What is the Christian Faith?

grace treeIf you ask a lot of people what does it mean to be a Christian, they may say ‘being good’ or ‘going to church’, or even ‘being a hypocrite’. The true essence of Christian faith though is very different. In this sermon from Romans 3:21-26, Pastor Tim explains that to be a Christian is to receive from God as a free gift, the righteousness of Jesus instead of our own record. This is grace, and it changes everything.

Have a listen (press play and wait for audio to start) and if you find it helpful, please feel free to share!

4 signs your marriage will break up in 5 years

Marriage Break UpI had a great conversation this week with Allan Mathews from church and a friend who is about to get married. Allan is a trained counsellor and all round wise guy! We ended up speaking about the things that put great strain on a marriage, and the things that lead to a healthy, loving marriage. So, this is part 1 in a little series on marriage (the next one will be the 7 things great marriages have in common).

Every marriage is made of two imperfect people seeking to love each other. I know that the things below can creep into any marriage (um, hello, I thought I invented defensiveness). For all of our good intentions going into marriage we bring different ways of feeling loved, communicating, dealing with conflict and what we think is normal from watching our own parents.

As you read what Allan has sent me, if you recognise some of these traits in your marriage, then don’t be afraid seek some help. We get our cars checked and serviced every year… surely our marriages are even more important, and are worth investing in! So… over to Allan.

The 4 pointers to divorce or relationship break-up in 5 years

After extensive research an American Psychologist John Gottman has put together 4 indicators of a marriage that’s in trouble and will probably end in 5 years. He calls them the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

These indicators are:

Criticism – verbally attacking a partner’s character or personality.

Contempt –  attacking a partner’s sense of self with an intention to insult or psychologically abuse them.

Defensiveness –  seeing yourself as the victim in efforts to ward off a perceived attack and to reverse the blame.

Stonewalling –  Withdrawing from a relationship as a way to avoid conflict in efforts to convey disapproval, distance and separation.

The troubles normally start with one of the above manner of communicating (thinking) and quickly develop into all four. The earlier you recognise that there are issues between you and your partner, and take steps to deal with those issues, the more likely you are to build a sound marriage.

Seeking out help in sorting out issues from a professional counsellor early will save a lot of pain and distress later.

(part two to come…)

10 Great Verses on the Holy Spirit to Fire You Up!

holy-spirit-1yeigvkOK, here we go… 10 of my favourite verses about the Holy Spirit…

1. Ezekiel 36:26 (in which God promises the gift of the Holy Spirit)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

2. Luke 4:18-19 (in which Jesus reads from Isaiah declaring himself to be the Spirit filled Messiah)

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

3. Luke 11:13 (in which Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to those who ask)

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

4. Acts 2:17-18 (in which at Pentecost Peter explains what is going on with everyone receiving the Holy Spirit)

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.”

5. Acts 2:38-39 (in which Peter talks about Christians receiving the Holy Spirit for all of time)

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

6. Acts 10:44-46 (in which the Holy Spirit comes to Gentiles and they speak in tongues)

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

7. 1 Corinthians 12:7… (in which Paul then explains how the Holy Spirit gives miraculous gifts to the church for it’s common good)

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

8. Ephesians 5:18-19 (in which Paul encourages believers to experience the ongoing filling of the Holy Spirit)

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.

9. Galatians 5:22-25 (in which Paul explains the changed life of the Spirit filled believer and exhorts us to keep in step with the Spirit)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

10. 2 Timothy 1:7 (in which Paul tells us of the Spirit given to believers)

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self discipline.

… so this is just a few of my favourite verse on the Holy Spirit. What are your favourites?

Facing the awful stuff in life!

CurveballsWe are starting a new series at Manly Life on the major curveballs that get thrown at us in life. If you are going through or have gone through a relationship bust up, or addictions, or depression or bereavement, or serious illness I hope you will find strength, wisdom and comfort in this series. I also hope it might help you navigate life well and that you will be equipped with tools for dealing with these major curveballs.

