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Sunday, 28 December 2014

A few random thoughts about the media



I flipped on the television on Boxing Day. The presenters on our national broadcaster’s morning show were discussing the fact that many people in Australia do not celebrate Christmas, as they are of faiths other than Christianity or of no faith at all. They stated that many people chose to take advantage of the holiday to go to the beach or local parks and have picnics and play cricket.

I wonder why it was deemed necessary to make such remarks. From memory I don’t recall hearing the same thing during Ramadan or Buddha’s birthday or Chinese New Year. These festivals are duly mentioned respectfully in the media. Why is it that anything Christian is automatically reason for the media, the ABC in particular to be scornful and negative?

Our western civilisation is built upon Christian values. Our system of law derives from canonical law. The values that we hold dear are delineated in scripture- the equality of all men, honesty in business dealings, consideration for our neighbours, faithfulness in marriage. We temper justice with mercy.  We seek forgiveness and reconciliation rather than vengeance.

Anyone who states that all religions are harmful and much the same would do well to seriously research the tenets of the major faiths. There are major differences between them.

Which of course is why Christians are singled out for ridicule. If you abuse and mock Christianity, the worst thing that’s going to happen to you is that you will be prayed for. People are free to adopt or discard Christianity without ramifications. And Christians believe that all people are of one blood (Acts 17:26) made in the image of God, so do not regard anyone of another ethnicity or religion as in any way inferior.

So the next time that the media decides to rubbish the Christian faith, especially at times that are of deep significance to Christians such as Christmas or Easter, I would question what their agenda is and why the same deference is not accorded to Christianity as they seem able to do to other faiths.
  

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas

There is no snow here,
no frosty night
But in the blistering heat we celebrate
that Christ
is far more than traditions
and tinsel
and caroling and gourmet food
for all around the world
in wintry depths of snow
and broad savannahs
from pole to pole, on sea, in skies
in furthest lands
the Lord of hosts
the Saviour of the world
the babe of Bethlehem
is risen,
to rule and reign
our Saviour,  glorious King.

To everyone who has been a part of this blog over the last year, may you have a blessed and happy Christmas with family and friends and may God fill your heart with His peace and hope throughout 2015. with love from Jo xx


flowering gums, Christmas eve 2014

Friday, 12 December 2014

Shepherds



Not for the likes of us
Warm beds, fine clothes, good food.
Dirty and poor
We walk the night watches on thorny ground
With sheep, those dumb creatures
Like as not to wander
Bleating and fooling each other
Still
With a certain affection
We tend the fires
Keep them safe from prowling wolves
and thieves
Night after night, monotonous year after year
Nobody turns an eye
to the likes of us

Yet we too have our talents-
Scouring the nostrils of newly-born lambs until
they heave with the breath of life
Watching the skies
Telling the seasons
Knowing when
the rains will begin and end
and the fresh green shoots will pierce
the thirsty ground
Relating the stories of old
that our fathers told each other

Then, one beauteous night
One dazzling star
So unlike any other
Who would believe
that angels sang around us
And we followed
There, to a lonely stable
To a baby born a king,
Glorious, wonderful,
A story for our children’s children,
Praise Him
because He came
for the likes of us.




Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Wise Men



To this end, we had been searching
Many a decade long
Feeling inside an unknown emptiness
We named it not, but knew
It travelled beside us many a dusty road
Where lights of taverns, games of chance
and richest banquets set before us
did not satisfy
And all the wells of knowledge could not slake
this thirst
A memory lost in time, so long ago
We clutched and guessed at meaning
Hope flickering like the last breath
of wintry night on candlelight
And we, the three
Wise or foolish, who could say
Waited, watched
and in one glorious burst of light,
Followed.


Jo Collett 04/12/14

Friday, 28 November 2014

Summer of tears instead of cricket

Rest in peace Phillip Hughes
with sincere sympathy, thoughts and prayers to your family, friends and fellow players.

Aussies love our cricket. One of the first presents a baby boy is likely to receive is a miniature cricket bat. Favourite childhood memories might well revolve around games in the local park, or on the beach, with boys and girls of all ages and sizes yelling “Howzat!” and dreaming of one day wearing a baggy green cap. Our heroes include Allan Border and Steve Waugh and “the Don” - the immortal Sir Donald Bradman, whom, legend tells, spent his boyhood honing his skills by hitting a cricket ball against a wall with a cricket stump.
In the long hot Australian summertime, cricket keeps us sane, a glorious distraction, the white clad players the epitome of coolness under pressure. Strangers meeting for a brief time will ask, “how’s the cricket going today, have you heard?” Cricket is noted for its fair play and sportsmanship. Anything else is "just not cricket."
No family barbeque is quite complete without somebody grabbing a bat and encouraging everyone from grandparents to toddlers and the family dog to run off the effects of over-indulgence. What an anticlimax Boxing Day would be if it weren’t for the chance to relax, eat leftovers and enjoy the traditional Boxing Day Test.
But this season is unlike any other.
We learned that life can change in a moment, in a single, heart-wrenching freak accident.
All over Australia people are standing their cricket bats and caps outside their doors, a tribute of love and respect and solidarity.
In a little while, we’ll pick them up again and play cricket with the kids and watch the Poms battle for the Ashes and shout “Howzat!” – because we know that these are the times that make memories and our kids deserve that.
For anyone who needed reminding, we learned this week to treasure those we love.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

