7 February 2016 sermon – Luke 6:20-26 – Blessing in God’s ‘Economy’

Here is my sermon for February 7 (Luke 6:20-26, c.f. Psalm 37:1-15) at Georges River Congregational Church on what it means to become a member of God’s kingdom.  It’s membership where you come with an empty hand – poor in the things of this world, and spiritually poor (which every human person is, since we are sinful).  But we will not be filled and rich until the new age when Jesus Christ will reign and we stand with Him in glory.  Enjoy.

Groucho-Marx-membership

 

As a preacher, pastor and pastoral counsellor, I am pleased to offer my services and gifts to you freely.  I understand that there cannot be a charge to help people hear the Lord, receive from Him, or obtain help.  However, I am employed by part-time by the local assembly of Georges River Congregational Church, which has responsibility to financially and prayerfully support me and my vital ministry.  So, if you are able and willing to make a donation for my time, preaching, and use of my ministry gifts, and to invest in the future of my ministry, would you consider making a contribution?  

You can give one-off or on a regular basis.

You can do this, if you live in Australia, by contributing to our St George bank account (BSB: 112-879, Account #: 485 533 269). If you live elsewhere, email me atgeorgesrivercc.at.gmail.com and I will provide you with further details. 

God bless, Haydn.

Our joy in God’s salvation

“[Humans] are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite JOY is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea.  We are far too easily pleased”here is an excellent paper written by CS Lewis on the place of human affection (heart desire) in the life of a Christian.  It’s far more pivotal than you might suspect.

Pastor Haydn’s Devotion – You are A Child of God (7th of February 2016)

Pastor Haydn’s Devotion  GRCC Church Bulletin Devotion – 

Accepted and Complete in Christ: You are A Child of God 

31 years ago I first began primary school; I was 5 years old everything looked gigantic. My teacher was a blonde tower and there were all these other little ones my size that I’d never seen before. Everything at the new school was huge and I remember being told I had to grow up. Being a kid meant someone cooking my dinners, driving me everywhere, paying for the things I liked and needed, and learning more and more about the world – and that world was my ‘oyster’, which I thought was really disappointing because I hated oysters so much.

It’s easy to reminisce to some extent about being a child. It’s a time of life that often was for many of us full of adventure, and it’s a time that we often look at with nostalgia and fondness as being ‘the good old days’. They look like that to us – because we were kids at the time and not bill-paying adults – as easy times when ‘life was more innocent’, even though they probably were anything but.

However, they are also times of frustration and boundary-pushing … Our old set of teeth plonked and new ones emerged with growing pains. We sought to get our parents off our backs and who wants to go through PUBERTY again?! Half our time as children was trying to forget we were kids and looking forward to being ‘grown-ups’.

At the beginning of his gospel, John wrote in 1:12 that “to all who received Jesus Christ, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become sons of God”. The concept of sonship here is 1) to be a child, dependent on God the Father; and 2) to be an heir who inherits all his father’s estate. In Romans 8:16-17a we read: The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are sons of God, and if sons, then heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. We are God’s children! We will inherit everything with Jesus that He has! Do we feel like sons though, depending on God, like a little one who holds daddy’s hand (Ps 73:23)? If not, we need child-like dependence and accept it as our primary identity in Christ. We are doted upon by our Father, who hasn’t merely saved objects; He has made us sons (which implies loving relationship). May we connect with God as children and feel all His kind love for us.

God bless, Pastor Haydn.

The 14D Prayers of Decrease

In the life of a Christian, there is only one way for the glory of God to abound: we must decrease, and He must increase.  John the Baptist prayed this (John 3:29-30).  How do you pray this?  Well, the other day I came across a terrific article, which includes 14 prayers that ask God to accomplish this end.  They all start with a ‘d’, for convenience, and to me they cover all bases to live the ultimate Decreased Life.  I have copied it below:

When John the Baptist said, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29–30), he wasn’t talking about his inner life. He was talking about his ministry calling as a prophet and his public influence. He delighted that Jesus’s influence was eclipsing his own.

But he could only delight in his public diminishment because in his private life, in his heart, Christ had become supreme. And since the Bible shows that it is never easy for a sinful person to come to such a place of joyful submission, it is safe to assume that John’s public joy was likely the result of much wrestling with God and hard fighting against sin in the private place.

A mark of our increasing maturity as disciples is an increasing experience of joy in Jesus’s influence eclipsing our own, both internally and externally. And God delights in such humble joy, which is one reason Jesus said that no one born of women was greater than John the Baptist (Luke 7:28). So we should not only desire this increasing joy, but also specifically ask God for it and be willing to endure whatever it takes to produce it.

14 Prayers for Christ’s Increase

At the risk of appearing more impressive than I really am, I’ll share with you the list I’ve compiled over the years of things that I regularly ask God for so that Christ will increase and I will decrease. Perhaps you will find it helpful, or it will encourage you to compile your own list.

