Advent is an important season in the life fo the church. This season speaks of our joyous anticipation and preparation for the coming of Christ. Our reflections should not simply recall the events leading up to the first Christmas; but should equally see us deeply preparing our hearts for the second coming of Christ.
Through the prophet Jeremiah the Lord counselled ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’. The formula for finding Jesus has always been the same, the earnest and sincere prayer of a humble and pure heart. This years theme of 'Hope is Born’ calls us to recall just who the baby in the manger truly was, and what He achieved on our behalf. It calls us as disciples to renew our understanding of, and trust in God's promises, to renew our understanding of the sure and certain hope that we have in Christ Jesus, and to fully trust in His faithfulness.
I pray that as we undertake our advent preparations this year that each of us may grow in our awareness of God's love for us; and draw closer to Him, rendering our hearts to His service and our lives to expectant and purposeful preparation.
In His service always,
“Change always starts with your mind. The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel influences the way you act.” (Rick Warren)
It’s been said that no one likes change except a wet baby (and even then they cry during the process!). I’m not sure that people really do hate change, so much as they enjoy routines and familiarity; most people welcome new things in their everyday life, like new seasons, new cafe’s, new technology, new friends, and new adventures. In reality I think that it’s not change that people resist so much as being changed. It’s not that we don’t like change, we just don’t want to change. Our resistance to change, in the main, is simply because it can be hard: It’s uncomfortable, often humbling, and painfully difficult. But as disciples of Christ, we must remember that change is really at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. When we believe the gospel, we accept the truth that we need to change. We know we are broken people whom God is making new through Christ. Not only us as individuals, but we believe that one day God is going to make all things new.
The key to understanding and accepting change is in the knowledge that God is author of change and that he has plans for your life, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11); that he goes before us in all things (Deuteronomy 31:8), that he will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6), and the that he will be with you when storms hit and the darkness of fear takes hold (Matthew 14:22-27).
So, here’s the bottom line for us as Disciples of Jesus: Discipleship has to be about more than just being comfortable! It has to be about striving, striving to be conformed and transformed into his likeness , and striving to live out his mission in the world.
Grace & peace,
“…there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which God, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” (Abraham Kuyper)
Stewardship is (mostly) misrepresented and misunderstood in the Church today; the result is a reluctance to speak of it, and a greater reluctance to participate. To the majority of Christians stewardship means giving, volunteering and fundraising; but the Biblical model of stewardship is about whole-life discipleship and the nurture and care of the entire world. Paul writes in Colossians 3:23-24, ‘work heartily, because whatever you do you are serving the Lord Christ!’ At the end of Matthew's gospel, Jesus passes his mission on to his disciples, and tells them to turn the whole world into disciples. Being a disciple, according to those final words of Jesus, starts with baptism, but continues with learning to obey everything he taught us to do. Interestingly a considerable amount of what Jesus taught can be described as "stewardship".
By definition, stewardship is the management of someone else's property or affairs. This very definition requires a definitive answer to the question of who’s property are we managing? To whom does it all belong? Psalm 24:1 tells us, ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the earth and all who live in it’. This, along with dozens of other passages in the Bible point to God’s uncontested ownership of all things; at no time do we ever read of God relinquishing ownership of anything that set into motion. As Christians, we bear the image of God, and this is a profound stewardship responsibility in and of itself; then there is the cash in our wallets, the children in our families, our intellect and creative capacities, the breath we breathe, and the gospel message itself - everything tangible and intangible; it all belong to God! Real stewardship then, is an attitude which colours the whole of life. It says to God ‘Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand’ (1 Chronicles 29:14b). These words apply to far more than just money, they apply to everything we have, and everything that we do; from how we respond to the question ‘have you got a minute?’ to how we live as global citizens in an ever changing world. Of course money, alongside time and talents has a very particular role in our discipleship journey. Our diaries and our bank statements can be seen as a window into the heart the discipleship; they give material shape to what we say about our commitment to follow Jesus. Stewardship, done well, gives a material and physical expression to the love we profess for God and for our neighbour in hours, actions, dollars and cents.
