Reflecting Galatians_Week Four_Living Grace

A few years back, a friend of mine was retiring from pastoring a church through illness. He was in his sixties, had served in mission work and pastoring churches all his adult life, and was dying of cancer (he’s since passed).

I remember him saying that on his last week in the pulpit, one of his congregants came up and said, ‘I think I’ve worked out what you do. You have only ONE message…and over the years, you’ve shared it a thousand different ways’. 

When I heard that, I thought: ‘what an aspirational goal!’ I would preach grace every week. 

I guess yesterday was around week 600.

If there is a shadow of a doubt that God is for you and that nothing can stop his love towards you, nor separate you from His love, look to His Son, Jesus, and the grace he offers you.

John writes, ‘This is love, not that we loved him (which is a response to his grace), but that he loved us and gave himself up for us as an atoning sacrifice for all that we would, could and will do to put distance between him and us.

His grace to us is all GIFT. Entirely God-dependent. Provided by God, in Christ. Maintained by God, in Christ. Offered by God, in Christ. It’s a currency borne out of his perfection in which we have no game at all. 

Grace says: it’s all about you, and it’s not about you. It’s given to you (so it’s all about you) but not about anything you’ve done (so it’s not all about you). It is not from ourselves; it is a gift from God.

Yet, like any gift, it must be RECEIVED by faith. It’s not dependent on our actions but on God’s. It’s extended to us, but it must be received by us.

John 1:12 says, ‘Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name and called him Lord, he gave the right to become children of God.

Jesus’ grace is AVAILABLE. Available to everyone who would reach out and receive it. Even those we might like the idea of disqualifying.

If you’ve grown up in a conservative, legalistic, finger-pointing environment, that truth will mess with you. 

Our job is not to make the call on whether someone is suitable to receive the gospel. In Jesus, the answer is YES.

Grace is for anyone struggling with anything. And for anyone who acts as though they’ve got it all together.

Grace comes only through CHRIST. The only person, the only God/god who has ever dealt with our sin problem, is Jesus.

We have a problem that’s unsolvable in our own strength. We sin. That sin separates us from God. Trying harder doesn’t help because no one’s perfect or righteous. On the cross, Jesus says, ‘I see your problem, and I’ll live the perfect, sinless life to qualify as your sin-payer. I’ll deal with your sin debt – past, present and future.

Grace is EXTENDED throughout eternity.

What left a mark no longer stains because grace makes beauty out of ugly things.

Grace changes our hearts – it shapes how we live. It’s not cheap; it’s deep. 

At one point, the Apostle Paul says, ‘shall we go on sinning that grace may abound? May it never be’, because grace transforms us to want to do what we ought to do. Our efforts do not gain grace, but our lives are shaped, marked, and transformed by it forever.

I learned a new word last week: propinquity.

I was reading a little book this week called New Urbanism. It talked about our tendency (from an urban planning context) to love the idea of community but want to put as much distance and barriers between us and others as possible.

Propinquity means nearness—nearness of heart, soul, mind, or geography.

The quote in the book was that we have sought out ‘community without propinquity’—proximity without the vulnerability of nearness.

As I was reading this little book, I scribbled down:

 ‘There’s no grace without propinquity’.

You can’t stand far off and receive grace. Jesus has come close.

He stands beside us as he stood beside the adulterous woman confronted by the Pharisees and says: ‘I don’t condemn you…receive my love’. He says: put down your stones of self-condemnation and the stones of condemnation inflicted by others and allow me to take up the centre space of your heart.

By his actions, Jesus says, ‘Propinquity is what I’m all about’. 

The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. The Word put on skin and moved into the neighbourhood. God, through His Son, Jesus came close and comes close. And he says to us now: Let me in by faith so you can receive and keep on receiving my amazing grace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sin, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.

Reflecting Galatians_Week Three_Remember/Forget

Plenty can happen in fourteen years. You can embed some crooked thinking or get it straight. You can assume some practices are essential or decisively affirm that they play no part in your identity; present or future.