All the requests begin with “D” to help me remember. And I’ve ordered them not so much in sequence of priority but to roughly move from heart to action. And since there are fourteen, I’ve grouped them so that I can pray for two similar or related requests per day each day of the week. Please know that these are prayers of aspiration, not achievement. I am very far from having arrived.

But I can say that I have seen God answering these prayers over twenty plus years, some more than others. And I can also say that I have never once regretted praying “whatever it takes,” even though many answers have come through pain or adversity. Increased joy and hope in Christ’s increase, whether in us or around us, is worth far more than whatever it costs.

Delight: Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my delight in you as the greatest treasure of my heart.

  • Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
  • For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

Desires: Whatever it takes, Lord, increasingly align the desires of my heart with yours.

  • Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9–10)
  • I seek not my own will but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 5:30)
  • Not my will, but Yours, be done. (Luke 22:42)

Dependence: Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my awareness of my dependence on you in everything so that I will live continually by faith.

  • I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Desperation: Whatever it takes, Lord, decrease my proneness to wander from you by keeping me desperate for you.

  • Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. (Psalm 119:67)

Discipline: Whatever it takes, Lord, discipline me for my good that I may increasingly share your holiness and bear the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

  • He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:10–11)

Discernment: Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my ability to discern good from evil through the rigorous exercise of constant practice.

  • But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14)

Diligence: Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my resolve to do your will with all diligence.

  • Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15–16)

Drive: Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my zeal to do your will and my urgency to make the best use of my time during these evil days.

Distraction: Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my resolve to pursue only what you call me to do and deliver me from the fragmenting effect of fruitless distraction.

  • Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41–42)

Distress: Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my distress for perishing unbelievers, the persecuted church, and destitute poor and my resolve to do what I can to bring them the deliverance and relief of the whole gospel of Christ.

  • I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in My heart. (Romans 9:2)
  • Remember those in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3)
  • Remember the poor. (Galatians 2:10)

Declare: Whatever it takes, Lord, decrease the hold that unbelieving fear has over me and increase my boldness to declare the gospel to everyone you send me to or bring to me.

  • Grant to your servants to continue to speak Your word with all boldness. (Acts 4:29)
  • He . . . welcomed all who came to Him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness. (Acts 28:30–31), c.f. Mark 9:24)

Dynamis (Greek for “power”): Whatever it takes, Lord, fill me with the power of the Holy Spirit and any gifting you might be pleased to give me that I may be an increasingly fruitful witness to the reality and gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses. (Acts 1:8)
  • And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)

Decrease: Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my love for your supremacy and trust in your wise purposes so that when it’s time for me to step out of a role to which you had appointed me for a season, I will receive the decrease in personal influence with joyful faith.

  • Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:29–30)

Death: Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my faith and joy in the truth that death is gain for me so that I can “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” Do not let the fear of death cause me to resist your will for me and enable me to die in a way that declares that Christ is gain.

  • Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory. (John 17:24)
  • For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)
  • So we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

Death and Life are in Season

The news in the first month of this year was not exactly pleasant. We were told that the famous British 80s pop singer, David Bowie, died (aged 69 – from cancer). A week later, British actor and director, Alan Rickman died (aged 69 – from cancer). Canadian singer Celine Dion was hit hard when her husband died of cancer; less than a week later she discovered that her brother also had to be buried. Death is in this world, and it is ‘normal’; it’s been around since before we were born and it’s a major part of life. But it also is caustically abnormal and unnatural – it robs us of the ones we care about, and it renders every living person a phantom of memory; and we never completely ‘get over’ another’s death, even though the sky doesn’t fall in when they do.

Unlike our culture, which runs away from death and even gives it a more palatable name (‘passed away’), the Bible is very open about death and why it happens. Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 is very blunt: The living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun.

But why do we die? Because, the Bible tells us, we have all rebelled against God and decided to live life our own way (this is called ‘sin’). God warned us we would ‘surely die’ for doing so (Genesis 2:17), and this is why our world is in such a bad state. Worse, if we die without God, we will go to Hell where there is nothing but unending sorrow. The good news is that Jesus Christ came and lived as one of us, as a man, who know what it was like to lose friends to death. He even wept in public over the death of His friends (John 11:35)! And yet, He died the most painful execution on a Roman cross for sin, so that you and I would not endure everlasting judgement. He was then raised back to life so that we too would have life, right now. That, in turn, releases us from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

            Please join us at Georges River Congregational Church on Sunday to find out more about what life in Jesus looks like (see over). It’s not just about avoiding Hell – it’s so much more than that and we look forward to seeing you some day.

God bless, Pastor Haydn.

(This devotion was written for a local Christian newspaper.)

How to Enjoy Intimacy With God

Never in the history of the Christian church has so much theological knowledge been available to so many people as it is today … We are awash in Bible translations, good books, insightful articles, recorded sermons, interviews, movies, documentaries, music, and more. Much of it very good, [and] it is right for us to be very thankful. But [the west] is not abounding in Enochs (or finding them frequently disappearing), saints who walk with God in a profoundly intimate way (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5). Why? Because knowledge is not synonymous with trust – This is a very poignant and helpful article on what intimacy with God looks like from Desiring God.

