A Different Way (Luke 5:1-11)

 

Luke 5v5 01

I wonder how Peter replied to Jesus when he told the fisherman to go out into deeper waters and let his nets down to catch some fish (Luke 5:1-11). Thanks to Luke we have what Peter said, but I wonder about the way in which Peter said them.

Was he full of confidence, sure that if Jesus told him that he would catch some fish, then he would be successful?

Was Peter tired but still hopeful that following Jesus’ instructions would bring a positive result, even though his own efforts had resulted in empty nets?

Was Peter being sceptical and maybe even sarcastic? After all, Peter was an experienced fisherman but Jesus was a carpenter’s son – what would he know about catching fish?

I wonder about this because Peter had been fishing his whole life. In his mind he was probably sure that he knew what he was doing. Then along comes Jesus who, as far as we know, didn’t have any fishing experience. Then he starts to give Peter advice about how to do his job. If you were Peter, what would you do? Would you be open to some new ideas and willing to try something different? Or would you smile politely, thank Jesus for his advice, but keep doing things the way you’ve always done them?

These are important questions for me because I’ve been where Peter was. At times during my years of fulltime ministry in the church I’ve felt tired, discouraged and even a little cynical because what I’ve been doing hasn’t seemed to be producing the results I’d hoped for. I believe strongly in the mission of the church and the difference God can make in people’s lives through the good news of Jesus, but sometimes it has seemed like the nets have been empty and all my work has been for nothing.

So I understand when people are reluctant to try something new in the church. After decades of struggling with mission and ministry, we can all feel like Peter after a night of hard work to some degree. Our church has tried a lot of programs, events, campaigns and other ministry resources to try to be effective in our work for God’s kingdom. However, we are still an aging, declining church. We can easily begin to wonder if the time, effort and money has been worth it when they haven’t seemed to bring about the results we’ve hoped for, and our nets are empty.

There are two reasons why, like Peter, I keep heading out into deeper waters and letting down the nets in ministry. The first is because Jesus calls us to. If we are going to take Jesus’ message seriously, as one of the core commitments from Growing Young encourages us to, then we need to be listening to Jesus’ call to head out into deeper waters and let down our nets. If Jesus is calling us to go fishing for him, then he has what we need to do it effectively and he will provide the catch. All he asks of us is to listen to him and to trust him enough to follow his call.

The second reason I continue to head out into deeper water and let down my nets is that I believe God is giving us a new set of nets to use. In my past experience in the church, we have relied on programs, events and other organizational activities to do the mission and ministry of the church. These worked well for a particular generation and I thank God for the lives he has touched and the people who have found grace through them. However, in recent decades we have found that they are not as effective any more. Instead, what connects people to Jesus is honest, Christ-centred relationships and a community of faith where they can experience the life-changing reality of grace. This is why another of the Growing Young core commitments is to fuel a warm community. We head out into deeper water and let our nets down when we connect with people relationally and embrace them in Christ-centred community. That is where people can encounter the grace of God and the kind of love which Jesus embodies and Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13.

On the one hand, this doesn’t sound very complicated. However, moving from an organisationally driven, program based culture to one where relationships are central requires a significantly different way of thinking about mission and ministry. Thankfully there are resources available to help us put our nets down into these waters. I have found Growing Young from the Fuller Youth Institute to be an invaluable resource in helping us think through how to do mission and ministry in a relational way, especially with young people. Next weekend, we will be very blessed to have Jake Mulder from the Fuller Youth Institute and a co-author of Growing Young with us to help us in learning to fish in a new way. If you are part of our congregation at St John’s, please make yourself available this weekend to learn from him with us.

Last Sunday I distributed a document which outlines Ten Ways to Connect with Children and Teens in your Church. Its advice is relatively simple, but again a significant shift in thinking about how we can be involved in a more relational mission and ministry. What it says is helpful in our relationships with people of all ages, not just children and teens. I encourage everyone in our congregation to identify one person you know, of any age, gender or background, and start putting them into practice. Can you imagine what our congregation could be like if we were all involved in fishing with Jesus like this?

I can understand how Peter felt as he washed his nets at the start of the story because I’ve been there. But I also hear Jesus’ call to head out into deeper water and let our nets down one more time. Just as Peter shouted to the other fishermen for help to bring in the catch, I’m asking the people of our congregation for help in this work for God’s kingdom as well. It can’t be up to one or two people alone. Instead, when we’re all listening to Jesus and following him faithfully, he will teach us how to fish for people.