Or if you have never really faced a big curveball in life… then this series is also important for you! My hope is that you might grow in empathy, that is the ability to understand and share in another’s situation or feelings. Empathy is important as it helps you to enter into anothers pain and show compassion! I also hope you will be equipped as the reality is that you may well face these curveballs in the future.

CS Lewis said; “Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny…” I wonder in your life what is the hardest thing you have ever gone through? I remember flying back into Sydney after 6 years overseas with my Pastor from London. He asked me what the hardest thing I had gone through in life was. At the time it was difficult to answer because to be honest I hadn’t faced any of life’s major curveballs. He said that was fair enough as you don’t go looking for hard times, but on reflection I wonder if he was asking at the time about my readiness to be a Pastor at 26 years if I hadn’t faced many problems… And certainly in Pastoral ministry I have now come up against many of life’s most awful things… sickness, death, relationship break downs…

It’s a strange idea but the bible seems to suggest that it is only really through life’s curveballs being thrown at us that we can develop and grow. In other words, while we may not wish hard things upon our or anyone’s life, there seems to be no other real path to growth. Would you agree?

So what is the hardest thing you have gone through and how did that shape you? We were discussing this at my men’s life group. I think it is fair to say that as group most of us have faced some pretty decent curveballs. There has been relationship break downs, mental health issues, financial stresses, and yet the resounding feeling was that you only grow through hardship.

Well quickly, what are the big stressors in life? According to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory the top 10 stresses in life are;

  1. Spouse’s death- bereavement
  2. Divorce
  3. Marriage separation
  4. Jail term
  5. Death of a close relative
  6. Injury or illness
  7. Marriage
  8. Fired from job
  9. Marriage reconciliation
  10. Retirement

What else would you put in there? Mental health issues? Financial pressures, and mortgage stress? Loneliness? We will look at some of these in the coming weeks…

Well firstly, why suffering? If God is good and loving, why would he allow awful curveballs in life? It seems random right… good things can happen to bad people and bad things to seemingly good peopleA traditional Christian understanding has framed it this way; the cause of suffering is sin, the world and spiritual evil…

So firstly, evil: In John 10 – Jesus described the devil as a ‘thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy…’ Do you believe we live in a spiritual world? The devil is described in the scriptures as a lion who is on the prowl looking to devour! CS Lewis said there are two equal and opposite things to be aware of. One is thinking that the cause of everything is a spiritual attack (there is a demon behind every bush). The other is that we live in a neutral or non spiritual world where spiritual warfare is not real. I think the recent killing spree in South Carolina in a historic black church is an example of this kind of spiritual evil.

Secondly the world: Bad stuff like earthquakes happen and circumstantial things get thrown at us. This can sometimes be described as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because this world is fallen and broken, bad things happen. This can be on a large scale like the tsunami that struck over a decade ago killing hundreds of thousands. Or on a small scale, you might travel somewhere and pick up an illness that then diminishes your life… Bad things happen!

Thirdly, Sin: the third cause of suffering is our own actions. I think sin can be like shooting ourselves in the foot or a bit like eating a Crispy Cream donut. The first bite is delicious, but it then kind of makes you feel sick… and so you then have some more, thinking I need the sweet taste again… and eventually the result is a stomach ache! Our sin causes us suffering like that. It might start out making you feel good, but even when you realise it is hurting you, you then struggle to stop. It has a hold on your life and it causes all kinds of pain!

So when something goes wrong… say a relationship is seemingly irreparably damaged… it may be one of these things, it may be all three… It may be you come under spiritual attack… It may be that circumstances like loss of job or illness puts incredible strain on things. It may be that one or both of you are just selfish or prone to stray!

But can I say, in any curveball it is not as God intended it… we know that because God is in the business of restoring life, responding to our cries and bringing peace! But, and I do find this difficult to understand too… it is allowed to happen. The result though, and this can be hard at the times to understand, can amazingly still be good things. The revivalist Smith Wigglesworth said: “Great faith is the product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trial.” 

