There is nothing quite like the exuberant, uninhibited joy of young children. Watching children laugh, sing, dance or twirl before they learn to be embarrassed or wonder what others are thinking is truly precious. I often think we could make a lot of money if we could capture that same joy, bottle it and sell it...after all the pursuit of happiness is major human pastime!
This term at Vision Youth we’ve been looking at things that compete with Jesus for our time, attention and affection.
As we’ve read through Philippians 3:4-11, the overarching theme that stands out to me is that for Paul, Jesus was everything. It cost Paul dearly to follow Jesus. Jesus was not Paul’s “something”, Jesus was Paul’s “everything”.
Every human heart longs for freedom. Narratives and stories of freedom, and the fight for freedom, capture our imagination. Freedom is often portrayed as worth fighting for, and even worth dying for. Who could forget William Wallace’s impassioned cry in Braveheart: “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our FREEDOM!!”
It’s very possible to be incredibly passionate about the “what” of life (what we do, what we believe is right, what would make the world a better place), without even considering the bigger question: the “why?” of life.
But the “why” really matters. Let’s examine two different perspectives on the “why” of life, and then how the Christian “why” compares.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart
Food is such an important part of our culture and society isn’t it. The rise of shows like Masterchef and the like have fueled the rise of the ‘food culture’ we see operating today, where cafés, fancy restaurants, sustainably sourced food, and even superfoods are becoming increasingly popular. I think it is fair to say that many of us would spend a great deal of time thinking about food – perhaps what food supplies we will need for the weekly grocery shop, what we will be having for dinner or what restaurants we would like to try out. We spend so much time thinking about what we will feed our bodies, but how much time do we actually spend thinking about what we are feeding our souls? It is an important consideration as what we feed our souls actually feeds and nourishes something in our hearts and lives – either good or bad.
The Bible says that ‘man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Deut 8:3). This tells us that it’s not enough for us to be well fed physically, but that we need nourishment and sustenance from God Himself, for He is our source and the One who truly satisfies. As it says in Psalm 37, I believe that we are called to feed on His faithfulness, as doing this will bring life, nourishment, and blessing to our lives. Unfortunately all too often we can feed on the wrong foods spiritually, which will actually nourish things in our lives that really shouldn’t be there.
As we consider what we are feeding on, there are a couple of things that are important for us to remember. Firstly, what we feed on will determine our focus. If we’re not careful, depending on what we are feeding our souls with, we can easily have our focus in the wrong places. It can be easy to slip into focusing on what we feel God isn’t doing, rather than on what He is doing, or on all that He has done. I believe this is why worship is so important for us, because when we worship something happens – we actually feed our souls with the truth of who God is, and the wonder of all that He has done. As we do that, our focus shifts and is made right. I love the story in Acts 16, when Paul and Silas are in prison – bound in the stocks, in the middle of the night – and their response is to pray and to praise. They were feeding their souls on the faithfulness of God rather than the dire situation they found themselves in.
Secondly, what we feed on determines our fruit and our growth. In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus talks about how a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit, and that it is out of the abundance (or overflow) of the heart that the mouth speaks. Good trees are nourished with good things, which then leads to good fruit. The opposite is also true. Similarly, in Matthew 15:18-20 Jesus is teaching how it is the things that come from within, from our hearts, that defile us – these are things that hinder fruit and unfortunately, are often there because they’ve been fed in some way.
In this winter season, there is a challenging question for us to consider – what are you feeding on? Perhaps some of us need to go on a ‘detox’ diet with regards to the things we’re feeding our souls with, and begin to feed on His faithfulness. Let me encourage us as His people to have the Word, worship and prayer as staples in our spiritual diet, as these things will help us to feed on His faithfulness, which in turn will nourish something good and lasting in our lives.
In rural Thailand, there are many children who are forced into state care or to fend for themselves. Often the result of extreme poverty or health issues where the parents cannot care for them or the parents re-marry and the children from the previous marriage are not supported by the step parent.
The risks these children are faced with from an early age is often documented, ranging from trafficking to prostitution, slavery and working for crime gangs.
While the state may place many children in homes and orphanages many of these institutions don’t cover care and guidance for the transition from child to young adult.
It was the mission work of Bridgeworks in Thailand that highlighted this great need in our midst, it is a work that helps children in the in-between years. A time where so many children can fall through the cracks while they are looking to establish themselves as young adults.
