Friday, 22 January 2016

Call out to Jesus

A few years ago I attended a weekend workshop on evangelism, hosted by the Rev Graham Sercombe, a workshop which greatly encouraged me in the area of pastoral care.
During this time Graham told a simple story of his efforts to witness to a colleague, a pilot in New Guinea. The nation of New Guinea includes highlands which are very mountainous, into which small planes fly regularly as a method of transport. Over the years there have been many plane crashes and fatalities connected with the dangers of flying there.
Graham described how his efforts to talk about Jesus seemingly went unappreciated. On one occasion he felt a compulsion to say to his friend " If you're ever in trouble, call out to Jesus. Just call out to Jesus."
Shortly after this conversation Graham's friend was killed when his plane crashed in the mountains. We won't know this side of Heaven if this man called out to Jesus, but we hope that Graham's words were with him.
I recall the story so that you, the reader, can know - if you're in trouble, call out to Jesus. He'll hear you. Have this fixed in your mind.
Call out to Jesus.
But why wait until troubles come? Jesus is waiting to be involved in your life right now. Know God's Son, and you will know God, our Father, maker of Heaven and earth. You will know God's Holy Spirit, God's indwelling Counsellor and Comforter. Living with the reality of faith is not a restrictive, religious practice. It's a fulfilling, life-affirming relationship.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

These hopeful words are found in the Bible and were written by John, who was with Jesus and wrote an account of some of Jesus' life. They are found in the Biblical book of John, chapter 3, verse 16.

 Periodically on this blog I include repeats of what the Gospel, (or Good News as the word means), is all about, and how to become a Christian. I've done so again at the start of this new year and I hope and pray these articles will be encouraging and thought-provoking to someone who visits here.

You may wish to browse some other Christian resources online or visit a local church and talk to a minister there. Many churches run introductory courses for people wishing to learn about Christianity, such as Alpha, or Christianity explained. 
 Here are just a couple of links:

The Gospel/ How do I become a Christian?

The Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I become a Christian?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ephesians 3:14-20 :

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

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Finishing Well

Gideon, whose story appears in the biblical book of Judges, chapters 6-8, is an interesting character study of someone who lived a life for God and yet didn’t quite finish on the right note.
Gideon is often used in Bible teaching lessons as an example of how God selects insignificant people to do great things. When God first sends an angel to Gideon to inform him that he, Gideon, has been chosen to lead the Israelites into battle against the Midianites, Gideon protests that he is an insignificant person - his family is the least of clans in the tribe of Manasseh, and he is the least, probably the youngest in his family.  Nevertheless, God has decided to use him.
Just to make sure that the angel has really brought a message from God, Gideon decides to put things to the test and asks God confirm his message. Gideon sets out a woollen fleece on the threshing floor and asks God to place dew on the fleece only but not on the floor around it overnight. In the morning, Gideon sees that what he requested has happened.  Notwithstanding that occurrence, Gideon requests that the next night God alternate the process – and the following morning the fleece is dry and the ground around it is covered in dew. I wonder if God was getting a little exasperated with Gideon at this point.
Having been convinced that he really had been singled out for leadership, Gideon takes charge of his army of thirty-two thousand men and prepares to do battle. God reminds Gideon that He, God wants to receive the glory for defeating the enemies of Israel, and therefore will use a small, weak force to do so. Through a series of eliminations, God whittles the Israelite army down from thirty-two thousand to three hundred men, seemingly overwhelming odds. Yet God assures Gideon that He will be with him and will bring him victory over the Midianites, which is exactly what happened.
After his success in leading the army to defeat the Midianites, Gideon is hailed as a hero and invited to become king of Israel. This he refuses, stating that the Lord, not he nor his descendants would rule over the people.
But Gideon just had one little request. One little request that may have been the fly in the custard, so to speak.
The Israelites had captured a lot of booty when defeating their enemies and Gideon requested some of the golden earrings that they had taken. He used the gold to make an ephod, which Biblical scholars consider to be either an idol or a ceremonial robe (or possibly an idol dressed in ceremonial robes). He placed this ephod in his home town of Ophrah and “All Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” (Judges 8:27)
Gideon more than most had reason to understand the reality of God, the power and protection of God and the sufficiency of God. He knew the absolute dependency upon God that he needed to have. He gave God the glory and refused to become king. Yet he still was tempted by earthly riches. Why did he make the ephod? Was it to commemorate the victories? Was it a status symbol for himself? Was he merely following custom? Whatever the reason, it was detrimental to Gideon’s relationship with God and witness to others and we see how quickly people desire to rally around a hero and his trappings.
There’s a message for all of us here, because many of us at some point in our Christian walk recognise our own inadequacies and dependency on God. He uses broken vessels (or cracked pots as some like to put it).  Yet as we go through life God may achieve things through us and foolishly we can start believing our own publicity rather than acknowledging His power and giving the glory where it’s due. Pride creeps in where humility used to be. Being successful in life can be a stumbling block, as much as facing difficulties. We can still be tempted by the gods of this world – status, power, money, sex, success and others which can become snares to us in the same way that Gideon’s ephod was to him.  
Gideon is listed in chapter 11 of the Biblical book of Hebrews as one of the Israelite heroes of great faith. God worked mightily through him to establish the nation of Israel. Like others mentioned in this “faith” chapter, Gideon was not without his failings and flaws as we all are. From his story and character we can learn much about trusting wholeheartedly in God, and giving God all the glory for what He does. 

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:10-14)