All posts by markpeterson

A Message Worth Fighting For?

Good morning and welcome to St Augustine’s! Please stick around after the service for morning tea – I’d love the chance to meet you, especially if you’re visiting or newish.

Today we’re looking at a part of the Bible (Galatians 2:11-21) that goes to the very heart of our faith. And it involves a pretty serious conflict with the Apostle Peter. Why has Paul aired this dirty laundry in front of everyone? Not just the people in the church, but for all of us to read, even 2000 years later!

As we’ll see, this involves the one thing we can never compromise, never let go of, never add to or subtract from: the message of the gospel. But is it worth going public on your grievances? Is a message ever that important?

I don’t want to spoil the talk (and if you’re reading this afterwards, you can download the recording from our website) but I think we can get nervous when people become dogmatic about their message. Perhaps we think of radicals, or sectarians, or any other kind of violent ideologue.

One way we could look at it is this: if we possessed vital information that could stop a war, would we tweak that information? If we had evidence that would exonerate a prisoner, or a strategy that would help reconcile a marriage that is breaking down, would we allow that to be compromised?

I’m not sure the gospel is actually that different from these examples. It’s a message for the whole human race (I mean, obviously if God became a human, this is for all humans, not just privileged humans), it’s a message relating to our biggest problems (our death, our alienation and sin), and it’s a message of reconciliation with the one who is most important to be reconciled with!

Clearly, we are not to be violent ideologues! But nor should we act as if this message we have in the gospel is simply a bunch of principles for good behaviour. It’s a matter of life and death that people come to God only on the basis of what Jesus has done in taking our place on the cross.

Are you open to the idea that this message is something that needs to be protected and defended at all costs? Let me know if you’ve got any thoughts. You can use the Minister’s Q&A forms handed out today or just chat to me.

In Christ, Mark

Galatians: Why all the aggro?

This Sunday we commence our series of sermons on the Letter to the Galatians, Paul’s first letter to the churches, written no later than the year 50AD, making it an extremely early source by any historical standards.

However, we are not going to be looking at the historicity of Jesus’ ministry, rather the centrality of Jesus’ ministry for the whole message of Christianity.

A few years earlier, on Paul’s first missionary journey, he travelled to the major cities in the southern part of what is present day Turkey and planted these Galatian churches. He shared the message of Jesus first with the Jews of the area, and then to the non-Jews.

Interestingly, Galatians is written with great urgency. Is it that Paul forgot to mention something important? Is it that he feels they didn’t quite get the message right or that they need to be revved up in order to be a bit more passionate?

Well no, there’s a major emergency in these Galatian churches. Following Paul’s visit, some Jewish so-called Christians had infiltrated their ranks and were saying that Paul was only half right about the gospel. Paul had said that the grace of the gospel liberated everyone from the rule of the Law of Moses. But this group was saying that not only should Jews remain distinctively Jewish, but that non-Jews coming to faith should also be required to come under the Law of Moses.

Well, Paul is furious. And desperate to correct this heresy. His letter is dramatic and emphatic. The message of Christianity is about grace: always only grace. Other requirements must not be added to it, or else the message of the gospel will be destroyed.

Do you get a sense of how protective Paul was for the core component of the Christian message? We’re going to spend a few weeks exploring just how crucial this is, not only for them, but also for us. I hope you can join us each week or listen to the recordings of any sermons you miss (see our website).

In Christ, Mark

Life’s Short: Have an Affair?

Today’s topic is a tough one. I was unwell last Sunday and was actually grateful for an additional week to ponder it: “You shall not commit adultery”.

Well I’m not going to ask for a show of hands during this sermon. But these are the sorts of sins that can weigh heavily on us. And yet not everyone thinks that the church should be busying itself with people’s private lives. There is a strong sense in the community that we overreach when we make judgements about what is right and wrong in the bedroom.

So what do you think? Are the days of the church’s moral guidance in the community over? And should we even be telling our own people about what is right and wrong sexually? We’re going to think this through in our sermon today, and if you’re reading this after the fact, then feel free to download the sermon here: www.staugs.church

I think the answer to all of this lies in the question of what vision God has revealed (in the Bible) for his church. Is Christianity about us selling a product to the wider community? I don’t think so. Whilst we are constantly appealing to people to come to Christ and become a part of his church, it’s not about bumping up the numbers so we can feel less irrelevant.