The Apostle Paul in Romans 5 says about suffering (in other words going through awful things) that it leads to perseverance, the development of character and ultimately hope! Paul was a guy who in his letter to the Corinthians says he has been hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, so he knows this, he knows imprisonment and slander. And yet he wrote these inspired scriptures about the Christian life.

It starts with what would seem a strange statement… particularly if you didn’t know the rest of the verse. It says we glory in our sufferings. James in his letter will says something similar. He says consider it joy when you face many trials. Somehow they are suggesting, trials and suffering is used by God to produce something better within us! It will bring us closer to Jesus and help us to become more like Jesus.

So from these sufferings comes perseverance. Well of course it doesn’t have to… it can lead to giving up and despair. But as a Christian we are given strength to keep going. This is about courage and patience in the face of curveballs. So in that developing of perseverance, character is then formed in us.  Can I just say that character is so important! The word used here means ‘character that has been proved.’

I came across this during the week on a Facebook page called Humans of New York…

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 5.10.35 pm

The text says, “I’ve been having nerve issues, and this past year it’s gotten so bad that it hurts too much for me to walk. It was completely unexpected. I’ve always been such an optimistic person, but now I’m fighting with depression. He’s doing everything he can to take my mind off of it. We’re not sure if I’m going to get better, but he’s planning a backpacking tour through Europe for when I do. And I told him that I didn’t think I could handle a visit to New York right now, but he told me that he’d push me around the whole city. And he has. And whenever I feel particularly down, he tells me that he’s not going anywhere, and how happy he is that he married me. Not long ago I had a particularly rough period, and when I was at one of my lowest moments, he asked if we could renew our vows.”

 I guess that is what I am talking about with this verse. In the face of this couples undeniable hardship and suffering they have persevered… they haven’t given up… they have kept going! And the result is amazing character! So would this man and woman be the people they are today without the suffering they have gone through? Again, you wouldn’t wish this upon anyone… but it is a part of this life we live and it can lead to incredible perseverance and character.

The final thing then is that it leads to hope. You see as we wait patiently we develop hope for the future and we get in those hardest of times to experience the love of God. It is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit…

So if you want to grow, if you want to experience God… it most likely will come from enduring great trials and tests in life!

7 years on from being asked that question, I would still say that compared to a lot of people, I have been able to enjoy relative peace and blessing! But the two hardest episodes in my life have also led to the most personal growth and development of my faith! One was a very difficult time at the end of my last church role and the other was my wife’s stroke last year. Thankfully she recovered fully, but in those moments when it looked like she would have permanent brain damage, it was the scariest moments of my life. Would we wish for Victoria to have another stroke or something similar to happen? No! But, I tell you what, faith became real, verses that I had read came alive, depending on God and praying fervently became natural. My love for her and our family grew stronger and I am sure it built a capacity and perseverance in me that otherwise wouldn’t be there. And finally, it did lead to hope, hope of that time to come when every sickness will be healed by God and every painful experience taken away!

So what about you? What is the hardest thing or things that you have ever gone through? And what has it led to in your life?

Let me finish with Philippians 3:10-11 – one of my favourite verses – sums up the Christian life…

Paul says; “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

He says he wants to know Christ. My guess is because Jesus is his Lord, his saviour, his good shepherd, his rock and salvation. So he wants to know Christ! And part of that is the power of his resurrection. And who wouldn’t, that is the explosion of new life and power to overcome evil and sickness and death! But it only comes if you have participated in his sufferings. You see there is no resurrection without the cross, there is not testimony without the struggle, there is no victory without the battle. I know many of us are in deep battles right now! May you know Christ… his sufferings, his resurrection… his death and his life!

Praying like Jesus

ML-logocircleAt Manly Life Church we are doing a little series on developing healthy spiritual habits that will see us flourish in life. An obvious one is developing our prayer life which I think is universally recognised as crucial to our spiritual health.

