Monday, 27 April 2015

How should I vote?

The General Election is fast approaching and there are so many issues and opinions that it's hard to distinguish fact from fiction, claim from counterclaim.  So how do we decide who to vote for?  How do we even decide what the issues are on which we should be making that decision?  How do we think biblically about those issues and others?

Guy Brandon's helpful book, 'Votewise 2015' looks at various issues (the NHS, policing, immigration, the environment, the economy, education and so on) and seeks to help us form a biblical understanding  on which to then base our decision about who to vote for.  The book is short enough, 112 pages, to read easily and yet contains a lot of information in an easy to read format.  The questions that follow each subsection of the book are particularly helpful in challenging our thinking and getting us to think about applying what we have read.

The book is balanced in it's survey of the current state of the nation and political climate.  I've found it informative and helpful in thinking about the issues beyond those which are making the headlines in the media.  The only drawback, I found, was the final chapter before the conclusion which is a series of 5 short essays by a christian candidate for each of the 5 main political parties, they varied in quality and approach and I didn't feel they added anything to the book.

Overall though a helpful read.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

God, government and me

On Tuesday we spent the first of 3 gospel groups thinking about our faith, politics an the general election.  The most interesting part was the discussion beforehand and afterwards.  But for what it's worth here are the notes of the 10 min talk that we used as stimulus for our discussion:

Discuss
1. How cynical are you about government, MPs and politics? What has made you like that?

2. What are your feelings about the election? What questions do you have as you think about voting?

3. What issues have you heard talked about in the media?

4. What issues do you think matter most in this election and why?

What is politics? Groucho Marx said; "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." Someone else has said poly means many and a tic is a bloodsucking parasite, so politics is.... I guess those two tongue in cheek definitions sum up the cynicism that is so much part of our culture when it comes to politics and politicians.

That may be the way our society thinks about it but how are we, as christians, to think. Tonight I want to address that issue of cynicism and see how the bible can help us avoid it by not expecting too much or too little from our politicians but having a right view of them.

God is Sovereign

We need to remember that as we come to vote. On May 8th there will be a new government and God is sovereign over who will come to power. Turn to Daniel 6v25-28. These verses are the centrepiece of the book. It’s the lesson every ruler of every kingdom has had to learn in Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar learned it repeatedly; at the fiery furnace, in his dream, humiliation and restoration, and Belshazzar learns it through the writing on the wall. Now Darius has learnt it through God’s rescue of Daniel from the lions. The same lesson holds for the apocalyptic visions that follow in Ch7-12.

God rules, his kingdom will never be destroyed, and his purposes will come to pass even though people oppose them.

As we think about the election God is sovereign. That’s the bedrock.

But also in Daniel we see that those who rule are accountable to God. That’s why Nebuchadnezzar is struck down, because of his arrogant belief in his own power. That’s why Belshazzar is overthrown. That’s what Darius learns here. Those who govern, who have power will be held accountable by God for what they do with that power.

God is sovereign, he rules. And those who rule are accountable to him. As Christians that should mean that we pray for those in authority over us. At times we will pray for courage for them to stand with their convictions, at other times we might pray that they repent and have a change of heart. But we will pray for them.

God’s vision of government

In Genesis 1 and 2 we see God establish the world and within that world give humanity the responsibility to govern the world well. Man is a creature under the creator’s authority but he is to govern the world on God’s behalf. Human leadership is to express God’s own rule.

We’re going to think a lot more about this next week but God created mankind to express his rule on the earth. The Bible is positive about the idea of governance and not just in the Old Testament where the governance of Israel is in theory under God, but also in the New Testament when under Roman rule.  In Mark 12 Jesus tells people to pay taxes, Romans 13 Paul tells christians to be subject to the authorities, and in 1 Peter 2 Peter calls for believers to submit to the authorities. Believers are encouraged to honour those who govern them, respect them and obey them. Even though those who govern are fallen, just as we are, even though they make mistakes, just as we do. Government is necessary and it is a good thing.

