New Year, New Challenge!
2021 has been ripe with fear, tension and political upheaval. We’ve had to learn how to live a “new normal” in the midst of the global pandemic; church has become more complicated as we balance online and in the building worship, we’ve had to let go of or change many personal arrangements and some feel that long held personal dreams are slipping away.
The beginning of a new year is a time when we get to stop and reflect on the year that has been, and think about the direction we are headed in the future. It is a time of new goals and resolutions, of recommitment to faith, health and more; of fresh starts and do overs. For the Christian it is a time to set our hearts and our lives in the right direction and setting goals on redeeming our use of time (Eph 5:15-16). So we look to scripture to find habits to help us grow:
Grace & Peace
ChristMas: Expect the Unexpected!
If you were God and you wanted to introduce yourself, how would you do it?
If you were God and you chose to be born into a human family, who would you choose to be your parents?
If you were God and you chose to be born a baby, where would you choose to be born?
If you were God and you wanted to save the world, what would your plan be?
Christmas is really a very unexpected story! It is the announcement of the Prince of Peace coming in the midst of a very violent world. The saviour of the world born as a fragile child. The King of Kings born in a stable, with an unwed teenage mother to care for him. It is the story of hope, joy, peace and love which comes in the most unexpected way, and is found in unexpected places. But is is also very much more than a story …
Christmas is a time where the unexpected happens. It’s where God turns hopelessness into hope. It’s where God turns despair into Joy. It’s where God defeats evil with good through the birth of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. It’s a day when divisions are dropped, wars are stopped and where all people sing praises to God in the words of Joy to the World and Silent Night.
From Jesus’ birth at Christmas, to his death on Good Friday and then to the glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday. God’s plan to save the world was totally unexpected. But that’s how God works....
Expect the unexpected this ChristMas!
Grace & Peace
Jesus the Unexpected King
Christmas is just around the corner!
2021 has been a challenging year filled with drought, pandemic, border closures, changes, challenges, grief, loss, fear and uncertainty. We have been forced to stop and think about life in a whole different way, one that has seen us change much of how we do life.
At Christmas we are reminded of another time in history where the world was in chaos, a time when anxiety, fear and darkness abounded, a time when people were searching for hope. In a world of darkness, Jesus surprised us with hope in the most unexpected of places and circumstances. Hope in the form of a King born into a messy, chaotic manger; a King born to working class parents; a King who sought out, lead, served, and ministered to the lost, broken and outcast; a King who served without expectation of reward; a King willing sacrificed himself for those who hated him; A King who paid our debt, and to set us free. A King who showed us that hope and joy is found where in places and circumstances where we least expect it.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was prophesied; King Jesus was long expected! But he did not come or conquer in the way that the people hoped. The people were looking for a conquering king who would meet them on their terms, and deliver them in their way. As we prepare for the coming of King Jesus, we too fill our lives (and particularly our Christmas’) with all kinds of expectations. The bible, however, teaches us that Jesus is not particularly concerned with our expectations. For Christ, Christmas is not about tradition but salvation; it’s not about expectations but sanctification. Christmas is about love - earthy, gritty, sacrificial, even bloody love. When Jesus came, he did not come “to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). This was a love that no one expected, and provides hope that exceeds all our expectations.
This year as we prepare for Christmas let’s strive to love as He loves, and serve as He serves. Let’s truly make Christ King of our lives (sovereign over all of our life) and experience the true unexpected hope and joy of serving the unexpected King!
Grace & Peace
Accepting & Embracing Change
I’ve been thinking a lot about change in the last few days.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying “nobody like’s change, except a wet baby”. Whether he said this or not, the underlying premise is pretty well right! Humans, in general, love to keep the status quo, we love to have neat, controlled and predictable environments, so we resist change. This is normal, natural, but seldom helpful!
Change is hard, and it is especially hard when it comes without warning. Even small changes – like changing your hairstyle – can be difficult. But the big changes, the ones that fill us with excitement, fear, dread, pain, or longing; those changes, are almost always hard to accept and adjust to. With our tendencies towards the status quo, change in whatever form can be unwelcome, it can cause grief, it can dash our dreams, it can unravel our plans and undermine our sense of certainty and peace.
With change being such a difficult thing for us to deal with, you won’t be surprised to find that the Bible has a lot to say about the topic. In fact, throughout the bible we get the sense of God being the God change, the God of the new:
It means that we can have confidence in seeking direction, comfort and guidance from God.
It means we can trust in his purpose and plan for our lives.
It means that we have something and someone solid and unchangeable on which we can stand and build.
