Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Gospel / How do I become a Christian?

(This post is reprinted periodically)

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! Amen" 

Sunday, 15 September 2013


Is all that you can't say
Years gone by and still
Words don't come easily
Like sorry like sorry

“Baby can I hold you” lyrics Tracey Chapman

“It's sad, so sad
It's a sad, sad situation
And it's getting more and more absurd
It's sad, so sad
Why can't we talk it over
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word” 

“Sorry seems to be the hardest word” lyrics Bernie Taupin

Sorry. It can be a hard word, but it shouldn’t be an impossible one. Many of us know somebody in our circle of family or other contacts who just seems to be incapable of saying sorry. And we should feel very sorry for those people.

Saying sorry is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. It’s a sign that that person has enough morality to distinguish between right and wrong. They have enough empathy to realise that their words or actions were hurtful. They take responsibility for their behaviour. They have enough courage to approach another person to make amends, even if by doing so they leave themselves open to rebuke.

God requires us to be apologetic. Matthew 5:23-24 states “"Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

Conversely, to never say sorry is to imprison oneself in a cage of pride. To blame others and make constantly make excuses for ourselves leads to a gradual build-up of insensitivity, a lack of humility and a numbness to our own feelings.

Saying sorry may not fix the problem. Forgiveness is the prerogative of the person whom you have hurt or offended, however, it does indicate that you have done what you can to heal the breach. In many cases the person who was wronged in only too willing and able to move beyond the pain and into a healthier relationship when they hear those two small words.

Even if you do not feel directly at fault, in some circumstances it may help to offer an expression of sorrow: “I’m sorry that we had that falling out.” “I’m sorry we haven’t been able to see eye to eye for a long time.” In this case you are expressing a general regret that things have not been well between yourself and another. In the same way we express a more general sorrow when we empathise with another’s loss “I heard that your father passed away. I’m so sorry.”

I recently met a lady who had moved away from a church because of conflict and hurt. One of the first things I said to her was “I’m so sorry that happened to you in a church.” As Christians we are aware of conflicts and hurts that occur in churches, some of us have experienced it first-hand, and we know how the enemy loves to cause division and strife. We bear one another’s burdens. It makes a difference for someone to step in and say “I’m sorry that happened. It shouldn’t have.” To anyone hurt in a church I commend to you a short Youtube clip: The Truth about Church Hurt

Sometimes ministry leaders need to be responsible for the conflicts that have occurred on their patch. Sometimes a church may need to look at what has happened in past generations in that church which may still have a spiritual overtone that is affecting a congregation in the present. Unresolved hurts can create spiritual strongholds that bind communities.

One of the greatest days in the history of Australia happened on February 13th 2008. On that day the parliament of Australia and the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, delivered a formal apology to the indigenous peoples of this land for the many acts of mistreatment and racial discrimination they had suffered since the time of European settlement of this nation. Many Australians, both indigenous and non-indigenous, saw this step as a necessary acknowledgement of injustice, and a sign that we sought healing and reconciliation. I believe that this action would have been very pleasing to God and has blessed our nation in the spiritual realm.

 Father God, thank You for the opportunity to come to You in prayer. Thank You that You are holy and just and merciful and forgiving. I pray for anyone reading here who finds it difficult to say “sorry” and I pray for those who have waited to hear those words that sometimes don’t come.  Lord I am sorry for the times that I grieve You and fail You, yet I know that You continue to love and extend grace and trust. Help us daily Father to walk more closely with You, to know Your ways and follow them and to show Your grace and love to a world that needs You, for Your glory and the extension of Your kingdom. We pray these things in the precious name of Jesus Christ. Amen

Friday, 13 September 2013

Second Class Citizens

“You are not second class citizens in God’s kingdom. Do you hear me? You are not second class citizens in God’s kingdom.”

Thank you Rev. Dr. John Sweetman, Principal of Malyon Theological College here in Brisbane. In our large church auditorium filled with hundreds of people, there were surely many women who needed to hear that. For some of us it was received like a sweet fragrance on a Spring breeze.