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

Don't refuse Him!

"See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks" Hebrews 12: 25

God, the gentlest of Fathers and gentlemen, does not force His presence on anyone. He waits to be invited into our lives. He's created not a race of robots, but men and women with free will, to commit themselves to loving and obeying His ways, and thus living a life of joy and purpose; or deciding to follow his or her own sinful nature, being our own god and living a life which leads to decay and death. There is no greater decision that anyone will make in their earthly life than to accept or refuse the loving Heavenly Father who created them.

A prayer of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is the first step to becoming a Christian. Periodically I republish an outline of the Gospel and How Do I become a Christian? on this blog. If you are not already a Christian, I hope that you will read and consider these articles.

There are many websites on the internet which will help to explain what it means to be a Christian e.g. christianity.com and christianity.net.au and I recommend listening to Ravi Zacharias on YouTube if you would like to hear some pertinent Christian discussion on a range of topical issues, including why Christianity is different to all other religions.

This life is short in the light of eternity. Our brief lives here will end, and those of us who persevere in our faith until the end look forward to what is described in Hebrews 22:

"You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel."

Some final warnings in Hebrews

In the final chapter of Hebrews, chapter 13, the writer gives a recap of some of his or her main points and gives some final succinct admonitions regarding attitudes and relationships.

We are to make every effort to live in peace and be holy people. Peace begins within, by feeling at peace with our selves and our circumstances. This includes being free from the love of money, and by being hospitable and sharing with others who are in difficult situations.

We are warned in verse 9 of chapter 13 not to be carried away by all kinds of false teachings. How do you differentiate between true and false teaching? Know your Bible. Test what is said against what is written. Is God given the position of honour in this teaching? Does it proclaim Jesus Christ as the only Son of God, acknowledging Him as the only way that we are justified and forgiven?

Not only are we to pursue peace within ourselves, but we are to seek it with others. Unity between people is something which is continually under attack from the enemy. Disputes between peoples can destroy families, churches and nations. Roots of bitterness have devastating consequences for personal growth and ministries.

Conflict is not the only device of the enemy to destroy Christians. Sexual immorality is a temptation that also destroys reputations, witness and ministries. We are reminded to honour marriage.

All Christians have a responsibility to lead lives which honour God, but in particular those in ministry and leadership positions within the church have a responsibility to be worthy of imitation in faith and way of life. As the laity, it is our responsibility to expect good conduct and to support and not undermine our ministers.

In summary, Hebrews reminds the reader to live personal lives of holiness, learning, and perseverance and to contribute to the body of Christ by encouraging one another and living in peace and unity.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Don't grow weary and lose heart - Hebrews 12




“let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” Hebrews 12:1

“Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14

Are there times in your Christian walk when you’ve felt discouraged? Have you been through seasons of dryness, tiredness and a sense that nothing that you do or say has made a difference to anyone?

The Christian life has been compared to running a marathon, not a sprint. We’re in it for the long haul. Most marathon runners are familiar with the experience of “hitting the wall” – coming to a section of the race when they have depleted their bodily reserves and feel unable to go on. It takes a sheer act of will to keep them on their feet and moving. Experienced runners learn to prepare for this – physically, mentally and emotionally.

So it is with the Christian life. Many Christians have learned that they can pray for the conversion of a loved one for many, many years, and not see that person come to salvation. Others have laboured under particular conditions in which there is little or no change, despite their efforts.

Yet God is at work always. Not one prayer to Him is unheard. We desire to reap a harvest of souls for His kingdom. We might sow the seeds of prayer, or plant or water what others have sown, or reap for God what others have watered, but we are all part of the process.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that God permits hardships in our lives in order to discipline us. It's the hard times in our lives that test us like forged metal and make us stronger and deeper people than we would have otherwise been. How different to the lies being perpetrated in some churches by the prosperity gospel. God never promised that we would have a life free of suffering, but He did promise that He would go before and be with us all the way through it.  