Are you ready to go fishing?

Advertisements

Loving Like Jesus (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

1 Corinthians 13 love 08
Central to the teachings of Jesus is the command to love. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell stories of people who came to Jesus asking him which was the most important of God’s commandments. Jesus summarises the Old Testament law by replying that God wants us to love him with all our hearts, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). John develops this idea in his gospel when he tells the story of Jesus giving his disciples a new command: to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34). To make sure his followers get the point, John has Jesus repeating this same command twice more in 15:12 and 15:17.

Every book of the New Testament except one talks about what it means to love each other in the way Jesus taught at some point. The only book that doesn’t explicitly talk about Jesus’ command to love is the Acts of the Apostles. However, Acts has plenty of examples of how the early Christians loved each other in community and brought the message of Jesus’ love to the world. It is possible to read the entire Bible as an epic story of God’s love for people and the love it inspires for others.

While we might talk and read about God’s love for us in Jesus, we can still struggle with how that love looks practically in our lives. There are a lot of different ideas of how to follow Jesus’ teachings on love, and there are many ways we can show his love in our relationships. One of the most helpful passages in Scripture I have found that describes the love Jesus taught is 1 Corinthians 13.

One way this passage can help us love in the way Jesus taught is to read verses 4-8a with our own names substituted for the word ‘love’. Whenever I do that, it doesn’t take long at all before I start feeling very uncomfortable – usually around the word ‘patient.’ Replacing the word ‘love’ with our names shows us that we fall a long way short of loving people in the way Jesus wants us to. While this can make us uncomfortable, it’s not a bad thing because it shows us that if we are to live faithfully as Jesus’ followers, we need help to do it.

That’s where I read this passage again, but this time inserting ‘God’ for the word ‘love.’ We can do that because the Apostle John tells us that God is love (1 John 4:16). God is the source, the embodiment, the fullness of all love. By saying that ‘God is love’ john tells us that God is synonymous with love. When we read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a from this perspective, it tells us a lot about the nature of God:

God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. God does not dishonour others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails. (NIV)

Even when we fail to love others in the way God wants us to, the promise of this text is that God never fails to love us. God is patient with us even when we lose our patience with others. God is kind to us even when we are unkind to each other. God is not envious, boastful or proud, but instead embraces humility to serve us. God does not dishonour us, but gives us the honour of calling us his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased. God is not self-seeking, but seeks what is good for us even though it kills him on a cross. God is not angry with us and keeps no record of our wrongs, but removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. God rejoices in the truth of his grace and peace. God is always protecting us, always trusting us with his goodness and gifts, always hoping for the best for us, always persevering and hanging in there for us. Ultimately, God will never fail us because the story of the Bible shows time and time again that God never fails his people.

God loves us this way because of what Jesus has done for us. God loves us in the way 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a describes because he entered into our broken human existence, taking our humanity on himself in the person of Jesus. He lived the perfect life that we fail to live, loving people in the perfect way God wants us to. Jesus took our flaws, failures and everything we don’t do in 1 Corinthians 13 to the cross, putting our wrongs to death once and for all. Then Jesus rose to new life so we can live new lives united with him through the Holy Spirit. God loves us perfectly even when we fail to love the way he wants us to because his Son Jesus lives in us.

Paul writes that when he was a child, he spoke and thought and reasoned like a child. As he matured, though, he put away childish ways (1 Cor 13:11). This is the spiritual growth that God wants for all of us. The path to spiritual maturity comes through recognising that we fail to love the way God wants us to and finding God’s love for us in Jesus. As we repent of our failure to love by turning towards God who is the source of perfect love in Jesus, and trust in his love for us, the Holy Spirit works in us to mature us as Jesus’ followers. I know from personal experience that when we recognise our failures in loving God and people, and when we turn to God in faith, trusting in his love for us in Jesus, it can change us into people who have a greater capacity to love others on the way 1 Corinthians 13 describes, even people who are hard to love. When we are able to love each other as the Spirit enable us, then people will see that we are followers of Jesus (John 13:35) and God’s love enters the lives of others through us.

Just about everything I do as a pastor is to help people grow in their faith in God’s love for them in Jesus so they can become more loving people towards others. 1 Corinthians 13 has become crucial to my understanding of what the love Jesus taught looks like. In the end, when everything else we think is so important is gone, then these three will remain: faith, hope and love. And, as Paul tells us, the greatest of these is love, because that’s where we find the life-changing goodness of God.