It means that we can find true contentment in all circumstances, knowing that the one beckoning us forward is ultimately sovereign and in control.
I pray that you find comfort and confidence in knowing that the unchanging God who we know, love and serve, is the one who is beckoning us forward to places unknown, always guiding us, and steadying us as we trust in him alone.
Grace & peace
church = community + Commitment
The thing that we call church is a strange animal; sometimes we think of it as a building or perhaps as an institution; but God’s plan is that church should be a family, and a community. Families and community take commitment, commitment takes time, effort and intentional investment of self; yet in today’s world it seems that time and commitment are some of the commodities in shortest supply.
In the New Testament, there are two words translated ‘church’:
Commitment is focussed, it is intentional, it is sacrificial; commitment of this type is attractive, it draws us together and points others towards God. Commitment sees the church working as God intended, as the centrepiece of God's grace, God's love and God's eternal purpose. Every baptised believer is called upon to live out the reality of this truth through commitment to the life of the church.
Being committed means more than turning up on Sunday; its about growing together as a family; its about give and take, about forgiveness and grace, and about trying and trying again, working through disappointments and misunderstandings. It’s about standing up, stepping out and sharing the load. It’s about encouraging others and cheering them on. It’s about sacrificing some of what we may like for the benefit of others, it’s about loving those that we sometimes struggle to understand, it’s about seeing people how God sees them, and loving them as God loves them.
Being committed as a member of a church isn’t easy, Scripture tells us that this kind of commitment requires deep roots of faith like trees planted by the water, weathering storms and heat and drought (Jeremiah 17:7-8), standing together and flourishing like trees trees in Lebanon (Psalm 92:12-14). Unfortunately today life is busy and many believers live more like pot plants than cedars, without deep roots or personal connection to the source of living water, at risk of withering and being blown away.
Let’s be committed and intentional in how we build community under God.
To His glory alone.
Grace & Peace,
Loving our neighbours
Watching the news this week with more riots and protests, blame shifting and finger pointing, and journalists celebrating the downfall of a leader, I got to pondering about something that we say in our services almost every week “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as your self” (Mark 12:30-31). Loving your neighbour as yourself is found eight times in the Bible: not once, not twice, but eight times! This is so important to God that He not only repeats Himself, He makes it a command. And not just one in a list of many commands. Jesus coupled the command to love your neighbour as yourself with loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
It sounds simple enough, but what is simple often isn’t easy, and what is easy often doesn’t last.
There’s no school to learn how to love your neighbour, and Jesus didn’t make it clear who our neighbour is, he simply told a story about someone that we probably would have thought that it wasn’t; this simply means that we can make lists of those we don’t need to love. We are surrounded by our neighbours; they are ahead of us, behind us, beside us, teaching our kids at school, cleaning the floors in the kitchen, playing in the park, on TV, and in magazines. They are ordinary people, extraordinary people, heroes and villains. God’s plan is pretty simple, we love God above all else then everybody else equally and always!
in our world we are taught to be put self first, to seek self above others, to only truly love and serve family and friends (and then only when it is convenient). We are taught to store possessions, hold grudges, not talk to strangers and to avoid eye contact with those who make us uncomfortable. To love only those worthy of being loved. Yet God consistently sends us a different message. Loving God and loving our neighbours are truly one inseparable totally counter cultural mandate; it’s not easy but it is simple -it’s not so much about who our neighbour is, as it is about our own willingness to be a neighbour ready to be love to that person in that moment.
Probably the first thing to remember is that love is a doing word! It is an action. And when it is done the way we are told to “As Christ loved us (John 13:34) then the world becomes beautiful as things are done (in a small way) “on earth as in heaven”. Far from fake smiles and platitudes, this kind of love is generous, ethical, sacrificial and intentional, and stems from the deep knowledge that God himself is the true source of this kind of love (1 John 4:10). Once we accept God’s love in our own lives, only then is it possible to extend the kind of love to “our neighbours” as Christ intended; full of grace, kindness compassion, humility, patience, honesty and protection (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7). This kind of love is about serving others, encouraging others, making allowances for the humanity of others, investing time in others, sharing joys and sorrows, making no judgements and forgiving all wrongs.
Love isn’t something that we fall into, its not a feeling, it is an intentional action. As we practice this action it becomes habit, then we discover joy. When joy becomes a habit, then love is a reflex - in short love is something that we become on purpose.
Let all start loving our neighbours as ourselves.