It’s vital that we see that God is for good government. That government is not a necessary evil. Our society is cynical about our MPs, and I think most of us have probably breathed in that air of cynicism and now breathe it out without thinking too much about it. For some of us that might mean we find ourselves thinking I can’t be bothered to vote, they’re all the same, it won’t make a difference which party gets in and so on. But as Christians we are called to be different from the world.

We are to respect those in authority over us. And we are given a say in who governs us. I don’t want to get into whether democracy is the Bible’s vision of government. It certainly isn’t the antidote to corruption that some make it out to be, nor is it the answer to the world’s problems it is sometimes painted as, only the gospel is. But we are privileged to have a say in who governs us. God is sovereign over who governs, but we are also responsible to God for how we vote. Our vote is part of how God exercises his rule, it’s also part of our serving God.

That means first and foremost that as Christians we must vote. But how should we vote?

God’s character and the political parties.

We need to recognise that choosing who to vote for is not an easy decision. We can’t simply sit and think ‘which political party would Jesus be in?’ As we explore the character of God in more detail next week and look at the society God sets up which shares his values and passions we will see that God cares more passionately about justice than the political right and more passionately for the poor than the political left.

We’ll see that there are other issues than just the ones that the political parties are making the most noise about. We’ll see that there are issues which God cares about which we might not even know what the parties think about.

But as God’s people, in God’s world, we are to vote trusting in God’s sovereignty and serving him as we place our cross in whichever box we decide to vote for. In our political system we vote for a local politician who represents us. Leaders debates are all very well but they shouldn’t sway us too much because we don’t elect a Prime Minister. We elect a local politician to represent us as one of 650 constituency politicians in Parliament. We need to elect the person who will be represent us and the issues God cares about.

That means we must do a number of things:

a. Pray about how we will vote

b. Be educated about those who we may vote for – remember we vote for a local candidate not a Presidential candidate. That means we need to get hold of information about local candidates and read it. Maybe even attending local hustings to ask questions and seek answers. Practically you can find out about your local candidates at www.yournextmp.com, we need to read what they provide and use things like their Facebook page, twitter feed or personal website to see what they care about.

c. Be voting – We need to actually vote. Whether that is choosing a candidate or registering our lack of faith in any candidate by spoiling the ballot paper.

d. Be realistic – no candidate or party is going to fit precisely what we are looking for. There is also a limit on what politicians can do. We need to be realistic and look for candidates who are realistic. We also need to be realistic and not encourage candidates to over promise in order to win our vote.

e. Be thankful – God is sovereign, even as we serve God as we exercise our vote, God rules. We can go to sleep trusting in his care and sovereignty and his goodness. Knowing that “he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed and his dominion shall be to the end.”

Q&A
What do you know about candidates for your constituency?

How do you intend to find out about them?

What sorts of questions do you think we should be asking in order to find out whether they will represent us well?

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The seen and unseen reality of church on Sunday morning

Often when you walk into church on a Sunday morning everyone else looks to have it together.  People are there, they look well presented (whether that means shirt and tie, smart casual, or everyday attire is irrelevant).  It can intimidating to walk into church if you feel that's not you.  If the week has been hard, your heart is breaking, broken, or seemingly shattered beyond repair.  If your marriage is creaking, illness and problem seem to beset everyone around you, work is frustrating on a good day, and the kids seem to be living in open revolt.

But there is an unseen reality that we need to recognise that is present in what we see.  Each of those people who have come to church, to meet with their church family, to hear from God, to sing his praise - or just to listen to others sing if that feels too raw - has come from a world you cannot see as you look at them on a Sunday morning.  They are not hiding it, they haven't put on a mask of happiness, its not a fake, it is that they are determined to meet together because they know they need to.

As we get to know one another we begin to see the unseen reality of Sunday morning that you can't know by just taking a cursory, surface glance at those around you.  As we get to know one another we come to see the story of each and every family.  Each affected by the brokenness of the world, each life impacted by the deceitfulness and destructiveness of sin.  It's there is the couple longing for a child but struggling to conceive but who still smile and welcome each and every child they meet in church.  You don't see it but as you get to know their unseen story you see the grace at work in that welcome.  It's there is the person who is terminally ill but comes week by week without many in the church family even realising how ill they are, who cheerfully takes part, laps up the Bible teaching, and encourages others.  It's there in the person whose extended family is in ruins and who lives with the brokenness and pain of that everyday, dealing with the crises that come up week by week, but who can rejoice in another's joy on a Sunday morning by grace.