Some of us are absolute prayer warriors, literally storming the gates of heaven! I remember a friend in London who was a Proctologist. Despite being exhausted, she went to the early morning prayer meeting at church and then headed on to work. At the hospital she then had her staff meeting which she was leading with the other Doctors. She brought the meeting to order and then said, ‘lets pray’. She then launched a couple of lines into the prayer before she realised where she was. She sheepishly looked up, only to find most of the others in the room had their eyes closed and heads bowed… so what to do? She decided to plough on with the prayer, said amen and then got on with the meeting. Apparently no one ever said anything to her. Classic!

Others of us though don’t feel we have a particularly dynamic prayer life. We feel a bit more like this guy…

Well, when I came into my own faith in Jesus I had a pretty strong prayer life… I think it would be fair to say I felt like I was in constant conversation with God. But then like most people I have had my ups and downs… sometimes being driven to prayer and other times feeling a bit distant from God and focused on the wrong things. The reality is a lot of us feel distracted and undisciplined in our relationship with God.

So, what is your prayer life like?

Most statistics on things like this come out of the US, but would be reasonably similar in Australia. Research says 4 out of 5 people claim to have prayed in the last week. 41% say their prayers are answered often while only 1.5% said their prayers were never answered. 82% pray for the health or success of a family member when praying, 75% believe God can answer prayer for healing an incurable disease and finally 51% agreed that God doesn’t answer prayers to win sporting events…

Well to get our inspiration for praying, lets look to Jesus and his relationship with his Heavenly Father. I think what we are going to see is a model for the kind of prayer life that is going to see us flourish. What we are interested in is the imitation of Christ in our lives. So three things I notice about Jesus’ prayer life.

  1. The first thing I notice is how Jesus prioritizes time with his Father

Mark 1:35 tells us that very early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. We see this again in Matthew 14 after he has fed the 5,000. . It says he went up on a mountainside to pray. In Luke 5 it tells us that the news about Jesus spread all the more so that people came to hear him and be healed of their sickness. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

So Jesus prioritised time with his Heavenly Father. He would go and be on his own and spend time in prayer… listening and conversing with his Dad. And I love the Gospel writers take the time to point this out. It is not just the stories of all the things Jesus could do… healing people, teaching with authority, showing compassion… It is an insight into what made him tick, and it was time alone with his Father.

So it poses the question for us. How are we at removing ourselves from the busyness of life to spend time with our God in prayer? You see so often we want the benefits of prayer without spending time in prayer. In the mornings when I swim I like to pray on the way over. Not on the way back, that is a race… but on the way over is time with God. Particularly as I swim past the castle, I get time to pray for our church and for you.

So Jesus prioritized time with his Father to pray, removing himself to quiet places. What about you?

  1. The second thing I notice is the closeness of this relationship.

One of the huge shifts from the OT to the NT is how people were to refer to God. In the OT the people of God were not to even use the name of God in their prayers, but when Jesus comes onto the scene he teaches the people of God to pray to their Father in Heaven. And Jesus calls God, ‘Father’, all through the Gospels. So this is not a distant, cold, methodical relationship. This is a relationship like between a father and son.

We see this in John 17 when Jesus prays, you can hear the intimacy of the relationship, and Jesus’ prayer to his Father is recorded. Vs 1 ‘Father the hour has come’, Vs 5 ‘Father glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began’, Vs 10 ‘All I have is yours’, Vs 24 ‘Father, though the world does not know you, I know you.’

So again this prayer life of Jesus is one of knowing and being known. I am very blessed to have a wonderful relationship with my Dad and when I speak to him it is not like I am speaking to the Queen of England or a Headmaster. He is just Dad and I know how he will respond, I know what he is like, I know he is a good man, a faithful man. So this is what Jesus has with his Heavenly Father, he has been with him before the world began and although the world may not know him, Jesus knows him, his character and his faithfulness.