These words were addressed specifically to the women in the congregation and were delivered toward the end of a sermon concerning Deborah. If you wish to listen to the podcast, it’s available online by clicking on the Bridgeman Downs Baptist church link on this blog , accessing the sermons tab at the top of the home page and scrolling through the list to 2nd June 2013 pm service.

Christianity affirms women in a way that no other major world religion does. The Bible contains a cast of characters, both men and women, who sought after God and served Him and were used by Him. This affirmation of women was a contributing factor to the appeal of the Gospel and the rapid growth of the early church. Many of the house churches mentioned in the New Testament bear the names of the woman of the house where the church met.

In the Old Testament we discover women of wisdom and courage and resourcefulness such as Deborah, a judge; Abigail, who prevented a conflict; Esther, who saved her people from annihilation and Ruth, the devoted daughter-in-law and wife who became the great-grandmother of David and contributed to the earthly lineage of Jesus.

In the New Testament we meet women such as Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, who was a founding member of the church in Philippi; Priscilla, who, together with her husband Aquila, worked and ministered to others with Paul; and women such as Joanna and Susanna who travelled with Jesus, learning from Him and ministering to His needs and those of the twelve disciples.

Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus reached out to women who were alienated, socially isolated, despised, sick or demon-possessed, rejected and hurting. These encounters never failed to leave them changed, healed, restored, devoted to Him, and eager to spread the gospel of His love.

In a world where women could be divorced by their husbands at will, Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at the well a relationship that would last a lifetime and beyond.

At a time when women were not able to study with men, Jesus commended Mary of Bethany for choosing to learn from Him over domestic occupation, stating publicly “Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41)

In a culture where the testimony of a woman could be disregarded, it was the women waiting at the empty tomb, and in particular Mary Magdalene, who had come there to minister to their fallen Lord, who first received the news of his resurrection and were commissioned to tell the rest of the disciples that Christ had risen from the dead.

We live in a world where often women are still regarded and treated as second-class. It’s still a too-common occurrence in some countries for infants to be killed simply for being female. Access to education, employment, health care and legal representation may be denied women in many developing countries. Even in the developed world, it’s only a little over a century since women have been able to vote and own property in their own right; whilst salary packages for women in employment continue to be lower than those of equivalent benefits for men in many industries. And even in the developed world, women still suffer in silence behind closed doors, victims of domestic abuse.

And what of the church? How do women fare in today’s church? The role of women continues to vary from church to church and denomination to denomination. Should women be ordained as ministers? Can women be deacons and elders? Should women be ministry leaders e.g. worship leaders? Who determines this? What kind of church do we want for our daughters and granddaughters? These are questions that we need to keep asking.

There’s a line in the movie “How Green Was My Valley” where the child narrator states “If my father was the head of our house, my mother was its heart.” What a beautiful image of two components of the one body, without which each would be functionless. We can debate egalitarianism and complementarianism until the cows come home, but regardless, a church which denies the interrelated giftings of both men and women is a church which will not reach its full potential or purpose in God.

To conclude with a little more from Rev Dr John Sweetman:

“Here we have Godly women- two women, a woman like Deborah who was a fantastic leader, a woman of God, faithful, committed, listening to God’s voice, speaking it out, leading at a time that was tough and difficult and impossible in so many ways and yet she said “I will do whatever God wanted me to do.” But you don’t have to lead. There’s a homemaker, Jael, that does ordinary things almost all of her life, but she’s listening to God and when God speaks, she does something impossible, because God has spoken and she obeys.”

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Why Go to Church? / The Main Thing / Body Builders

Why Go to Church?

Here are some reasons that people might want to go to a church community. They’re in no particular order. You might like to decide if they are valid or not, or in what order of priority they should be placed. Perhaps you might like to brainstorm some other reasons that I haven’t included :

We are told in the Bible to meet together. (Hebrews10:25)

To honour God.

To worship God in the company of other believers.

To be a witness to the unsaved and draw others into God’s kingdom, fulfilling the Great Commission

To learn more of God and His ways through Bible teaching.