Fourteen years ago, I was living at the same address in a home that has since been bulldozed for a new one to take its place. I had a one-year-old daughter who recently turned 15. Fi and I were having animated conversations about whether the world needed one more church and, more specifically, my suitability for leaving such a church. She was certainly right to be asking at least one of those questions!

When Paul writes of returning to Jerusalem after 14 years at the top of Galatians 2, it’s not because he is uncertain about the potency, possibility, or component of the Gospel. On the contrary, he has complete clarity; Jesus plus nothing equals everything. Paul’s concern for the mission project – the possible delusion and destruction of the Gospel through addition. Namely, cultural Mosaic ceremonial laws as a prerequisite for salvation.

Paul’s desire is not to be right, theologically correct, or doctrinally superior; it’s that the person and work of Jesus would be seen for all it has secured: salvation, abundant life, freedom, and righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 4:9). Nothing less, nothing else.

There seem to be plenty of moments in scripture telling us to remember and many others encouraging us to forget. Regarding God’s salvation work in Jesus, Paul wants us to do both.

He wants us to live lives established in the Gospel and living from the Gospel. It was never transactional but relational, so he wants us to remember where our living hope comes from. Every step of obedience, every worship response, every purposed good work, he wants us to connect to the Gospel.

Loving others? He loved us first and gave himself up for us. (Ephesians 5:2)
Preferencing others? Jesus made himself nothing for us. (Philippians 2:7-8)
Looking out for the poor? It was at the heart of Jesus’ mission. (Luke 4:8-19)
Laying down our lives for Christ? It’s the foundation of our lives in Him. (Matthew 16:24-25)

Jesus never wants our hope to be in anything other than his sufficient saving work for us.

But there’s some stuff Paul wants us to forget as we continually remember the Gospel. First, he wants us to forget our useless attempts at self-righteousness through rule-keeping.

When Paul says to the Philippians: “Forgetting what is behind and training to what is ahead…”, I reckon he’s not talking about a moment but of half a lifetime of zealous rule-keeping. He tells them, “I consider them (righteousness based on the law) garbage that I might gain Christ and be found in Him”.

To forget is not just to cease to recall, but to resist any attempt to resort to another gospel…which is no gospel at all (Galatians 1:7).

So, Paul might say, remember never to forget, and forget to ever remember or return, because Jesus plus nothing equals everything.

Reflecting Galatians_Week Two_A backstory, a new story

As a kid growing up in church, one of my regular highlights was baptisms on a Sunday night. Perhaps I hadn’t quite grasped the spiritual significance of these moments at the age of seven or eight, but I could spot a good story well enough.

The most thrilling were those testimonies dotted with crazy, debaucherous tales of sex, drugs, rock and roll—their addictions, failures, regrets and war wounds. My eyes got wider at that point as I leaned forward, hearing tales from another world. Like most testimonies, they were stories of self-consumption.

At some point in the story, they would encounter Jesus: His grace, forgiveness, and love. Repentance happened there, and the obedience of baptism was one of the fruits of that repentance. I quipped when speaking yesterday that sometimes it seemed as though the person became ‘sedated for Jesus’ at that point, moseying on with him through very few dangers, toils or snares. Not always, but sometimes.

In the back half of the first chapter of Galatians (and well into the second), Paul unpacks his life before Christ. He paints a similar picture at the beginning of Philippians 3.

Paul’s reasons are specific. He wants those false teachers who have infiltrated the churches of Galatia to know that if they want to play this game of works-based righteousness, his game was exceptionally strong. That might qualify him for the argument, but as he’ll spend most of the letter saying, it counts for nothing. The currency of works has no salvific value. Paul knows that to be heard by these missionaries, who are bearing witness to Jesus’ work, mixed in with a dose of works of the flesh, they needed to know his track record.

He asserts that he was ‘extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers’ – just as these false teachers are.