Identified as “at risk” children, where possible Bridgeworks helps either to find a stable home or offers accommodation to support these young lives through the transition time. Bridgeworks offers a safe environment, teaching life skills like gardening, cooking, or learning trades that will help these children to find work that will help them achieve a sustainable future.
Many children find it difficult to complete their education due to the pressures of taking on work in order to survive therefore forfeiting their education. Bridgeworks encourages the children in their care to complete their education to year 10 and 12 with many going on to study for university qualifications.
It is not an easy time for many of these young lives as the challenges they have endured before arriving at Bridgeworks are many including family breakdown, violence, abuse, health issues and neglect.
Bridgeworks missionaries have dedicated their lives into helping these children every day and it is in this where the words of the gospel resonates we are called to “love one another” and while not all of us can be on the field we can in many small ways follow Godly instruction which is to “sell what you have and give to the poor…”
While the VCF ladies and their friends have not donated all they own to give to those in need, they have looked into their wardrobes and storage boxes and pulled out some of the clothes and items that are of value to them. It may be a special dress never worn or it could be a designer pair of shoes only worn twice. Instead of these items sitting in the cupboard for an occasional outing they are offered in exchange to raise funds to help support Bridgeworks Missions.
These items for $5, $10 or $20 dollars will make a big difference to the young girl who is studying to become a teacher or an accountant. The young girl without a family to support her, a mother too poor and unwell, a father that has tried to take her life. The child that has escaped brutal upbringing and managed to survive.
By coming along to this community event and purchasing that coat, skirt or shoes you will do so with the knowledge you have helped a little to reposition the value where it should be and that is to encourage another young person in need, they have a hope and a future.
Vision Fashion Fix Sale is a Canberra Community Event - Everyone is welcome!
Good quality ladies and children fashions for sale one afternoon only.
Choose from vintage, new, pre-loved, and designer brands at a fraction of the retail price.
There will be a silent auction for big ticket items including a formal silk evening dress and tailored overcoat, leather boots and more.
Vision Fashion Fix will be held Saturday 22 July, 1.00 - 4.00pMat Vision Christian Fellowship
60 Gladstone Street Fyshwick.
Devonshire Tea served from 2-3pm, $5 per head.
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered….Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. Proverbs 11:24-25;28
There is a paradox in these few verses from Proverbs 11 in that we become richer (in every sense – not just relating to money!) by being generous. The world says to store up and hold onto as much as possible, but God blesses those who give freely of their possessions, time and energy.
There’s something about generosity isn’t there. It can often be surprising, even unexpected, but being on the receiving end of generosity is certainly a blessing. A few months ago I was sitting poolside as my son was having his weekly swimming lesson. I was chatting with one of the other parents who asked if I was interested in a membership to the pool and gym at the facility. They had won a two-year membership in a swim-a-thon competition and given they already had one, they had no need of it. I felt very blessed and grateful, even a little uncomfortable, to be given such a generous gift, particularly as they wouldn’t accept any money for it. The person could have kept that membership and it would have remained unused. However, by choosing to be generous and give, it opened up blessing to me and my family, as we can now use the pool and gym free of charge. It’s the same for us – there are things we have been given that we could keep to ourselves, however, choosing to give and be generous actually causes blessing to flow to others.
As Christians, I believe we are called to be a generous people – to give freely, to bless and to refresh others. After all, we have the most generous God, who time and time again has proved His generous nature, and who continues to freely give to us in abundance. Scripture is full of examples of His generous heart towards His people, and we need not look any further than the cross to see the ultimate picture of generosity, love and blessing.
Being a generous people is more than just something that relates to our finances. It also involves our time, energy, possessions, gifts – all the things God has given us to steward here on earth. Generosity is not something that just happens, it’s an attitude of the heart and something that needs to be cultivated, wherever we are at in life, and whether we feel we have lots, or little, to give.
When we choose to cultivate generosity, there are some characteristics and blessings that mark our lives as a result:
- Gratitude – when we realise the significance of the generosity shown to us by God and others, we become more thankful, both for the blessings we’ve received, but also for the opportunity and privilege it is to bless others (Eph 5:20; Col 3:16-17).
- Right Perspective – being generous helps us to realise that the possessions, gifts, and things God has given us were never really ours to begin with, but gifts to be used for His glory and to help others (Proverbs 11:24,28).
- Trust – being generous helps us to trust God, not just for provision of financial resources, but also for provision of strength, wisdom, favour and everything else we need to steward what He’s given us well (2 Cor 9:8).
