This is a talk I gave at a youth group a number of years ago.
I have in my hand a chocolate bar, which I will give to the first person to give me the answer to a quick quiz I am about to give you. I will give you the famous last words of this person, and you must tell me who he was.
Et tu, Brute.
ANSWER: Julius Caesar
On the 15th of March, 44BC, Julius Caesar, the Emperor of Rome walked into his government to conduct business as usual. As he stood to speak, Senators rushed forward and stabbed him. Legend tells us that over 50 senators were involved. Caesar had been expecting this – it was part of the way things were done in those days. I must admit, that it sometimes seems a pity that we have to vote some of our bad politicians out of office, rather than get rid of them the way the Romans did.
It wasn’t so much the fact that Caesar had been killed, but rather that it was one of his closest friends and advisors that was also involved. If William Shakespeare can be trusted on this point, Brutus was the last to put his knife in. It was the fact that his closest friend had shafted him that really hurt Caesar. It was his dying thought. I wonder how many of you have had a good friend let you down badly – maybe talk behind your back or do something that really hurt you. Maybe you haven’t ever forgiven that person. The problem is: Friends let you down. They hurt you.
It’s not only friends that let you down, though, but family as well. You know, three years ago, my brother and sister and I arranged a wonderful party for my parents. It was their 25th wedding anniversary. Last year, they were divorced. Three weeks ago, my father married a woman just a few years older than me. That hurts. Some of you know how much it hurts. Et tu, my friend?. You, too? People let you down.
Continue reading Talk: Famous Last Words
A sermon outline originally posted on 13 March 2005
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his 1937 book, The Cost of Discipleship (buy it at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net), wrote: “Costly grace is the hidden treasure in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has…. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because if calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son: ‘ye were bought with a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”
In the lead up to Easter this year, let us remember that “salvation” is about “justification” AND “sanctification”. To emphasize one over the other is unbiblical. To my mind, this is the single biggest failing of the church at the moment – to be so heavenly minded that it is no earthly good. To emphasize what Jesus came to die for, and to neglect all he came to LIVE for – the establishment of His Kingdom ON EARTH as it is in Heaven!
If we lived more like Christ’s intent, we wouldn’t have many of the issues I talk about elsewhere on this blogsite.
Here is a sermon I preached just before Easter a few years ago:
Continue reading Cheap Grace
Originally posted on 1 May 2006
These are notes I used for a study on the issue of the Incarnation.
One of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith is the Incarnation. This is a technical theological word that describes the fact that God became a human. Jesus Christ was both 100% a man and 100% God. The implications of this has kept theologians both thinking and fighting with each other for the past 2000 years. I am not sure that we will ever fully understand the Incarnation, but I want to share with you tonight what I believe the Incarnation means for the church – for us, today.
When Jesus was on earth, he taught us how to live lives pleasing to God. It is not just His words and his preaching that are important. Its His example and what He actually did that are important, too.
When we think of the Incarnation as a model for us, we probably immediately think of missionaries who leave the land of their birth and go to a far off country where they have to learn a new language, wear strange clothes and participate in weird customs. But that isn’t the only application of Jesus’s example. The Incarnation is a model of ministry for us here in our church.
Right at the start of His ministry, Jesus called a select group of 12 disciples to be with him, and live with him in community for 3 years. In addition to this group, there were at least 72 others who regularly lived with the disciples and travelled with them. There were many hundreds who offered them hospitality and, of course, many thousands who would come every now and again to hear Jesus preach.
Continue reading What the Incarnation Means for the Church
Dr Kenzo Mabiala gave a brilliant talk at the first Amahoro conference in Uganda in May 2007. I recorded this on a handheld recorder – it’s worth persevering through the low quality because this lecture is sheer genius. Kenzo says that theological work done in Africa has the imperative to differ from theology from the West, and must have the courage to denouce Western theology – which “came of age during the rise of colonialism” – as being used to seeing itself as the centre around which other theologies must orient themselves (in other words: theological arrogance which claims that Western theology is the only correct theology, and all other theologies need to understand themselves in relation to Western theology).
amahoro01_Mabiala_Kenzo.mp3 (size 12 MB’s).
This is something you should hear at your church this week, but probably won’t.
Continue reading One African Postcolonial Theology: The Imperative to Differ
In March 2007, I preached a sermon at my local church, Bryanston Bible Church, in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is one of my favourite sermons of all time, and deals with something that I actually think is at the heart of what’s wrong with the evangelical church today.
Last Sunday, while attending my current local church, Dundonald, I was reminded of this sermon and the concept behind it. We were having a special outreach service, and as part of it there was an interview of some of our church members. One of the questions that they were asked was: “What’s the best thing about being a Christian?”. The answer was interesting. They said that it was “the hope of spending eternity in heaven and living today without guilt or condemnation.” No doubt, these are great benefits and worth enjoying.
But is it enough? And is this really the BEST thing about being a Christian?
I grew up in a tradition that largely held out the threat of hell as the main reason for accepting Jesus as “my personal Lord and Saviour”. Evangelical churches rightly focus on evangelism. But they often use this approach of fear of retribution. Therefore, the message is primarily about what we are saved FROM.