As he writes, Paul realises that even those actions for which he now has profound regret and remorse have become a part of the canvas through which God will display his glory. He understands that he was set apart ‘from my mother’s womb’ and ‘called by his grace’. God was ‘pleased to reveal his son to me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles’.

In all this, Paul recognises that he has been rescued from the religion for which he was so zealous. He has been rescued from people pleasing and pursuing righteousness based on the law. He has been set free to enjoy the freedom of a righteous that comes from God through faith (Philippians 3:9).

So Paul ‘forgets what was behind and presses on towards the goal’. I’ve read this before and, paired with a similar scripture in Isaiah 43, figured we shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about our backstory. While there’s some merit there, I think there’s more going on. Paul reminds himself and others to forget a life of striving for righteousness based on the law. To forget striving to be good enough for God who has loved us unconditionally in Jesus.

Paul also reminds us that we are not saved from wild and debaucherous lives to ones of sedation and mediocrity. Far from it. We are saved to enjoy the privilege of him writing his masterpiece through us (Ephesians 2:8-9). These surrendered lives are not timid but audacious, bold, humble, adventurous, and brimming with life and fruitfulness. For Paul, they were also brimming with beatings, imprisonment, persecution, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst and nakedness. None of those is particularly desirable, but they’re a long way from ‘convalescing in Christ’!

Like Paul, we’re called out. Crucified in Christ. And the life we now live is in Him, for His Kingdom. 

As Petersen renders it in Romans 8, “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?””

Reflecting Galatians_Week One_Living in the Tree of Life

The free gift of salvation can be turned into a two-sided coin of good and evil, and both sides are ultimately worthless and helpless to us. This is Paul’s message to the churches of Galatia.

In the narrative of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2 and 3), Creator God establishes the garden filled with trees; it was the context for Man – his work, his play, his enjoyment of God. At the centre of the garden were two trees: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The command was simple enough: enjoy one, resist the other. ‘Eat of that other tree, and you will surely die,’ God said.

Who can resist the allure of death? None of us, it turns out! When the choice came between life and perfect relationship with God or death and the possibility of being God-like, we put our money on death.

Paul writes to the churches of Galatia that he had passionately, faithfully and obediently planted with astonishment. They were running strong, but some had cut in on that journey.

The un-truth they’d thrown into the brilliant truth of Jesus’ saving work was that they had to add to it through their performance. It wasn’t Jesus + nothing = everything, but Jesus + circumcision = maybe something more. I’d say they had less skin in the game with the second equation, but however you look at it, they were resorting to the works of the flesh to underpin their salvation.

We look on sagely and echo Paul’s sentiments, “you foolish Galatians”, yet we’re equally adept at contriving our nuanced versions of circumcision.

Consciously or subconsciously, we can concoct our own little personal works projects—ticking the boxes of the works we believe will make us more attractive to God while doing our best to resist the things we think might disqualify us from receiving his love.

Many of these things are good, and the stuff on the evil side of the coin will steal life from us, but they don’t fortress our salvation—that’s God’s job, and He has acted in Jesus.

Someone has to pay for your sin debt, and you can’t.
Someone has to pay for your sin debt, and Jesus has.

Anything we set up as an addition to the resurrected Jesus’ finished work on the cross is an idol – an obstacle Jesus has already conquered. He has dealt with all our versions of circumcision on the cross.

The crisis of faith that some of us have when we finally realise that we’re incapable of holding up our perceived ‘end of the bargain’ is actually a gift of reality. We never could. We were deluded all along. Grace is more potent than we ever imagined. ‘Any other gospel is no gospel at all’, Paul writes.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)

A friend recently sent me a Croatian saying:
“Spali sve mostove koji te vode natrag onome čega te Gospodin oslobodio”

For those not fluent in Croatian, it translates:
“Burn every bridge that leads you back to what the Lord has delivered you from”.

