From the blog
Welcome to Mountainview this morning!
The picture on the screen is of some rocks in the British Virgin Islands called the Indians. Many years ago, when we didn’t have kids and exotic travel was a little more affordable, Riekje and I visited our Dutch friend called Laurens Blok, who still lives not far from these rocks. Laurens took us on his small sailing dingy to the Indians. Together we climbed the steep rocks, to the very top. Then Laurens proceeded to show us how, with a mighty leap, he could jump from the top. Because of their height, forward momentum carried him out beyond the rocks before plunging into the warm, clear, deep, Caribbean Sea. Laurens jumped a couple of times and we cheered to see him fly. Then he said to me, “It’s your turn!”
Looking down from the top, I was suddenly a lot less sure. Maybe it was an optical illusion, but it seemed that I had to jump an awfully long way to clear the rocks below. Doubts began to arise! If I jumped would forward momentum really carry me beyond the rocks before gravity sucked me downwards and to a certain death? So began my 30 minute dance between, “I’m going to jump” and “No way am I going to jump.” Eventually I decided that whatever the fear I was going to jump. So I flung myself into the air and jumped as far and as hard as I could.
Forward momentum did carry me beyond the rocks. I was well over the deep blue sea by the time gravity sucked me downwards, pulling me deep into the clear water. As I surfaced and looked at the Indians towering above me I was highly elated. I’d come to Caribbean and I had conquered! Me Tarzan!
Question: Did I believe that it was possible to jump off the Indians and survive? Absolutely, I’d watched Laurens jump several times. At what point did I have faith? I had faith when I finally plucked up the courage and jumped. My leap of faith began when I let go of the many conflicting thoughts about my chance of survival. I’d seen Laurens make the jump. I decided to risk everything and jump!
CS Lewis writes:
You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose that you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it? ... Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.
In other words it’s easy to observe and believe. But to risk trusting your whole life to something, or someone, takes faith.
In the Bible the word faith has this idea of trusting something to bear your weight. Stepping forward and trusting the wooden bridge will bear our weight as we cross the ravine! Diving off the bridge and trusting that as you bungee jump into thin air the chord is going to bear your weight.
It’s easy to believe in Jesus – James says that even the devil believes in Jesus. But trusting in Jesus – putting our life into his hands and letting him be Lord of our lives – is frankly a risky move that tests the reality of our belief in Jesus.
Last week at Thanksgiving our South African friends sang a beautiful song about Jesus being faithful. We may love the song and believe that Jesus is faithful. But we’ll never know if Jesus is faithful until we jump, until we risk our lives upon the reality of this belief.
I want to show a short clip from the Indiana Jones movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Indiana believes, but will he have the courage to step forward in faith
[Video Clip – Raiders of the Lost Ark]
Brings some of us back to our student days! Indiana believes, but will he have the courage to step forward in faith. Most of us believe in Jesus, but will we have the courage this Advent to step forwards into a deeper faith in Jesus. Will we risk more this Christmas and discover He is faithful, he is able, to bear our weight.
John Ortberg writes:
At its core, faith is not simply the belief in a statement; it puts trust in a person ~ John Ortberg.
Think for a minute - where in your life might Jesus be calling us to place a greater trust in him this Christmas? In a hurting relationship? In a career move? With difficulties that you’re having with your kids? With a serious illness that has blown its way into your life? With financial uncertainties? Where in your life might Jesus be calling you to place a greater trust in Him?
Just to remind us of where we are at! Last week we completed our series on discipleship and this morning we’re beginning our Advent series. I’d like to know how it got to be Christmas so quickly! This Advent we are going looking at Christmas through the lens of faith and doubt. This week we are going to focus on the topic of faith and next week Leah is going to speak to us about doubt.
Then we have our exciting café services in English and Spanish and a special crib service for families the following week. Three special services where we are going to be sharing more about the reality of Christmas with our family, friends and colleagues; inviting them to explore belief in Jesus that they too might have faith. Please take and use the invites provided. It would be great if we would all pray for one person/family that we would like to bring and then have the courage to invite them to come.
We’ll end the year with a service speaking about faith for the future.
Before we look at some thoughts about finding faith this Advent let me just say a couple of words about faith and doubt.
We tend to think that faith and doubt are mutually exclusive. John Ortberg has an excellent book called Faith and Doubt. He explores the issue of faith and doubt in detail. He reminds the reader that all Christ-followers experience both faith and doubt. We can be on the mountain-top one day, busting with faith, and then find ourselves in the deepest valley the next day, in darkest depths of doubt and despair!
The biblical scholar Frederick Dale Bruner writes:
The Christian faith is bi-polar. Disciples live their life between worship and doubt, trusting and questioning, hoping and worrying ~ Frederick Dale Bruner
I think that many of us at Mountainview do “believe”. My prayer for this Advent series is that we get a better handle on faith and doubt that it will lead us towards a deeper trust, a deeper devotion, to Christ.
I want us to read a short Christmas story that has both faith and doubt:
Luke/Lucas 1: 26-38
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
As we look at the Christmas story this year I want us to see more clearly that the players in the Nativity story were people of faith and doubt. These were not polished fairly tales where everything is nice and polished and “we all live happily ever after”. Yes, Mary and Joseph, the Wise men and the shepherds did show amazing faith – but they were also real people like you and me with their share of honest doubts.
When the angel appears to Mary we read she is “greatly troubled.” When the angel says to her that she’ll bear a son that they’ll call Jesus she’s confused. “How can this possibly be, I’ve never slept with a man. Mr. Angel sir, if you don’t mind me saying, your story is verging on the ridiculous!”
One of the reasons I believe the bible is true and have faith in God’s word is this: When I read the scriptures I find it to be a very real book, filled with the stories of people who think and act much like me. I believe the Christmas story because people in the Nativity story think and act like me – they are troubled, they are confused, they have faith, they have doubts.
Going back to our opening thought! Mary believed in God – but what gave her the faith to jump and become a participant with God in the Christmas story?
Three ways that the incarnation helps us step forward in faith this morning.
1. The Incarnation Calls Us to Explore Inspiration
The bible is God’s inspired word. The Angel says to Mary:
No word from God will ever fail (Luke 1:37)
The angel is telling Mary that God’s word is trustworthy and builds faith. In our story God’s Word is both immediately trustworthy and historically trustworthy.
Immediately trustworthy: The angel says to her that her cousin Elizabeth despite her old age is already 6 months pregnant. We did not read it this morning, but in the very next verse of Luke we are told that Mary hurries off to see Elizabeth. When she arrives John, still in the womb, leaps at the sound of Mary’s greeting. She confirms that God’s word is immediately trustworthy.
There have been several times in my life when God has clearly spoken to me through individuals or circumstances. This does not happen often, but it’s happened enough for me to experience the power and trustworthiness of God’s voice.
Historically trustworthy: Our text is full of allusions to the great biblical promises about the incarnation. He will take the throne of his father David. He will be born to a virgin.