The picture in the Bible is of God making a holy people to live with him into eternity. And there is a broad invitation to everyone from every tribe, tongue and nation to be part of this. But at its heart, Christianity is a transformative movement. Transforming helpless sinners into holy, hopeful people, at home with the Lord. Of course we need our sins forgiven before he can even get underway. But God’s work in our lives is lifelong. He wants to purify us from the inside out.

And believe it or not, sexuality is part of that picture of purification. Ultimately he wants us to focus our desire on him, not on anything in all creation, not even on the spouse of your dreams, or some other person who is not your spouse. God wants us. It’s all about his love and desire. Could you ever desire him from the bottom of your heart?

In Christ, Mark

 

The Good Life In 10 Steps

This Sunday (29 April) we’re beginning a series of sermons on the 10 Commandments. What are you anticipating from this?

Some Aussies feel that the 10 commandments are basic rules for life, a good foundation for ethics, or a way to be a good person.

Other Aussies see the 10 Commandments as having little or no relevance to contemporary life. They are at least 3000 years old, which is nice if you like history, but obviously need to be interpreted for modern living.

And this is the point. We will all see them through a grid. By default we will put them up against our existing moral and ethical framework. We will find some (eg “Do not murder”) as reasonably obvious and easy to keep. But others (eg “Do not make any images”) as unachievable and irrelevant in an image-soaked society in which most of us carry image-capture devices in our pockets at all times.

But Jesus has a different grid through which to see the 10 Commandments (and the rest of the Law of Israel). That grid is himself. He fulfils the Law in ways we couldn’t imagine. He helps us to understand the Law and interpret it for contemporary living. Far from it being out-dated and an unnecessary burden on life, it is actually a clue to fully satisfying living.

But don’t just try to do it yourself. You need to understand what Jesus said and did, or else you will simply create a rod for your own back and you won’t succeed anyway… that’s not the idea.

So I invite you to join us over the next 10 weeks (and stream any sermons from our website that you can’t be here for). This promise of “The Good Life In 10 Steps” is real and reliable, grounded in the very words of God himself. After all, isn’t it possible that the creator knows a thing or two about what he’s made and how it works best, even in today’s complex world?

Are You Ready For Easter?

Easter is less than 2 weeks away. Are you ready to celebrate?

As far as the wider community is concerned, Easter means chocolate and a 4-day weekend. The roads are full of cars, but they’re heading out of town, not to church.

And yet it is the high point of our calendar. We remember the death of the Son of God, his Resurrection and the ushering in of the New Age… events of truly cosmic significance.

So in the busyness of life, let us not be surprised by Easter, as if it has snuck up on us! Let us pray now that God would ready our hearts for a time of humble reflection and joyful celebration. Let us dwell on Jesus in our Gospel readings: so perfect in strength, so gentle in disposition, and so powerful in love.

In today’s reading, Jesus is on trial before the Roman Governor. It’s do or die, and yet he doesn’t say much. But the immensity of his character and his determination of purpose shine a light on the other characters in the story. There’s the weak judge, the jealous leaders, the rebellious prisoner, and the violent soldiers. Up against Jesus, the flaws of humanity are exposed.

I think this is partly how Easter works as a festival: Jesus shines light into our lives too. That light shines in 2 ways;

  1. His extraordinary character reveals our weaknesses and failures. Many of us don’t need to be reminded of these. But regardless of our state of mind, Jesus is the wonderful example of humanity at its best. And if we’re honest we acknowledge that in contrast, we fall short. We too have been weak, jealous, rebellious, and even violent.
  2. Jesus’ inaction in the face of all the torment does not come from fear or confusion (as our inaction often does). In his case, it comes from determined love and purpose. His intention is to bring the light of salvation to the world. So his light shining also cleanses and revives. The light of his love is like a warm sunrise over a dark and cold terrain.

Are you ready to celebrate? Let’s spend these remaining 2 weeks in prayer and reflection on the Easter story. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

 

Keeping The Phone Off The Hook With God

I was recently listening to a sermon by an American Pastor on the topic of prayer. 2 things struck me particularly.