One of the problems of suffering is that it can curve us inwards on ourselves.  The antidote is to get to know those around us, to learn to see the unseen story of grace woven into the life of every person who makes it to church on Sunday.  Everyone living with a present experience of the reality of living in a broken world yet knowing that God by grace is gradually writing their story for his glory, as they live trusting in his loving Fatherly care.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Why inviting people to church works.

As a church we're not flush with cash so any promotion of events we do tends to be low key, a few posters and some invitations for our folks to give to friends, neighbours and family.  Occasionally we'll leaflet drop the area we consider our parish, but that rarely seems to get results.  So much so that we didn't even do it for our Easter Service this year.

Yet for our Easter service we had over 60 visitors from the community we serve.  Visitors outnumbered regular church family which was a real answer to prayer.  Sunday School jumped from about 30 to 60+ and lots of families came to church for the first time and others returned having been at Christmas.

Why?  God works, first and foremost it was obviously God at work bringing people in.  But how did God work?  God worked through his people committed to, embedded in and caring for their community inviting people from that community to come to church.  The community see that the church is for them, both in terms of loving them well and welcoming them if they come along.  That melts away some of the barriers in terms of getting through the door.  The community have also experienced that the church loves their families, of all ages.

It wasn't a high glamour event, we don't really do those.  It was a simple Easter service followed by an Easter Egg hunt, followed by a BBQ.  Some families couldn't stay for the egg hunt and BBQ but came for the service anyway - which was a huge encouragement.  Others came and stayed for all of it.

Our prayer is that God is just beginning his work in the hearts and minds of these people.  But the lesson we've learnt is simple and in many ways not unexpected. God works through his people building relationships, caring for, and inviting others to come and see his goodness which they've glimpsed in his people.  A people not perfect but trying to relate to one another by grace as they live assured of God's love in Christ, praying for him to bring others to know that love and grace.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Why is there so much pain and suffering in our world?

That isn’t an intellectual question is it? It’s not a question we ask ourselves dispassionately and nor should we. It’s a question we ask in the crucible of suffering; when we hear news of a national disaster like this weeks air crash, a terrorist attack or other natural disaster. But it’s also the question that ambushes each and everyone of us when we hear words we never want or expected to hear in the consulting room, or in the phone call telling us of the loss of a loved one, or as we simply live life amidst the rubble of our broken world.

This question is the most painful one we can ask, it gets to the heart of who we are, how we feel, it unmasks our shattered hopes and dreams, our losses and grief. The great news is that the bible isn’t cold and clinical in its answer, we don’t find a chapter on suffering that dispassionately tells us ‘why?’ Instead we find the answer woven into the stories of God’s suffering people living in a suffering world, and most amazingly of all how it all leads to a suffering God redeeming a suffering world. As we walk through some of what the bible teaches on suffering, and this is by no means everything the bible says about it, we’re going to ask three questions: Why is there so much suffering? What has God done about it? And what difference does it make?

Why is there so much suffering in our world?
It’s a question everyone of us has to answer because all of us experiences suffering. It’s an inevitability of life. Why we think it is there will determine how we face it and live in and through it.

When you take something back to a shop the customer service advisor asks you what’s wrong with the product. What they’re actually trying to work out is; is it broken because of a manufacturing fault or because of misuse by the owner? You can take your iPad back if it is broken because the on button or speakers won’t work, but not if it’s broken because you decided to clean it by putting it through your dishwasher.