Tori, Tamara and I are reading through the Old Testament and looking for passages that directly refer to Jesus. Did you know that the Old Testament has over 500 prophecies that speak of Jesus; His birth, His life, His death, and His return?
Nostradamus apparently predicted the future. But his words are vague. With little creativity they can be applied to a great number of settings. Many of the prophecies about Jesus, written hundred’s of years before his birth, are very clear and very specific. Prophecies, like where he would be born and how he would die, were completely out of Jesus’ control.
The mathematician Peter W. Stoner calculates the probability of someone randomly fulfilling the 48 major prophecies about Jesus to be one chance in 10157. Since there are only some 1070 atoms in the universe I think we agree that this is an impossibly small chance.
Any man who rejects Christ as the Son of God is rejecting a fact, proved perhaps more absolutely than any other fact in the world ~ Peter W. Stoner
As we remember the incarnation of Christ and the astounding reality that there are hundreds of prophecies about Jesus I hope we will be drawn to study God’s and apply God’s word – words that lead us to a saviour who is faithful. Words that we can build our lives upon. Words that we are told will not fail.
2. The Incarnation Challenges Us to Develop Integration
John Ortberg writes:
Faith is coming to believe with my whole body what I say I believe with my mind…the best indicator of my true beliefs and my true purposes are my actions ~ John Ortberg
Coming back to our text Mary believed in God but demonstrated her faith by offering her whole body, her whole life, to the purposes of God. Physically she would bear the Messiah. Mentally she faced the uncomfortable reality of public opinion about her pregnancy. No doubt she felt the need for a deeper spirituality in her call to be the “mother” of our Lord. Mary uses her body, mind and soul to demonstrate her faith in God
Last Sunday Kary gave me his father, Ken Eldred’s, latest book called the Integrated Life. I took the book with me to the UK last week and read several chapters of his excellent tome on the plane.
One of the points Ken Eldred makes is that we live in a very complex world with a lot of demands placed upon our lives. One of the ways that cope with all of this pressure is we tend to compartmentalize our lives. We separate our lives into different spheres with little overlap like our work lives, our family lives, our social lives and our faith lives. His book challenges us to bring spiritual significance to every part of our lives.
The message of Christmas is that God has fully entered into our world. God has become a man. God had a work life – he was a carpenter. God had a family life – he had a mother and father and brothers and sisters. God had a community life - the people who knew him were amazed, “Is this Jesus from Nazareth that we’ve known since he was a kid!” God had a religious life – the Gospels tell us Jesus attended the synagogue each week and that he made regular pilgrimages with his family to the temple in Jerusalem.
God has entered into every part of our humanity. Our everyday life matters to God. Faith does not just relate to our “religiousphere” but to our “lifeospehere”. The challenge of Christmas is this: Will we invite God to enter every part of our, every compartment, of our lives? God has entered the world - have you invited God to enter your world?
3. The Incarnation Leads Us from Belief to Adoration
Mary says to the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant”. Mary moved beyond simply believing about God to submitting her life to God, to worshipping him, to adoring him.
Mortimer Adler was one of the great philosophers of the Twentieth Century. For most of his life he believed in “intelligent design” – when he observed the incredible design and complexity in the world he concluded that there must be powerful, intelligent, personal force behind creation. But he did not know God personally or worship him. He believed in a god as one believes in ozone. Speaking of his conversion Adler writes:
After a trip to Mexico [in 1984]... I fell ill... The illness was protracted... I suffered a mild depression... When [an Episcopal priest] prayed for my recovery, I choked up and wept. The only prayer I knew word for word was the Pater Noster. On that day and in the days after it, I found myself repeating the Lord's Prayer, again and again, and meaning every word of it. Quite suddenly, when I was awake one night, a light dawned on me, and I realized what had happened... After many years of affirming God's existence and trying to give adequate reasons for that affirmation, I found myself believing [having faith] in God.
Adler had moved from believing in a god to submitting his life to the God. To worshipping and adoring God as the Lord of his life! Adler believed in a God but finally he made a leap of faith. He risked everything. He jumped. He discovered that God is very real, personal, loving and able to bear all his weight. He moved from believing in a God to submitting, adoring, worshipping the living God.
Think for a minute. Where in our lives might Jesus be calling us to demonstrate a greater faith in Him this Advent? Will we take greater risks in faith and know a greater reality of the loving Lord in whom we believe.
[Let us pray]
The Parable of the Sower is must be among one of the most well-known of the parables that Jesus told. Next year, during Lent, we’re going to look at some of Jesus’ parables, including the Parable of the Sower. In the parable the seed represents the word of God. Some sees falls on the path and birds, representing the devil, come along and eat it up. Some seed falls on rocky places were it grows, but then when the sun comes out the seedlings are scorched and wilt (looks a bit like my houseplants). Some seed falls among thorns and weeds, representing worry and materialism. The weeds grow choke the seedlings and stifle spiritual growth. Some seeds fall on good soil, where they grow and mature, and over time produce a crop that is many times greater than what was sown.
This morning we are completing our series on discipleship. We’ve been reminded, several times during this series, discipleship is not a course we pass, but a commitment to follow Christ, every day, for the rest of our lives. We’ve touched on some important areas of discipleship – forgiveness, generosity, humility and sharing our faith. I heard Jacob preached an outstanding message on sharing Jesus with others last week. However, I strongly believe our discussions on discipleship are not complete without talking about finishing-well as a disciple.
The bible has a lot to say about finishing well. We can start out as a disciple of Jesus with lots of gusto, but when the sun comes out – when life heats up and problems come, or when the weeds grow up and we start to focus on our i-pad more than on God - we peter-out and stop following. Without entering too deeply into the debate about eternal security! Let me just say that the parable of the sower suggests that true faith, true following, is demonstrated by following Jesus in the long-haul. Jesus does not say “Pray this prayer and everything will be OK!” True disciples grow and mature and go onto produce a harvest of good works that is many times what was sown. True disciples finish well.
Paul takes up this theme of finishing-well. He says:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
Christ wants us to grow, mature, produce a harvest and finish-well in or lifelong call to follow. If we’re going to finish well as a disciple, one of the things we need to get a handle on is failure. Everyone faces failure. I want to show a short video on failure.
[Video – Famous Failures]
“If you’ve never failed you’ve never lived!” We cannot finish well if we don’t learn to overcome failure.
The bible has a lot to say about failure and peoples responses to failure.
I am currently reading through the Old Testament. For the past few weeks I have been in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. This covers the period that Moses led the people through the desert for 40 years. At one point the people complain that they don’t have enough water. So God tells Moses to “strike” the rock and water gushes out. On a later occasion the people again complain that they don’t have enough water. God tells Moses to “speak” to the rock. But Moses becomes angry and strikes the rock, and water gushes out. So God says to Moses. Because you did honor me by following my leading you will not be able to enter the Promised Land. Small boo-boo! Seems kind of harsh doesn’t it! If it was me I would have said, “Ok God I quit! I’ve had enough of leading this sorry bunch of people! I’m out of here!”
