prejudice, misguided convictions, and plain old animosity.

9. Christ came to tear down walls between peoples not build them up (Eph. 2:14). This is not a saccharine promise about everyone setting doctrine aside and getting along for Jesus’s sake. Ephesians 2 and 3 are about something much deeper, much more glorious, and much more cruciform. If we who have been made in the same image, born into the world with the same problem, find the same redemption through the same faith in the same Lord, how can we not draw near to each other as members of the same family?

10. Heaven has no room for racism (Rev. 5:9-10; 7:9-12; 22:1-5). Woe to us if our vision of the good life here on earth will be completely undone by the reality of new heavens and new earth yet to come. Antagonism toward people of another colour, language, or ethnic background is antagonism toward God himself and his design for eternity. Christians ought to reject racism, and do what they can to expose it and bring the gospel to bear upon it, not because we love pats on the back for our moral outrage or are desperate for restored moral authority, but because we love God and submit ourselves to the authority of his word.

Steve Jeffrey - Senior Minister


God's Investment Managers

Friday, May 30, 2014

At the close of the movie The Maltese Falcon, a police officer gazes at a statuette, cast in lead in imitation of a prodigiously valuable, jewel-encrusted, falcon-shaped original. He asks, “What is it?” Humphrey Bogart’s character replies, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.” That, surely, is the perfect comment on the deceptive lure of wealth, in all its forms, to the fallen human heart. Fallen human nature puts a very improper, inflated value on money, treating our investments and bank balances as the supreme source of security, status, significance, respect, and influence in society. Our proud hearts shrink from weakness in all its forms, and they embrace whatever looks like strength, including the goal and the reality of affluence. The result? Idolatry: we end up worshipping our investments, our possessions, and our bank balance. And God—the transcendent triune Lord who is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together, the divine team that is currently in action for our salvation—comes a poor second in our loyalty and love.

Martin Luther said that everyone needs three conversions: conversion of the mind to gospel truth; conversion of the heart to embrace the Lord Jesus as Saviour and Master; and conversion of the purse, wallet, or pocketbook, the laying of one’s money at Christ’s feet. Luther certainly knew that getting sin out of the driver’s seat in relation to our money is one of the most difficult dimensions of the sinner’s repentance.

2 Corinthians 8–9 provides the raw material for living out the Christian discipline of radical generosity (please go away and read it). The foundation of radical generosity is 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. The foundation and motivation of a life of radical generosity is the radical generosity of God to us in the Lord Jesus laying aside all of his glory and becoming poor, weak and dead so that we might share in his glory. The good news of the gospel is the foundation of a life of generosity. Radical generosity gets worked out in our life not by looking at a calculator, but by looking at the cross. 

Radical generosity is a cross-shaped mind set regarding God’s money. Giving randomly, without wisdom, is sub-Christian, just as is giving nothing or giving far less than one could. Some seem to think that tithing is like paying God rent: when we have given him 10 percent of our income, the rest is ours. But no, it is all God’s. That is what 1 Chronicles 29:14-16 says: But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand…O Lord our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.

Radical generosity is management of God’s money. When we set ourselves to think about Christian money management, in whatever connection, from buying groceries, to supporting missionaries, to investing, to financing a holiday, the first thing we have to get clear, is that the money that is ours to manage is not ours, but God’s. We are God’s investment managers.  

A steward is someone in whom an owner entrusts the managing of his assets. An investment manager is a steward: he has control of his clients’ assets in one sense, but his job is to understand and implement his clients’ wishes and priorities regarding their use. In the same way, a trustee is a steward: his job is to invest, safeguard, and disburse the money in the trust according to the stated purpose of whoever appointed him. When they don’t, it’s called fraud! 

Crucial Question: Are you investing God’s money as he has directed it? If you believe in a missions-driven church, St Paul’s is a good investment. It is accountable, driven by a vision to bring glory to God in our mission area, and for most of you it is your spiritual home. Vision 2020 is shaping our future and causing many of us to take risks for the kingdom. I give thanks for your partnership. Some are yet to take that step into radical dependence upon a God by practicing radical generosity. Right now I call us all to sit down with the cross and not just a calculator. we are behind our giving target for the year, the building work is in progress but stretching us financially

William Carey left for India in 1793. Two years later he received his second pack of letters from England. One of them criticised him for working to earn a living for his family as well as doing mission work. The accusation hurt. The fact was that assistance was so slow and sporadic Carey and his family would have starved if he had not worked to earn a living. He wrote back with these words which reveal his attitude to money:   It is a constant maxim with me that, if my conduct will not vindicate itself, it is not worth vindicating…I only say that, after my family’s obtaining a bare allowance, my whole income, and some months, much more, goes for the purposes of the gospel, in supporting persons to assist in the translation of the Bible, write copies, teach school, and the like…The love of money has not prompted me to pursue the plan that I have engaged in. I am indeed poor, and shall always be so until the Bible is published in Bengali and Hindosthani, and the people want no further instruction. (Mary Drewery, William Carey: A Biography, p. 91)

William Carey’s life is a challenge to think in a radically heaven-focused way about the resources God has entrusted us with - “After an allowance for me and my family, my whole income goes for the purposes of the gospel.”

Praying with you about the limit of the allowance,   Steve Jeffrey


Thankful for Noses, Fingers and Toes

Sunday, May 04, 2014

I’m not an armchair sportsman. I generally don’t like to watch sport on TV (especially golf…yawn!). There are however times when I am astounded by what the human body can do. Not my body, the finally tuned athletic body. Gymnasts, rock climbers, triathletes (not golfers). 