Like the marathon runners, we can fortify ourselves for the dry times in our Christian lives. God has given us a pattern of days, to remind us to rest and renew ourselves every seventh day. He’s given us physical needs for sleep, water, exercise and nutritious food. He is there to be our source of comfort and strength when are feeling discouraged – all we need to do is to honestly tell Him in prayer how we are feeling. We have His Holy Spirit – the Parakletos, the One who comes alongside, with us as Counsellor and Friend. When our own spirits fail, the Holy Spirit within us is strong.
We have God’s word, the Bible, which is a source of His promises, which feeds our souls when we read it. We also have our running mates- our Christian friends and church families who, with care and encouragement,  help to keep us moving forward towards our heavenly reward. 

One plants, one waters and another enjoys the shade.




Thursday, 20 November 2014

Warnings in Hebrews: Don't keep on sinning



10:26 “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”

Don’t keep on sinning. One of the first things that Christ always taught the multitudes was repentance. Salvation is dependent upon acknowledging that we are sinful and cannot be reclaimed and reconciled to our Holy God without openly acknowledging that we have sinned, that Christ paid the penalty for our sins on the cross with His blood and if we turn to Him in repentance and faith we are forgiven. Having done so we have ransomed hearts that are ever in the process of renewal as we walk in obedience. Christ did not forgive e.g. the woman caught in adultery, without telling her to go and sin no more.
In 1 Corinthians 13:6 Paul reminds us “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” To know the gospel and use it as an excuse to do what we know is wrong, depending upon a cycle of sin and forgiveness is to treat the cross with disdain. As Paul says in Romans 6 “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” and in Romans 8:5-7 “ Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace..”
The grace of God is a beautiful thing, but only when it accompanies repentance and obedience.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Warnings in Hebrews Continued.



“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25

Church life can be in some ways like a love affair. You may look around for a church to attend and decide on a congregation that seems to tick all the boxes for you. You can invest much of your time, energy, money and other resources there. You may allow yourself to be honest about your past, failings, struggles and emotional vulnerabilities. It can be fulfilling and rewarding. But churches are also places where people can be hurt. They can feel rejected by the very community that they put their trust into.  Some walk away, vowing never to trust or return to church life again.

In the first few chapters of Acts, we see the establishment of the early church following Christ’s death and resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, to indwell the lives of the believers and be Christ’s witness in the world. The church was a dynamic body, believers who constantly met together, shared what they had and preached the gospel. The church grew rapidly. Wonderful things were happening.

Then, in Acts chapter 5, we have the story of Ananias and Sapphira, his wife. We see that temptation was already beginning to creep into the newly established church. Peter, in speaking to Ananias, told him that “Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit.”

Let us always remember that the source of church disunity is Satan, who seeks to undermine the church by dividing and conquering, stealing its peace, killing its witness and destroying its work.  We are fallen humans, born with sinful hearts that can only be redeemed through the grace of Christ. We are still prone to our own selfish desires and pride-filled attitudes.

As we read through the epistles to the early churches, we find that Satan’s temptations and consequences for the church did not end with the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. The church throughout history has been faced with corruption, false teaching, immoral behaviour , competitiveness, and personal feuds. Even our church life can become an idol in itself when we think of our ministries and positions and forget that Jesus is the “author and perfector of our faith.”(Hebrews 12:12). Within the church each believer is faced with trials and temptations, including trials which tempt them to opt out of belonging to a church.  Yet the church has endured and Satan will not prevail against it. Imperfect though we all may be, the church contains men and women whose heartfelt desire is to love God, obey Him and make His love known to those who do not yet know Jesus as Lord and Saviour.


Church attendance is one of our strengths as believers. Christ taught not only personal, individual relationships with God, but a corporate faith relationship as a body of believers. We come together to share worship, to learn, to pray together and to support and encourage one another. Just as a husband and wife marry for a lifetime of support and care for each other, so the church is the bride of Christ, who as a body will serve Him here on earth and rejoice in His presence forever in Heaven. Indeed the Bible tells us that our earthly marriages are a symbol of this heavenly relationship of Christ with His church. This is yet another reason that Satan loves to attack and destroy marriages.

It’s been said that the church is one of the few institutions in this world that exists for the benefit of its non-members. I don’t fully agree with that view, but certainly the ministry and outreach that can be performed by a group of believers acting together is much more than that which can be achieved by single individuals. So if you truly want to see the unsaved reached and the light of Christ being shone into the dark corners of life, consider being connected to a caring Christian community.

Pray that God will give you wisdom and guidance regarding where you should worship. Sometimes, in the case of a ministry leading, or avoiding an immoral relationship, or unresolved conflict, it may be necessary to change churches. Some people spend all their lives in one particular church community, others may be in a particular place for a time or a season.