Moses reaction is astounding! You know what Moses does? He accepts God’s discipline! He learns about awesome holiness of God! He starts to raise up a successor to lead the people – Joshua. Moses begins to prepare the people to enter the Promised Land. The book of Deuteronomy, one of the greatest books in the Old Testament, is a collection of Moses’ sermons to the people before they enter the Promised Land. Moses kept following God through the failure. Moses followed God to the end of his life! Will we follow Christ to the very end of our life.
King David. He commits adultery with Bathsheba and then to cover up his sin works out a plan to have her husband killed on the front lines. The prophet Nathan comes and masterfully tells a story of a rich man taking a sheep from a poor man. David “burns with anger” says to Nathan this rich man needs to pay for what he’s done to this poor man! And Nathan says – you are the man and you will pay! What does David do? We are told he repents! When we face moral failure will we soften our heart and repent?
The bible also gives ample examples of people who did not respond to failure well; people who started off well, but did not finish well.
Saul, the first King of Israel! When the prophet Samuel rebukes him for assuming priestly responsibilities that were not his to assume, we find that rather than learn and grow from his failure it sets him up for further problems. He develops a pattern of disobeying God’s leading. He makes some embarrassingly poor leadership decisions. Distance grows between him and his family. He becomes chronically angry. He looses it. He eventually looses the kingdom and his life. Saul does not finish well.
A couple of years ago we mentioned King Asa. He started off so well and we are told he did right in the eyes of the Lord. He trusted God when greatly outnumbered and God gave him an incredible victory over the Cushites. Asa rid the land Judah of idols. God blessed him with rest from his enemies. His heart was fully committed to the Lord until the 36 year of his reign. At year 36 he slips up and does not consult God. He makes a treaty with the King of Aram. The prophet Hannai confronts Asa. But Asa does not respond well. He gets angry and puts Hannai in prison. He becomes brutal with his people. God inflicts him with a disease in his feet and sadly we are told that still “he did not seek help from the Lord”. He ends his long reign with a heart that is hard towards God. Asa, 36 years with an amazing heart for God and outstanding leadership. He fails! But then he does not learn from his failure and finishes life very poorly.
This morning I’d like us to look at one more story of failure from the bible and draw out 3 short lessons that we can follow:
Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish
1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.[c] 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus Reinstates Peter
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
3 simple, life-changing challenges from our reading!
1. Face Your Failures:
In all the stories we’ve mentioned this morning people had to face their failures. Some accepted their failures and grew. Some did not accept their failures and fell further. The deciding factor seems to be this one thing: Are we willing to face our failures?
When we fail we can have different responses. Some of us try to cover the sense of failure with alcohol or watching too much TV. Some of us try to ignore the failure by working harder or, alternatively, sleeping more. Some of us respond to failure by becoming angry or blaming others. Some of us become depressed. Some of us respond by reverting to patterns of behaviour that comfort us. In the Alpha Marriage Course one of the points they make is that under stress we tend to revert to the patterns of behaviour that we learnt from our parents. If your spouse is acting like the in-laws they might be dealing with failure!
How does Peter cope with failure? He goes fishing! He goes back to his old life and starts doing what he knows he can do. He can fish, and he can forget this guy, Jesus.
But when Jesus shows up on the beach he must face his failure.
The Greek word anthrakia (from the English word "anthracite"), meaning charcoal, is found only twice in the New Testament. Both times in John’s Gospel! The first instance is in John 18:18 and describes a charcoal fire in the High Priest’s Courtyard. The second instance is from our text and describes the charcoal fire on the beach. Peter swims to the shore. Jesus has made a fire – a charcoal fire.
Commentators agree that John is making a strong connection between the two fires. Peter comes onto the beach and the first thing he sees is a charcoal fire, much like the one that he stood beside and denied Christ. Jesus is making Peter face his failure!
Reading through the bible - everyone fails at some point. It seems to me that the distinguishing difference in the bible between those who were willing to face their failure and continue journeying with God and those refused to face failure and saw their demise.
2. Find God’s Grace in Failure
If we’re going to work through failure then after facing our failures we need to find God’s grace in failure.
Where do we find God’s grace our reading?
One of the ways is in the breakfast Jesus had cooked. In the culture of its day inviting someone for a meal was a big sign of welcome and acceptance. In our culture it would be like a welcome home card, or a bunch of flowers, or a bottle of good wine. Peter sees the bread and the fish and knows Jesus is offering him love, acceptance and forgiveness.
Even some of the language used reminds us of the last supper where Jesus takes the bread and gives it to his disciples. Maybe as Jesus took the bread off the charcoal fire and broke it and gave it to his disciples they thought back to that meal just before his death when Jesus broke bread and said to them – here is bread my body that is broken for you.
Out text today is also replete with new starts. If we compare it to their first call it’s likely the disciples were back on the very same stretch of beach.
Beside Lake Galilee (Luke 5)
Beside Lake Galilee (John 21)
Had gone fishing and caught nothing all night (Luke 5)
Were fishing and had caught nothing all night (John 21)
Jesus tells them to let down their nets (Luke 5)
Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat (John 21)
They caught a large number of fish and the nets started to tear (Luke 5)
They caught a large number of large fish (153 to be exact) and the nets did not tear (John 21)
Peter says “go away” (Luke 5)
Jesus says “do you love me” (John 21)
Jesus tells him to catch men (Luke 5)
Jesus tells him to look after sheep (John 21)
Jesus calls Peter to follow (Mathew 4)
Jesus calls Peter to follow even unto death (John 21)
Jesus is offering them a new opportunity to follow him.
Going back to the stories from the Old Testament, in every failure there is grace.
Moses cannot enter the Promised Land – he accepts it and finishes well. But scripture declares him to be the greatest leader after Christ. Lawrence was reminding me that in the Gospel he does make it to the Promised Land – appearing beside Jesus in the transfiguration.
David accepts his punishment for sin. We will shortly celebrate the fulfilment of the promise that a king in the line of David was born who shall sit on the throne forever.
The kingdom is removed from Saul only after he repeatedly/deliberately disobeys God.
When Hannai challenges Asa he reminds him that God is right there waiting to strengthen and bless all whose hearts are fully committed to God.
Peter could have thought – it’s the Lord – cut the nets – turn the boat around and get to me to the other side of the lake as far as you can from this God who has exposed my weakness – instead he draws close and finds acceptance and a new start.
One last way that we see God’s grace in failure is that it can draw us closer to God. A couple of quotes:
Proud people focus on the failures of others and can readily point out those faults. Broken people are more conscious of their own spiritual need than of anyone else's. ~ Nancy Leigh DeMoss
When people fail, we are inclined to find fault with them, but if you look more closely, you will find that God had some particular truth for them to learn, which the trouble they are in is to teach them ~ G.V. Wigram
Question: When we fail will we face our failures and find the grace?
