Thursday, 29 March 2018

Where will you stand at the Cross?

“19:23 Now when the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and made four shares, one for each soldier, and the tunic remained. (Now the tunic was seamless, woven from top to bottom as a single piece.) 19:24 So the soldiers said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but throw dice to see who will get it.” This took place to fulfill the scripture that says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they threw dice.” So the soldiers did these things.
19:25 Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 19:26 So when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, look, here is your son!” 19:27 He then said to his disciple, “Look, here is your mother!” From that very time the disciple took her into his own home.”
(John’s gospel, chapter 19: verses 23-27)

It’s Good Friday, and in common with many Christians throughout the world, I attended an early morning service to commemorate the suffering and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We watched a simple drama performed and I was struck anew by the groups of people at the cross, watching the crucifixion.
Firstly, were the Roman soldiers, clad in armour, carrying weapons, those with power and authority. Jesus had already been tortured with scourging. Now they nailed His hands and feet to the cross and hoisted Him upward to die an agonizing death. They mocked and scorned Him and passed the time gambling for His last piece of clothing.
Secondly, there were the true followers of Jesus, those who knew Him personally and followed Him to the very end. They believed all that He had taught. Their love for Him never faltered, despite the threat of retribution from the Romans, despite their fears and confusion, despite the fact that all the hopes they had seemed to be coming to futility. Such was the faith of John and Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and others who were with Him.
What a contrast this group would have been to the Romans. Simply dressed, lacking wealth and status, powerless and sorrowful, oh so filled with the horror and tragedy and loss that was happening before their eyes.
Then there was another group- the crowd who had followed to witness the spectacle. This morning in my church fellowship there was a large crowd watching the drama, as on that day at Calvary two thousand years ago. The only difference now is that we know the events of the following third day.
In the crowd as Jesus was crucified, there would have been many who had seen or heard of Jesus’ miracles and heard His teaching. There would have been many who had welcomed His entry into Jerusalem with hosannas and palm branches just a few days previously.  There would have been some who genuinely believed in Jesus. Then there would be others who had called upon Pilate to crucify Jesus and release Barabbas. Some would have followed Jesus for what He could do for them or give them. Some would have turned away when they thought He had failed to deliver them from Roman oppression. No doubt for some it was a day of great confusion.
Has the world of today changed all that much?
The darkness of this world, the dominion of Satan, is opposed to Christ, mocking His disciples, scorning His teaching, inventing alternative lifestyles, glorifying the idols of power, success, money and sex. In some countries to be a Christian is to be marginalised, discriminated against, fined, abused, jailed and sometimes martyred for your faith.
The light of the world, Jesus Christ, through His Holy Spirit, is still at work through His people, the church on earth. It is the only way to relationship with God and the only true source of peace, happiness and fulfillment for all time.
And there are the crowds who are wondering what it’s all about. Easter and Christmas are traditions with special food and no special meaning.  It is for them that we hope and pray and write and work that they will know God’s loving transformation in their lives.
We are privileged to know the events immediately following Jesus’ death. The curtain of the temple was ripped into two, signifying that Jesus had taken away the barrier between God and humankind. Jesus alone, not the law, not sacrifices, was the only way to our Heavenly Father. The power of God over nature, over death, is revealed. Satan is a defeated foe. An in the words of unnamed Roman soldiers we see that those who oppose and mock Christ must finally acknowledge His sovereignty. 

“27:51 Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart. 27:52 And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. 27:53 (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.) 27:54 Now when the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were extremely terrified and said, “Truly this one was God’s Son!”” (Matthew’s gospel chapter 27: verses 51-54).

Where do you stand at the Cross?
I pray that through His grace and His Holy Spirit it will be with those truly devoted to Him.

Photo at Bridgeman Baptist Community Church, Bridgeman Downs, Brisbane Australia. Good Friday service.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Book review: Jesus the Game Changer: the book of the series.

Book Review: Jesus the Game Changer: How the Life and Teaching of Jesus Changed the World and Why it Matters
The Book of the Series
By Karl Faase with George Marriott, Photography by Jane Faase. Olive Tree Media, 2017.