- Humility – being generous helps us to look outside ourselves to see how we can be a blessing to others. It causes us to ‘count others more significant than ourselves’ (Phil 2:3)
There is a cost to generosity, but choosing to be a blessing to those around us is in fact following Christ’s example and walking in obedience to Him, as He said ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).
My prayer is that we would be a people marked by generosity in every way – in speaking words of life and encouragement to others, in our attitudes towards those around us (even the waiters / check out staff who take too long!), in investing time and effort in people to see them come into all that God has for them, and in giving of our money and possessions as and when there is need. As we do this, perhaps we will even find that we experience greater freedom in our own lives from selfishness and being mastered by possessions, as well as point others toward God by displaying His heart of generosity.
Many of us have mixed feelings when it comes to birthdays. Some go out of their way to celebrate while others go out of their way to avoid and forget. This month we celebrate the birth of the church which began on the day of Pentecost. Here is one birthday that is truly worth celebrating.
In the gospel of Luke ch24 we read that before Jesus ascended to the Father He commissioned His disciples to proclaim the gospel to all nations but first gave them this command: ’stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (v49). Once the day of Pentecost had arrived the Spirit of God fell in power upon this unique group of Jews and Gentiles, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, filling them with the power of God to accomplish this great calling.
There’s much we can learn from this account. Firstly, the church was born in power. Jesus didn't say to His disciples. Wait in the city until you get you get it all together, until you’ve completed both the beginning and advanced diplomas of church growth strategy 101 or at least until you’ve learned the top 10 of modern pop worship choruses. Rather He said wait until you have received power. So often the greatest hindrance to the advance of the glory of God is the church trying to do the work of God without the power of God. We desperately need His power. Only the power of God can save, only the power of God can transform lives, only the power of God can convict us of our sin. May we never arrive at a place where we forget that as the Church we are in desperate need of His power to accomplish His work.
Secondly the Church was birthed in His personal presence.
This wasn't just an encounter with an abstract manifestation of His Glory but an encounter with the personal presence of Holy Spirit. We worship a God who himself marks his people with the empowering reality of who He is. He is a personal God.
Finally the Church was birthed in wonder. I always wonder what the disciples were expecting as they waited. Certainly they seemed as amazed as everybody else when all of a sudden there was a mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire and people acting like they were overcome with wine. This wasn't a calm, quiet, polite, prayer meeting. It was so wild and loud that people came rushing from all around to see what all the commotion was about! In fact whenever the Holy Spirit moves in scripture there is a sense of wonder. Anything can happen. Buildings are shaken, chains fall off, people get saved, great awe comes upon everyone, signs, wonders and miracles take place and pretty soon even shadows become dangerous. The church was born with this sense of wild wonder. Do we live with that same sense today of excitement and expectancy to see what God might do in our midst today?
There’s a prayer that is one of our foundational calls as a church and it is one that I have been reminded of many times recently, its found inthe book of Acts:
‘And now Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ (Acts 4:29-30)
I believe this is a season of praying ‘bold prayers’ and I want to encourage us to join this month to declare this prayer together. May these be days of His power, His presence and wild wonder!!
“The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”. (John 4:23–24)
Of all aspects of our modern church life one that is perhaps most mis-understood and even neglected is worship. For some worship is unnecessary and uncomfortable, for some worship is a warm up to more important aspects of a service, for others worship is a performance that is more focused on the ones who are worshipping rather than the One who is worthy of all worship.
A.W. Tozer writes in his well known book ‘Whatever happened to worship’: "The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God, and the church is famished for want of his presence’. Worship is the missing jewel of the church. We have become a generation of people who worship our work, work at our play and play at our worship’. In the midst of so many different expressions and perspectives of worship what is the ‘true worship’ that Jesus speaks of and encourages us to pursue?
Throughout the scriptures we see a continual invitation to ‘come worship the Lord’. What we sometimes fail to realise is that this invitation is not the Lord inviting us to what He needs, as much as it is the Lord inviting us to what we need. In fact there are few invitations more incredible, more powerful, and more of a priority than worship. We are invited to that which we were created for and that which we need; an encounter with the living God and a life-changing glimpse of the greatness, the awesomeness, the wonder, the power, the mercy, the goodness, and the loving kindness of God. Worship is that place where we see Him for who He is, the one who is worthy of all worship. Then as we behold His majesty, His might and His worth, we let nothing get in the way of our pursuit of Him in worship, not because we have to, but because we get to.