That question: ‘manufacturing fault or owner misuse?’ is a helpful one to ask when we think about suffering in the world. The book of Genesis opens by describing the universe God made. It’s beautiful and bountiful. God looks at it and declares that it’s “very good”. That doesn’t mean that if God were doing a survey, like we do rating our holiday destination, that God would give it 7/10. It doesn’t mean could be better. God looks at the world he’s made and sees a world that’s overflowing with provision, that’s marked by harmonious relationships, that’s without suffering, grief, arguments, miscommunication, pain, death. It’s a world where everything is in order, where there’s perfect balance, where each part is perfectly put together to bring joy. It’s a place of security, beauty, and plenty. Where humanity has joy filled relationship with one another, the world and with God.

That’s the world God made, that he declares very good. In part it explains why we feel it’s so wrong when we suffer. It’s why we feel so frustrated when our child comes home having been bullied, or we hear of the diagnosis of a friend, or stand at the bedside and then graveside of loved ones. We weren’t made for this, we were made to enjoy something much more and that longing lingers in each and every one of our hearts.

But that may be the world God created and we’d love to live in but it doesn’t describe the one we live in does it? And the Bible shows us how we got from there to here. In Genesis 3 we see that the pain and suffering in our world isn’t because of manufacturing error but because of owner misuse. God gives this amazing world into the care of men and women. He doesn’t just leave us to it but shares his wisdom on how to rule his world so we can enjoy it at its optimum, so that joy lasts as he intends, beautiful, bountiful and secure.

Imagine I buy a new car. That car comes with a manual, it tells me to keep the tyres inflated and regularly check them, top up the oil and coolant every month and put diesel in the fuel tank. Why are those instructions there? Is it because the manufacturer wants to restrict my enjoyment? Imagine I’m standing at a garage by the fuel pump. Now I know the manufacturer told me to put diesel in the car, but petrol is cheaper. ‘The manufacturer is just holding me back’, I think, ‘I want the freedom to choose which fuel I use, I want to decide right and wrong for myself.’ Whose fault is it when a few miles down the road the car breaks down? Mine.

God isn’t restrictive but loving. Yet when tempted to doubt God’s love and care humanity rejects God’s instructions on how to best enjoy his creation. Once the idea that God isn’t good and doesn’t love us but is simply holding us back takes root we’re free to ignore his word and decide for ourselves. The consequences of doubting God’s love and rejecting his word are all around us. The Bible calls that rejection of God’s love and his wisdom and relationship with him sin.

It’s sin that causes the suffering and pain we see around us. Sin causes anger, hatred, greed, violence, rape, famine, murder, terrorism and so on. Sin in our hearts accounts for much of the brokenness and suffering in the world.

But what about natural disasters? What about tsunami’s, earthquakes and the like? They show us that the world is broken, that it’s sin sick. When man rejected God it had consequences not just for us but for the world we live in, like a stone dropped in a puddle the ripples ripple out. One Bible writer describes the world as being in the pains of childbirth. The world is groaning because of the pain it feels because of sin. Telling us that there’s something wrong, that this isn’t paradise, it isn’t how it was meant to be. The universe still contains great beauty, giving us glimpses of what it was like in all its glory but it’s now just a shadow of what God intended it to be. But that pain isn’t pointless just like childbirth it’s leading us to something new.

Suffering and pain are a call to us, they highlight a problem; sin, a world out of relationship with God.

What has God done about it?
If God made a perfect world only to see it corrupted by sin what’s he done about it? There is a danger in looking at the world and thinking God is doing nothing and has done nothing. Even assuming that God doesn’t care and has just left us to it.

In John 11 we see something amazing. God isn’t indifferent, he’s not distant, here we see God alongside us suffering in the world. Jesus is God the Son made man, entering into the brokenness of the world, God experiencing pain and suffering just as we do. Here we see him at a friends funeral, surrounded by mourners, having just comforted the grieving sisters, he weeps(35). (38)Jesus approaches the tomb; “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb.” That word “deeply moved” doesn’t do justice to how Jesus feels. The word actually means to bellow with anger. Jesus as he approaches his friends tomb isn’t overcome by uncontrollable grief but by irrepressible anger. What’s he angry at? The pain and suffering that death brings. He is angry at how sin and Satan have so twisted God’s good creation. Jesus, God the Son is furious at death and suffering, not God, because sin causes suffering. God hates sin and its effects more than we do.