So like Jesus, as you develop your prayer life you will become close to your heavenly Father. That is one of the great gifts of Christian faith, God the creator, the one we sense is there, becomes known to us. And we get good through spending time with him at recognising his voice. So as you pray, have your bible open, reading, praying, asking God to speak.

  1. And that leads me to the third thing, Jesus does the Father’s work because he knows the Father’s will… and this only comes from the first two things… he spent time with his Father and he had incredible intimacy with the Father.

Check out this – John 5, so Jesus has just healed a man paralyzed for 38 years. He is bringing life everywhere he goes., forgiving sins, showing compassion and healing the sick. So he gives a little insight… The reason he can heal the paralysed man is he has spent time with the father and knows his voice. Vs 20 (he says) ‘The Father loves the Son and shows him all he does’, Vs 21 (he says) ‘For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so, the Son gives life.’

So Jesus, loved by the Father has been shown what God does… but how? Because of the time he spends in prayer away from the crowds, because of the closeness of relationship he has with his Heavenly Dad. Jesus is wrapped up in the story of God renewing his creation, because the one he is in closest relationship with is the author of that story! Do you see what I am saying here? Because this is linked to you finding your purpose and wholeness. It is this alignment with God… like a train on the tracks, heading in the same direction.

You know some of the Christians I admire the most and who all of us should be striving to be like are like this. That conversation with God is always ongoing… ‘Dad, what are you up to?’ My wife Victoria is a bit like this… when she prays for people it is like she has read their emails… But it comes out of this place of listening to the Father’s voice through spending time with Him. She calls it her G time… and she is lost without it!

So how does this affect us as we head into 2015? Again, the presumption is that God wants us to flourish and that we want to flourish, that there are habits that we can develop that will see us come alive not only spiritually, but in every sphere of our lives. So what about prayer and our relationship with God?

Well it is time many of us grew up in our relationship with God. You see he has saved you because he loves you, but also because he wants to use you, and it is prayer that begins to change things… As you prioritise prayer, as you get to know your Heavenly Father, you will know his will. And that is when you will begin to flourish. That is when you will get in on his work of making all things new! You will know his will for restored relationships, a pure minds, concern for the weak and broken, having peace and joy!

You see, prayer cultivates your relationship with God and any relationship needs quality time… to the point you know what your partner is thinking… You see, how can we say God guide me? Or Your Will be done if we don’t read the scriptures, and spend time with God in prayer? But when that alignment with heavenly Father occurs, we get in, like Jesus, on the Fathers purposes for the world!

To those who are done with church

BeachI have been reading recently about a new category of people in our society when it comes to religious participation. Beyond the nones (those who have no religion) a new growing category is the dones (those who still have faith but are done with going to church).

Interestingly I have also met a number of these dones recently, including a builder whose family no longer goes to church after being involved in too many church conflicts and some couples who have gotten over the same old experience of church week in week out that doesn’t really connect with them anymore. Apparently driving the emergence of those who still have faith but are done with church includes these kind of factors as well as feeling used in the weekly grind of ‘putting on church’, unchallenging sermons, a lack of real relationships and just the busyness of modern life. So a couple of comments…

1. Church can suck. Undoubtedly we in church leadership and the institution itself get so much wrong. Yes it can feel strange that we put so much effort and volunteer hours into putting on a service. Yes we can say insensitive things or use church jargon or favour certain people. We just get a lot wrong. Leadership is tough and particularly in a church setting where people are passionate about their faith, noses are going to get out of joint. So yes, to the dones, we need to listen better, show more wisdom and look at ways to do/be church and community better.

2. The local church needs you. In all of its flaws, the local church still is the hope of the world, and if we believe in the images of church painted in the New Testament, you are a vital part. You are a living stone God uses to dwell in, a member of the family, a valuable part of the body. The church can’t be a visible expression of the kingdom of God if everyone opts out. Yes we may find new ways of doing evangelism, discipleship and fellowship outside of the local church, but I still believe in the overwhelming benefits of committing to a local church community. And it needs you to play your part, help the weaker members, use your gifts, welcome spiritual seekers into community.