3. Follow! Follow! Follow!
The heroes of the bible have one distinguishing mark. When they fail they face their failures, they find God’s grace and forgiveness for their failures and then they get up and start following God again. More often than not, working through their failures draws them closer to God.
Jesus says to Peter, “Follow me!” When Peter does a Peter and says, “Hey, what about John?” Jesus says, “Don’t worry about him – You, you Peter, must follow me!” Jesus tells Peter that he will die a martyr, but in the same breath He calls Peter to follow him until the very end of his life. Peter had denied Jesus – messed up big time as a disciple -come face to face with his inadequacies and failures, and found God’s grace! And now Jesus calls him again to follow; to follow to the end of his life and finish well as His disciple.
Have we heard from Jesus a call to follow? Have we said to Him in the depth of our hearts – I will follow you and seek to become more like you until the very end of my life. I will work though failure, I will learn from failure. I will invite you Jesus to help me grow and mature and produce a spiritual harvest. I’m with you Jesus for the long haul. My heart is set on finishing well as your follower.
[Let us pray]
Welcome to Mountainview.
The great evangelist Billy Graham tells of a time early in his ministry when he arrived in a small town to preach a sermon. Wanting to mail a letter, he asked a young boy where the post office was. When the boy had told him, Dr. Graham thanked him and said, "If you'll come to the Baptist Church this evening, you can hear me telling everyone how to get to heaven."
The boy replied, "I don't think I'll be there... You don't even know your way to the post office!"
This morning we’re looking at humility. If you meet Billy Graham you’ll discover that he’s a very humble man. Throughout his life, despite his great fame, Billy Graham has sought to grow in Christ-like humility.
Another famous preacher that was very humble was John the Baptist. He kind of has the same hand-gesture as Billy Graham! He had a successful ministry. The crowds came to hear him speak by the River Jordan. But, when he saw Jesus, he said to the crowds:
He must become greater, and I must become less important. (John 3: 30)
Eugene Peterson in the Message translates the verse this way:
This is the assigned moment for him to move into the centre, while I slip off to the sidelines. (The Message)
Children, while you’re in your classes at KidsZone the adults are going through a series on discipleship. Can anyone tell me what a disciple is?
Disciple means that we follow someone; Christian disciples follow Jesus and try to become more like Jesus in the way they think and act.
The bible says that the Lord Jesus was humble. So, if we’re serious about following Jesus, we need to grow in humility.
This morning we’re going to look at a short story about humility. I’ve asked a couple of children to read our short text for us (in English and in Spanish).
Mark 9:33-37 (New International Version)
33They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" 34But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."
36He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."
Marcos 9:33-37 (La Biblia de las Américas)
33Y llegaron a Capernaúm; y estando ya en la casa, les preguntaba: ¿Qué discutíais por el camino? 34Pero ellos guardaron silencio, porque en el camino habían discutido entre sí quién de ellos era el mayor.
35Sentándose, llamó a los doce y les dijo: Si alguno desea ser el primero, será el último de todos y el servidor de todos.
36Y tomando a un niño, lo puso en medio de ellos; y tomándolo en sus brazos les dijo: 37El que reciba a un niño como éste en mi nombre, a mí me recibe; y el que me recibe a mí, no me recibe a mí, sino a aquel que me envió.
I want to make 3 short points from our text on humility.
1. Humility makes friends!
How many of us have ever had a fight with a brother or sister? Lots of us! What do parents like say when their kids fight? My Mum always told us to stop acting like a bunch of kid’s! "Mum we are kids!"
There’s some irony in our bible reading! The disciples get into a squabble about who’s the greatest. Jesus asks them what’s going on. They don’t say a word. They’re all thinking, "Boy, this is so embarrassing, Jesus has caught us acting like a bunch of kids!"
So what does Jesus do? He takes a child in his arms. A baby or small toddler! They think they know what Jesus is going to say! "Lesson time lads! Take a look at this child in my arms! Now imagine I have 12 of them in my arms representing you all! How crazy would that be? Now, will you guys stop acting like a bunch of kids!"
But, instead Jesus surprises them! He tells them, I want you to learn about humility from this child. I’ve been thinking this week…what on earth did Jesus want them, want us, to learn?
I’d like a small volunteer to come to the front. I hope this helps us grasp what Jesus wants us to learn.
God has made us to be fulfilled by friendship with others.
If we’re filled with pride and put all of our energy into being the greatest, what happens? We end up looking down on the tops of people’s heads. How much friendship can we have with some hair, or someone’s shiny top, or a few head lice? Very little! But, if we lower ourselves to their level – or, if we lift them up to our level – wow…let the relationship begin!
Some of us at MV did a parenting course a few years back. One of the sessions involved learning to get down on our knees and play with our kids; face to face, eye to eye, heart to heart.
Jesus takes up a child in his arms and offers us this challenging thought. As we lower ourselves to the level of another human, or as we lift them up to our level, we face each other, eye to eye, heart to heart and friendship can take place.
Viewed this way, humility is not rule from a mean God that wants to ruin our biological drive to be "the fittest" – but a tremendous gift that blesses us with richer friendships.
2. Humility brings freedom and blessing
Evolution says our genetic makeup drives us to want to be the "fittest"; a nice scientific way of saying we’re biologically wired for pride. But, are we gridlocked with our genes? NO!
Humility frees us from being an animal so we can become more human. Humility frees us from thinking about ourselves to thinking about others more. Humility frees us to become more like Jesus.
A couple of challenging quotes:
Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself. ~William Temple
Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. ~Rick Warren
The upside down logic of Jesus that frankly flies in the face of much evolutionary theory, is humble are the winners, the blessed! Disciples learn to put Jesus’ upside down logic into practice and discover that it really works! Last week Eric spoke on giving. Jesus says if we give we will receive (upside down logic). Today is about humility. If we lower ourselves we end up becoming greater…human beings (upside down logic). Friends, this upside down logic even works in business too!
Jim Collins in his best selling book, From Good to Great, talks about 11 companies that have sustained greatness for over 15 years. He looked at the CEO’s of these companies and he found that that have 2 things in common. All of them! Number one, a professional will to succeed. No matter what they face they find a way to get through it. Number 2 they all have a personal humility, a self effacing style. They’ve come to see that the number one killer of good decision making is ego. Truth is we like to do business with those who are humble.
Will we put the upside down logic of Jesus into practice? No matter how counterintuitive, do we really believe that if we are humble we will experience freedom and blessing?
3. Humility enriches faith
I don’t know whether we caught it…but Jesus says whoever has humility welcomes him and whoever welcomes him welcomes God.
The bible says that the God of the universe is humble. Let me say it again. The God of all is humble!
If God is humble then we can only know him and be friends with him if we are humble ourselves. God became a man! Paul says he became the lowest of all men! Just maybe Jesus can only be found and known as we lower ourselves to His level (I hope that does not sound heretical, but in the picture God has assumed a lower status than Peter). Will we kneel before his crib this Christmas? Will we kneel before his cross next Easter? Will we humble ourselves daily before him in prayer?