It is with wonderful imagery that the apostle Paul describes the church as a body in 1 Corinthians 12 : Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many (vv12-14). Paul describes the church in terms of many parts making the one body. He is stressing the unity and the diversity of the local church - both of which we need and are to appreciate.  

There is however a temptation for us as individuals as part of the body. There is always a temptation to feel useless when you perceive someone to be greater. It's the feeling, or the opinion, that if you're not like somebody else you admire, you are useless. It is the temptation to view yourself as not as valuable as other parts. Paul goes on to say: Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body (vv15-20).

Paul gives us three remedies in vv15-20 to the feelings of uselessness in ministry when we compare our gifting and place in the body with others. 

Firstly, it is simply not true! In verse 16: if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. You may think it and you may feel it, but it is not true. Arguing yourself into a sense of uselessness in the body of Christ is invalid arguing. The conclusion does not stand. If you are a part of the body of Christ, you are not useless to the body. A rock climber wouldn’t go very far if their hands decided that they wanted to be the knee caps.

Secondly, the diversity of the ministry gifts actually serves unity in the church. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? If we were all ‘ears’ we would be dysfunctional.  

The third remedy for feelings of uselessness is in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. God has ordained us to be the way we are, to have the gifting we possess, JUST AS HE WANTS IT TO BE. If we say we are useless, we not only say ‘no’ to the idea of the body, but worse, we say no to God. We don't trust him. To say that we are useless is to say that God is weak or mistaken or evil: he is not sovereign, not wise, or not good. Like all issues it comes down to a radically God-focused issue—do you trust God?

I recently had the joy of communicating to the church about a number of appointments recently made at St Paul’s. It has been particularly wonderful to see these, and many others, give of themselves to see God’s church built up at St Paul’s. 

Even though I have a significant and prominent part in the St Paul’s body, I am very grateful for all the ‘noses’, ‘fingers’, ‘toes’ who trust God and serve the body, even though they may feel inadequate. Thank you for serving because I would not be complete, or able to function in my capacity as part of the body, for the body, without you. May our difference serve to create a unified and smoothly functioning body at St Paul’s.  

Steve Jeffrey


Life, Leadership, Sacrifice, Dedication and Enthusiasm for Mission

Sunday, March 30, 2014

It was a corker of a question: “How do you feel about the fact that for you to live, someone has to die?” The interviewee sat there, lost for words. His lower lip began to quiver, and his eyes filled with tears. “I have no idea how to answer that.” Then his head dropped, and he said, “I would probably pray for that person – every day, for the rest of my life.” 

The interviewer was Dr. Robert Winston of the BBC TV program Superhuman. He was talking to a man waiting for a heart transplant in an American hospital. He was one man in a ward full of people who desperately held to the hope that before their own heart completely stopped working, a suitable ‘donor’ heart would be found for them. For these patients to live someone else had to die. Their life was totally dependent on the death of another. 

Over Easter we give thanks for LIFE. What we remember and celebrate and give thanks for at Easter is that Jesus willingly traded his life for ours. Every human being is in desperate need of new life. We have all rebelled against the God who has given us the gift of life. The bible says we are ‘dead in our transgressions and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1). Spiritually dead even while we are alive. When Jesus died on the cross, he died the death we so richly deserve. He died as a sacrifice for our sins. By his death and resurrection our sins are forgiven, we are made right with God, and we receive the priceless gift of eternal life. 

This is what the most famous Bible verse says: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Thanks to his death on the cross in our place, and his resurrection defeating the power of death, the life Jesus offers us is eternal. We are totally dependent upon Jesus for a new heart, a new life. 

If we were sitting in a hospital ward, hooked up to monitors and tubes with a failing heart beat, and someone rushed in with a new heart we wouldn’t reject it. Why? Because we know we need it for life, and life is so precious. So the very first thing to say is, ask God to help you see your desperate plight and need for life in Jesus. Come to life through Jesus this Easter and know the preciousness of life forever. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

For those of us who have already received the gift of life through Jesus, Easter is a very important reminder that the life we have received is for all people. The fact of the matter is we are surrounded by people who are in desperate need of life. Our new life, and this desperate need, ought to bring a certain focus and purpose to the new life we live. 

The Lord Jesus has called us to align ourselves with his vision: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV). 

Can the church of Jesus Christ have any integrity or authenticity unless the summons of our Lord Jesus to make disciples of all the nations produces in us focus and strategies and sacrifices and dedication and enthusiasm to see others have life? 

I wrote last month about how we are led and governed here at St Paul’s. I mentioned things like the place of Parish Council and leadership and reporting structures. None of these things have to do with making the ‘wheels of St Paul’s turn better’ to make life easier. All of our strategies and ministries and leadership and governance are to constantly come under the microscope to ensure that it is best placed to serve the mission the Lord Jesus has given to us in our context. If what we do is more in preservation mode and consumer mode than disciple making mode then it has lost its focus and must change. 

It is essential for us to lay aside our peace-time mentality and wake up to the ominous reality of the spiritual war we are engaged in. The stakes are infinitely high: the glory of God and the eternal salvation of millions of people, of which thousands are within the reach of St Paul’s. Do you sense the urgency of the mission we have been called to? The stakes and the urgency call us to give our attention and support and energy to it. Much like we would if we were embroiled in an actual fight for our lives. 

Steve Jeffrey, Senior Minister