True worship is when we come as a people with a genuine desire to worship God for who He is. Not to be blessed but instead to bless Him and to give our lives in that pursuit. We look not so much for the moments but the mission and the lifestyle of becoming true worshippers, revealing and bringing us into an encounter of the fullness of who God is. It is this true worship that will lead to the kind of spiritual visitation that ignites churches; heals brokenness, strips away religious facades and restores the glory to God to His Church in a way that will cause the world will sit up, take notice and declare that ‘surely God is among you’ (1 Cor 14:25).
This month as a church we have have been preparing to do some worship recording not because we think its a good idea but rather because we have felt from the Lord that this is the season for us to be doing this. The songs that we will be recording have been written in response to what we feel the Lord has put on our hearts for this season in our church, and indeed the church. They give voice to His heart and prophetically declare His purposes for us at this time. We believe they are songs in season. We invite you to join us over the coming month as we pursue the Lord in this way and together seek to become what the Lord Himself calls the ‘true worshippers’.
“…as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal”. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
There’s a great story recorded in 2 Kings Ch 6. At this time the king of Syria was at war with Israel but his plans were being constantly thwarted by Elisha’s prophetic insight. The king gets so frustrated that he sends horses, chariots and a ‘great army’ to capture the Prophet. This great Syrian army comes by night and surrounds the entire city where Elisha lived. The next morning Elisha’s servant rises early to find a great army camping on their doorstep. In a state of panic he rushes back to Elisha crying out ‘what shall we do’? I imagine Elisha at this point sitting quietly, perhaps enjoying his morning coffee in his favourite chair, a picture of perfect peace. With a mischievous grin he turns to his servant saying, ‘Why are you afraid?’. Why am I afraid, thinks the servant, why do you think I am afraid?, there’s an entire army sitting on our doorstep! Elisha continues, ‘those who are with us are more than those who are with them, Lord would you open his eyes’. The Lord opens the eyes of the servant who instantly sees the mountains all around them full of horses and chariots of fire.
There is a greater reality beyond our reality. In 2 Corinthians Paul encourages us to look not to the things that are seen, which are transient, temporary and passing away, and look to the things that are unseen, which are eternal. There's no doubt that there is always the ‘seen’ things of life in front of us. Jobs to do, tasks to accomplish, mouths to feed, mountains to climb, battles to fight. Yet in the midst of the ‘seen’ things how much of our time is spent looking to the ‘unseen’ reality beyond this reality. There may be an army camped at your doorstep but there is a greater reality than what's in front of you, if we will just have eyes to see it.
I believe we are in a time when the Lord is desiring to open our eyes to His reality. There’s much in front of us that can easily consume our attention. His invitation is to look past the ‘seen’ to the things that are ‘unseen’. He is wanting to align our hearts with His heart, that we might then partner with His purposes on the earth at this critical time. My prayer is that we would be a people who have eyes to see the greater reality of the King and His Kingdom. Lord would you open our eyes again!
And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go…………
Late last year both the Board and the pastoral team felt stirred to set aside a month each year to focus our attention on Missions. It has been a foundational commitment, backed with action, as a church to financially support Missionaries in the field and to send people out, both short and long term. And yet, as with many long held commitments that keep ticking along, we can get complacent. It’s in place, we are ticking that box, and so we become less aware on a day to day basis of the needs of our Missionaries and indeed of the mandate on us as believers to both pray and go.
And so March is Missions month in 2017.
We have a number of “our Missionaries” coming to share with us in March, orchestrated by God to coincide with our set missions month rather than our exceptional planning, I might add. Take time this month to become familiar with who we support as a church, the people groups they are called to serve, their needs and situations. We have a notice board dedicated to missions giving updates in our foyer. Seek God as to how you might support them from your means, be that financial, in prayer, or in practise.
But can I encourage you not to stop there. We cannot tick the box of going into the world proclaiming the gospel and making disciples with a church program or even by making a missions donations. (Not that these things are bad) We, as His people are the sent ones, each one of us.
In John 20:21 He says, “as the Father sent me, I send you.” We are sent ones because our Father is the sender and the heart of mission involves living out who we are as God’s people. It is not the role of the church as an organisation to be missional, it is the call of God’s people to be missional.
You may or may not be appointed and sent to Thailand, or Mozambique or India or South Africa or Papua New Guinea but as sent ones you do carry the Kingdom into workplaces, places of education, your children’s school, your family, and the places in your community that God leads you.