The bible reminds us over and over that God is humble. God is the defender of the weak, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant. God draws close to the humble.
At Mountainview we have a humble member called Carmen. Christ has blessed her and now she’s humbly blessing others. This summer Carmen went home to Paraguay for a few weeks. She spent her holiday preaching the Gospel, caring for the poor, the elder, the sick, the dying and those in prison. She took several boxes of clothes, left over from our Garage Sale, and distributed them to the poor. Jesus oozes out of Carmen. She’s like an angel and most of us don’t even know it. Carmen is very humble. Her humility has brought her close to Jesus, her humble Lord! Her Christ-like humility connects her to people of low status. She humbly, willingly, shares Christ and His mercy to the lowliest of this world.
Let’s close with a slide show of Carmen’s trip. As we look at the slide show let’s make a decision to embrace Christ’s upside down teaching and grow in humility. Let’s learn from Carmen’s example and become more like Jesus, our humble king.
[Let us pray]
Good morning Mountainview Church. Today we are going to look at the lives of two rich men in the New Testament and observe what God is telling us about generosity, but also about grace, faith, salvation, what we are going to do with the rest of our lives starting today and other small topics.
Turn with me to Luke 18:18-30
18 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
19 So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.
20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’"
21 And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth."
22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
23 But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
24 And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!
25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
26 And those who heard it said, "Who then can be saved?"
27 But He said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God."
28 Then Peter said, "See, we have left all and followed You."
29 So He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,
30 who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life."
A little background on this passage. Jesus has spent several years now with his disciples, teaching them about salvation and repentance and the Kingdom of God. And if you were with Jesus, you would have noticed how people who meet Jesus are so tremendously attracted to Him that they have a tendency to just drop everything and follow Him. You saw that when the 12 disciples joined Him, leaving behind their boats and nets. But Jesus also sent out a group of 70 missionaries, as described in Luke 10. And so, when Jesus meets a rich man and asks him to follow, you would expect him to do so also.
So, verse 18 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
We know relatively little about this man except that he is rich. But we don’t know his name. He has been completely forgotten by history. We can call him whatever name we want, so let’s call him Gatsby, as in Great Gatsby. Gatsby has existential curiosity: he is intrigued by questions of eternity and thinks perhaps Jesus could enlighten him.
Jesus responds, in verse 18, by asking questions in typically rabbinic fashion, meant not to toy with Gatsby but rather to help him reach his own conclusions. "You call Me good" "But only God is truly good".
And then Jesus mentions some of the 10 commandments, God’s standard for goodness. And in verses 20-21 we see that, indeed, Gatsby is rather good. This is the sort of chap we would probably love to have as a neighbour. He doesn’t cheat on his wife or murder or steal or lie and he even sends his parents emails on their birthdays. Gatsby is good.
And yet, it seems that Jesus isn’t looking for good people. Vs 22 Jesus says, "great. You just need to do one more thing. Sell your stuff: your jetskis and your Hummer, give the proceeds to the poor and come follow Me and you will have treasures in Heaven". And Gatsby says, "I can’t give up that" and goes away dejected, verse 23.
Jesus is looking for followers.
And then we come to this slightly enigmatic proverb that Jesus pronounces: Verse 25 "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God", which doesn’t sound very easy. Now, there are a number of theories about what this means, but one is that the "eye of a needle" was a city gate through which a camel might squeeze if a camel were first unloaded of all its baggage. But if the camel has all the baggage that a rich person would presumably carry, it would be difficult for the camel to get through.
We all have baggage that make following Jesus difficult, don’t we?
I can’t give up my money.
I can’t give up my friends
I can’t give up my fast track career
I can’t give up my family
Not only does Jesus imply that Gatsby is not good, because he lacks generosity, Gatsby misses out on salvation, Jesus says.
Which, is really somewhat bad news for rich people. If you have worked hard to earn a bit of cash, you have effectively earned yourself a beachfront property at the eternal lack of fire..
So who is rich? Well, according to the website www.givingwhatwecan.org, if you make €20.000, you make more than 98% of the world’s population, 27 times that of the average person. That is, you are richer than over 5 billion people on the planet. Most of us are rich, which is somewhat depressing given the message so far.
Before we get too down, let’s look at another rich man in the New Testament. Turn with me please to Acts 10: 1-8
1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment,
2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.
3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius!"
4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, "What is it, lord?"
So he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.
5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.
6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do."
7 And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually.
8 So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.
We actually know quite a bit about Cornelius. He was most likely an Italian of Roman blood from a distinguished family. Cornelius was a centurion, in charge of about 100 men, probably a mixture of Italians, Samaritans and Syrian Greeks. And he is rich: people wait on him.
If you have seen the film Captain Corellis’ Mandolin, starring Nicolas Cage, you may have a romantic view of what it is like to be an Italian officer serving in a foreign land.
However, let us not forget that Cornelius—Captain Corneli, if you will--is serving in the Roman army under a man named Pontius Pilate. Yes, that Pontius Pilate, the one that pùt Jesus to death. So these are not such nice Italian boys.
And yet, we see in verse 2 that Captain Corneli was a "devout man" who feared God, who gave alms to the poor and prayed. Which. is. Odd. Because the Romans are polytheistic, so if Corneli fears "God", he is fearing the Jewish God. And if he is giving alms to the poor, who are the poor in Israel? They are Jewish. And when he prays, Corneli prays at the hours that the Jews pray, the ninth hour being three o clock.
Captain Corneli, it seems, has started to follow the God of the Jews and he is not Jewish.
We can imagine Corneli’s officer friends come to see him and say "Captain Corneli. Come, let’s get a pizza, meet some nice girls" and he says, "No, I don’t do that anymore. I follow the Jewish God now". And they say, "But Corneli, you don’t know anything about the Jewish God. Come". And he says, "Yes. You are right. But I am going to follow their God anyway".
And so a rich man, Corneli, gives to the poor.
A strong man, sides with the weak.
The oppressor embraces the oppressed.
In verse 3, an angel appears and says "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God". Now hold on. Capitan Corneli is a rich, Roman soldier. He is neither Jewish nor Christian. Yet God has heard his prayers.
It seems that God listens to the prayers of whomever He chooses.
But the angel also says that Captain Corneli’s generosity with the poor is like a memorial meal, like the grain sacrifices that God found pleasing in the Old Testament.
And so Corneli does what the angel tells him. He goes on to meet Peter, learns about Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and shortly thereafter, is speaking in tongues like the Christians at Pentecost.
And Corneli receives salvation and legend tells us that he became a Bishop of the early Church. And with this rich yet generous man, God begins a whole new period in church history, whereby the gospel is extended to Gentiles.
The contrast between Gatsby and Corneli is striking. On one hand, we have
Gatsby - Cornelius
Rich - Rich
Moral - Moral (but in an immoral job)
Believer in Jesus - Believer in God
Jewish (God’s chosen people) - Gentile (oppressor of God’s people)
Not generous with poor - Generous with poor
Not saved - Is Saved
So stingy Gatsby is not saved but generous Corneli is? Are we "saved" by being generous?