Joy (Isaiah 12:2-6)

candle of joy 01

Can you imagine, every morning when you wake up, having to gather empty jars from your house, carrying them some distance to the village well, filling them with water, and them carrying them home again just so you can have water to wash and cook with during the day? And then doing that again tomorrow, and the next day, and every day for the rest of your life?

Having hot and cold running water in our homes is such an amazing blessing when we stoop to think about it. However, in the ancient world, and in many places still today, the journey to the village well has been a daily routine just so people can wash and cook their food.

I don’t imagine that this daily chore would be a joy-filled experience. Which is why Isaiah 6:3 strikes me as a little strange. The prophet writes, ‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.’ I’m using the New International Version here because, firstly, it is closer to the original Hebrew wording. However, this verse also points us to the story of Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:1-42. That was where Jesus said, ‘whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will becomes in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (v14 NIV). Here, Jesus is talking about himself as the water in the well of salvation in whom we can find a deep, lasting joy.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about how, for Old Testament people, salvation meant so much more than going to heaven when we die. For ancient Hebrew people like Isaiah, salvation was more about life here and now. This is the same life ‘to the full’ (NIV) or the ‘rich and satisfying life’ (NLT) which Jesus offers us in John 10:10. Isaiah talks about this life being found in trusting God and finding freedom from all sorts of fear. We can find deep and lasting joy by trusting God who gives us strength and victory when the challenges and difficulties of this world seem to be too much or too hard for us to handle (Isaiah 12:2). The joy Isaiah describes comes through the promises of the gospel of Jesus: that God is with us, that God is for us, that God loves us enough to give his Son for us on the cross, and his love is stronger than anything in this world, even death itself. The source of biblical joy is Jesus, and the place where we find this joy is in the good news of his birth, life, death and resurrection for us.

Which brings me to a question that has bothered me this week as I’ve prepared this message: how do I help you find this joy? It’s one thing to come to church, hear a message and sing some songs about joy. But finding a deep, lasting joy in Jesus can be something very different.

I wonder if this is where the old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink becomes applicable? I can point people towards the well of salvation. I can try to give you taste of this life-giving water. But how do I help you find the joy that the Holy Spirit gives through faith in the good news of Jesus?

This image from Isaiah of drawing water from the wells of salvation with joy can actually challenge us to re-think a lot of how we understand ‘church’. For many people I have known, ‘church’ can be a place that is associated with a lot of expectations, obligations and demands, with a not-so-healthy dose of guilt thrown in to make sure we’re doing the ‘right’ thing. This can end up robbing us of joy instead of helping us find joy.

What if, instead, we thought of ‘church’ as a community of believers with whom we are drawing life-giving water from the wells of salvation so that we can find greater joy together in the salvation Jesus has won for us? What if our goal as church was just to find joy in Jesus’ saving work, so we can draw more on the deep, enduring joy of Jesus, we can then share out this life-giving water to others, and they can be finding joy in Jesus as well?

This is another way we can understand discipleship: learning together to throw our buckets into the life-giving water of Jesus, so we can find greater joy in him, no matter what’s going on in our lives. Next year we will be talking more about small groups in our congregation. My hope is that every person who is connected with our congregation will be part of a small group so that together we can be drawing on the life-giving water of Jesus from the well of the gospel and finding greater joy in the life of Jesus.

Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) which means it can’t be manufactured, manipulated or faked. Isaiah tells us that we can find this deep, long-lasting joy in the well of salvation, the good news of Jesus. His saving work is the source of biblical joy in his birth, life, death and resurrection for us . This joy is deeper than feeling happy. It lasts longer than having fun. It sustains us in all the circumstances of life and outlasts everything else that might try to take it away from us.

I really don’t want to talk just about this joy. I want each of us to find deep, lasting joy in the life-giving water of Jesus.

Peace (Luke 1:68-79)

candle of peace 01

As a motorcyclist, I tend to want to look for a longer, more interesting way, hopefully with lots of corners, to get from one place to another. There are times, however, when I need to find the quickest, most direct route to my destination. That’s when I go to the app on my smartphone where I can type in my destination, add my starting point, and it will guide me in the most direct way to get to where I need to be.

