Sunday Night Live sermons

"Sunday, 8th March, 1998 - Starting all over again.

One impression of the Christians in China, is they are used to starting over again. Even the Three Self Patriotic Movement Church in Beijing, one of the Government registered churches, has had to start again many times. Built as a Methodist Church in 1840, it has been burnt down three times, wrecked by the Boxers in the Rebellion of 1900, damaged by the Japanese occupation from 1937 to 1944, closed down by the Red Guards in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution, but here it was two Sundays ago with 2000 crammed into the church and annexe with another 1000 packed into the basement watching by closed circuit TV! They sure started again.

The unregistered underground churches, however, have to start over again constantly. The home church where I spoke was held in a University dormitory block. It was filled with students and lecturers. They were thrilled with the dozens of Chinese Bibles Beverley and I gave them which we had got past customs legally. The location of their underground church is constantly being revealed by other people who hear the singing. Yet they manage to move before the police arrive each time and still keep their members all informed where they'll meet.

One underground leader I met, Pastor Samuel Lamb of Guangzhou, refuses to move and has lived on and off in the same three storey narrow house belonging to his grandfather and father for 68 years. I say on and off, because he had to flee the Japanese in the 1940's. He started a house church at Easter 1950 just after the Communists came to power. They outlawed this church in his house. In 1955 he was imprisoned for one and a half years.

In May 1978 he was imprisoned for brain-washing for five years where he counteracted communist teachings with memorised portions of the Bible. He was sent from that five years confinement to 15 years slave labour in a coal mine. After 20 years imprisonment he was released in 1978 and returned to the little house and started services again. Then 300 people attended crammed together in the tiny rooms on three levels. By 1986 over 1000 people were attending three services. In 1988 the Government tried six times to close him down. He started over again. On Thursday February 22nd 1990, at midnight, over 50 police smashed their way into his narrow house and confiscated all the Bibles, hymnbooks, recorders, close circuit TV, organ, tracts, pens and pencils and Pastor Samuel Lamb was interrogated for 25 hours. That Sunday Pastor Samuel Lamb started all over again as more than a 1000 people stood in tears in a totally empty house.

The same thing has happened in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995. Nothing happened in 1996. In 1997 Pastor Lamb was again interrogated over Hong Kong's return to China from Britain. Last year the church held more services, conducted 351 baptisms, and averaged over 2,000 people attending weekly. On Feb 10th 1998, the authorities again tried to close his house church down. Last week they said that if the church stays open beyond Monday 16th March 1998, Pastor Lamb will be fined $50,000 and in default, an extended period of imprisonment. He does not have the money. He is 74 years of age and in poor health. But whatever happens Monday week, I am sure Pastor Lamb will start again. These Chinese Christians need our prayers. They demonstrate the characteristics of Jesus.

Jesus demonstrated a radical way of living that would demand responses from us beyond what the world would naturally and normally give. His was a super-natural way of life that depends upon the grace of God. Jesus shows how we are to take persecution, bear suffering, and live with a radical ethic of God that is so different from the responses of others in any country. Jesus taught an alternative way in six areas of our behaviour: murder, adultery, divorce, swearing, retaliation and revenge. In each of these situations we can start all over again.

Jesus rejects the common attitudes of people as not good enough. He calls Christians to risk a higher standard of behaviour and morality. There is a crucial difference in His teaching from the leaders of His day. For the Jew, righteous behaviour was based upon strict obedience to the Law of God. But Jesus gave a new interpretation of that righteousness based on a heart that is right with God. Jesus wants the world to see, when we believe in Him, our actions demonstrate the difference. We must live the faith we profess. Jesus teaches hatred is the moral equivalent of murder, that lust is tantamount to adultery, that hating an enemy is as wrong as hating a neighbour and so on. In at least six cases Jesus rejects the legal approach to go to a deeper principle on how people ought to behave.

1. MURDER COMMITTED WITH WORDS.

Jesus said Matt 5:21-22 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." Christian behaviour centres on controlling inner anger even against those who hurt you.