The Bible and all the major branches of Christianity agree that we are not saved by being generous. We are not saved by our good works. We are also not saved by our belief or by going to Church. We are saved by God’s grace; which means that God, from outside time and space extends his unmerited favour to mankind.
It is true, however, that we receive God’s gift of salvation through faith; Ephesians 2:8 "By grace you have been saved through faith"
I have a number of friends that struggle with the concept of "faith". One friend thinks that since he believed in Jesus as a boy, he is now saved and has license to do whatever he wants. That is what Dietrich Bonhoffer would call "Cheap Grace".
Another friend who is a sincere follower of Jesus wonders if, with his occasional doubts, he really has faith.
Yet faith is more than just belief. The Greek word for "faith" is "Pistis" and conveys credence or belief plus trust. Just believing in Jesus is not having faith. Jesus wants our trust.
For some of us who are steeped in science, the whole concept of "faith" seems a bit intellectually cowardly. We want rigour; we want to believe only that which we can be proven with the scientific method.
However, the scientific method is not the only epistemology for truth. Moreover, we actually employ faith all the time. When we get on an airplane, we put our faith in the airplane that it can get us to our destination. We cannot prove that scientifically. However, it is not a blind, unreasonable leap of faith. If we are getting ready to board and notice that the pilot is stumbling drunk, we will probably think twice about taking that plane. But when we get on, we both believe that planes fly and trust that the pilot will get us to where we want to go.
Gatsby has belief. He believes that Jesus can tell him about eternity. Corneli, however, has faith. He shows his trust in a God he hardly knows by giving generously to the poor. Gatsby is a believer. But God is looking for followers. From the time of Jesus, followers of Jesus have been characterised by prayer, fasting and "almsgiving" or generosity.
Why is generosity so important that God would withhold his grace from a good Jewish man and pour out his grace on a gentile? Why is generosity such an important sign of our faith (our belief and trust in God)?
First Generosity is at the core of God’s nature and thus should be part of ours. God owns everything—"the Earth is the Lords(Psm 24:1.) and yet he has given it to us. Moreover, God, who had everything, became a man, who had nothing and offered himself generously for us on the cross. God has a special compassion for the poor and the first sermon that Jesus preached in the synagogue, in Luke 4, is that he is anointed "to preach the gospel to the poor". We who are Christians, which means "little Christs", imitate Jesus when we are generous with our money and time. The needs are huge
Another reason generosity is so important is that the need is huge. We are told by St. James (1.27) to look after the orphans and widow. There is a huge need to take care of their physical needs: about 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night. There is also a huge spiritual need. Jesus told his disciples to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel". Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to "the world". We live in one of the most spiritually moribund places on the planet, with perhaps 4 million people in the community of Madrid that have little or no relationship with Jesus Christ.
Finally, generosity is important because we were created to be generous and thus doing so will make us happy. There was a study done at MIT recently about how to motivate employees. Now, my university economics courses told me that each of us is a profit maximizing actor, so if you want to motivate people, pay them more. Money is the greatest motivator in life, my economics professors taught. Yet my professors were wrong. Researchers have found that paying people more money per se is not a very good motivator. How else does one explain groups like Linux or Wikipedia, that exist because people give their time voluntarily to them? These researchers have found that people need a transcendent purpose. We need to maximize our purpose, not just our profit.
Being generous with our money and time for the cause of Jesus Christ is the most satisfying transcendent purpose one can pursue. Because by doing so, you are co-operating in God’s plan to extend his Kingdom, which is to say, to extend goodness and love and peace in our troubled world.
How much should we give? I think tithing, giving 10% of our income, is a good minimum. Perhaps a better question is "How much should we keep?" Jesus asked Gatsby to give everything.
Let me finish with a word of encouragement. There are probably a few Capitan Cornelis here today, a few who of us are practicing generosity with our money and time, yet we are not really sure whom we are following. Its like we are sitting on this plane, yet we have doubts that planes really fly. God sees your generosity and it is like a memorial meal for Him. I encourage you to get to stay on board and to ask the Holy Spirit to help you get to know the pilot, Jesus Christ.
Others of us believe, like Gatsby, but we have a hard time being generous and then trusting God with our material needs. Let me encourage you to get on board. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the generosity of Jesus. The need is huge. And it will make you happy. "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life."
Back at the end of August Joel and I enjoyed a father-son trip to the Canary Islands. A rite of passage as Joel moved from primary to secondary education! We stayed on Fuerteventura, one of the drier and more desolate islands; essentially a few hotels on top of a big lava flow. Right outside of our apartment the jet black, lifeless, lava spread out towards the sea, ending abruptly at the waters edge; a cliff edge that dropped straight down into crystal clear ocean.
On our last day we saw some people diving off the cliffs into the sea. Joel wanted to dive too. So we made this agreement. We’d climb down the cliffs and do a bit of snorkelling first to make sure the water was deep enough and that there were no unsuspecting obstacles, like any sunken battleships and other rocky outcrops that might be dangerous to ignorant mainlanders such as ourselves.
Entering the sea was amazing. The water was deep and crystal clear. The lava precipice, plunging downwards for over 50 feet was teeming with life. Schools of colourful fish! Sea urchins, celestially scattering the rocks and bottom! Joel discovered some brightly coloured crabs. And then, at the end of our snorkelling, Joel climbed up to the top of the cliff and dived, like an Olympic contestant, into the beautiful ocean.
Reflecting on Fuerteventura this week, I thought back to other times when I went snorkelling in waters that looked so inviting only to be disappointed because they turned out to be murky or dead zones. I once went snorkelling on a reef a few weeks after a hurricane had charged through. The coral has been broken up by heavy seas.
This morning we are going to challenge each of us seated here to take a dive into the depths of our lives. To take a look around the places deep within us that only God and we can see and ask ourselves, “What’s it like down there?” Is it full of life? Is it murky? Is it polluted? Is it a death zone? Is it full of brokenness?
I enjoy a good challenge. Giving a short talk at a wedding is like the ultimate challenge. You have 5 minutes to say something profound to a young couple, so caught up in love and enjoying their special day – so high on hormones, adrenaline and anticipation - that they’ll probably not remember what was said until they watch the video after getting back from their honeymoon.
That’s probably why most preachers resort to an opening joke to grab the couple’s attention. But knowing how much Sam shuns humour and merriment of all kind I’ve decided to get serious from the start.
Tamara, who is playing the piano today, suggested I speak on the Ecclesiastes 4 passage about 2 being better than one – how we can keep each other warm and help each other up when one falls down. How a cord of three strands is not easily broken. A truly great passage! But some of us are still recovering from Chase Whitmire’s story about hypothermic teenagers keeping warm during a flash flood by cuddling together in a sleeping bag. I felt it wise not go there!