To celebrate communion together with other believers.

To enjoy singing and music with other voices/instruments in unison.

To lift our prayers to God as a group.

To be prayed for and to pray for others’ needs individually.

To give and receive Godly counsel.

To be involved in ministries where our talents can be appreciated, recognised, utilized and developed.

To help our children and youth to be nurtured and developed into Godly men and women.

To reach out as a group to the unsaved in ways that would not be possible individually.

To be equipped for witnessing in other spheres of life beyond the church building.

To share fellowship with other Christians.

To receive care in times of need.

For encouragement.

The Main Thing

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Stephen R. Covey

Why do churches exist? Why do we attend church communities? What is their purpose? How effective are they in this purpose?
How do we "do" church? How do we keep order from becoming ritual? How do we maintain simplicity, space, creativity and cooperation and avoid a never- ending spiral of programs, busyness, and ego-driven competition?

What does Jesus say?

"Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:33-35

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. ” Matthew 28:19.20 (As recorded in Matthew, Christ's last words to His followers before He ascended into heaven - the "Great Commission")

Love God and love one another, and keep focused on reaching out to the ones who don't yet know Him. That’s enough of a main thing for me.

Body builders.

There was once a man, whose name was Sam. Sam decided he would enter the Mr World competition. He worked hard to achieve his goals. He rose every morning early and went to the gym. He exercised with weights and ate healthy food. He listened carefully to his gym instructor and read and studied everything he could on body building. At the end of a long training period, Sam entered the contest, and to his delight, he won a bronze medal. He’s continuing to train hard for the next event where he hopes to gain a silver medal or even the coveted gold trophy.

There was another man and his name was Dan. Dan too was a hard worker. He got up every morning and was out in the fields ploughing, planting, watering and weeding. He consulted with some of the experts in agriculture to determine the best use of his land. He read all he could about farming. He ate healthy food.  At the end of a long summer the crops were harvested, and to Dan's delight he had plenty to feed his family and enough to share with others who had little, because he’s a kind hearted fellow. He's hoping for an even larger crop next time.

When people meet Dan and Sam, they sometimes get confused, because they’re identical twins.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Cross

The cross is arguably one of the most recognised symbols on this earth. It's a symbol, a reference point for Christians and we worship the One who died on the cross, not the cross in itself. Catholics tend to depict Christ on the cross - they of course believe in His resurrection, but choose to highlight the passion, or suffering of Christ and focus strongly on the cost that was borne for our salvation. Protestant churches tend to use a plain cross symbol, highlighting the fact that Christ was taken from the cross and rose again from the dead. Either way, we rejoice in the fact that death could not hold our Lord. What was a feared instrument of torture has become a symbol of Christ's lordship.

It is only through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, the One who died on the cross, that we as sinners can come to a personal relationship with God:

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind 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 

Many churches have a cross at the front of the congregation, some central and high on the wall , symbolising  that everything in that church is at the foot of the cross. Some have a standing wooden cross. It serves as a reminder of the price paid for the blessings that we enjoy. It may also serve to help the congregation to focus on God, rather than the worship team or the pastor. I particularly like to focus on the cross when taking communion. 

One interpretation of the symbol of the cross which I like is that it symbolises God's love in two ways: the upright beam shows us that the cross made a path from God to mankind. He is our head and we kneel at His feet. The height and depth of His love is boundless. The horizonatal beam demonstrates the open arms of God, almost in a welcoming gesture, an invitation to be embraced by his love. The width of His love embraces the whole world. It invites us to not only be reconciled to God, but to love one another and be reconciled to one another. In a world of fractured and strained relationships, the power of God's love and the grace that only He can give may be the only possible way this can be achieved.

Father God, we give You all the praise and honour that is Yours alone. Thank You Father, that in Your great love You sent Your Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross, honouring You and making a way for sinful people to come into right relationship with You, only through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. When we see the cross, may it remind us to love and serve You Father, and to love one another as You have first loved us. Amen