One of my favourite songs at the moment, “For the one” a new release by Jenn Johnson says
Let all my life, tell of who You are
And the wonder of, Your never-ending love
Let all my life, tell of who You are
You're wonderful, and such a good Father
Pray and Go
‘God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.’ 1 John 1:5-7
We had a really great time away at our recent youth camp, and the theme and focus for the camp was ‘let there be light’. The Lord did a deep work in many hearts, inviting us to come into His light, to allow Him to shine His light into any areas of darkness in our lives so that we can then walk in His light and shine brightly for His glory.
Of course, ‘let there be light’ were the first recorded words God spoke in the Bible (Genesis 1:3). When God speaks, things happen, and so, ‘there was light’! If we can truly grasp the significance of these words, they are powerful and life changing.
I believe there are times in our lives when God highlights things and declares ‘let there be light’ to us. When He highlights areas of darkness in our lives – unbelief, fear, lies we’ve believed, sin, destructive habits, attitudes or patterns of behaviour – He doesn’t do it to leave us exposed or to heap shame on us but rather, to bring His light in and lead us into a place of greater freedom and wholeness. It is far better (and far easier) to walk in the light than it is to stumble around in the darkness.
Some years ago now I had an experience that the Lord has recently reminded me of and has been speaking to me about. I was bitten by a spider on my calf muscle one day while I was doing some work in the garden. I didn’t even notice that I’d been bitten at the time, except for what looked like two little ‘pimples’ that came up later that day. They were slightly sore to touch, but I didn’t think anything of it so left it. The next day, the ‘pimples’ on my leg were much more painful to touch and what appeared to be some bruising had also appeared – but again I chose not to do anything about it and left it, hoping it would get better of its own accord. The following day it wasn’t just the site of the bite that was sore, but my whole calf muscle was starting to swell up and cause me some grief. I was due to play sport on the weekend, so I felt I needed to test out whether I would be able to play or not. I went along to training, which needless to say was a foolish thing to do. As I got dressed afterwards I noticed that not only was my calf muscle now seriously swollen, rock hard and feeling like it was on fire, but I could literally see that the infection had spread up my leg and had made its way into my lymph glands. It was only then, when I could hardly walk, that I made the decision to go to the hospital and the antibiotic treatment I was given cleared it up reasonably quickly and thankfully no amputation was required!
You are probably thinking how silly I was to not get my leg treated earlier and deal with the issue before it became more serious. And I would definitely agree with you. But how often can we be like this in our own journey through life? How often do we perhaps leave things in our own hearts and lives to fester when the Lord is ready and willing to deal with them and shine His light on them to bring us to a place of freedom and healing?
When the Lord puts His finger on things in our lives, it is an opportunity to respond to Him and allow Him to bring His light, truth and freedom to bear in our lives. I love what Andrew said recently, about how we can pray and desire that the Lord would move and work powerfully in our city, nation and beyond (which is a wonderful thing to seek after!), yet often He is wanting to start by first working in our own lives.
As we start 2017, I pray that this would be a year of letting His light in and walking in His light. Where there are things that the Lord may be highlighting or bringing to the surface, let’s not ignore them or put off getting some ‘treatment’. Rather, let’s allow Him to bring healing, freedom and wholeness. When He is able to do the work He needs to do in us, He is able to then do the work He desires to do through us. Are we willing to respond to His invitation when He says – ‘let there be light’?
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Have you ever wondered why a bunch of Shepherds were the audience of the very first declaration of the Good news of the redemptive Gospel of Jesus Christ?
The fields outside of Bethlehem, the scene of the shepherd’s angelic encounter, have been linked to a unique biblical location called Migdal Eder, meaning tower of the flock. According to ancient Jewish writing this area was deemed holy and consecrated with the lambs raised there only being used for sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. Everyone in Israel recognised Bethlehem as being synonymous with sacrificial lambs.
The shepherds who worked in these fields were not ordinary shepherds but Rabbinical shepherds who were trained and served in raising the sacrificial lambs. The requirement for lambs without spot of blemish brought with it specific treatment of the lambs as they were born. During the lambing season the sheep were brought from the fields to the tower of the flock. The lower level served as a birthing room for the lambs. As soon as they were born the lambs were laid in a hewn depression in limestone rock known as a manger and wrapped to prevent them thrashing about and harming themselves while they were inspected for signs of defect.
“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Scholars believe that the shepherds may have known where to find Jesus because to them all these signs could only point to the tower of the flock and the very process they were so familiar with.
There are many aspects of the Christmas narrative that we can skim over as a result of familiarity and even embrace popular tradition rather than the biblical account.