Stewardship is the path that God uses to mould us into the people he wants us to be. Our obedience and intentional stewardship of “every square inch in the whole domain of our human existence” provides us with an opportunity to vividly reflect his image, and respond to his love.
Jesus said ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Matthew 6:21)
What does your stewardship say about your discipleship journey?
Grace & peace,
‘A man or a woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for heaven’ (A.W.Tozer)
Just as we need food, water and oxygen, we need worship. Worship is defined as giving adoration and reverence to someone or something. Colossians 1:16 says that we were created by God and for God. Our original purpose, being created in God’s image, was to worship Him. The term worship has become synonymous with singing, but that’s just one way that worship expresses itself. True worship happens when our entire life becomes a declaration of trust in God’s incredible mercy. The importance of true worship can not be underestimated in the life of the disciple, but too often distractions get in the way
Whilst we must have times of intentional worship set aside each day; worship does not stop when we close the book or lift our heads; true worship in the life of a disciple is a continual act, we never stop worshipping. So, if worship never stops, if we are continually worshipping someone or something, who or what is receiving your adoration and reverence Monday through Saturday?
'At the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.' (Philippians 2:10-11)
Grace & peace,
If we pray, we will believe
If we believe, we will love
If we love, we will serve.
Many people aspire to leadership, fame, and success; but very few aspire to servanthood. Yet contrary to all wisdom of secular leadership, Jesus emphasised serving others as a hallmark of true greatness. Day in and day out the Gospels describe Jesus combing the countryside healing, teaching, preaching and serving. One act of service bumps into another in rapid succession. Here’s the condensed version of the theme of service in Jesus’ life that John never could forget: On the night he was betrayed, Jesus pulled out all the stops to illustrate the Christian life. He took a basin, tipped the big jar in the corner of the room and filled it with clean water. He took a clean towel and wrapped it around himself; then one disciple at a time got a much needed footbath. Then the memorable words came: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15). That Jesus meant for us to imitate his attitude and actions is clear. A servant serves. The Christian truth is this: the greatest among you are those who serve in the way of Christ. This does not mean simply pulling out a basin and washing friends feet once a year a special commemorative service (or at least not only that), this is about serving others without expectation of reward, about service being part and parcel of becoming conformed to the image of Christ.
The kind of service that Jesus models for his disciples goes well beyond serving our fellow Christians in our local church (although this is part of it); by washing feet Jesus shows us that serving is not always glamorous, but it is the calling of every disciple. Following in his footsteps, Jesus’ disciples got their hands dirty by serving all those around them in need (friends and strangers); through the ministry of Jesus they had learned that disciples are servants, and servants simply serve.
Being a disciple is letting the mind of Christ become our mind. It’s participating in the work Christ among the poor, needy, prisoners, or widows. It is serving without expectation; it is getting our hands dirty. It is understanding that through our service (meeting the needs of those around us in the name of Jesus Christ), that we contribute to the present growth and unfolding future of the kingdom of God.
Grace to you,
Continuing with our theme of being disciples:
‘Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.’ (Charles Spurgeon)
We have talked previously about the importance of the disciple of Jesus being a committed learner; however the reality is, that God’s Word is never meant to be something we just know, are familiar with, or memorise. God’s word is alive and powerful; it is intended for change and transformation, for redemption and salvation, for justice, mercy and grace: These are words of action, not passivity!
We don’t graduate from discipleship and move on to mission, scripture says that they that do the will of God will know, not they that know, will do! (John 7:17). Mission, then, is not an optional extra, but an essential element of the life of the genuine disciple. As disciples of Christ we serve a God who first came to rescue us. Mission then, is our response to our justification, not our pathway to justification; mission is an outworking of a transformed heart. Discipleship and Mission is not an either/or scenario, but an and/both; it includes both knowing and doing, learning and serving.