3. You need the local church. While you may be the exception that breaks the rule, you cannot walk the Christian faith well, alone. I personally love the local church because it is where I get to corporately worship God, have a regular spot in my busy week where I hear the scriptures and learn how to apply our faith. I like the fact that a diverse, odd, broken group of people come together to do some life together. You may not experience church like this, but you still need the local church. Without a local church, faith grows cold, motivation to connect with God will wane and the world may end up shaping you more than you shape the world.

These are just a few thoughts and I am sure it is more complex for many of the increasing numbers of people who are done with church. But I would say that many of the characteristics God wants to develop in you can only grow from being in a church, no matter who much it may disappoint you, hurt you or leave you feeling uninspired. And the flip side is that so many of the true joys of life come from doing life together. Hang in there!

Irenaeus of Lyons (120-202) on the Miraculous Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Very interesting read about the continued miraculous in the early church post the Book of Acts…


Irenaeus Irenaeus

As I mentioned last week I’m reading Jeff Doles’ Miracles and Manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the History of the Church, and it’s amazing to see what God has been doing continously in His church throughout world history. The book is basically only made up by quotes from older works, and it gives clear proof that cessationism – the idea that miraculous spiritual gifts ceased with the apostles – hardly existed before Luther and Calvin. For example, take a look at what Irenaeus of Lyon, the second century bishop who was a disciple to Polycarp – who in turn was a disciple of John the evangelist – says concering miraculous gifts when he refuted the Gnostics in his famous work Against Heresies:

“Those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare…

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Manly Churches Big Day Out 2014

Manly Churches Big Day Out 2014

Join us on Sunday the 21st of September at the Manly Churches Big Day Out.

After the huge success of last year, the combined churches of Manly are all coming together again to have fun, worship and celebrate!

Come to St Patrick’s Estate in Manly (151 Darley Rd – parking available).

2-4pm for a big BBQ, live music, jumping castles, kindy farm, face painting, futsbal and to enjoy the amazing views over Manly.

Then at 4pm we will worship together, hear from singer Jack Vidgen and NSW State Premier Mike Baird and our wonderful speaker Scott Petty (author of The Little Black Books series).

If you have any questions, email the event co-ordinator – tim.giovanelli@manlylife.org

The Good Samaritan

Jan_Wijnants_-_Parable_of_the_Good_SamaritanWhat does it mean to love well?

The two greatest stories about love were both told by Jesus. One is about a Father who forgives a runaway son. The other is about a foreigner who loves a man lying beaten on the side of the road. Both of these stories tell us what love looks like. Both of these stories challenge us to love well.

Christianity is a divine revolution. It is God coming to change his world. That is the big story within which we read everything else. Whether it be Jesus offering forgiveness, healing the sick or doing great acts of mercy… this is God renewing his creation!

So what does Jesus revolution look like? The kingdom is pre-eminently good news for the poor, the lost and the outcast. And we shouldn’t rationalise that away because so many of us are wealthy. It should be a constant challenge to our own prosperity. But this is not just how Jesus chose to live, this is about the calling of others who would join his revolution. They are to show mercy to the undeserving, unfortunate and the lost.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is given in response to a Jewish theologian asking about the meaning of neighbour. He has answered correctly about inheriting the life of the age to come. It means to love God and love your neighbour… but who, he asks, is my neighbour? It’s a good question. To Jews then and to us now a neighbour is usually thought of as those to whom we live next to, or have a friendly relationship. But does it include everyone? To Jews in Jesus day it certainly didn’t include Gentiles. That is, those who were not of the same ethnic group. People like the Samaritans. So Jesus gives us a confronting story…

A man goes does a road down from the hills of Jerusalem to Jericho where he set upon by bandits who leave him within an inch of his life. Those hearing would have known this stretch of road and known the risks involved. Seeing a man robbed, beaten and dying on the side of road was not outside their experience. So two religious guys walk by, a priest and a Levite… part of a privileged group! Part of the shock of this story, is that it could be expected that as servants of God, they would understand God’s heart for the lost and hurting and respond with compassion. They don’t. They walk on by.