Heavenly Father, thank You that we can come to You, as individuals and as members of our church congregations, to give You praise and honour that is Yours alone. Thank You for the gift of Jesus, who died on the cross to glorify You and to make a way for this fallen world to be in right relationship with You, through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. I pray for anyone reading here who is not connected to a church fellowship, that they would be encouraged to follow the prompting and leading of Your Holy Spirit, to become part of a body of fellowshipping believers in this world. We look forward with joy to the time when we will join that great congregation of angels and people of all tribes and nations together as one body giving glory and honour to the Lamb of God, and we come to You in the name of Jesus. Amen

Friday, 17 October 2014

Carers need care too

In my work in community health, I encounter a lot of carers- people caring for the needs of someone who is frail elderly, or disabled or chronically ill. These carers perform an incredible service to not only the person in their care, but also to the community, providing care which would otherwise have to be met by the taxpayer. Many carers sacrifice careers, income and social relationships in order to perform their caring role. Some are young carers who juggle their own educational needs with caring for a parent, sibling, grandparent or other family member. Often their efforts are unnoticed and unacknowledged in our society. Yet most carers would say that their role is one which they approach with a deep sense of commitment and love.
Often people who care for others are the least likely to ask for care for themselves but carers need care too. If you know someone who is a carer, remember when you are asking them about their loved one, don't forget to sometimes add "and how are you doing?" An offer to stay with their loved one, or a note or other gesture of encouragement to let them know that they are doing a good job and are not forgotten by the rest of society can mean so much.



12th -18th October is Carer's week in Australia. May God bless the many carers in our society and their loved ones.


 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Warnings in Hebrews 4



Don’t be lazy

“We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been possessed.” Hebrews 6:12

In chapter 6 of Hebrews, the author reminds us that as Christians, our lives are not static, but are in a process of continual growth in Christ. We must play our part in this, by studying God’s word, the Bible, by prayer and quiet times of meditation and reflection, and by fellowship with other Christians. Small group attendance can be very beneficial to our faith, providing fellowship and developing our knowledge and ability to express it, as well as appreciating the knowledge of our fellow believers. Reading commentaries and books pertinent to our areas of interest build our faith, as does accessing the vast array of resources available online. I’ve recently been watching a number of David Wilkerson’s sermons available on Youtube.
At the end of chapter 5, and elsewhere in the Bible (see 1 Corinthians 3:2), the comparison is made between a newborn baby who needs milk for nourishment, and a mature person who requires solid food. We begin as baby Christians, learning the basics, but we are not to remain there- we are to hunger for greater knowledge and understanding of the things of God, in order that we might know and appreciate Him more fully, be discerning of the times we live in, teach others and fulfil the commissions that God has for us.
Finally, we are not to be lazy in our works for kingdom purposes. We are not saved by works, but our works are an outpouring of our love for God and the love that He gives us to share with others. We cannot say that we love Christ and do nothing to help the poor and needy.As Christians we are called to ministry, every one of us. That doesn't mean that we all become clergy, but we are all to minister to others, both within the body of Christ and to those in the world who do not know Him, using the gifts and talents that He has bestowed upon us.

“God is not unjust: He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.” (Hebrews 6:10).


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Warnings in Hebrews



Be careful not to fall short of entering into God’s rest.  Hebrews chapter 4.

“Therefore, since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.”

What is the promise of God’s rest all about? The concept of rest had been established at creation, when God rested on the seventh day, setting a pattern of work and rest.
When Moses led the Israelites toward the Promised Land, they were disobedient to God, rebellious and hard-hearted. God declared that they would never enter His rest. (Deuteronomy 1:34-37, further described in Psalm 95).  For the Israelites, this rest was a state of living in the bountiful land that God had planned for his people, in a state of relationship with him.
What is often physical in the Old Testament is recreated in the spiritual realm in the New Testament. Jesus has made a new covenant with believers. God’s rest referred to now, I believe, is a state of relationship with Him, through Jesus, in which we can rest, assured of our salvation through Christ. We have no need to try to gain right standing with God through any of our own efforts. It is only when our strivings cease and we depend upon the filling of God’s Holy Spirit to establish a relationship with Him based on repentance and faith, that we really enter His rest.
Being in God’s rest does not mean that we lie on the couch all day! Physical rest is needed for our wellbeing but I think that resting in God means more likely that we have an assurance of God’s presence and can live and do all that He has us to do without anxiety, strain and fear.  
We’ve already been reminded in Hebrews not to drift away and not to harden your heart so that it becomes unbelieving. The writer now points out that we cannot enter God’s rest if we are rebellious or disobedient. Keep the faith, keep God’s commandments and grow in fellowship with Him. May you know the blessing of God’s rest.