True discipleship, then, is when we take up the mission of God as our own. Jesus coming to earth was God placing his purpose in action - making it tangible: our mission is to continue this work. Matthew 28:18-20 puts it very clearly; here, Jesus sends his disciples (including each of us) to share the gospel and to teach all that he has taught us. We are called to be actively involved; we are tasked to share the gospel, to encourage believers to grow in faith, and to baptise those who believe. Why? So that all people may come to know him and know the truth (1 Tim 2:4); and to bring glory to his name.
How can you get involved in God’s mission this week?
Grace to you,
Continuing with our theme of being disciples:
‘’Prayer is simply talking with God; it’s a two way process: speaking and listening. He speaks to us: we listen. We speak to him: he listens.’ (Mother Teresa)
What has talking to God got to do with being a disciple?
Martin Luther once wrote ‘To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing’. Prayer is quite simply the life blood of discipleship. For many people prayer is a last resort, for use in emergencies only! But according to Jesus, prayer is key to our lives. Prayer not only establishes a relationship with God, it is vital to maintaining our relationship with him. Prayer is a means of communicating with our loving Heavenly Father, and building the relationship for which we were created. Prayer is designed to allow us as disciples to have profound intimacy with God.
Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus modelling how prayer should work in the life of his disciples: Mornings, evenings, after preaching, before preaching, whenever possible - Jesus prayed. He prayed in gardens, on mountains, and in solitary places. Physically separated from the Father’s presence, Jesus united spiritually with the Father through prayer, seeking his will and glorifying his name. He publicly voiced praise and thanksgiving to the Father, as well as praying petitions on behalf of his disciples. Far from trying to manipulate a distant and whimsical God, Jesus modelled a life of personal relationship and trust, passionately seeking to know the will of his Father, and to be able to surrender to it fully. More than simply accessing God’s provision and power, prayer held Jesus in the very presence of God himself.
Similarly, Jesus calls us to abide in him. Through prayer, we delight in his presence, meditate on his word, and walk in his Spirit. In prayer we ask God to search the inner recesses of our hearts to make us truly clean. We strap on our spiritual armour. We trade in our tangled knots of anxiety for his peace ‘the peace which passes all understanding’. We receive whatever we ask of God when we ask according to his will and in Jesus’ name. When we pray, the results are simply astounding: he transforms us; we begin to absorb his priorities and passions; we start to see the world and people through his eyes; more and more we want to obey him. Over time, we even become more like him. Abiding in Christ through prayer marks us as his disciples: the watching world can tell when we’ve been in the presence of Jesus!
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) .
Grace & peace,
Continuing with our theme of being disciples:
‘’Discipleship in an instant society requires long obedience in the same direction:’ (Eugene Peterson)
What does this mean? What has obedience got to do with being a disciple?
Simply put - Everything!
Yet, obedience is not a popular topic today; even among believers there are many that recoil at the suggestion that careful daily obedience either matters to God or ought to concern us. Yet according to Jesus himself, discipleship at its core involves listening to him and doing as he instructs (John 8:31). Discipleship begins with the simple command of Jesus: “Follow me”, and the first disciples did just that (Matt. 4:18-20). Like many since, they could have replied: “Yes, sir!” and then done nothing; but had they done that, they would not have been disciples at all (Matt 21:28-32).
Australia today is very much an instant society driven by a customer mindset. As a society we don’t like to work for, or wait for anything anymore; we are comfortable paying others to serve us; we eat instant food and drink instant coffee; we have convenience stores; and get cranky when the internet is slow. We make our own plans, and are masters of our own destiny; we have a generation who seek to be famous for being famous; we seek our own honour and glory in our daily activities; and the ‘selfie’ is the most common form of artistic expression. In our culture today church and faith is ‘slotted in’ between other important activities (or often not at all), and we accept as normal a form of spiritual flabbiness which requires no real dedication on our part from week to week.