Our God is incredible in His detail, even this glorious interaction with seemingly simple shepherds is a powerful prophetic picture to all mankind of the birth and mission of the Messiah. The picture of a Lamb without spot or blemish indicating the perfection and sinless nature of Jesus, the purpose of these lambs birthed for sacrificial offering and atonement, His very mission. From the moment of His birth the ultimate reason for Jesus’ coming is alluded to. He would be wrapped and laid in a place cut in stone once more as the lamb without spot or blemish who died for our sins. (See Luke 23:53)
As we anticipate the celebration of His coming during the season of Advent, let us embrace the good news of great joy and remember Our God was wrapped in human flesh for us.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will endure forever. (Isaiah 40:8).
The Bible, the word of God, is unlike any other book! It is the most incredible literary masterpiece of all time. Its scope is unrivalled detailing the greatest good, the greatest evil, the greatest courage and sacrifice, and indeed the ultimate sacrifice - the Saviour of all mankind! Its depth is un-equalled exploring the greatest mysteries of life, the deepest depravities and longings of the heart of mankind, the nature of God and the universe and revealing to us truth. There is only one Book on earth, only one Book in the history of mankind that can ever answer all the fundamental questions of life. There is only one Book that holds the key to our eternal destiny: the ultimate love story, written in blood on a wooden cross.
If that wasn't already enough, only the Bible has the audacity to lay claim to being alive, God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), perfect, (Psalm 19:7) and having the power to transform lives. The power of God’s word will:
-build you up (Acts 20:32)
-teach, reproof, correct, train in righteousness, and equip for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
-is living and powerful able to pierce to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12)
-renew your mind (Romans 12:2)
-bring joy and delight to the heart (Jeremiah 15:16)
-be a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).
-revive the soul, making wise the simple, rejoicing the heart and enlightening the eyes (Psalm 19:7-8); just to mention a few….
We live in a society that has strived hard to remove and erode God’s word from any public context in the name of tolerance, equality and discrimination whilst at the same time watching in horror at the rise in lawlessness that abounds. Its a bit like removing traffic signals that govern our transportation then complaining about the chaos that ensues. Even in many churches the Word of God has ceased to hold the place of honour and prominence that it once had. Seeker friendly emotional based preaching has replaced the proclamation of the eternal life changing truths of scripture. Increasingly everybody seems to have an opinion and know what they feel about everything but fewer seem to know what God’s word actually says. At times we can get caught reading all about God’s word but never actually reading, studying and meditating upon God’s word itself.
Each year over 1 million new books will be published and read, each day over 2 million blogs posts will be perused, and each hour over 200 million emails will be opened. In the midst of this age of information overload how much time do we spend reading the only book that truly has the power transform our lives, God’s word the Bible? There’s no time like the present to remind ourselves of the radical and bold claims of God’s word, remembering this incredible gift that we have in our possession, and renew our passion for the un-rivalled, and un-equalled, living word of God!
“The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. Hebrews 11:1
Faith seems to often be a mis-used and mis understood word in our modern vernacular. Sometimes faith is used akin to wishful thinking or vain imagination with little substance or reality. Other times faith can be mis-represented as some magic formula to achieve any thing we might desire. Biblical faith is far from both of these.
Hebrews 11:1 describes Faith as: “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. The writer then goes onto describe the outworking of faith as follows; by faith the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry Land, by faith Jericho was defeated, by faith kingdoms were conquered, by faith justice was enforced, promises were obtained, the mouths of lions stopped, the power of fire quenched, weakness made strong, foreign armies put to flight, persecution endured and the dead received back to life (paraphrase v32-35)…..and the list goes on! We would have to acknowledge that there are few things mentioned in scripture that have greater power, greater potency and greater promise than faith!
So what does this kind of faith look like? And how is it that we can live with this kind of faith?
Back in Hebrews 11:1 we are told firstly that faith is an ‘assurance of hope’. Assurance means to be fully sure, fully steadfast or fully secure in our hope (which is Christ). The Amplified version puts it this way, faith is: ‘leaning on Him with absolute confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness’. We could say then that faith is to be ‘fully leaning upon the present promises of Christ’. Secondly we are told faith is ‘conviction of things not seen’. This word for conviction can be literally translated ‘the means by which a thing is proved or tested’. This implies both the process and the resulting proof. So faith by nature is not static but has an element of needing to be lived out, a proving process or a putting into action. We could say faith involves both a life lived fully leaning upon the present promises of Christ, and fully living out the proving process.