Foot-washing



John 13:4,5 “He [Jesus] got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing , and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round Him.

v. 12-14 When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am. 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.”

Many times in our Christian walk, our attention is drawn to some aspect of the things of God by His reinforcing it a couple of times within a short time frame. This week I had a number of occasions to ponder on the Biblical principle of washing the feet of others.
A few days ago I was listening to an online sermon by Pastor Robert Morris of Gateway Church Texas, USA. In it he discussed the deep unresolved hurts that some people carry. Pastor Robert reminded his listeners that He who tied a towel around His waist and knelt at the feet of His disciples, attending to their most basic needs, can and does minister to pain and heal it.
Jesus, the Son of God became a man, and in obedience to His Father, to glorify God, became a servant. The act of foot-washing was a precursor to what would shortly follow- the Son of Man was again stripped, that we might be saved and cleansed, not by mere earthly water this time, but by His blood, shed on the cross.
Jesus reminded His followers that He had set an example for us. We are to wash each others feet. Yesterday I attended a wedding where the newly married couple, as one of their first demonstrable acts of love for each other, washed each others feet. It was beautifully symbolic of their desire to follow Christ’s leading and as a couple, serve one another.
In my employment in community health I literally wash feet. There are many people who are alone and isolated to whom touch, in a non-threatening manner, such as on an arm or shoulder or foot, can be a source of comfort. Many of us who use touch to express love – hugs, kisses, handshakes – don’t often realise what a loss it is to those who are isolated when they don’t have tactile contact with others.
We need not necessarily literally wash feet. In “Christianese” we often speak about “washing the feet of others” in the way that Jesus meant- we are to serve others as He did – willingly, freely and lovingly.
 Jesus, to His disciples, was shocking in His humility –  by washing the dusty feet of travelers, He performed the work that a lowly servant would normally have done. Whenever I see someone who in worldly terms is important, doing a task that in worldly terms is considered menial, I am reminded of the grace of Jesus. None of us should be too proud to clean toilets or wash dishes or put out the rubbish. Sometimes foot-washing might not be a physical act but rather encouragement through listening or sending a note, or ministering to the emotional pain of others to bring hope and healing.
There are so many ways that we can minister to the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of others, and God has provided each of us with unique gifts and resources to do so. May He bless you richly as you bless others.
To God be the glory and increase.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Warnings in Hebrews



“Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7)

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:12, 13)

The Bible tells us that when we commit our lives to Christ, our hearts are transformed:
"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
“I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)”
Relationship with Christ is very much a heart relationship, a love affair between God and His people, as well as an understanding of the intellect. Our hearts know the love that our Creator has for us, and this results in our love for Him, as well as an increased empathy for others. We see other people as God sees them – both saved brothers and sisters in the Lord, or lost ones that God longs to see come into His kingdom. We begin to fulfil the two greatest commandments that Jesus taught (Matthew 22:37-39)
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’      
It costs to love. There’s investment of many kinds – emotional, time, effort, resources. Love can end in hurt. We’re protective of what we love. We grieve when it changes. We love imperfectly in an imperfect world. The world can mock what it terms "bleeding hearts". Satan continually tempts us, as the above verses of Hebrews remind us, to harden our hearts to God and others, by concentrating on our own fleshly desires- to have a heart for ourselves first and foremost. Only God loves with what many Psalms describe as an “unfailing love”.
The apostle Paul wrote what is often termed the great love chapter of the Bible- 1 Corinthians 13- in which he reminds us that as Christians, whatever we do must be done out of love, not pride or duty or competition, otherwise all our good deeds and knowledge are useless.
This world sees some with hearts that, for whatever reason, have become hardened, cynical, bitter and far less loving than they could be or should be. Their owners may be free from compassion fatigue and insulated from the hurts of others, but they are cauterized and lacking in what makes us truly human. God wants us to love, and when we love Him, His Holy Spirit indwells our hearts, refreshing and energising us, giving us the daily strength to walk in obedience and faith. We love because He loves us. We love those that we would normally find difficult to love.
Keep a soft heart. Wishing you God’s peace, joy and blessings.






Monday, 6 October 2014

Warnings in the book of Hebrews (no 1 in a series)

Pay attention, lest you drift away

“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?”  Hebrews 2:1-3

Once when I was a teenager, I was swimming at Bribie Island, floating around on my air mattress in fairly shallow water. Suddenly I realised that the mattress was drifting out into the deeper water. Jumping off the mattress, I could just stand up, but as I tried to pull the mattress back to shore with me, the current pulled it out of my grasp. I had the choice of trying to follow it into deeper water, or let it drift away. I let it go and headed for the shallows. Fortunately some people in a boat nearby observed the situation and motored over to rescue the mattress and tow it back to shore for me.