The final line in the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) basically describes Jesus in a similar way. This is the song Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, sung when his son was born. Zechariah didn’t believe the angel who had promised him that his wife, Elizabeth, who was ‘well along in years’ (v18 NLT), was going to have a baby. The consequence was that Zechariah wasn’t able to speak during Elizabeth’s pregnancy. When the child was born, however, and Zechariah told people that the baby’s name would be John, his mouth was opened, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied about his son’s future and the Saviour whose arrival he would announce.

Zechariah describes Jesus as the one who will ‘guide us to the path of peace’ (v79 NLT). The peace which he talks about is very different to the way a lot of people understand peace today. Most of the time it seems like we think of peace as a feeling we experience, or being calm in the middle of the chaos of life. The biblical idea of peace includes this, but means a lot more. Its foundation in is the concept of shalom from the Old Testament. This shalom peace rises out of an end to armed conflict between two tribes or nations. Not only would they stop fighting, but the shalom peace they could find was a new relationship where they were able to work together and live in harmony with each other.

Shalom peace, then, means a restoration to what had previously been broken. It is repairing what had been fractured to the point that it is returned to its original state. If we break something like a cup or a plate, it’s never quite the same again. Relationships can be like that too. Shalom peace returns something to its original condition so that no evidence of brokenness can be detected at all. Shalom peace makes everything new, the way things were meant to be from the beginning.

This is the peace that Zechariah tells us Jesus came to guide us into by the most direct route. The way Jesus does it, according to Zechariah’s inspired words, is by telling us how to find salvation through the forgiveness of sins (v77). When relationships are broken, forgiveness is the only way to establish shalom peace and restore what was broken. Creating this shalom peace by forgiving sin was the reason for Jesus’ birth which we will celebrate in a couple of weeks. Jesus opens the way for us to find shalom peace through forgiveness by joining us in our brokenness as an infant, carrying our wrongs to the cross, and raising us to new life through faith in his resurrection. In his birth, life, death and resurrection, Jesus makes it possible for our sins to be forgiven so he can lead us in the path of shalom peace.

We can find shalom peace through the forgiveness Jesus won for us in four main aspects of our lives. Firstly, we can have shalom peace with God as everything which got in the way of a relationship with the Divine is washed away and we are made new through faith in Jesus. Secondly, we can have shalom peace with others as we extend forgiveness to people who wrong us and we receive forgiveness from people we have wronged. As we move towards Christmas, it is worth asking who we can give the gift of forgiveness and shalom peace to because this is really the greatest gift we can offer someone. The third aspect of this shalom peace is within ourselves. I don’t tell people who are struggling with guilt or shame that they need to forgive themselves because you can’t give yourself something you don’t already have. Instead, a better way is to find forgiveness in Jesus, because God has already forgiven us because of what Jesus has done for us. It’s a done deal – all is forgiven! We can find shalom peace within ourselves through this promise. The fourth aspect of shalom peace is in our relationship with creation. We do significant damage to the world around us each and every day, even though we have a responsibility to care for the earth God has given to us. When Jesus comes again to establish his kingdom of shalom peace, then our relationship with the world will also be restored to its original state as God intended.

This idea of shalom peace might sound great but how do we achieve it? At this point, it might be tempting to offer a handful of easy steps to achieve shalom peace in our lives, but life doesn’t often work like that. Instead, Zechariah tells us that Jesus will guide us into the ‘path of peace.’ Zechariah’s words tell us that shalom peace is something we journey into as we follow Jesus in our lives, just like I might follow the directions of my maps application to get to where I’m going. This is discipleship language. It is about learning a new way of living from Jesus, the way an apprentice learns a trade from the master tradesman. The evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke describe this ‘path of peace’ as learning to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). The Apostle John gives us a slightly different version of the path when he gives us Jesus’ new command to love one another with the same self-giving, self-sacrificing love with which he loves us (John 13:34,35;15:9-17). Paul’s letters are all about guiding us in this same path as he explores what it looks like for Christian communities to be following the way of faith and love (Galatians 5:6).

All of these are ways in which Jesus guides us into the way of shalom peace, just like my maps app shows me the way to where I need to go. Our destination is a full experience of God’s shalom peace where everything will be restored to the way God intended in the beginning. Until that day we can still walk the way of shalom peace as we follow Jesus, living in his forgiveness, and growing in restored relationships with God, other people, ourselves and all of creation.

The End Times (John 5:21-29)

John 5v24 01

What would you do with your life if you knew you were going to live forever?