Grace & Peace
Sometimes I feel as though we are in the endless wake of some event, decision, ruling, tragedy or disaster. Our society, our nation, our culture is rapidly changing in core values, and is becoming increasingly intolerant, even hostile to the Christian worldview. Only one in seven people now attend church at least once a month, and the number of people identifying as having ‘no religion’ in Australia is predicted be greater than 50% in the 2021 census.
All of these statistics point to a changing culture, and especially an increasing gulf between faith and the everyday life of the average Aussie. As our nation moves out of our comfortable nominal Christian orbit, the Church (and Christians) will become more counter-cultural and less accepted in everyday life. So how should we respond?
Firstly we must remember that we are called to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), and not to win arguments (2 Timothy 2:23-24). It’s true we are not called to conform, and should certainly speak to our beliefs. Jesus was bold in calling out sin, but he also had the advantage of knowing intimately the hearts of those he rebuked. We don’t, and we’re in danger of trampling vulnerable people as a result. Being argumentative (antagonistic or defensive) does not aid conversation; when we choose to speak up, it must be done prayerfully, carefully, humbly, honestly, relationally, wisely and above all with love.
This does not mean however that we simply “go with the flow” and change doctrine and practice to fit in with the prevailing culture (Romans 12:1-2). The bottom line is that we are called to be more like Jesus, not more like the world (1 John 2:6).
And we should not withdraw from the world; Christ has commissioned us to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16); Instead I believe that we need to think about how it is that we engage; if we want to see our nation truly be a Christian nation it starts with our own choices and behaviours; as one wise person once wrote: “Paul did not arouse the opposition of the silversmiths by picketing the temple or staging anti-idolatry rallies. All he did was teach the truth daily and send out his converts to witness to the lost people in the city. As more and more people got converted, fewer and fewer customers were available.”
The unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ stands firmly at the intersection of the changing currents of culture, offering hope, and engaging people, their longings, and their questions with the truth and love of God. Our role is simply to love people and point them to Jesus, He will do the rest.
Grace & Peace
With Father’s Day this weekend I have been pondering on the Biblical view of fatherhood, and what it means to be a father.
A father's role in the family is a pivotal one. He is called upon to be a leader and protector for the family, and to give an example of Christ's love by being loving towards the children's mother. He is also to be strong in the faith, and to bring the children up knowing right from wrong. Through his life and his faith he is to communicate about righteousness, holiness and the pursuit God.
The male influence in a child's life sets the parameters of behaviour for boys and expectations of behaviour for girls; so the importance of a Godly father or father figure (Stepfather, Grandfather, Uncle, Church Member, Friend) can not be underestimated in the life of a child. It is men that set the path that the children will follow; as they emulate not so much that which is said, but what done (living out what they see and experience). Godly men will seek to live out a Christ-like attitude of love to friends, business partners, farm hands, mailman, bus drivers, doctors, cashiers, and astronauts without partiality; therefore leading the children around them to see and do the same.
There is nothing easy about being a father: Throughout scripture fathers are implored to bring their children up in the ways of the Lord, to discipline them and to encourage, comfort and instruct them. To be strong, courageous, compassionate and even-tempered as a reflection of the one perfect Father in Heaven.
So to all Dads and Godly men we say:
Be a teacher (Proverbs 22:6)
Exemplify a good life (2Cor 3:2-3)
Provide for your family (1 Tim 5:8)
Use discipline wisely (Proverbs 13:24, Colossians 3:21)
Invest time with your kids (Deut 6:6-9)
Actively love your kids (1Corinthians 13:4-7)
Never give up on your kids (Luke 15:20-24)
Be present with purpose, use words and actions to encourage and build up, be patient and gentle and kind.
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”—Philippians 4:9
Grace & Peace
Discipleship: Passing the Baton
Last time I wrote I outed myself as a sporting tragic. At high school I played almost every sport that I could sign up for. In all honesty I was never much of a runner, but I did usually make the relay team. What I loved about the relay was that it wasn’t simply the first runner across the line who won the race; it was the team who crosses the finish line first with the baton in hand who wins the race. Once the last runner of the team crosses the line, the whole team is rewarded!
On reflection it seems that the race is about the baton, not the runners; and the baton must always remain the fastest member of the squad!
The Christian life is like a relay race. We’re each called not only to be disciples of Christ but to “make disciples” (Matt 28:19-20). Each new disciple must grasp tightly the ‘baton’ of biblical truth and pass it on to another, who passes it to another, and so on. To win the race we (individually and as the church) must intentionally live for Christ in the present. We are the relay team of God!