In these verses of Hebrews, God warns us how easily the undercurrents of sin and worldly desires can pull us away from Him. We are to remain aware in a spiritual sense of where we are and not become complacent about our faith. We no longer have a set of rules and regulations constituting a religion, but a covenant relationship with God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. We have a living faith that grows with awareness of all that God is, filled with wonder and learning and blessing. We are anchored in the storms of life, not floating away like my air mattress.

Yet tragically, there is always the temptation waiting there that something will, for a momentary gain, destroy what we possess. We’re all tempted, with money or power or  false idols, something that we think will be wonderful, when deep down we know it’s not what God intends for us.Sometimes disillusionment or bitterness or anger can creep into our lives, steering us onto a treacherous course.

There are some lifeguards that surround us, to prevent us from drifting. One is prayer. The Holy Spirit, the One who comes alongside, is our Counsellor. Another is study of God’s living word, the Bible. Another is fellowship with Christian friends in a caring Christian community. Surround yourselves with the things of God- Christian music, Christian books, Christian DVDs and films which are edifying of Him. Think about Him. It may sound trite, but as the old hymn says, we need to count our blessings and remind ourselves how much God has done for us. All these things help us to stay focused and give God the priority which He deserves in our lives. 


Kilometers of pristine beach and hardly anyone else around - where else but Australia?
 Fingal, NSW

Saturday, 4 October 2014

God bless the little children



Recent events surrounding the apparent abandonment of a Down Syndrome baby in Thailand by his Australian father, who collected the baby boy’s twin sister and left her brother with his surrogate mother have shocked many and thankfully, resulted in a surge of support for the boy and his family. I feel very sorry for the girl twin who will grow up without the joy of living with her twin brother. Thankfully the publicity has also fuelled debate concerning the ethics of surrogacy and exploitation of disadvantaged women in third world countries.
Shortly afterwards we were exposed to Richard Dawkins’ views on the termination of Down Syndrome children, arguing that it was perhaps immoral for parents not to terminate a Down Syndrome pregnancy as they would be subjecting the child to unnecessary suffering: http://www.lifenews.com/2014/08/27/why-is-richard-dawkins-in-favor-of-abortion-when-a-baby-has-down-syndrome/.
People with Down Syndrome, like all other people, are created in the image of God, with the capacity for faith, love, joy, and contribution to others. Their disability is the result of living in a fallen world in which “all creation groans” (Romans 8:22). They, and their parents and families face many particular challenges in life, as do all people with a disability. A major challenge to face, however, is to still be born into a world where certain people think they should not exist, that it would have been better if they had not been born.  
For the past twenty-five years, I’ve personally been involved with the families of people with a disability, and organisations and individuals who provide support for their health, education and care. Nobody would wish disability on anyone – it produces much grief, hard work and stress on many families, but then there are many other situations in life which produce these factors. People with Down Syndrome have much to contribute There is a whole realm of camaraderie, love and inspiration associated with people who are disabled, something that enhances, not detracts from the society in which we live.
There are only two forms of reasoning – do we want a world where people are accepted and cared for and included, or do we want a world where certain people groups think they have the right to justify excluding and eliminating others? The “survival of the fittest” mentality and eugenics-based philosophies have historically resulted in appalling genocide. Because when you start playing God and deciding who will live and die, where do you stop?  
Without God in our lives there is no fixed point of reference for morality. The society in which we live makes up its own rules, fuelled by popular media. But what happens when we do that? Are we more enlightened, happier, secure and stable as a society?
It took just one little boy, Gammy, to unite a nation in an outpouring of love, concern and gifting. God doesn’t ever make useless people.


.........

The Unseen, Unspoken Pain
 

According to the real- time abortion counters at http://www.numberofabortions.com/
over 30 million abortions have been carried out in this world this year. Over 61.000 have been carried out today.


If someone who is reading this is living with the pain of having had an abortion in the past, God cares very much for you. He knows the sorrow in your heart. Jesus died on the cross, bearing the sins of all the world, and He experienced all human pain, sin and suffering as He hung there, in order that we could come to God, to be reconciled with Him through Jesus Christ. Jesus said on the cross, just before He died, “It is finished.” We have nothing more to do, nothing we can do, other than come to Him in repentance and faith. The Bible tells us that
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Hebrews Whodunnit

I wonder who wrote the Biblical book of Hebrews? Some say the apostle Paul, but I disagree, because there are significant differences in style and format between this book and the other epistles by Paul, all of which have a recognizable literary flavour. Others think perhaps Barnabas.
My personal hope is that it was written by Priscilla, wife of Aquila and tentmaker friend of Paul.