Jesus wants you to know you can stab people in the back with words as well as with a knife. He gives two examples of how we try to murder people with whom we are angry. The first example is with the person who is coming to worship to make an offering to God and who remembers that he is angry with another person. Jesus says: 23-4 "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." Not anger, but reconciliation is the way to start again. Jesus says: don't kill your relationship with the person who makes you angry, instead restore the relationship. Start all over again.

The second example is of a person who is so angry with another that he or she takes him to court to settle the difference. How typical of people today who assassinate an enemy by such action. In the corporate world, companies fight in court wasting share-holders money. In the church, angry people accuse others before the courts of the church wasting everybodies' time and money. Jesus tells us not to stab each other with the Law, instead: 25-6 "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way." Jesus is saying, don't kill your relationships. Be reconciled with the other person. Reconciliation and restoration - these are the Christian alternatives to violence and litigation, but alternatives used so little in the church. It is important to start all over again. That takes some humility, but Jesus says that if you are the one injured then you are to make the first move!

2. ADULTERY COMMITTED WITH THE EYES.

27-28 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." That includes a woman who lusts after another woman in her heart! Jesus demands not only physical purity but also mental purity from all followers, male and female. Jesus is not saying the fleeting thought always leads to immorality. It is the continuous "lusting thoughts".
Psychiatrists say the motivation to criminal actions is constant premeditated thoughts. Pornographic books, videos and films are documented as causing physical acts. The act is first committed in the mind. Adultery starts in the eyes! Faithfulness in marriage demands mental commitment to each other and it is never acceptable for Christians to have lustful thoughts for other people, heterosexual or homosexual. That is why Jesus warns us to take radical action to prevent our lives being ruined. In strong words that are not meant to be taken literally, Jesus says if your eyes are causing you trouble by watching pornography: don't look! If what you are doing causes you to sin: stop it! If where you are visiting leads you into temptation: don't go!

3. DIVORCE COMMITTED WITH IMPULSIVENESS.

Jesus argues against impulsive divorce. Divorce can only be obtained on the grounds of adultery, otherwise the other party is forced into adultery if they have a sexual relationship. 31-32 "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery."

Divorce must not be impulsive for a Christian, just a matter of handing over a legal divorce certificate, even though that is legal. More is involved in your marriage than just a certificate. Our generation is paying the price of broken marriages because of people who impulsively divorce. Jesus is pointing out it is never too late to start over again.

4. LYING COMMITTED WITH OATHS.

Jesus raises the issue of how our own words condemn us, especially those eager to swear to their truthfulness. We are aware that people who protest their innocence too much are often trying to hide their guilt. People lie even swearing to their truthfulness. Jesus says: 33-7 "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all. .. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." The teaching of Jesus is simple: honour your word so that people may trust you. It is never too late to start again being honest.

5. RETALIATION COMMITTED WITH WILLINGNESS.

Jesus says 38-42 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." Pastor Samuel Lamb knows the personal impact of these verses. This is the way he lives constantly. It is a way of life the Government of China cannot adequately handle.

When we are forced to do anything against our will, Jesus teaches us not to pout and miserably obey, but to take charge of the situation, to smile and willingly do what you must do. That way you are in control. That will drive the other person crazy because they do not know how to cope!

6. REVENGE COMMITTED WITH JUSTICE.

Jesus considers every person who has been unjustly hurt and who naturally wants to take revenge: 43-47 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" It might be just to get revenge, but it isn't smart.

The radical teaching of Jesus differs from that of the rest of the world. The way of Jesus, that radical life-style so different from the rest of the community, is a way that provides a chance for you to start again even with the person who is your enemy, and who persecutes you unjustly.

Such dreadful behaviour is not confined to China, but is to be found in Australia, in the world and in the church. But there is hope. For what Pastor Samuel Lamb does, by his whole life's commitment to Jesus, is to show each of us, that no matter how bad our situation with other people, with the way of Jesus, any of us can start all over again.

Gordon Moyes

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