One of the books I’ve enjoyed reading recently is, Love & War, by John and Stasi Eldredge. They remind us that when we get married we’re not signing up for a life of never ending bliss. No! We’re signing up for a great adventure, a lifelong journey that will test our metal like no other thing in this life can! An incalculable quest that will make us or break us! Better, will break us and remake us!
I can hear the singles saying, “You’re kidding”. I can see the married’s among us nodding their heads and saying to themselves, “preach it brother!”
The Eldredge’s call marriage “a moment of immense consequence”. Sam and Claudia in a few minutes you will be making a decision of titanic consequence.
A moment of immense consequence
We mistakenly believe that marriage will cover our weaknesses. The truth is it exposes our weaknesses. We get married and the layers come off – literally and metaphorically. It’s not too long before we discover we’re naked before each other, and because of our fallen-ness, we feel ashamed.
One day, not too long from now, Claudia, you’re going to wake up and wonder “Am I beautiful enough for Sam?” One day Sam you’re going to wake up and wonder, “Am I man enough, strong enough, for Claudia?” When those days come, and believe me they will, will you commit to helping each other grow in Christ likeness? Sam will you help Claudia to discover more of her beauty and grace; her womanhood that reflects God’s glorious beauty and grace. Claudia will you help Sam to discover more of his strength and honour; his manhood that reflects God’s great strength and honour.
A Living Parable of the Gospel
The second challenge from the book is that marriage is more than simply the joining of a man and woman before God. It’s a living parable of the Gospel. Marriage reflects the greater story of a God who left his home in heaven in search of a beloved. A God who gave his very life to win for himself a bride, his church! A God who is relentlessly committed to helping his followers recover their worth, to them becoming more like Him.
Sam and Claudia I know you love and serve Christ. Will you commit to making your marriage a living parable of the Gospel. A living, breathing, touchable revelation of the amazing love and forgiveness and grace and redemption and hope that is offered by Christ to the world. May the way that you love and offer grace to one another and to the world speak volumes to those around you about the way that God loves and offers grace to us and to the world!
Sam and Claudia, I don’t say this prophetically, but having seen something of your good hearts and humility before the Lord I can say this with some certainty. I believe your marriage, your union before God, carries a significant possibility of God working greatly through your marriage to bless this city.
All that you need to do is be willing to ever keep moving onward in the great adventure of marriage that God has set before you. To keep growing closer together and in your love for each other. To keep growing in your love for Jesus, your saviour. To keep becoming more like Jesus.
Remember He is the One who is able to lead you over the highest peak and through the deepest valley and bring you to green pastures. He is the One who is able to bless your lifelong journey together with a cup that overflows with love for each and for Him.
We are going to continue with a time of worship and then Sam and Claudia will make their promises of immense consequence, and their great and challenging adventure will begin.
Let us pray (band up)
Those who know me well know I enjoy watching movies. Perhaps the most inspiring and challenging film I’ve watched this year has been the movie, Invictus. The film is based on events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The ending of apartheid meant that South Africa was finally able to host international sporting events. The films tells the inspiring and true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with François Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks, South Africa's rugby team, to unite the nation of South Africa.
I want to show a clip from the movie where François Pienaar visits Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island. Later, the night before the rugby final, François wonders how Nelson Mandela could spend 30 years in a cell and come out able to forgive those who had put him there
[Video Clip – 01 Invictus]
It’s stunning how Nelson Mandela could emerge from his tiny cell on Robben Island, where he’d been incarcerated for 27 years, to become one of the greatest world leaders to have walked the face of this earth. The grace, the forgiveness and the reconciliation he offered challenge us all. The church and many good people in South Africa also grasped the vision for reconciliation and worked so hard for forgiveness in South Africa. Jacob Brockhouse, one of our elders, works for the South African embassy. Several families attending Mountainview are part of the South African embassy. We have other South African’s attending Mountainview. I just want to say to you. Thank you for teaching me so much about forgiveness. Thank you for teaching us all so much about forgiveness. Thank you for teaching the world so much about forgiveness.
Greatly inspired by the example of Nelson Mandela, I was also challenged with how I’m so often under-inspired by another great example of forgiveness and reconciliation. The greatest one of all, he left his palace, made himself nothing, humbly submitted to the confines of being a person without status, offered up his divine life, shed his pure, sinless, blood that I might be forgiven and reconciled to God. That you might be forgiven and reconciled to God! That the world might be offered forgiveness and reconciliation with God! How often are we under-inspired, negligent, forgetful and cold towards the greatest example of forgiveness and reconciliation in the history of the universe?
This morning we’re going to explore the challenging subject of forgiveness. But before we do let’s remind ourselves of where we’re at. We are in the middle of an extended series on discipleship – a challenging call to follow Jesus and become more and more like Him. This is not a course to be passed, but a challenging journey to be walked with Jesus for the rest of our lives. For the past 5 weeks we’ve been laying some foundational principles of discipleship. For the next 5 weeks we’re going to be looking at 5 specific, 5 very important, areas of discipleship. We start with a look at forgiveness and propose that forgiveness is an act of outlandish generosity. Next week we’ll focus on generosity with our material possessions. We’ll also look at humility, then how we share Jesus with others and close the series with a message on finishing well as a disciple.
I want us to hear a story that Jesus told about forgiveness from Mathew 18:
23Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' 27The servant's master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.
28But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.
29His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
30But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.
Here are some thoughts on forgiveness.
1. God wants us to forgive!
We need to be very clear about this! God wants us to forgive. Disciples that are committed to following Jesus must be intentional about forgiveness. When Jesus gives his disciples the Lord’s Prayer we can sometimes miss the fact that when Jesus has finished teaching the Lord’s Prayer - “there you have it lads, all you need to know about prayer in just 52 words” – he then goes back to the subject of forgiveness and highlights it a second time. Jesus is telling his followers that forgiveness is difficult! He’s telling us, his followers that forgiveness is something that God really does want us to offer others.
12Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matthew 6: 12&14).
In both, our story from this morning and the Lord’s Prayer, Christ seems to make God forgiving us contingent upon us being willing to forgive others. A reasonable question to ask is this: Does our unforgiveness block God’s forgiveness?
Rather than answer the question head on I want us to come at it from another angle. In our story the servant is forgiven a massive debt - literally millions of Euros - however when the servant finds a fellow servant who owes him a few Euros, literally some lose change, he grabs him by the neck and says “pay me back right now or else”. The servant seems to overlook/to forget that he’s just been forgiven millions. I think the story asks us a much, much, bigger question. Are we aware? Do we know? Has it sunk into our hearts? Have we done the spiritual maths? God has kindly, graciously cancelled a massive debt against us! Do we understand the Gospel to the point where it starts changing our lives? Have we experienced God’s forgiveness to the degree that it seriously starts softening our hearts to the point that we feel more able to forgive?
