Sunday, 14 October 2018

Periodical reprint, the message

The Gospel

In the beginning, God, (God the Father, Jesus Christ his only Son and the Holy Spirit), created the heavens and the earth and everything in it, including the first man, Adam and the first woman, Eve. God created humans to live in relationship with Him, but gave them free will to either obey Him or be disobedient. Satan, the devil, whom the Bible identifies as a fallen angel, tempted Eve to sin by disobeying God and she in turn tempted Adam to also disobey God. For their disobedience Adam and Eve were cast away from God’s presence and the wonderful life God had created for them and through them all their descendents were destined to be born sinful.

Yet throughout history there have been men and women who sought after God. Humanity became so depraved that God destroyed the earth with a global flood, but saved Noah and his family. Through Abraham God established the nation of Israel, who would be God’s favoured people. Moses, Abraham’s descendent, led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt and received the Ten Commandments and many laws of conduct. Because of the sinful nature of man, these laws were not kept, and a system of animal sacrifices was instituted to make atonement for the sins of the people. However, the people both individually and as a nation continued in a cycle of falling away from God and returning to Him.

During the history of the nation of Israel there were prophets who foretold that a Saviour would be born, to save humanity from its sinfulness. Their prophecies were fulfilled when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. Jesus is the only Son of God. He was sent to this earth and lived amongst us as a human, without losing His divine nature. In all things Jesus honoured and obeyed His Father, God. During His ministry on earth, Jesus performed many miracles and taught us regarding God’s nature and way of living. He was tempted by Satan but was without sin. He travelled with a group of disciples who were the foundation of the church – God’s people on earth.

In the same way that animals had been sacrificed to make atonement for man’s sin, it was the purpose of God to send Jesus to earth to become a total sacrifice, once and for all time, for fallen humanity. As was His destiny, Jesus was arrested, tried for heresy and crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem called Calvary. At the time of Christ’s death the curtain in the Jewish temple was torn apart, symbolising that the old system of God only being able to be approached by certain people and in certain places, was finished.

Now all could come into right relationship with God through the shed blood of Jesus, by committing their lives to Him in repentance and faith.

The Bible tells us that Jesus descended into hell and has total dominion over Satan and evil. On the third day Christ rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples and many others on earth. He gave his disciples the “great commission” to go into all nations and preach the gospel. Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven.

After Jesus ascended to heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit to the earth at Pentecost (ten days after Jesus’ ascension). The Holy Spirit is not only alive in the world, but indwells in those who have committed themselves wholly to God and gives such attributes as comfort, counsel, power and discernment. God's temple is now not a building, but the people in whom His spirit dwells. In the same way the church is not a building but the body of Christian believers on earth.

The Bible tells of spiritual battles between good and evil in both earthly and heavenly realms. It includes indications of great tribulation yet to come. We are told that Christ will return to this earth, the second coming, when He will defeat the evil forces raging in the world and will judge the living and the dead.

We who have committed our lives to Christ still struggle in our humanity with temptation to sin, and must choose daily to live in obedience to His will. We grow in our faith through prayer, study and reflection of God’s word, the Bible; and by meeting regularly in fellowship with other Christians.

All this is a fairly factual summary of some of the content of the Bible. But most of all, our lives as Christians are lives that are transformed. We know a love that surpasses anything. We know a deep joy within our spirits springing from God's Holy Spirit within us. We know a power beyond ourselves which touches others and transforms them too. We have a confidence that even when life is difficult and deeply sad and broken and disappointing, we have a relationship which sustains and comforts and gives us hope. God is faithful and He has the best in store. Christianity is not a killjoy set of rules which will spoil your fun. It's the most fantastic life you could ever hope to imagine....and then some more.

How do I become a Christian?

The Bible tells us that there is only one way to relationship with God and that is through Jesus Christ:

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
“Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. (John 14:5-6)

To become a Christian, you need to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He died on the cross to honour God and for the forgiveness of sin and that He rose again and ascended to His Father God.

You also need to admit or confess that you are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness through Christ. This is known as repentance. Repentance involves confessing that we have done wrong, saying sorry to God and committing to living a life in obedience to God's ways. Becoming a Christian does not make you suddenly perfect. We all still struggle with temptations and failures in this earthly life and continually need God's grace and forgiveness. Repentance does mean that we look to God for wisdom and guidance to resist temptation.

You then need to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. Just as a wedding ceremony begins a marriage, so a prayer of confession and faith can begin, but is just the beginning, of a relationship with God. An ongoing relationship includes learning about God through Bible study; baptism, conversations with God through prayer, and encouragement through Christian fellowship in a caring church.
The following is a prayer which could be used to begin this relationship. You may wish to pray it alone, personally, or you may wish to discuss your decision with a Christian friend or pastor first to fully understand:

Dear Heavenly Father God,
I come before You acknowledging You as the only one God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thank You for revealing Yourself to me. Thank You, Father God, for sending Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross, honouring You and making a way for sinful people to come back into relationship with You. I acknowledge that I am a sinner. Please forgive my sin and cleanse me I pray. I receive Jesus Christ into my life to be my Lord and Saviour for the rest of my days. May You give me strength through the power of the Holy Spirit to live my life as a Christian. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour. Amen

May God bless you with an ever-increasing knowledge of His wonderful presence and endless love as you continue to seek and serve Him.