Priscilla was no slouch when it came to declaring and defending the gospel.  With Aquila, she had left Rome when the Emperor Claudius had banished the Jews, and settled in Corinth. They welcomed Paul into their household and no doubt as the couple plied their trade of tentmaking alongside Paul, they discussed much of the things of God. When Paul left on his missionary journey to Syria, they travelled with him to Ephesus and remained there. They are mentioned several times throughout Paul's writings, always as a couple in ministry together.

In Acts chapter 18 we read the account of Apollos, who visits Ephesus and preaches in the synagogue. He is described as "a learned man with a thorough knowledge of the scriptures." However, Priscilla and Aquila recognize that there is a deficit in Apollos' knowledge in relation to some areas. They invite him to their home so that they can share the gospel more fully. It seems that this couple were not only knowledgeable, but also respectful and tactful, as well as hospitable. 

Paul describes Priscilla and Aquila as "fellow workers in Christ" and tells how they opened their home as a church house and  how they risked their lives for him. There was obviously great friendship between this couple and the apostle.

Perhaps it is drawing a long bow to imagine that the book of Hebrews was written by Priscilla. From what little we know of her from the New Testament, however, we are given the example of a Christian woman, a teacher and apologist, who was knowledgeable and unafraid to contribute and defend what she believed in.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Symbolic imagery in Jeremiah



The Old Testament section of the Bible is comprised of 39 books. Seventeen of these are termed books of the prophets – writings of individuals who were entrusted by God to bear a message to His people. Jeremiah is classed as a “major prophet” – major in the sense of volume of work, the book of Jeremiah being one of the longest in the Bible.
Prophecy is given by God, through individuals, to foretell of coming events, in order that His people will be prepared. God gives us information in the Bible telling of events which have happened and will happen in the history of the world.
Jeremiah lived in a time when God’s people had fallen into moral decay – worship of foreign idols, immorality, false teaching, the sacrifice of infants and disregard for God’s law and provision had reached such an extent that God was to send His judgement in the form of the Babylonian army which would conquer the land and take the people of Judah captive. God being the loving Father that He is, sent Jeremiah to warn the people and call them to repentance and faith.
There are some symbolic images used by God through Jeremiah to demonstrate His feelings towards His people. In chapter 13, Jeremiah is told to buy a belt made of linen and tie it around his waist. He is then to take it off and put in a crevice in some rocks. This, says God, is what my people were like- useful and pure. Fine linen is used elsewhere in the Bible as a symbol of purity and holiness. The angels in Revelation are dressed in “clean shining linen” (Revelation 15:6) and the bride of the Lamb is given “fine linen bright and clean” to wear, “representing the righteous acts of God’s people.” (Revelation 19:8). In Ephesians we are admonished to “stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist” (Ephesians 6:14). The belt removed from the crevice was what the people of God become without Him- spoilt and filthy and useless.
In chapters 18 and 19 Jeremiah is told to go to the potter’s house and buy a jar of clay. He finds the potter shaping the clay on the wheel. In the same way, God makes us and shapes us into vessels for His purposes. Paul, when speaking about the light of Christ in our lives, reminds us that “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7). In 2 Timothy 2:20,21 Paul writes: “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” Jeremiah was told to take the clay jar that he had bought and smash it. In the same way God would destroy the people who had rejected Him and disregarded His love and just laws.
Chapter 24 of Jeremiah describes a vision given by God to the prophet of two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the Lord. One basket holds very good figs; the other figs so poor that they cannot be eaten. Fig trees are used many times in the Bible as a symbol of fruitfulness, particularly of the people of God. James poses the question “can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs?” (James 3:12) The people of God who abide in Christ will be blessed and produce good fruit. Why were these two baskets placed in front of the temple? Because God knew which people were fruitful for Him and which in the temple were not. In the week leading up to His crucifixion, Christ curses the barren fig tree on His way into Jerusalem, before clearing the temple of the moneychangers. He knows which offerings are for Him and which are human vanity. There is no fooling Christ.
There are a few other images in Jeremiah which speak of God’s judgement, including God asking Jeremiah to take a cup of wrath from His hand and drink it (Jeremiah chapter 25:15). The nations would stagger and go mad, in the same way that no doubt many citizens of the time were individually becoming drunk and reeling around.
A more hopeful image is found in Jeremiah chapter 32, when God asks the prophet to buy a field. With the prospect of invasion and destruction looming, the purchase of the field serves to remind Jeremiah that God can and will restore His peace and blessings to those who remain true to Him. In Chapter 33, we are given a reference to the promise of a coming Saviour:

“‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’ (Jeremiah 33 15:16)

In the usual occurrence of “stoning the prophets” Jeremiah was ignored, persecuted, imprisoned and  threatened and his message fell on deaf ears.
Like many of the accounts in the Bible, what was relevant in Jeremiah’s time (around 600 BC) remains true today. Often a Biblical account has relevance for a particular time and situation, but can also be relevant to other times and places. In our time the things of God are being rejected and ridiculed and Christians persecuted and murdered. This world is full of moral decay and wickedness, murder, satanic practices, abortion, greed, hedonism, war and abuse. Despite medical advances, sickness of body and mind is widespread. The light of Christ is this world’s only true and lasting hope.
Christ had some angry words and strong action judgement for the religious hypocrites of his day, and if the church is to be effective in this world, it needs to be faithful to God and His word. False doctrine is now being taught in some churches, with repentance and judgement low on the preaching priority. Some “Worldly Christians” are more concerned with their own comfort than the plight of the persecuted and poor. Yet many other Christians are seeking to follow Christ wholeheartedly and demonstrate His love in many different areas to this world that desperately needs Him.
We are reminded throughout the book of Jeremiah that we all have choices. Through the juxtaposition of impending doom and, in some of the most exquisite prose in the Bible, the blessings of God, we realise our ultimate fate if we forsake God, and the joys and eternal life we have in Him if we choose to follow Him in love and faith:


“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”    Jeremiah 31:33



“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
 They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”   
  Jeremiah 17:7-8


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
                                                                        Jeremiah 29:11-13










Barossa Valley, South Australia

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Moving On



One of the barriers to forgiveness is memory. It’s in Satan’s best interests to keep us in a state of unforgiveness. As long as we continue to remember all the details of the hurt, we are rendered ineffective in our Christian walk in the here and now. Around and around we go in our minds, reliving the hurt, imagining what we should have said and didn’t, or what we could have done differently and didn’t. What could have been done and should have been done wasn’t done. If we just go over it all in our minds one more time, we, the injured party, at least validate our own experience.
Abuse never happens in isolation. It occurs in a climate of secrecy, of indifference, or lack of communication, or ignorance, or cowardice, or alliances. As someone who has had a longstanding interest in bullying behaviour, I know that bullying occurs not only because of the bullying nature of an individual, but also because of the lack of action of those who are aware of the situation and cooperate with the bully for their own reasons or fail to stand against them, giving them free rein to continue. This situation happens in a school playground, and on the world arena between nations and people groups.
Some memories can never be fixed. But, praise God, they can be transformed. Somewhere along the line, in the process of forgiveness, I believe that one can reach the conclusion that all that was done, was done. Nothing more can be gained by going over old ground. That unjust situation may still be unjust. That awful behaviour exhibited by a person or church or organisation may still be continuing, with the likelihood of them repenting and apologising unlikely. But if you can mentally “wrap up” a past incident and pray for those who hurt you, and symbolically offer the whole thing up to God, you will gain what He wants most for you – your freedom.
It’s important to forgive not just those who have hurt, but those who by their collusion or omission, did nothing to help the situation.
Satan would have us think that forgiveness is a very difficult thing- again, he would not like us to move on in faith for all the good things that God has in store. Having forgiven, there is no need to keep repeating the process. It is done. We might remember past events, but there is no need to think that those events control us or make us less than what God would have us be.
The Bible tells us that  “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God can use past experiences in our lives to make us credible witnesses to others for Him. Whole ministries have developed from terrible experiences because of the depth of understanding and empathy of those who have been through them. God does not waste anything in our lives. He transforms. He comforts. He strengthens and makes us whole.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  (Philippians 1:6)





Saturday, 16 August 2014

Standing in solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters

This is the letter "N" in Arabic. Pronounced "noon" it has been spray painted on houses in Iraq to denote that there are Nasara or Nazarenes living in the dwelling. This symbol has been adopted by Christians worldwide to show our solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters, who have been denied what the United Nations has determined to be a universal human right:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18.




Sunday, 3 August 2014

Love is a wild creature




Love is a wild creature,
beautiful and free
Chase after it and it will flee away
Wait for it expectantly
and it will come silently
stepping on paths of its own choosing
Shy, elusive love
Waiting in the shadows
Love in a gilded cage
Is misery withering
But follow the contours of its wild forests
Bathe in the freshness of its running waters
Breathe the scented air of tenderness
Love love
And it will trust your very soul.







 This one's for you Liss! Photos taken at Cradle Mt National Park, Tasmania.