What is going on when we don’t help someone? Maybe it is self preservation… if this guy has been robbed and beaten, maybe the bandits are still around? What about you? Why do you not help? Too busy to stop? Maybe a conviction that it’s the addict’s fault, that they will only use your help to buy more booze? Whatever the reason too often the human story is one of not stopping, but passing by.

Then a Samaritan comes on by. These were perhaps Jews least favourite people. The animosity went back centuries, it had to do with their ethnicity, over ownership of land, over ways of worship…There were often violent clashes between Jews and Samaritans. In one incident some Samaritans got into the temple in Jerusalem during Passover and scattered human bones, making the temple unclean.So you get why the introduction of a Samaritan into a story about compassion and mercy gives it a controversial nature… everyone would be feeling uncomfortable…

But what incredible, undeniable kindness. He stops for the one. He does not veer away from the bandit’s victim.It says in verse 33 of Luke 10 that ‘his heart went out to him’. His heart went out to him. It is the same description used here of the Father in the parable of the prodigal son. If that parable is an insight into God’s heart for us, it suggests that the Samaritans heart is a reflection of God’s for the lost. Now that is important. Remember we never reflect God’s character more, than when we love the lost, the broken and the poor.

And his compassion is not an ideal; it is expressed in practical action… The revolution is not about an idea about love, it is an outworking of the love, poured into our own hearts. He binds the wounds, applies medicines, he puts him on his donkey which he would have been riding and he takes him to an inn to personally take care of him. And then with extreme generosity he pays for a long stay and promises to pay anything more that might be needed. All this done by a hated Samaritan for a Jew.

Now, all of this has come in response to a theologian asking what it means to love your neighbour. Being a lawyer he was probably looking to cover the scope of what a neighbour is, to justify his own actions, to make himself look good in the eyes of others. So who has been a neighbour to the man robbed and beaten by bandits? And what does loving a neighbour look like? The theologian replies “the one who showed mercy on him.” Jesus says, “Go… go and do likewise.”

This is the revolution of God that Jesus came to initiate. As Jesus says in Matthew 9, “I require mercy not sacrifice.” In other words not religious ceremonies or outward appearances of righteousness… the revolution requires generous mercy that reaches out. Go and do likewise. Eternal life, the life of the age to come involves living like the good Samaritan. Go and do likewise.

Well, there it is… there is your application if you are looking for one… kind of hits you over the head like a two by four… Go and do likewise. This is how the revolution works! Jesus announces the kingdom, he demonstrates the kingdom and then he calls others into the life and work of the kingdom.

The kingdom of God, the revolution that Jesus came to initiate involves the renewal of all things. And in this revolution, Jesus wants to change your heart so you can change your world. Let me say that again… he wants to change your heart so you can change your world. As you are loved by an unquenchable love, your capacity to love others grows.

So, as I said, the application is pretty simple – go and do likewise… because really this is about continuing on the life and works of Jesus as a community. This is how God renews his creation… he calls and commissions a people to go and do likewise.

I reckon if you are a Christian you need to be involved somehow in helping the poor, the battered and the broken. Hopefully you do that by supporting your local church that in turn supports organisations like the local Salvation Army. All of us are called to radical love of our neighbour… and as Jesus has shown in this parable, that means those in need. A lot of you are sponsoring children. Keep going! Victoria and I give a percentage of our income not just to the church but also to an orphanage in Mozambique. Greg who comes to Manly Life sets up orphanages in the poorest parts of the world… check out the website, speak to him, get involved.