Most people I have known over my life, both from within and outside of the Christian church, have told me that they believe the goal of a religious life is to do enough good to get into heaven. The requirements or the standards may be different from person to person, but the one goal remains the same: do enough good and avoid enough bad so that when we move from this life to the next, we can be sure that we qualify for eternal life. So the view is that we spend our whole lives trying to do good in the hope that maybe we’ll be good enough to get eternal life.

But what if that’s actually back-to-front? What if the goal of a life of faith isn’t to try to get eternal life, but to grow into a life that has been given to us which will last for ever?

On Sunday we celebrated the last Sunday of the church year. It is often called the Day of Fulfilment because it looks forward to the end of time when Jesus will return to judge between those who will live for ever with him and those who will miss out on that eternity. It is a reminder that not everyone makes it into eternal life. Jesus teaches us what is needed if we want to spend eternity with God when he says, ‘I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life’ (John 5:24a NLT). The Christian perspective as Jesus teaches it is that all who listen to his word of grace and truth (John 1:17) and trust in God (John 1:12; 6:29) will live for ever.

The best news in from Jesus in John 5:24 is that we don’t even have to wait to get it. Instead of spending our lives trying to do good so that we might have a chance at getting eternal life, Jesus goes on to say that it is already ours! He says that those who hear his message of grace and truth and trust that God will give what he promises ‘will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life’ (NLT). I checked the Greek to make sure that the tenses of the verbs were faithful translations of the Greek test and as far as I can tell there is no mistake here. According to what the Apostle John reports Jesus said, eternal life isn’t something that we work for in the hope that we might somehow be good enough. Through his life, death and resurrection for us, Jesus has already carried us over from death to life and eternal life has already started!

Jesus goes on to say that one day he will return to fulfil all of God’s promises to us, to raise the dead to new life, and to judge between those who will live with him forever and those who won’t. He says that we don’t need to fear that judgement because we are already free from condemnation. This is the same as what Paul says in Romans 8:1, that ‘now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus’ (NLT). We don’t have to be afraid of being judged or condemned by God or anyone else because Christ has already carried us over from death to eternal life, and we already participate in the resurrected life of Jesus now because of the gift of the Holy Spirit in us.

This means that we can understand Discipleship as growing into the eternal life which Jesus has already given to us. God has a new life for us to live which is grounded in and producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control like we read about in Galatians 5:22f. It is a life which is sustained by, flowing out of and expressing itself in the love that God has for us which Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a – love that is patient and kind, that is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude, that does not demand its own way, is not irritable, keeps no record of being wronged, does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices when the truth wins out, that never gives us, never loses faith, is always hopeful, endures all circumstances, and lasts forever. This is the love of God which is the source of our lives and which brings life to others.

The goal of the Christian life, then, is not to somehow do enough good to get eternal life. The goal of the Christian life is to grow into the life that Jesus has already breathed into us through the Holy Spirit which is stronger than death and which will last forever. Whatever we decide we want to do with the life Jesus has given us, or whatever we believe God wants us to do with this life, we can constantly be growing into the life that is described by the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians and Paul’s words description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. This is what it can mean to be Jesus’ disciples: following him into the life that will last forever which Jesus has already given us and in which we participate now.

A lot of people are afraid of the end times because they see it as a time of judgment and condemnation. We don’t need to be afraid, but we can look forward to Jesus’ return with confidence and hope. Jesus has already carried us over from death to life, and the life the Holy Spirit breathes into us now through his word of grace and peace will last for ever.

So, what do you want to do with your life, knowing that you’re going to live forever?

Priorities (Mark 10:17-31)

 

mark 10v27 everything is possible 01

A couple of times in my life I have really wrestled with Jesus’ words in the story of the rich man in Mark 10:17-31. I was looking for God’s direction in my life and wondering if following a particular path would mean selling everything I had. That was hard to contemplate because I like my stuff – my books, musical instruments and motorbike – and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sell them in order to follow where God might be leading me.

So I can identify with the rich young man of the story and sympathise with him as he walks away sad. He couldn’t give away his possessions, and I’m not sure if I could either.

But maybe that’s the point of the story.

There are two main dangers we can face when we try to unravel this story. The first is taking Jesus’ words about selling everything we have too literally, and thinking that we have to do it to enter into eternal life. Monks and nuns have been doing that for centuries, but I’m not sure how many of them got closer to God by doing it. The second danger is not taking Jesus’ words seriously enough and ignoring what he’s trying to teach us. We can get lost collecting more and more stuff in a meaningless consumerism and miss out on the grace Jesus has for us in this story.