First, prayer for the Christian should be a bit like leaving your phone off the hook.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to “pray continually”. I don’t think he means that you never do anything else, that you never talk to others, or never have silent reflection! I think he means that we have a constantly open channel of communication. I believe God wants us to face everything in life knowing that he is walking right beside us.

When something worries you, don’t just mutter to yourself… speak (under your breath if you have to) to your heavenly Father, who knows exactly what you’re facing, and exactly what you’re thinking about!

When you hear of someone’s challenges, bring it to God immediately; don’t wait until you have time to get on your knees!

Second, prayer enables us to carry to God the contemplations of our whole heart, not just the “proper and right” things. This includes our yearnings, frustrations, distresses, guilt, even our anger.

Do not think that God’s ears are too sensitive to hear what your really think! He knows it anyway, and if he wants you to tone it down he can prompt you. But truly, he wants you to pour out your heart to him.

So what are your deepest desires? The things that you long for in your quiet moments? Share them with him.

What are your deepest fears? The things that you would count as the worst outcomes imaginable? Share them with him.

I guess the punch line is: prayer is the place we do business with God. No prayer, no relationship. Stilted prayer, stilted relationship. Open and honest prayer, deepening reality of relationship.

Of course in his sovereignty and through his word he prompts us, encourages us and leads us. And yet so much of what he is seeking from us is a heartfelt, humble response to him. And this is why he wants us to pray. Continually and comprehensively.

Why don’t you try leaving the phone off the hook with God this week? And let him listen to what you really think!

The Curious Connection Between Blessing And Struggle

Welcome to St Augustine’s! It is terrific to be able to get together under the word of God each week. My prayer is that God will give us each strength and wisdom, as well as challenge us gently, conforming us to the likeness of his Son Jesus.

What will 2018 bring for you and your family? Are you praying for God’s blessing?

Each year brings its share of ups and downs, and as John Warner taught 2 weeks ago from Ecclesiastes 3, this is because of the sovereignty of God over all our “times”, our comings and goings. And so as we face 2018, are we asking him to help us?

We use the term “bless” or “blessing” quite a bit in the church, and it is a wonderful term that describes the goodness God shares with his creation in the circumstances of life. I’m prompted yet again to ask God to bless us this year.

However, blessing does not mean easy. I was reminded this week that when God is busy at work in his church, it usually involves pruning. When we apply ourselves to the plants in our gardens, both the hose and the secateurs are required! And so perhaps there are pains we must experience if we are to allow God to be at work in us…

Perhaps there will be personal struggles, health struggles, relational struggles, belief struggles or integrity struggles. Far from being indicators of the absence of God from our lives, they will remind us that for God to work good out of the complex circumstances of our lives, sometimes he needs to get our attention.

The humdrum of day-to-day survival tends to blinker us, even blind us. But pain and struggle actually drive us to our knees in humble prayer. They challenge us to let go of things in our lives that we hold to more dearly than we hold to God. And they challenge us to believe in the infinite power and goodness of the One who created us and has redeemed us, including us in his Kingdom.

So once again I say let’s pray. Let’s ask God for his blessing, knowing that this will probably mean we need to pray our way through the circumstance of the year ahead. We will have things we need to repent of… Lord, show us! We will have things we need to rethink… Lord, show us! Let’s invite God to oversee the agendas, plans and aspirations of our lives in 2018!

New Year’s Thankfulness

Welcome to St Augustines! Ok, it’s New Year’s Eve. Time to talk about resolutions? Do you have any? Better daily habits? Less of the bad stuff?

Instead I want to talk about thankfulness. Beware of glazing over at this point on the assumption that thankfulness is merely politeness or good manners.

In the letter to the Colossians, which we studied for 6 weeks in the leadup to Advent, we encountered thankfulness numerous times, although I didn’t make much of it in the sermons. Consider these verses:

  • “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you” Col 1:3
  • “ [Give] joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” Col 1:12
  • “Continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Col 2:7
  • “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Col 3:15
  • “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col 3:17
  • “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Col 4:2

All of these urge us to thank God. How might we apply these as we transition from 2017 to 2018?