But one of the most important things we learn in this passage is that love stops for the one in front of us. And love looks like something. It is not an ideal; it is an action. It cost the good Samaritan his own personal safety, it cost him his ride, it cost him money for the inn. And it also cost him his comfortable personal prejudices. He crossed social boundaries, ethnic boundaries, historic boundaries…Because love knows no boundaries.

Could you impact a hundred lives, could you change the world? Well it starts with the one. And usually it is the one in front of us whose path we have cross. Love stops for the one. Love looks like something. It is how Jesus treats us.

The Jesus Manifesto

resurrected jesusTruly transformational leaders are rare in any field. It is easy to talk a big game, but delivering… well that’s another question. Leaders of all stripes lay out their intentions before campaigns, AGMs, rallies, only to find the reality of compromise, human nature and bureaucratic institutions stifle their best hopes. One man was different.

Luke who was a companion of the Apostle Paul recalls for us one of the greatest moments in history. Fresh from his baptism where the heavens opened and God declared Jesus as his son whom he loves, fresh from being tested and overcoming the temptations of the devil in the wilderness, Jesus goes to the temple and reads Isaiah 61…

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news for the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

He then rolled up the scroll, handed it back, and sat down. We are told every eye in the temple was on him. Then he proclaims, “It’s just come true in front of your eyes, right now in this place.”

Now that is a moment in history. I would give anything to have been there for that!

This manifesto, this statement of intent is made in fulfilment of Isaiah 61. This is a direct quote from Isaiah 61 but interestingly the last line of it is missing… have you ever noticed that? Isaiah 61 finishes with “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God.” Put simply Jesus is going to usher in an era of grace. Now is not the time for judgement or vengeance. Jesus has come to bring salvation and restoration! This is what he is going to do… open blind eyes… release oppressed people… free prisoners. And accordingly this is the heart of what our faith is like… If we are to ask as a church are we being effective? Well is this stuff happening?

Right lets just go through this manifesto… 

The Spirit is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” Jesus always has a bias for the poor because Jesus is interested in restoring the fundamental dignity inherent in everyone. A Darwinian approach to life leads to the survival of the fittest. A gospelised approach leads to a restoration of hope! That is why every Christian should be involved in some outreach or care for the poor. It is a reflection of our saviour.

Next Jesus says, “he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.” Central to Jesus ministry is rescuing people out of darkness and into the light… He casts out spirits that possess people. He frees people from sinful lives.

Next Jesus says about his mission, “Recovery of sight for the blind.” Some have tried to spiritualise this line making it about opening the eyes of the spiritually blind. We sing songs like Amazing Grace (I was blind but now I see…) and that is all true and good. But this was an actual aspect of Jesus ministry. In Luke 18 a blind beggar calls out to the passing Jesus, “Jesus, have mercy on me”. Jesus stops and asks what do you want me to do for you? “Lord I want to see” and with that his eyes are opened by Jesus. That is a life changed… that is what Jesus does! And he continues to open blind eyes today. Just read about Heidi Baker in Mozambique. The healing ministry of Jesus continues all around the world!

Next Jesus says, “To set the oppressed free”. I love the Message version of Matthew 11. Jesus says, “Are you tired out? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I wont lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

What a great mandate for the church today. Introduce people to this Jesus! My hope for Manly Life is that the tired, the burned out will come to know him.

This is all in one sense summarized by the final line: Jesus says; “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” This is our story… it is his story… Jesus continues to save! We want to join God in bringing his LIFE to Manly. That is our vision. The Jesus manifesto is our manifesto for life and ministry. That is why in the very next chapter of Luke he starts calling a ragtag bunch of people to follow him and join in his ministry.

Well finally, is this a fulfilled manifesto? After all lots of leaders promise big and deliver little. Well yes, in Jesus life it was fulfilled. The blind did see, the poor got good news, the favour of God was proclaimed, the oppressed were set free. But it is always a work in progress. A work that we must commit ourselves to for the glory of God.

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