The third strategy of the Growing Young research from the Fuller Youth Institute is to take Jesus’ message seriously. As Christians who want to follow Jesus faithfully, taking Jesus’ message seriously might sound kind of obvious. But when it comes to stories like this with the rich young ruler, how do we do that?

Maybe taking Jesus’ message in this story might mean looking carefully at our priorities in life. When Jesus challenged the man to sell all he had, and when I was challenged with the possibility of selling everything I owned to follow God’s call, it challenged us ask to think about what matters in life. Is Jesus the most important thing to us? Or are the things we own more important? Do we love Jesus enough to be willing to give everything we have up for him? Do we trust him to provide for us each day? Or do we want to hang on to our possessions because we find a sense of who we are, what we’re worth and some sort of meaning for life in them?

Jesus is challenging us to reorganise our priorities around him, our love for him and our trust in him, rather than in the things of this world. There may be times when that might mean giving everything away, but it could also mean that we look for a sense of who we are, what we’re worth and what gives our lives meaning in our relationship with Jesus rather than the accumulation of material possessions.

This challenge from Jesus also teaches us something about ourselves. We all like to think that we’re good people. However, if Jesus’ standard of ‘good’ means giving everything away to help others and totally trusting in him to provide for us on a day-to-day basis, then who of us can live up to that? Remember that the man’s question at the start is what he did he have to do ‘to inherit eternal life’ (v17). He was thinking that he could somehow work his way into eternity. However, Jesus showed him, and us, that if we want to work our way in to eternal life, then it will cost us everything.

Can we do that? If we’re trying to work our way into eternal life as ‘good’ people, are we able to be so ‘good’ that we give away everything we have to others to provide for them in their poverty, and rely on God giving us what we need from one day to the next? Like the person in the story, I think this would probably be the point that most of us would walk away too.

But, as I’ve said already, maybe that’s the point.

The disciples were perplexed by what they witnessed as well, so they asked Jesus, ‘Then who in the world can be saved?’ (v26). And Jesus gives us the good news when he said, ‘Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God’ (v27).

Jesus is telling us that it is impossible for us to work our way into eternal life. However, what is impossible for us is possible with God. Only God has the power to give us a life that is stronger that death which will last literally for ever.

This is one way we can understand ‘grace’: that it is God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves. It is impossible for us to work our way into eternal life, so God does the impossible for us by doing what’s needed and then giving it to us as a free gift.

This is the good news of the story: that Jesus came to do the work of salvation for us. While it was impossible for us to sell all we have and give it away, and when we recognize that it is impossible for us to live up to Jesus’ standard of being a ‘good’ person, then God did the impossible by sacrificing everything for us in the person of Jesus to save us and give us eternal life as the ultimate act of grace. We can find it hard to give up our stuff, but Jesus gave up his place in heaven, the thing every religious person in the history of the world is trying to gain. Jesus gave up all of his heavenly glory to be born as a humble and helpless baby in a manger. He gave up all his possessions to live homeless and unemployed. Jesus did the impossible when he gave up everything, including his life, and went to the cross to die in our place. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God did the impossible make it possible for us to live forever as his children in perfect relationship with him and with each other.

As people to whom God has gifted the eternal life of Jesus, we are left with the question of how to take this teaching of Jesus seriously. I’m going to leave that up to you to work out with Jesus. It might mean selling what we have to follow God’s call on our life. It might mean reprioritising our lives so we find who we are, what we’re worth and the meaning of our lives in our relationship with Jesus instead of our material possessions. It might mean seeing what we have as the way God wants us to serve others, such as our families, friends or church community. It might even mean accepting that we’re not as good as we think we are and trusting the goodness of God’s grace to us in Jesus.

No matter how we might interpret this story, one way we can all take this teaching of Jesus seriously is to live every day in the faith that with God, nothing is impossible.

Doing the Word (James 1:17-27)

James 1v22 02

We all know how important it is to follow the directions when we need to take medication. If we are sick, it doesn’t help us to go to a doctor, get a prescription, listen to how we are to take it, but then put it on the shelf and forget about it. If we are going to get better, we need to trust that the medicine will do what the doctor promises, follow the directions and take our medication.

