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. and 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