Let me give us a powerful example from Rwanda (another example from Africa). I brought a documentary called, As we Forgive, produced by Stephen McEveety, who also produced Braveheart. In 1994 in the small African country called Rwanda the Hutus attempted to wipe out the Tutsi’s. Neighbours killed neighbours. Husbands even killed their own wives and children if they were from the wrong tribe! In less than 100 days almost 1 million people lost their lives. The genocide had completely destroyed the country. As we Forgive is about how the church in Rwanda decided that there was enough mercy flowing from the Gospel to restore their nation. The church prepared perpetrators to go back to victims and apologise. The church prepared victims to be able to forgive. The church was there mediating during those difficult, awkward, moments when the perpetrators and victims met and reconciled. With tears victims embraced killers. The church even helped the perpetrators to find meaningful ways to make restitution to their victims, like building them a home or helping them harvest their crops.
Watching the Rwandan church in action, bringing healing to their nation, I could only think, “how little do I understand the Gospel!” I find it hard to forgive when someone delays in giving my Tupperware back after we’ve sent them a meal! Here were people who’ve lost whole families; holding, hugging, forgiving, offering brand new starts to the very people who’d hacked their loved ones to death with machetes. All I could think was, “how little do I understand the Gospel”!
One of the people in the documentary that impressed me most was a Tutsi pastor who’d lost all of his family – 48 family members in the genocide. He goes into a jail full of Hutus. They think he’s there to kill them, but he says, “No, I’m here to forgive you and help you reconcile with those you’ve hurt”.
Mountainview, I believe that this level of forgiveness is only possible when we understand how through Christ, God has forgiven us millions and millions.
2. Forgiving is life-giving!
Much like generosity that we’ll cover next week, forgiveness is one of those things that as we forgive and let go of the offence it gives us life. Unforgiveness is very toxic – forgiveness frees us to grow.
A few years ago, in another country, I had a profound experience of forgiveness. I spoke to my team leader about some issues that a number of us saw in his life. He did not take the feedback well and a few months later stripped me of all my responsibilities and putting me on probation. I was told that if things did not work out I would have to leave the project. As you can imagine I was fairly bitter about this. One day I was in alone in a garden when I decided I would let go and trust God completely. I gave God my future, my everything. As I prayed real, warm, waves of forgiveness poured over me. It was beautiful. It was a real and tangible experience. All the bitterness and pain melted away.
The amazing thing was that from that moment my ministry took off, big-time. Every ministry task I was assigned seemed to be extraordinarily blessed. In fact so blessed was I and so many people in the church got blessed too that if at the end of my probation I’d been asked to leave there would have been a riot. All I did was let go, forgive and say it’s over to you God. And he brought LIFE.
I want us to see another clip from Invictus. The newly elected government proposes that the name and colours of the Springboks, the South African Rugby team be changed. Mandela joins the meeting and advocates that if they will seek reconciliation then the whole nation will be blessed.
[Video Clip – 02 Invictus]
3. Forgiving the people we love is harder!
In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter has a great question for Jesus. We read:
21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" 22Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew/Mateo 18:21-22)
Most commentators focus on the number, “seventy seven,” and how it represents thing like; infinity, limitlessness, unfathomable-ness. I want us to focus on the word “brother”. Peter does not ask how many times he should forgive the Romans or a Samaritan, but he asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his “brother”.
William Blake the English poet, painter and printmaker, largely unrecognized during his life-time, but now considered to be one of the greatest artists that England ever produced. This is his picture of the baptism of Jesus on the screen. William Blake wrote:
It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend
It’s a pretty profound question by Peter (probably why it’s in the bible) because if I’m honest I find it much harder to forgive those who are closest to me. If my enemy harms me – no big deal he’s my enemy, he’s supposed to do that! But, if someone I love hurts me, then wow do I feel betrayed. You are someone I love and you were not supposed to do that!
The other problem with forgiving the people we love is that we generally change pretty slowly. When we draw close to people we tend to discover they do the same irritating thing over and over and over again. We forgive them a couple of times, but then how quickly does resentment sprout and unforgiveness grow. And how often over the most petty of things! You always ride the clutch! You always squeeze the toothpaste from the wrong end! You always leave your dirty laundry on the floor! You always leave the toilet seat up! You always leave the toilet seat down!
If we remember back to our series on the Seven Deadly Sins, we spoke about how one of the issues with sin is that it separates us from others. One reason sin is sin is that it creates distance between human beings. It isolates us. Yes the things I mentioned are pretty petty. But the resentments that build up around these small issues are a form of sin because they create distance. We need to forgive those we love 77 times – an infinite, a limitless, an unbounded number of times.
Think for a second. Where is there unforgiveness in your life towards the people you love? Your spouse? Your child? Extended family? A friend who has let you down? Someone in your small group? Someone in this church? Someone in the wider community? Think about the unforgiveness for a moment. What is the issue? Despite those powerful feelings of betrayal, will we forgive and cease to hold it against them? Will we forgive those we love over and over again?
4. Forgiveness is costly!
Tim Keller in his book, The Prodigal God, an extended essay on the parable of the Prodigal Son, makes a great point about forgiveness. In the parable the father divides everything he has between the 2 sons. By tradition the older son would have received 2/3 of the estate and the younger son would have received 1/3. The younger son sets off for a distant land and spends all he has. When he returns we’re are told that father puts on the finest robe, puts a ring on his finger and kills the prize calf. But, these were things that belonged to the older son. Keller writes:
When the father says to the older brother, “My son everything I have is yours,” he is telling the literal truth. Every penny that remained of the family estate belongs to the elder brother. Every robe, every ring, every fatted calf is his by right.
The younger son wanted to make restitution, but his father generously restored him. But here’s the important truth we need to grasp. Welcoming back the wayward son, while free to the younger brother was costly to the older brother!
While mercy and forgiveness are free and unmerited to the wrongdoer they are costly to the one granting the forgiveness. I have found it so helpful to understand that forgiveness is not a matter of me getting to the place where I can say, “Oh don’t worry – it’s not a big deal!” Forgiveness is being willing to pay, to absorb, the cost ourselves. Keller writes:
The point of the parable is that forgiveness always involves a price – someone has to pay.
Will we be people who are willing to bear the cost of forgiveness? To pick up the tab when we are offended?
In his book, Keller goes on to say that while in the parable the elder brother is hard and unforgiving, we are called to look beyond the parable and reflect on our true elder brother. He did not wait for us to return empty handed? No He left His home in heaven and set out for the distant land to search for us. In the distant land he paid for the debts we had accumulated with his life. He bore the cost for our forgiveness. He suffered disgrace that we might be offered grace. He embraced death that God might embrace us.
Keller has this advice for all those with hearts are like the older brother; bound up with resentment and unforgiveness:
You need to be moved by the sight of what it cost to bring you home…Christians have seen something that has transformed their hearts toward God so that they can finally love and rest in the Father.
Will we be moved by the sight of what it cost to bring us home? Will we be much more inspired by God’s great, amazing, lavish, juicy, abundant, refreshing, overflowing, infinite, boundless, immeasurable, unfathomable…mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation? Will we let the Gospel soften and transform our hearts toward God so that we might learn to forgive, to love and to rest in the Father?
[Let us pray…communion]