But anger without action is useless isn’t it? What does Jesus do? As he approaches the tomb and calls them to take the stone away from the tomb Jesus is angry at death, outraged by sin and the devastation it causes, and at him who has the power of death. Jesus approaches Lazarus tomb as a champion going into battle. As he prays to his Father(41-42), as he calls (43)“Lazarus, come out!” Jesus is doing battle with sin and death and Satan. And in the seconds after his shout it’s not just the crowd of mourners who wait, it’s as if the whole of creation holds its breath as it waits to see what’ll happen. “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth round his face.”

Jesus at that moment shows his power to overcome sin and suffering and death and him who is behind it all. Jesus shows us what life should be like. He calms an out of control creation that terrifies and threatens his disciples, he overcomes the evil forces that hold people captive, he restores the sick to health, he removes disabilities and he raises the dead. He gives us a glimpse of what life was like before we rejected God, what it would be like to live life under the rule of a good God enjoying his love and protection. And he promises us that one day he’ll return and that glimpse will become an eternal reality. Sin will be judged and done away with once and for all.

Yet despite that glimpse men reject him again. (46-50)What do they do with Jesus? They plot to kill him. At the cross God himself tastes suffering; beaten, rejected, slandered, spat upon, mocked, alone, reviled, abused, a victim of injustice, and finally killed in the most humiliating and degrading way possible. And yet through all this rebellion and rejection God is sovereignly still at work. Not at the mercy of men, but working even through their decision to reject and crucify to save.

But here’s the problem of the kingdom Jesus shows us. One day Jesus promises he will come again and bring a world without suffering, without pain, without selfishness, without abuse, without injustice, without hatred. He will renew the world so it is as it was in the beginning. And that means a world without sin. Imagine for a minute that you and I were dropped into a world like that as we are? Would it be loving and just of God to let us unchanged into that world? We’d ruin it wouldn’t we! Because the problem isn’t just out there it’s in here. If God starts judging sin eventually he has to get to me and to you, and we face exclusion from that world and judgement from God for the suffering we cause.

God hates sin and the suffering it causes and will recreate a world where there’s no sin only loving relationship with God and therefore no pain and suffering. But he can’t let us in as we are. And it’s not enough to try to be good and meet God’s standard, because the standard is perfection. So at the cross Jesus doesn’t just experience suffering he suffers for us. He willingly takes our punishment for our sin and rebellion, all the suffering and pain we’ve caused. And that’s not all. He gives us his perfect, sinless, rebellion less, record, so we can know God now and one day as God’s people enter God’s new creation.

The suffering and pain around us shows us the world and we aren’t as we were made to be. But the gospel tells us God has done everything necessary to forgive us, and make us his new people fit for a world with no suffering mourning, crying or pain, all just the side effects of being in a right relationship with God. And God is sovereign but gracious; he doesn’t deal with suffering and pain and its cause sin now because he’s patiently waiting, giving us a chance to turn to him, to trust Jesus for forgiveness and new life so we don’t face his judgement.

Will you take that chance?

What difference does that make?
Following Jesus transforms the way we think of pain and suffering. It doesn’t answer all our questions. But it does help us put our suffering into the bigger picture. It tells me God is a good loving heavenly Father who is sovereign and nothing is outside of his care. It tells me the world is broken and not as it should be and God cares about that, he’s more angry at suffering and sin than I’ll ever be. And he hasn’t left us alone to face it, he came, he died to get us ready for the world we long for. Whenever we’re tempted to think ‘why?’ ‘God do you care?’ We look back to the cross and see how much God cared and the price he pays to win for us back to right relationship with him.

Following Jesus doesn’t make us immune from suffering, it doesn’t make us emotionless robots. If anything it makes the grief more real because we know exactly what was lost. We mourn sin and it’s effects, just like Jesus did. We will rage against suffering and pain, we will feel the pain and grieve the loss of loved ones deeply, we’ll be angry not at God but at sin and its twisting of God’s perfect world and our own hearts.