First, let us be thankful for what God has done in 2017. Thankful for each other, for God’s gift of our inheritance, and for all the ways he has worked things together for good through the details of our lives during the past 12 months.

Secondly, let’s commit to thankfulness in 2018. Maybe it is a kind of resolution. If God is at work each day, then let us thank him each day. For his marvellous creation. For our daily provisions. For our Saviour Jesus, and for growing us in knowledge of Jesus. These really are important!

Finally, why is this more than good manners? Thankfulness is at the heart of what it is to be Christian. And a lack of thankfulness is at the heart of what it is to be in rebellion with God, in need of forgiveness. Imagine receiving all that we have from God and not thanking him for it? How tragic to ignore God’s grace and to think he owes us our existence… Instead, thankfulness keeps us humble before him, clinging to him for our needs.

So in 2018, let us thank him constantly. And may this grow our awareness of his immense power and grace.

 

The Powerful Ideas Of Christmas

Well, Christmas … yes, here we are. What has this year meant for you?

I imagine that for most of us it has been a combination of things wonderful and things difficult.

For some of us the balance is more towards one or the other of these.

Whatever your circumstances, we confidently maintain that Christmas is a time of peace, hope, joy and love. Yes it really is! These words may seem unrepresentative if your year has been terribly difficult; to others they may seem trite and “nice”.

But they are powerful words, made real by the presence of God in our world in the person of Jesus.

  • He really did bring peace: first and foremost peace in our relationship with our maker.
  • He really does offer hope: we are able to look forward (even beyond death) with courage because of what Jesus has done for us.
  • He really does bring joy: an ability to stare down the difficulties of life knowing that God actually feels our pain, carries us through it, and promises one day to remove it entirely.
  • And he really does bring love: he loves us, more than we will ever know, and his love for us inspires and enables us to love one another.

At Christmas we celebrate Emmanuel: God with us. When we consider the sheer immensity of the universe he created, and the tiny, insignificant dots that we are on a comparatively invisible planet, it blows my mind that he took on human flesh.

What is it about us that he wanted to redeem? I’m not sure I have the answer to that. He simply loves us. He made us and he’s glad of it, even after the corruption of the world.

Let’s take time this Christmas to thank him. It’s not just a time for locking ourselves away with family. It’s also a time for remembering that God remembers us, and that he offers us membership of his own wonderful, eternal family.

May God bless you richly, Mark.

Christmas: A Time For Invitations

Welcome to St Augustine’s, especially if you are joining us to witness the baptism of Olivia and Tori this morning.

Christmas is now two weeks away… so it’s time to be inviting people to join us at our Christmas services!

Today you should each receive invitation cards, giving basic details of what’s happening. Can you think of friends or family you could invite? Which services would be the most suitable for which people?

The Christmas Eve activities might suit younger families, whereas the late service or the Christmas morning service might suit others better. Take as many cards as you like:

  • Put one on your fridge
  • Put a couple in your handbag or on your dashboard to remind you to give them out to people this week
  • Write on a card the name of someone you’ll see this week with a personal invitation
  • Pass them to neighbours, with a personal message.

We face the reality that going to church is not as much a part of people’s regular activities as it used to be. But Christmas is still the time of year that attracts the most people to church. People know the Christmas tunes, are familiar with the key characters of the Nativity, and many people wait until after Christmas before they head away on holidays. All of this gives us great opportunity.

Of course Santa and the North Pole contingent also play a role in people’s Christmases. The generosity and kindness of the original “Saint Nicholas” whose name has become “Santa Claus” has been swamped by the commercialism of Christmas, where we can feel a heavy burden of obligation to buy expensive gifts for numerous people.

Yet the gift of the Christ child remains the greatest gift anyone can receive. The maker of the universe takes on human life in all its trouble, pain and futility, which in a way is a message in itself, screaming at us to put aside the wrapping paper and notice what God has done. In our midst is hope, joy, peace and love, given to restore our relationships with our maker and with each other.

Christmas really is a wonderful time for remembering the things we really need in life, and the manner in which God has indeed provided them for us!

Be bold! Mark