Ephesians 3:14-20 :

"For this reason I kneel before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Ame

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Dry Bones

A multitude of people, so long dead that only their dried bones remain, are scattered across the valley floor. Dry bones, one step away from returning to dust.
“Can these bones live?”
This seemingly preposterous question was asked of the prophet Ezekiel, in a vision that God had given him, described in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, chapter 37. Now Ezekiel, being wise in the ways of God by this time, replied “Oh sovereign Lord, you alone know.” The prophet of great faith knew that nothing was impossible for the God who created all life in the first place.
The vision continued. In a style worthy of the latest Hollywood special effects, Ezekiel saw the bones being rearranged into skeletons and equipped with tendons, sinews and flesh. In what was probably more terrifying than dry bones, the valley was now filled with a crowd of corpses.
God then tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath. In other words, life only comes into these rejuvenated bodies when the breath of God enters into them.
The vision is a promise of God to the nation of Israel, a nation which had been disobedient, unfaithful and rebellious. They had been sent into exile and felt abandoned by God. They were saying “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” (Ezekiel 37:11)
 Through Ezekiel God was reminding them of His favour and enduring love, even in the face of His discipline. God says:
“Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you Will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:13,14).
The God who made that promise to Israel through the prophet Ezekiel around 500 years before the birth of Christ is the same God who rules and reigns two thousand five hundred years later. I write this during what is Mental Health Awareness week here in Australia. We’ve just acknowledged World Mental Health Awareness Day yesterday, 10th October. Is your mental health 10 out of 10? What about your life as a whole?
I am so aware of those who struggle with great difficulties in this life, seasons of trial and dryness, situations that can seem as hopeless as a pile of dry bones. Yet in this narrative God is saying that with Him, there is hope. Jesus Christ raised Lazarus from the dead – could he not revive a dead marriage? Could He lift the clouds of depression? Can He set the prisoner free from the bondage of addiction?
God says that He will put His Spirit in the people. His Spirit is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity, not an amorphous mass but a personal being, the Parakletos, the One who comes alongside to counsel and comfort and guide. This adds a spiritual dimension in addition to the medical and practical help that we should be seeking when facing trials in this world. This much under-valued spiritual dimension is accessed through prayer, reading the Bible and enjoying fellowship in a caring Christian community.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Three Kinds of Forgiveness

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  For,
“Whoever would love life
    and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.

 They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.”          (1 Peter 3:9-11)