But we don’t grieve without hope. Because we fix our eyes on Jesus – God with us! God suffering for us! His promise through the Holy Spirit never to leave us. His winning for us a certain future; a world without sin. The gospel brings us hope in suffering and comfort in the loving care of our Father who will amazingly and in ways I can never know work even my suffering for good and glory. No moment of it will be wasted, even though we may never welcome it, and never does he leave us alone in it. And one day, by grace, he’ll end all suffering and pain and welcome those who trust him into the world we all want and that he longs for us to enjoy with him.

Do you see the difference that hope makes to our suffering? There’s a rugged realism to how followers of Jesus think of suffering, and a real recognition of the pain it causes. There’s repentance and rescue from sin and a return to relationship with the Father. And the promise that we are always loved, never alone and no situation is wasted and the hope that one day God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes and suffering will end.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The hardest sermon I've ever written

This week I'm working on the last in our series which resulted from asking our family and friends this question; If you could ask God one question and knew he would answer it what would it be?  Unsurprisingly the most popular question was about why God allows suffering and pain in his world.  That in itself is a difficult question, but I've answered it a number of times in church and CU mission contexts.  But this week I'm finding it to be the hardest sermon I've ever written.  Even now when normally I have a first draft already to go I'm not sure about what's there, what I've left out and what I ought to edit and change.

That's not because I'm being indecisive or haven't prepared.  It's simply because the question feels very raw for us as a church.  Everywhere you look there is suffering, from the long term sick, to the terminally ill, to the broken marriages and families, from the teen with mental health issues to the elderly contemplating the gradual suffering that comes with old age.  Some of that suffering is acute some is more bearable but heralds a long slow decline.  All of it is a heartbreaking privilege to be part of pastoring people through.  But given that context, given the very raw emotions that this question touches upon for our church family it is really no surprise that this is proving a difficult sermon to write.

I'm aware that so much will be left unsaid that needs to be said.  I'm aware that so much will be touched upon and long to apply the healing balm of the gospel to those tender nerve endings and emotions.  It's a reminder again - as if we need it - that God needs to take and use his word in his way by his Spirit, because I simply can't.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Why is there so much poverty and inequality in the world?

That’s a great question isn’t it? Why do the richest 10% of the world’s population hold 75% of its income whilst the poorest 10% hold only 5%? Why tonight will 1 in 7 people go to sleep hungry? Why do over 300 million children go hungry every day? Why does a child die every 5 seconds of every day of hunger related causes? Why in our world do 1.2 billion people have to exist on less than 85 pence a day? And over 3 billion strive to live on less than £1.70 a day?

Today more people will die from hunger than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis put together, why? And it’s not just the poverty is it but the way it isolates, marginalises, exhausts and makes powerless.

As we explore what the Bible says about why there is poverty and inequality, we’re going to do so by asking three questions: Is God indifferent? Why does it exist? Why doesn’t God act?

1. Is God indifferent?
We have to start with that question don’t we? Poverty and inequality is a reality in our world. God is all seeing and all knowing so why doesn’t he do something about it?

Leviticus 19v9-18. Here’s God speaking to his people calling them to live life at it’s best. This is society as God envisages it, society with no poverty and inequality. (9-10)Landowners would be generous and provide for those in need to be fed. (11)There’d be no stealing, lying, or deceiving; everyone would be dealt with fairly and honestly. (13)There’d be no delaying of payment or looking for ways to wriggle out of paying people they’re wages, no need for a minimum wage or employment tribunals. (14)The disabled would be cared for. (15)There’d be access to justice in law for everyone. (16-18)And community would be marked by care, concern, forgiveness and love for one another.

If that’s the community God longs to see his people become, clearly God cares for the poor and the needy. If you glance back to v1-2 we see the motivation for Israel to live life like this. “Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am Holy.” God wants his people to be like him.

Sometimes people say a child is just like their dad or mum. What do they mean? That they have the same characteristics or looks. What is God saying here to his people? Be like me. Love others just as I do.