There is a faith that moves mountains, conquerers nations, raises the dead, endures hardships, and without which we can-not please God. This faith grows as we become a people fully leaning upon the present promises, and fully living out the proving process. What would this people look like, a community of faith filled believers fully leaning upon and fully living out Christ in our lives, community and our city? Lets go deeper together and discover the incredible power and promise of faith.
Despite living in an unprecedented age of communication, there are moments when the very tools that make this possible end up distorting the message. I experienced one of those moments recently when I received a text message from one of our other Pastors saying "I am overcome with FOMO". Having no idea if this was a person or a disease I responded "I'm sorry to hear that. Is it contagious?" The response came back “LOL, no I don't think so. FOMO means Fear of Missing Out… you need teenagers in your house".
Well for now I think I’m quite happy in my ignorance.
Point being, often the message becomes distorted. The apostle Paul writes to the Colossians for exactly this reason. He is so encouraged to hear that many people have responded to the gospel and put their faith in Jesus. However he wants to encourage them and ensure that the truth of Jesus they received was not distorted or diminished in any way.
Two words form the foundation of the incredible picture Paul paints of Christ in Chapter 1 of Colossians. He Is! He is the image of God, the Creator, He is Lord, He is the Sustainer, He is the Reconciler, our Sacrifice and our Redeemer, just to mention a few. In Chapter 2 Paul then switches gears to encourage the Colossians not to stop short of reaching the ‘full assurance of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery which is Christ’ (Colossians 2:2). Saying: don't let vain philosophies cheat you (2:8), don't let religious activities rob you (2:16), don't let sin deceive you (3:5). See Christ in the fullness and wonder or all that He is. He is your life, He is your hope and He is your joy. (3:1-4)
There really is nothing that compares to this picture. There is nothing you could ever possibly add to who He is or what He has done. Don't even try, you’ll only make a mess. He is an infinitely glorious, all powerful God, who has redeemed us through the power of His blood and now offers us everlasting joy and satisfaction in himself.
Take a moment to reflect upon this picture of Christ. Has your perspective been tainted or diminished in anyway? Perhaps circumstances, busyness, striving, good works, selfishness or sin has clouded your vision. Take a moment today to bask in His glory and goodness, receive afresh His mercy, and enter into the fullness all that He is. May we too reach the ‘full assurance of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ’!
In the last few years we have witnessed increasing acts of lawlessness accompanied by growing levels of fear across the world. When threatened, we humans are fairly predictable in our response. We either attempt to help others or ourselves; we welcome or we shut out; we flee or force others to flee; sometimes we simply freeze.
Cries of racism and prejudice attempt to arrest control of public debate by silencing any opinion contrary to the loudest and proudest. Someone is accused of racism when what they are really pointing to has more of a religious tone.
Underlying many of the concerns being expressed or suppressed in today’s media (social and corporate) is the personal desire to remain safe wherever we live and work. This basic desire is a principle upon which most modern societies are founded; so too is the desire to be able to choose how we will live. Safety and freedom to choose are enshrined in modern thought.
The problem of lawlessness emerges when how I want to live conflicts with someone else’s version of how I should live. When unrestrained by concern for the well-being of others, individualism tends to undermine society. Exercising restraint for the betterment of society has always been a struggle for those committed to the ideal of individual choice, because the individual is at heart self-centred. Our preference is ‘I’ not ‘we’. It is made even more difficult when the basics of communal living, which had been acknowledged and observed for centuries, are pushed to one side as being out of date with modern thought.
What is it that is wrong about the Ten Commandments as a standard for communities to live with dignity and respect? Is it because the time-proven values limit personal choice? Are universal absolutes rejected because they limit personal behaviour?
Modern opinion consistently ignores that we live before God and will one day give account of how we have done so? As Christians, we are instructed to live as servants of God. This instruction alone reminds us that we are not the centre of the Universe and that our opinion may not be the most important. It reminds us to see our behaviour in the context of the Creation in which we dwell - see vv 18-19.
There will be a time in the history of the world when people live by The Lord’s values. Until then the Apostle Peter’s advice is timely and helpful; look to God, look beyond yourself, show dignity towards men and women entrusted with governing, seek to do good. Doing these things strengthens our conviction that we are free in Christ and able to sacrifice self-interest for the betterment of all.
Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to ‘give thanks in all circumstances is a challenging one for us as Christians, because it addresses the attitude of our hearts. There are some verses in Scripture that seem to challenge you the more you think about and ponder them, and this verse is certainly one of them! It would definitely be easier and more comfortable to give thanks in ‘most’ circumstances, or in the circumstances when things are going well and ‘the world’s all as it should be’. Yet in his writings (and in his life) Paul never settles for the easy, comfortable option does he? Whilst this verse may be a challenging one when we think about the degree to which it may or may not be outworked in our lives, it is a vital one, as I believe Christians are to be marked by thanksgiving.
A question that would be worth asking ourselves from time-to-time is this: ‘is my heart full of thankfulness or is it full of grumbling?’ When our hearts are full of thankfulness, there are many blessing that flow to us (and of course those around us – I know what sort of person I’d rather be around!). These blessings include: grace, joy, contentment and right or enlarged perspective. On the other hand, when our heart attitude is one of grumbling it can, if left unchecked, like a weed grow up to stifle our joy, our contentment, and even hinder our spiritual progress. Jesus says in Luke 6:45 that it is ‘out of the abundance (or overflow) of the heart that the mouth speaks’. Both thankfulness and grumbling are in fact heart attitudes – and both are often manifest in the words we speak – whether that be gratitude, thanksgiving and honour or complaining, negativity, and criticism.
One of the things about human nature is the tendency we have to forget – we can forget to be thankful, even when we have so much to be thankful for. I have found myself in this place a number of times over the last 9 months or so since we purchased our German Shorthaired Pointer x Labrador puppy, Jonty. He is a lovely dog and I am thankful for many things about him such as the fact he doesn’t bark much, he has a lovely temperament, he is great with kids and is great to exercise with. Even so, I still find things to grumble about – the fact that his excavation business continues to grow in size and scope, and the fact that he has destroyed his kennel, a number of different beds, and the winter coat I bought for him to stay warm in the colder months! In my moments of complaint and frustration, I’m thankful that my lovely wife Steph brings perspective and reminds me that he’s just a pup, that he is in fact a good dog and he will settle down as he matures.
In a similar way, the people of Israel were quick to forget to be thankful to the Lord for all He had done for them. Grumbling seemed to be their default response when things got a little bit hard (see Exodus 15:22-16:12; Numbers 14:26-31) and the by-products of that included a lack of contentment, and the wrong perspective. Unfortunately, it also thwarted their spiritual progress and stopped many from entering into the Promised Land and all that God had for them.
As we are in the midst of the cold winter months here in Canberra, I want to challenge us to be a thankful people and not let grumbling be our default response. It’s easy to grumble about the cold, and to shrink back a bit because it’s winter. But there is a grace that flows to us when we intentionally purpose in our hearts to be thankful, even if it’s just for the little, seemingly insignificant things. Having a heart attitude of thankfulness gives us right perspective, enables us to step into more of what God has for us and it also brings contentment because we no longer focus on what we don’t have, but what we do. The apostle Paul practiced what he preached in so many ways, but particularly the exhortation to be thankful. In Philippians 4, we read that he had learned to be content no matter what the situation. I believe one of the keys to experience this kind of contentment is to be thankful. I pray that we would be a thankful people and know firsthand the blessings that flow to us as a result.
The Lord promises to never leave nor forsake those who believe in Him. He points us to being content with what we have and to trust His provision.
The Lord draws close to us in many ways and the key of knowing Him is to seek to experience His closeness day by day. Father is always near.
One of the privileges of being a pastor is that there are occasions when the Presence of God becomes very real, despite suffering. This often happens when all the pretence of life is stripped away and we are only left with the bare bones. Usually this happens when I visit someone in hospital. Just this past week, four people from our church have been visited by one of the Pastors and each received the Lord's Supper. One of them is, at the time of writing, close to death. The striking feature of being with them was the strong Presence of Jesus in their rooms.
The one close to death, Margaret, had her niece staying with her in the hospital room. The niece noticed that her Aunt's arms and hands had become black. So she decided to place a small Bible in her hands, which Margaret clutched, despite being unconscious, next to her heart. After a while the niece looked at the hands and saw that they had returned to normal colour! The skin of the arms remained blackened, but the hands had normal skin tone. As she showed Kathryn and me the hands clutching the Bible, the Lord's Presence was very real.
This act should not have surprised us as the Bible is a spiritual power object.
Two of Father's great promises are that He will both provide and remain. Think about the widow of Zarephath in 1Kings 4: 8-15 or about Stephen in Acts 7: 54ff. Both promises came true. Of course, the promises are not only for the individual; they apply equally, if not more so, to our life together as the Body of Christ.
In the coming days, we can be sure of Father's Presence and Providential care.