Using Prayer for Political Purposes

Rubio prayer

Presidential candidate Rubio and family ‘pray’ before a caucus vote. What would Jesus say? “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” – Matthew 6.  Unless Christians stop trying to get God on their agendas (rather than making sure they’re on God’s agenda), then Christianity in the west will continue to be unappealing and lifeless.

Bible Study on Grace and Works

Recently at Georges River Congregational Church, we are just starting a new Bible study on the relationship between grace (the unmerited goodness and salvation of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ) and good works (the obligated deeds of obedience to God after becoming a Christian).  

When I became a Christian in 1998 this was inadequately explained to me because the emphasis was so much on the grace message, and I started wondering, “Where do unmerited grace and dutiful obligation come together in the Christian journey?”  For other people the concept of obligated holiness has impacted them so much that grace is not easy to understand.  I suspect other Christians are also confused by this.  To examine this topic, we’re using the book The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges.  

To introduce my congregation to the topic at hand, I wrote an introductory Bible study to help folk get their mind around things as a foretaste.  I even included some computer-generated illustrations :D  So here is my Discipleship and Grace Bible Study, which you are free to use.  

Shalom (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Promote the gospel, not Christian privilege

Here is an excellent article on how Christians are to navigate themselves through a world where ‘tolerance’ means intolerance of Christianity, by Christian theologian D.A. Carson.  It looks at why the New Tolerance will crumble and how to overcome it.  Carson also writes that the solution to it does NOT lie in Christians maintaining their privilege in the status quo of the current social order, which they have enjoyed up until now.  Sadly, many of my Christian friends particularly in America and the upcoming presidential election are seeking to do just this.  Other well-intentioned Christian friends I know in Australia are trying to do the same (such as trying to make every student in public schools to take Scripture class, even against their own personal consciences and personal beliefs), even though the tide of history – and God’s hand – is also not in their favour.  This is well worth the read.

“We must avoid investing our energy … into preserving our understanding of what the republic should be that we give the impression that the well-being of the republic is more important than the glory of Christ and the furthering of the gospel. It is not. And if we fail here, we will contribute to the image of Christians as cranky, bad tempered traditionalists who are simply trying to preserve their own power”.

A MUST read for all pastors

Dangerous-Calling In November 2015, I fatefully met up with a friend who, until recently, was an associate pastor in the Sydney Anglican diocese.  He suggested that I read the book ‘Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry’ by Paul David Tripp.  It has honestly revolutionised the way I have been thinking about ministry and how to keep myself, as a pastor AND as a son of God, refreshed in my calling.  I have noticed in the short 10 months that I have been pastor that stewarding a church – even a small one – can be quite stressful.  That can happen because pastors can get caught up worrying about where the money’s going to come from (particularly where congregational size is small and their financial contributions are commensurate to their size!) and it feels like the future of the church – and, well, everything – is on their shoulders.  Many pastors question their calling as a result, and being a pastor ends up being all about pumping out good sermons like a vending machine pushing out sodas.  

Many pastors, sadly, end up seeing it as their role to keep the church going (even though it really is God’s) and as they do so they end up bitter, angry, resentful, and jealous of others.  As such, they don’t look after their own bodies, they disengage from their wives and children, eschew accountability and friendship with others, become harsh to people in their churches, and end up with no devotional life whatsoever.  They assume they have arrived at the place where they think they no longer need God’s grace – that, they may assume – is for non-believers and apostate Christians, but not them.  This can eventually have them being addicted and even acting on those addictions, which can cost them their position and even their legal freedom.

This book by Paul Tripp is such an invaluable one to get through.  It’s only 224 pages, although it is not an easy read – it will bring up every painful thing that pastors may be running away from and unwilling to face.  But it’s what EVERY pastor needs to hear.  

“You are your most loving, patient, kind, and gracious when you are aware that there is no truth that you could give to another that you don’t desperately need yourself” – p. 23.  

Sadly, this is not something that Bible colleges are giving to their seminary students, most of whom end up being Theo-bots (theological robots), “the guys who see theology as an end in itself rather than as a means to an end” (p. 44), which is to glorify God in the most fitting way.  This is most dangerous when a pastor is better at exegeting the biblical concept of grace than he is in showing it.  Indeed, knowing about God is insufficient compared to knowing God and being known by Him – and yet many pastors amble through their ministries trying to do just that.  Message: change begins with us pastors.  If we won’t demonstrate change, then we have no place preaching on it.  

If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land – 2 Chronicles 7:14

Tripp’s book is immensely practical without being over-prescriptive.  I cannot recommend it enough to other pastors and even to those supporting their pastors, like elders and deacons.  Be asking your pastor and pastoral applicants the hard questions to ensure he will last the distance and not find out that he can’t when it’s almost too late.  This book really has saved my heart from a lot of self-pitying sorrow since reading it, and it will do a good work in setting pastors free from brittle condescension and performance-based assessment.  It will help you to remember 1 Peter 5:6-8,10-11:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.