But, salvation is just as much about what we are saved FOR. Eternal life begins now, and our salvation demands a response – on this earth, in this life. We need to be careful – we are in danger of preaching a watered down, half-truth Gospel. We are saved FOR something, as well as saved FROM something.
Listen to the sermon by downloading it here (13 Mb, MP3 file). You can see the notes I preached from below.
Continue reading What we are saved from and what we are saved for – sermon podcast
This morning at church, we looked at the first six verses of Colossians chapter one. Our pastor titled the sermon, “The marks of a genuine Christian”.
He’s a good communicator and preached well. But this morning did expose a weakness in the evangelical desire to chunk the Bible up into ‘bite size chunks’ and preach verse by verse exposition. The Bible was not written in chapters and verses – and there is a danger that we impose an artificial structure onto God’s Word that distorts its meaning.
I don’t want to sound like a whiner about this, but it really does irritate me when evangelical presuppositions result in glaring omissions from Biblical exposition. To put it simply, I think our pastor got it wrong this morning – not in what he did say, but in what he didn’t. Here’s what we should have heard in church today, but didn’t.
Today’s sermon gave us three marks of a genuine Christian: Faith in Jesus (v4); Love for other Christians (v4); and, Hope of heaven (v5). But what about verse 6 – that the Good News of the Gospel is bearing fruit? The New Living Translation helpfully translates verse 6 as the Good News “is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives since the day you heard and understood the truth about God’s grace.”
This emphasis on changed lives in the here and now is then reiterated powerfully in verses 10 and 11.
In fact verses 8 through 13 just repeat what was said in the first six verses. The “three marks of a genuine Christian” are repeated again, but it seems to me that there is clearly at least a fourth sign: that our lives are meant to demonstrate that the Gospel has come (I also think there is something there about growing in our depth of understanding of what God has done for us – but I’ll leave that for another day). If everything we believe makes no difference to how we live now, what is it worth? And that does not simply mean some spiritual longing for a better life somewhere else. It means that we strive hard to “make it on earth as it is in heaven” – just as Jesus taught us to pray!
Faith in Jesus, love for others and the saints, and hope in heaven are definitely signs of being a genuine Christian. But they are not enough. The Bible is clear and consistent in its witness that you prove your Christian beliefs by your good works. Colossians 1 itself is clear on this. Why do evangelicals so easily and consistently miss the “good works” theme of the Gospel when it is in such plain sight?
Originally posted on 7 August 2008
Last week, I preached my final sermon at the church my family has attended for the past 5 years. I relied heavily on a sermon preached by John Broom, of Meadowridge Baptist, on the occasion of his last sermon after over 20 years of ministry at the church.
The sermon was the final part of a series on “What Jesus would say to…”. The essence of the sermon was that “church” has been expressed in at least 7 distinct ways over the course of church history. Today, as the church in the West enters a “post Christian” world, it needs to recaptures the “instincts” expressed in these seven streams, and become the holistic church God intended.
Listen to the sermon by downloading it here (7 Mb, MP3 file).
The summary of the seven streams is below…
Continue reading The seven streams of church – a sermon podcast
I was at ECC, a church in Norwich this past weekend, run by Pastors Paddy and Jennike Venner. On Saturday, I did an evening session on understanding different generations, and the implications for the future of the church.
On Sunday morning, I had the privilege to preach. One of the upsides of being an itinerant preacher is that you don’t have the stress of coming up with a new message every week. So this sermon has been germinating for some time now. It’s on “The Prodigal Son” as found in Luke 15. Although that’s a horrid title: the story is actually about the oldest brother, whom Jesus specifically links to the Pharisees (see the context in Luke 15:1). And, it’s also about the “Unbelievably Loving Father”. But, listen to the MP3 file below for the full sermon….
I first was alerted to the richness we can uncover in Jesus’ parables by understanding the Ancient Middle Eastern context by Kenneth Bailey. His books are awesome to read. I’d suggest Poet and Peasant (buy at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net), and Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (buy at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net). Rob Bell of Mars Hill also uses this approach in many of his books, sermons and videos. It is how the Bible should be interpreted. But more of that some other time.
Originally posted on 7 May, 2007
I attended a conference in Uganda in 2007 which was a significant moment in my “emerging church” journey. It as the first time I really understood that the “stories” of my faith were incomplete, and that a future church would need to find new ways of expressing what it meant to be church. The talk I make available below was one of those “aha” moments for me. I hope it can be for you, too.
A message by Claude Nikondeha, from Burundi, delivered at Amahoro Gathering in Uganda
Download the MP3 recording here
The sections marked (GC) in italics are my commentary, not Claude’s words. This is a message we should be hearing at church, but are not.
The problem with a Gospel that only promises release when Jesus returns, is that Jesus has not yet returned. The people are not released – they live in suffering, poverty, famine and wars.
“The Gospel is not a doctrinal formula for the salvation of the individual but it is the Good News of God’s movement through Jesus Christ to carry out his purpose for the entire human race.” Rene Padilla
Jesus did not come to announce an evacuation plan, but a transformation plan.
Continue reading The Transformational Gospel vs the Evacuation Gospel