When it comes to medicine, it makes sense to both listen and do. It is the same for us as followers of Jesus. One of my greatest concerns as a pastor is that it can be easy for us to turn up to worship, hear a message, thank the pastor for the message at the door, but nothing changes after that. I have actually had a couple of people tell me over my years of ministry that they don’t want to think too much or be challenged in their faith. All they want is to come to church and hear a nice sermon.

Seriously.

That’s why James’ words about not just listening to God’s word but doing what it says are so important for us. We all carry an illness called sin. While it may not be popular to talk about sin in our contemporary Western culture, the reality I see is that we’re all suffering from the effects of sin in our lives in one way or another. We all suffer from broken relationships, illness, death and other maladies which come from carrying sin in us like an infection that we can’t get rid of.

Like a medication prescribed to give us health and life, God’s word is the remedy for sin. Every story in the Bible, from the creation of the world in Genesis 1, to the death and resurrection of Jesus, to the fulfilment of God’s salvation in Revelation, points us to a God who brings light and life to the world and everything in it through his word. The centre of these stories, the person of Jesus, makes new life possible by carrying all our sin in himself to the cross, putting it to death once and for all, and giving us the gift of new life through his resurrection. The good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is God’s way of giving us healing, wholeness and life in a similar way that medication gives us healing, wholeness and life when we face a specific illness. That’s why James writes that God’s word has the power to save us (v20 NIV). God’s word isn’t just information about God. It is the power of God to heal us from sin and give us life that is stronger than death (see Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).

If God’s medication for our condition is the good news of Jesus, then his directions for taking that medication is faith. One of the mistakes we can make is to think that God’s word is a long set of moral rules and ethical commands, and that doing what the word says means keeping all these rules. Instead, the directions Jesus gives us is to trust the good news of his sin-conquering, life-giving love. I tend to interpret the words of the Bible through what Jesus says in John 6:29. Some people had come to Jesus to ask him what the works were that God wanted them to do. Jesus replied, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (NIV). If the good news of Jesus is the medication, his directions are to trust him. That’s it. The rest of the Bible tells us what this faith looks like, and how it can make a difference in our lives and the lives of the people around us.

If we listen to James’ words about being both hearers and doers of God’s word from this perspective, we can understand them saying that it is vital that we not only hear the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, but that we live like it’s true. When we find God’s love in the gospel, then ‘doing the word’ means loving others, even when it’s hard or we don’t think they deserve it. When we encounter God’s grace, ‘doing the word’ means being grace-filled in our relationships with others. When we experience God’s mercy, forgiveness and peace in the gospel, ‘doing the word’ means being merciful, forgiving and peace-making towards everyone we meet. Following Jesus isn’t just about finding his goodness for ourselves. Being ‘doers of his word’ means extending the goodness of God we find in Jesus towards everyone in our lives through all we do and say.

This week, I want to challenge you to be hearers as well as doers of God’s word in your lives. If you’re not a regular reader of the Bible, doing God’s word might start with making time each day to listen to the good news God wants to speak into your life. It really doesn’t matter how we’re reading our Bibles. What’s important is that we’re listening for God’s promises of grace, love, forgiveness and new life in his word for ourselves. If you need help doing that or not sure where to start, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Being a doer of God’s word might also mean praying regularly. Last week we heard Paul write, ‘pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere’ (Ephesians 6:18 NLT), so prayer is an important part of doing the word. We can also ‘do the word’ by being ‘quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry’ (v19 NLT). You might want to practice this during the week by listening more than talking in your conversations with others. Try it and see what a difference it can make. Or, if you’re looking for a more serious challenge, listen to what Jesus says about telling the difference between our human traditions in the church and God’s commands (Mark 7:5-8), and imagine how prioritizing what God wants over what you want for your church might look.

In whatever ways we endeavour to be doers as well as listeners of God’s word, what is essential is that they are acts of faith in God’s life-giving love for us in Jesus, not attempts to try to get his love. That love is already yours, for Jesus’ sake.

The medication, God’s remedy for sin, is already ours as an act of grace from the God who loves us. We wouldn’t receive medicine from a doctor and leave it on the shelf. We’d follow the directions so that it can make us healthy and whole again. In the same way, we can’t just listen to the word of God that gives life and then do nothing with it. That doesn’t help anyone. By being doers of the word, listening to God’s promises and living like they are true, extending his grace and love to others by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we can find healing, wholeness and a life that is stronger than death.