The apostle Paul likens the obedience of discipleship to the training of an athlete, calling us to be fit, skilled and ready for service to the Lord (1 Cor 9:24-27); Our training consists of prayer, reading the Bible, fellowship with other believers, worship, serving and so on. As we obediently stick to our spiritual training routines, like a 'spiritual athlete', we strive to become more like Jesus everyday; with ‘long obedience in the same direction’ we become spiritually fit, enabling us to run the race in order to win the ‘prize’.
This is not works-righteousness. It is not salvation by merit. It is a transformed life that we are talking about. It is a changed character. It is genuine commitment. It is obedient discipleship. It is freedom and joy and peace. It is living the Jesus Lifestyle!
Paul writes: ’I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in tip top condition. (1 Cor 9:26-27 Msg version)
Grace & peace,
‘To live a congruent and internally consistent life is difficult. This is integrity!’ (Parker Palmer)
‘When Jesus is Lord of our beliefs, opinions, ambitions, standards, values, and lifestyle, then we are integrated Christians. Then Integrity marks our life. Only when he is Lord do we become whole.” (John Stott)
One of the most important characteristics of Christian discipleship is consistency/integrity; putting into practice what we actually profess to believe; to both talk and walk in the way of Jesus.
Integrity in its simplest form simply means wholeness of person; a person who is undivided. It means that there is no separation between what is going on inside of me, and what I am expressing outside of me. There is no separation of my inner and outer life. A person of integrity is unshakeable; they stand by their principles regardless of external pressures or consequences. A person of integrity realises there are moral absolutes, even in a world of relative values.
A person of true integrity possesses a unity of life and character. It is important to recognise however that the Bible underscores the reality that no one (except Jesus Christ) is sinless, so integrity for the disciple does not mean sinlessness or perfection, but sincere striving, and single-hearted devotion to God. Integrity to the disciple means a life marked by love, compassion, mercy, justice, and honouring God's call above everything else. It means that we are the same on Sunday as we are throughout the week; that we practice what we preach!
So how can we live a life of integrity?
We must accept God's call to live in his will and to actively walk in the path of Christ: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”(James 1:22). We must strive to live the kind of life that Jesus lived, even if no one is watching. It is that simple, and it is that difficult.
So who are you when no one is looking?
Grace & peace,
‘I do not pray for success. I pray for faithfulness.” (Mother Theresa)
What does this mean?
It means following hard after God; having radical loyalty, and covenantal commitment to God, first, above all other relationships and commitments. It means remaining true to Gods word, our own word, and persevering in trials or storms. Christian faithfulness is, at its heart, about our commitment to accept, believe in and commit to the God of the Bible as the one true God, and attempt to live out his commandments (the Jesus Lifestyle).
It means pursuing His plan and purpose with intentionality, and investing our time, talents and resources to that journey. It means following his path with unshakable and unbreakable stick-to-it-iveness, even when it counter-cultural to do so.
Being faithful to God’s calling
Being faithful to God’s message
Being faithful to God’s leading in your life
And trusting that God is faithful in all things
Christianity itself is based first on faith that God is, and then, that through Christ Jesus we can be forgiven, made righteous, and redeemed. Faithfulness is essential to the Christian life, it is named as a fruit of the Spirt by Paul (Gal 5:22) and credited as righteousness to Abram (Gen15:6, Rom 4:22). Jesus puts faithfulness alongside justice and mercy and ‘the more important matters of the law’ (Matthew 23:23)
The whole of the Bible calls us to a radical lifestyle and a radical faithfulness which is totally counter-cultural. It changes our perspective of what success looks like, and shifts our vision and focus to one driven by Kingdom goals. Under our own strength the inner transformation is not possible; the lifestyle and the standards are impossible; but ‘what is impossible for mankind, is made possible with God’ (Luke 18:27).
So let’s be like Mother Theresa and ask God to grant us faithfulness; then radically pursue it!