God is gracious and good and cares about the poor and seeing inequality and injustice overturned. His people are to mirror God’s love for others. God isn’t indifferent to poverty and inequality and the powerlessness and suffering that comes with it. As you follow the Bible’s story you see that Israel frequently fails to be like in God in its love for others and care for the poor. And God acts, God intervenes, God sends prophets.

You know the signs you see that say beware of the dog. The dogs are there to ensure you stay off property that isn’t yours. The prophets function a bit like that; they are covenant watchdogs. They are there to ensure Israel live as God’s people, to keep them away from places they shouldn’t go and things it is unwise to do. But tragically Israel don’t listen and here’s the message God sends them. Amos 8v4-6 p.874 God charges Israel with abuse of the needy and the poor, with injustice and dishonesty that impoverishes others. He calls them to repent or he’ll turn their singing into weeping. Or Isaiah 10v1-5 where God charges Israel with making oppressive laws, perverting justice, robbing widows and orphans. And promises that a day of judgment is coming when he’ll judge their oppression of the poor. We could replicate those calls over and over again. God is passionately concerned for the poor and hates oppression and injustice. God isn’t indifferent to poverty and inequality.

That leads us to another question

Why does it exist?
Reaching conclusions just off what you can see can be dangerous can’t it. A magazine photographer was told to get photos of a great forest fire. Smoke at the scene stopped him so he asked his office to hire a plane. Arrangements were made and he was told to go quickly to a nearby airport, where the plane would be waiting. When he arrived, a plane was warming up on the runway. He grabbed his equipment jumped in and yelled, “Let’s go! Let’s go!”

The pilot swung the plane into the wind and soon they were airborne.

“Fly over the north side of the fire,” yelled the photographer, “and make three or four low level passes.”

“Why?” asked the pilot.

“Because I’m going to take pictures,” cried the photographer. “I’m a photographer and photographers take pictures!”

After a pause the pilot said, “You mean you’re not the instructor?”

There’s a similar danger if we just look at the world and from it draw conclusions about God that we will get God wrong because our assumptions are wrong. So God, graciously, gives us the Bible so we can know who he is, why the world is like it is and who we’re made to be.

The Bible starts off by explaining how the world became like it is. God created a world full of rich lavish overflowing provision. He gives it to humanity to enjoy and calls on them to steward it wisely. To care for it as he would, to love him and one another in the way they use the plentiful resources of the world he created.

And everything in the world was perfect until humanity listened to a lie and began questioning God’s love and goodness and decided we didn’t want to live according to God the creator’s instruction. Until we decided we’d be better of deciding right and wrong for themselves. The result of that one decision to de-god God, to take what he’d given but rule it our own way fractured everything. The world is dislocated as God’s good instructions are ignored, relationships fracture as man selfishly determines not to care and love others but to get what he wants. And most importantly relationship with God is lost and with it all the wisdom God gives on how to live life skilfully, at its best, in his world.

Sometimes we learn the hard way that we need to follow instructions. Just think about flat pack furniture, the person who created the furniture tells you how to build and use it. When you don’t listen to their wisdom things go wrong, as sometimes has to be pointed out to us. Flat pack is simple. Now imagine brain surgery, brains are phenomenally complex. But I’ve just read a book by a brain surgeon, does that mean you’d be happy to let me operate on you? No, why not? Because it takes phenomenal wisdom and skill to be able to perform such delicate and skilled operations. Yet we, living in an infinitely more complex world decide to go it alone and ignore our creator’s instructions on living skilfully in his world.

The Bible honestly records the consequences of that; murder, oppression, a selfish desire to assert oneself, hatred, hoarding, and as a result pain, suffering, loss, poverty and injustice. And God isn’t indifferent; in love he warns and in love he acts in judgement on the pain and suffering he sees all caused by the sin of rejecting him. But always man drifts back to sin, to living life for self, rejecting God not loving him, oppressing others not loving them.