Sometimes it’s not about burning the healthy bridges of practice and healing and growth that we’ve cultivated but obliterating the false belief that they ever played any role in establishing or maintaining our relationship with God. It never did. Only grace does that.

I’ll never be more loved than I am right now
Wasn’t holding You up
So there’s nothing I can do to let You down
It doesn’t take a trophy to make You proud
I’ll never be more loved than I am right now
You are Jireh; You are enough

There’s always life in the Tree of Life.

Witnesses: Our series through August


When Jesus instructed those who follow Him to ‘Go and make disciples’ and then declared to his disciples that they/we would be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, He had good news in mind: the news about Him. Sometimes though, even the best news seems to be hard to break. This series is all about sharing your faith – the good news about Jesus and what he has done for us.

Through August and into the first week of September, we’re talking about sharing Jesus with others: why, what, how and where.

Join us!



I WILL. June at The Big Table.

Many of us have been around and in churches for so long that we settle on an idea of its definition and purpose that is of our own making. We may not have been that intentional about the idea of church that we’ve end up with but, somehow or other, we’ve landed there. Most likely, somewhere we’re either comfortable or resigned to. Caused by our joy, our ambivalence or our scars.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus turns to His disciple, Peter, and declares to the frail Peter that he is a rock and on that rock, He will build His church…and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. That is to say that nothing will stand in the way of the vision that God has for his people on earth who are in Jesus.

What sort of church did Jesus mean? What sort of church withstands the gates of hell? What is the church as Jesus sees it?

We want to be a part of building that church alongside Jesus because unless He builds it, we labour in vain. And we want to be part of building the church knowing that THE church is bigger than THIS church, yet this church is an expression of Jesus’ body.

This series considers the characteristics of a church patterned after Jesus’ vision; The Big Table as a flawed but glorifying expression of that vision; the mission of a church after Jesus’ vision; and the fruit of a Church after Jesus’ vision.

One thing seems sure: the Church that Jesus died for is far broader, far more embracing, far more loving, and far more redemptive than those of which we have often been a part. This isn’t a despairing thought, but it should be unsettling…and it should leave us both desiring to represent Jesus: despite the shame it may bring, despite the squirmish-ness it may bring inside and outside the broader church, and despite the fact that it may be inconvenient and uncomfortable. These are poor measures of Kingdom-effectiveness!

What are we hoping to achieve in this series? I think a perfect picture of Jesus’ bride is impossible when we’re looking into a mirror dimly, but I pray that we emerge with a clear understanding of our purpose, our mission and our role as salt, light and love for those within the body of Christ and those who so desperately need to hear the good news about Jesus.

We’re spending four weeks talking about Jesus’ Church and we’d love you to join us at The Big Table – 9:30am, each Sunday (5pm on the First Sunday!)

24 hours of prayer in the Lower Room

On May 9 (into May 10), we’re setting aside 24 hours to pray into all that’s going on within and around us at The Big Table.

From 10am on May 9, we’re creating blocks of one hour that you can sign up to – feel no restraint to limit yourself to one hour!

We’re trusting that there’ll by more than one person praying in the room at any one time but, even if it’s just you, that’s ok!

We’re also planning to have some information and leadership to give direction to that prayer as well as times of worship punctuated throughout the 24 hours.

We’d love you to sign on for as many ‘prayer chunks’ as you’re able and are trusting that God is going to use this time to work in and through us, tell us stuff, and use those times for us to listen to Him. And because prayer is powerful. In Jesus’ name, prayer changes things.

To find out more, just ask around on a Sunday morning or, if you’re on, sign on there.

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Build Something Good – A series in Nehemiah

Beginning July 13, we’re spending 7 weeks in the book of Nehemiah. A book about worship, vision, exile, leadership, waiting and action….and a book about building something good. Within Nehemiah’s story is ours too – a story that has been completed in Jesus.

We’d love you to join us – 9:30am, each Sunday through the months of July & August.