In 2Tim 1:13-14 Paul wrote “Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me - a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you. Paul was passing the baton to Timothy!
In the same letter (2Tim 2:1-2), Paul ordered Timothy to strengthen himself in the grace of Jesus and pass on biblical truth to people who would, in turn, do the same: Be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. In this we hear that components of passing the baton are simple:
To fulfil the Great Commission, we must all be participants rather than spectators in this relay of faith that God has called us to run. We must pass the baton to as many people as possible so there will always be those who are reaching out to others with the Gospel, establishing others in their faith, and equipping others for the purpose God has called them for. One day when we stand before Jesus Christ, every person we have passed the baton to and those from whom we have received the baton, will stand together awaiting our reward. May we each be able to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2Tim4:7)
Grace & Peace
Discipleship: Going for Gold!
As a sporting tragic, I am loving the Olympics!
It’s an exciting global event testing testing strength, talent, and endurance of the participating athletes.
But even if you are not a sporting tragic like me, you can’t help but admire the determination, training, and dedication of these athletes! The dream of Olympic Gold has inspired these athletes to train for years to reach the pinnacle of their sport.
The Bible (particularly New Testament writers) uses sporting metaphors regularly to convey important aspects of the Christian life. So, with the Olympics well in train, I thought it would be timely to look at what it means to "Go for Gold” as a disciple.
1. Training: (1 Tim 4:7) “Train” (in the Greek) literally means to exercise naked; ancient athletes would strip off anything that would restrict physical movement and advancement in training. Likewise the Christian must remove all hinderances to spiritual growth (but please keep your clothes on!).
2. Obedience (2 Tim 2:5) An athlete has to compete according to the rules. No participant can simply invent their own set of regulations when they don’t like the rules of the game. Similarly, obedience to the Scriptures is required for everyone who runs the race of faith.
3. Self Control (1 Cor 9:25) Athlete's need to be masters of self-control, self-restraint and self-government; refusing to litter their body with junk food, and their mind with negative or corrupting thoughts. They must limit their freedoms and abstain from things that others indulge in to ensure that they are in peak condition for the race before them. Likewise, as believers we must guard our hearts and minds against toxic ideologies, conspiracy theories and false teaching, be trained in the word and sound doctrine (1 Tim 4:6), and feast on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4).
4. Be in the race (1 Cor 9:24-27) Athlete’s can not win the race if they do not enter. The Apostle Paul often encourages Christians "to run the race", and to "strive forward focussed on the prize”, just like an Athlete if we do not enter we can not win the prize set before us.
5. Effort (1 Tim 4:10) An Athlete has to apply maximum effort in order to win their event; half hearted efforts have never won Gold at the Olympics! Likewise Paul says we must “toil/labour/strive” in the pursuit of holiness until we have nothing left to give.
6. Focus (Phil. 3:12) In order to win Gold an Athlete must be focussed on the task ahead - riveted to their goal; even the greatest competitors can lose momentum when distracted. Likewise Paul writes that we must "press on” meaning to move rapidly and decisively after the object of our faith; Our singular focus must be "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecto of our faith” (Heb. 12:2)
7. Endurance (Heb. 12:1-2) To win the Gold Athlete’s must push through, endure, persevere; to stop halfway, to give in when it gets tough, to quit, means to forfeit any hope of success. Likewise the Bible tells us to "run with endurance the race that is set before us” to “endure” to “persevere”, because to quit as a Christian is not an option for those wanting to win the prize set before us (1 Cor 9:24).
I was truly inspired this week by Australian 10,000m runner Patrick Tiernan who in the heat and humidity of Tokyo, mixed with the effort of his remarkable race, collapsed with only 180m to go. He collapsed 3 times before crossing the finish line. The next day he is quoted as saying “It’s a long way to come to fall short of your goal. I knew I was in trouble but was so close, you just have to will yourself across the line". His example of determination, focus and endurance will be a highlight of the Tokyo Olympics for many years to come. This is the kind of effort, focus and endurance that the New Testament writers are alluding to.
I was similarly impressed by the Fijian mens rugby 7’s team, who on winning the Gold medal, took none of the glory for themselves but immediately and publicly gave the glory to God! (Phil. 4:13) It is equally important to give God glory in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:16-18, Matt 10:32)
1 Cor. 9:25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. If we are to run that we may obtain the prize, then we must compete like fully committed athletes in the Christian life. Sanctified sweat is required! But it will be worth it to receive the imperishable wreath from Jesus Christ.
Grace & Peace
Jen is an energetic and passionate disciple of Christ who loves to share Jesus with anyone who will listen!