Poverty, injustice and inequality aren’t God’s creation they’re ours. Just think about our world right now; God has given us enough, the problem is how we use it. What percentage of the world’s global income do you think it would take to eradicate poverty? It’s estimated it would take $175billion, that sounds huge. But it’s only 1% of global income. Isn’t that staggering. What stops that happening? It’s not that God hasn’t given us enough but we need to learn to love God and love others and live by his wisdom.

Or take hunger. 16,000 children will die today of hunger, 16,000 died yesterday and 16,000 will die tomorrow. Yet what’s the biggest health challenge facing the UK? Obesity. Over eating. The UK’s average calorie intake a day is 3440. We typically need 2000 for a lady and 2500 for a man. We eat 50% more calories than we need on average. Yet in the Democratic Republic of Congo the average calorific intake is only 1590, in parts it is much, much, lower. There is enough to go round it’s just that we hoard it. Why? Because of sin, because we rule by our rules we don’t listen to God’s wisdom on living life well.

Someone has said “Sometimes I’d like to ask God why he allows poverty, famine and injustice in his world. But I’m afraid he might ask me the same question.”

Sin has turned us away from God and away from others and curved us in on ourselves. That’s why no government or system has solved the problem of poverty. It’s not an organisational problem it’s a heart problem. The problem lies not with God but with us and our selfishness and greed.

But that poses the question:

Why doesn’t God do something about it?
God isn’t indifferent, he’s loving and generous and cares passionately about justice and the poor. But we ignore him and so lose his wisdom on how to live in a way that would eradicate poverty and inequality. So why doesn’t God do something is the question people often ask. But as that quote alluded to the problem isn’t with God it’s with us, so in asking that we’re inviting God to judge. And not just the big faceless them but actually injustice, oppression, greed lurks in our hearts not just out there. It’s my problem as much as anyone’s problem. And we don’t want to face God as judge.

One day God will judge. But God is gracious and so he doesn’t judge instantly. Instead he does something unique and amazing; in Jesus God the Son enters into the world and experiences poverty and injustice, he lives a life alienated and marginalised, misunderstood, lacking power, and experiencing rejection and injustice. He enters into not just humanity but poverty and inequality.

Born to an unmarried mother with the scent of scandal and illegitimacy following him everywhere he goes. Born in poverty not a palace. Without a house or a home. Frequently misunderstood and marginalised by those who had power and influence. Thought mad even by his family. Persecuted, falsely accused, rejected, isolated, friendless, powerless and condemned to death as a result of the greatest miscarriage of justice the world has ever seen. Why? Not just so God can say well I know what you went through. Sympathy, even empathy doesn’t help us. But so that he could take the punishment for every injustice that you and I have ever committed. To bear God’s just anger for our rejection of God and his wisdom for life in his world and all the consequences that follow.

Jesus comes to rescue us from the cause of poverty; sin. He comes to create a people who will overcome poverty giving a glimpse of what life will be like when he returns when there will be no hunger, poverty, inequality, or injustice. A people bear the family likeness, who live looking just like their heavenly Father because they love as they have been loved by the God who held nothing back from them. A people who therefore think differently about life and stuff.

Acts 4v32-37 p.1035. Shows us the transformation that experiencing God’s love and grace in Jesus brings. Do you see how it echoes that passage we started off with? This is a community who know God’s rescuing love. Which they don’t deserve but experience by grace and who, because of that, overflow with love to others. “So that there was no needy person among them.” Why? Because when there’s a need others sell their possessions and meet that need, because they’re loved by God and overflowing from that love is a love for others.

Why is there so much poverty and inequality in the world? Because of sin, because we reject God’s way of living, loving him and loving others. Because we’ve become turned in on ourselves and unlike God who is generous and giving. God isn’t indifferent to it; he will one day judge all the sin that is the cause of poverty and inequality. And by grace he provides a way for us to escape that judgement, because Jesus in love bears our punishment.

And having experienced that love we love others. We become God’s children living by the family values, a new community in God’s church where people glimpse what life lived in God’s kingdom is like. Not immune to need but meeting it, not curved in by selfish greed but loving others, not grasping but generous, not pitying but giving, not full of inequality but welcoming and graciously loving as we have been loved.