Forgiveness is one of the hardest, most emotive aspects of relationships for many of us. I am always amazed by the grace which some people are able to display, seemingly easily, towards those who have wronged them. A couple of women that I know show tremendous tolerance towards husbands who have walked out of their lives. I freely admit that I find it hard to forgive much lesser offences. My sense of justice is outraged by the behavior that I have received from others, some Christian, others non-Christian. I have left a church over such behavior. I’ve spent decades in some cases coming to terms with aspects of forgiveness in my own personal life.
From what I’ve personally learned about forgiveness, in my own case it’s helped to classify three different forms, each in relation to the response of the person concerned. Each has the same outcome in that God requires we forgive, but the path towards that outcome may take a different route in each case.
The first case is where a person has wronged you, and they acknowledge the fact and ask for forgiveness. In other words, they say they are sorry. They understand that their words or actions have hurt you and they want to make amends. Oh, that this would happen more frequently than it does. This often reflects a healthy relationship between adults who in the main have good channels of communication and who respect one another.
It may be the case that such an apology will lead to a clarification of the circumstances which led to the incident and where wrongs of both parties, if they exist, can be acknowledged. We must remember that we live in a fallen world, under the dominion of the devil, who desires to form breaches in all relationships. Since the fall of Adam and Eve we are heirs to sinfulness:
 all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23”
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
It’s easy to be blind to our own faults, but even if we feel that we have not contributed to the problem, in this case it’s clear that we are to forgive. Christ tells us that He forgives us when we come to Him in faith and confess our sins:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).
So, Christ expects us to forgive others, just as He has forgiven us. There is the expectation from Christ that if we confess our sins and receive His forgiveness, we do not try to sin again. In the same way, a restoration of a human problem should result in better behavior in the future.
A second case of forgiveness occurs when a wrong has been committed against us and there is no direct apology, but there may be indications by a person’s attitude or further behavior that they are resolved to improve relations. I have had this happen to me when a person has been bad tempered or rude because of some circumstances completely unrelated to me and they have been conciliatory afterwards. Some people are more sensitive than others. Some have no idea that they have been hurtful. In the same way I’m sure I’ve hurt others without realizing it. Again, we live in a fallen world where words or actions can be misconstrued. Even when they realise that there is a problem, some people have a “least said soonest mended” attitude and don’t want to discuss it further.
In this case I would suggest that it’s best to take it on the chin and forgive and move on. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian church, takes issue with brothers who are so concerned with the justice of some situations that they are taking their brothers to court:
Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:7).
If an event is out of character for a person, or is a rare occurrence, it’s sometimes best to let it go, forgive, tell God how you are feeling in prayer, and move on. God knows and understands and will bless you for being a peacemaker. However, if the behavior which caused conflict or hurt continues, it’s time for a frank discussion to clarify what is causing the problem, with the goal of improving relations.
The third case for forgiveness is the one which causes the most pain and is most grappled with by Christians and non-Christians alike. This is the case where we have been deeply hurt or wounded by a conscious act of someone else who has the intent to hurt or wound us. In this case there is no remorse, indeed the act may be part of that person’s desire to make themselves feel good by making someone else feel bad. It is the very essence of bullying. It could be an act which the world regards as criminal. How are we then to respond?
There is a school of thought which says that without repentance, there can be no forgiveness. After all, God requires repentance when we come to give our lives to Him. However, when Peter came to Jesus and asked Him "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus responded “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!…” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus, as He was suffering for our sins, stated of his murderers “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34), a request reiterated by the Christian martyr Stephen as he was being stoned to death. (Acts 7:60).
This is intensely different to the “eye for an eye” attitude of the Old Testament, or David’s impassioned pleas to God to pour out His wrath upon David’s enemies. What does the example of Jesus mean for us?
Forgiveness centres upon prayer to God. Jesus and Stephen were not speaking to their persecutors directly. Each was directing their thoughts to God. Their final thoughts and words were to their Heavenly Father. In this vein of thought, we can come directly to God in prayer with the situation which has caused us so much pain and ask for the ability to forgive. I believe that in such a case forgiveness is merely asking God to take over the situation and that I am giving over any right I might feel to pass judgement on another person. Otherwise I could well spend the rest of my life reliving a horrible event and passing a judgement that will never be received by the other party.
Forgiveness is not negating an event or trivializing it. For something to require forgiveness, it is in itself wrong. Forgiveness is not excusing the wrongdoer, nor does it require that we resume former relationships with the wrongdoer, even if that is possible. Forgiveness is primarily for the person sinned against, in order for them to experience peace and healing and freedom from the bondage of sin that another has imposed upon them.
God is just. He will answer your prayer. The apostle Paul tells us
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”. (Romans 12:14) And “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
We are all of us on a continuing journey with God throughout our lives. Forgiveness allows us to continue in the present and look to the future without being bound in the past. It leaves the other person for God to deal with. How wonderful if in years to come that person should come to you and tell you they are now a Christian and say they are sorry for the past. It may be your attitude and prayers that have contributed to this.
A Prayer
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank You that You are there and that You care so much for each one of us. Thank You that You know everything I have experienced. Help me to forgive (detail the person and situation)
Lord, if I am finding it hard to let go, help me to be willing to forgive.
Thank You Father, that You have forgiven me my sins, through the precious blood of Jesus shed on the cross.
I pray now for (name) that they will come into a knowledge of You through the revelation of Your Holy Spirit.
I release this situation into Your hands Father and thank for the wonderful gift of fellowship with You. Thank You for the many blessings You give every day.
In the precious name of Jesus,

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Keep it Simple, Missionary

I’ve recently returned from a cruise to the South Pacific Islands of New Caledonia and Vanuatu. It was a wonderful time, relaxing in the beauty and friendliness of these islands, absorbing indigenous culture, swimming in pristine waters and enjoying a more relaxed pace of life.
When we were walking around the island of Lifou we were pleased to see that there were Christians spreading the gospel, or so we thought. It transpired that there are many Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking converts among the native population and visiting tourists. 
The more I learn about less developed nations, the more I understand that there are many groups operating under the banner of Christianity, seeking to influence others to their cause. Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormon religion are two of the most active. Unfortunately, it would be easy for the uninitiated to imagine that either of those two religions represent the Christian faith and thus represent a way to connect with God and enjoy a life of prosperity and happiness. Unfortunately, people can become ensnared in these religions and find themselves increasingly controlled and confused to the point that they require release from them. As a result, they can become cynical about Christianity as a whole.
To me neither of these two pseudo religions represents the truth of Christianity. If you want to be a Christian, if you want to draw others to Jesus Christ there is one point of reference that is trustworthy above any other – the Bible.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The Bible is God’s word to mankind- through the prophets, through the words of Jesus and through the apostles writing under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. If it’s in the Bible, you can believe it.
We are warned in the Bible not to add anything to scripture, nor to take anything away from it. The apostle Paul tell us:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:8)
In the same manner, in the final chapter of the Bible we are again warned not to add or detract from scripture:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.
This is why it’s so important for anyone ministering the gospel to do so Biblically. Be suspicious of any organization or person who wants to add additional material to the Bible. Be suspicious of any organization that suggests they have secret pathways to enlightenment which can only be achieved by studying their methods. Be suspicious of any religion that requires you to work your way to God.
The God of the Bible, the only true God, is freely available to all who seek Him, through His Son Jesus Christ. Fellowship with others in a Christian community should enhance our knowledge of God and commitment to Him, not enslave us to a church. If a church is open about their beliefs through a statement of faith, we can determine if they rely on God’s word, the Bible.