This is a Christian coffee table book, with added oomph. Unlike a lot of coffee table books, this is one you will actually want to pick up and read. When you begin to read it, you’ll want to read it all. Actually, I’m doing it an injustice in some ways to call it a coffee table book. It’s a little smaller and more manageable to hold. But I want it on my coffee table. I want my unsaved family members and friends to see it in pride of place. Because it means far more to me than the latest art or travel book.
Last year on this blog I reviewed “The Book That Made Your World” by noted Indian writer Vishal Mangalwadi and discussed that for a layperson like myself it was a difficult read in places. Not so Jesus the Game Changer. Both books have a similar purpose- to discuss how the Western world has developed throughout history because of the impact of the Bible and the teachings of Christ. (Vishal Mangalwadi is in fact one of the persons interviewed in the book). Both look at the various areas of culture that are transformed by Biblical teaching- education, health, finances, science, democracy and more. As such both are complementary in informing the reader in divergent ways about the massive debt the modern world owes the Bible and the person of Christ.
The book of Jesus the Game Changer is actually part of the resource materials of a media series- a set of DVDs, an associated study guide and this book of the series. My local church, Bridgeman Baptist, has just been involved in a nationwide series involving over 200 churches studying the topic. I heartily recommend the DVDs for informing, inspiring and deepening your Christian knowledge and faith. But one does not need to have viewed the DVD series to read the book. As a book lover, the book is the icing on the cake.
This is truly a beautiful book. It feels lovely. It is full of beautiful photography. The format is clear and it’s easy to delve into different sections. It’s no dry treatise but is peopled with interesting and inspiring “game changers” from history and some living today. How could I resist a book whose first “game changer” is William Wilberforce, one of my heroes, born in my birthplace of Hull, exactly two hundred years before my birth? We are introduced to people who are living out their faith, grappling with issues such as forgiveness, the distribution of wealth and care of the unlovely.
The book records interviews with some of the world’s leading theologians and academics from prestigious universities, Christian apologists and leaders in health care, business, politics, media and more. It includes quotes which are deeply profound and thought provoking. To give just two examples:
“We have gotten so used to the idea of freedom and democracy and economic prosperity, we take it for granted. We have no idea that if it is a cut flower it will continue to look beautiful for a season but ultimately it’s lost the connection to the source of life.”  Eric Metaxas, bestselling author, biographer of Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther, and radio host, New York.

“But I think that there’s a deeper reason here. In the end, giving is a way of protecting your heart, insulating your heart against what we all feel. We all know it’s [money] a seductive thing. It’s potentially an idol. All idols are seductive.” Professor Ian Harper, corporate economist, Melbourne.
This book is peopled with active participants, and in the final pages, the reader is included. The book acknowledges the many Christians who faithfully work and give behind the public eye to advance the gospel in many differing spheres of life. It also gives a brief guide and prayer for the unbeliever to find faith in God through Jesus Christ. We can all be game changers.
I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend this book. It’s refreshing, inspiring and thought provoking.

“Jesus the Game Changer:How the life and teaching of Jesus changed the world and why it matters.
The book of the series.” Karl Faase with George Marriott, Photography by Jane Faase.
Olive Tree Media Ltd. 2017
Available from

Friday, 23 March 2018

Hearts burn within

Following the crucifixion of Jesus, we are given an account, in Luke’s gospel chapter 24, of a strange visitation on the road to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. Two of Jesus’ followers, Cleopas and one other, encounter a stranger, and explain to him the reason for their sadness and deep discussion. They were followers of Jesus and had placed all their faith in Him. They hoped that Jesus would be the one to break the yoke of Roman oppression. They had heard the prophecies that Jesus would become alive again on the third day after His death- and now it seemed that the tomb where Jesus had been lain was empty. They were confused. They did not recognise that the stranger was Jesus Himself.
The Bible then tells us that Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures.” (verse 27).
The trio enter Emmaus, where they share a meal. Jesus takes the bread, blesses it and gives thanks. At that point the disciples recognise Him. I think perhaps this is not only historically real, but also symbolic of the fact that people are spiritually blind until they acknowledge the broken body of Christ on the cross, the only means of redemption from sin and relationship with God.
The disciples realise that they have been with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. “They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?” (verse 32).
What a beautiful expression of the power of the word of God is found in this verse. We speak of some word or experience being “heart- warming”- encouraging or comforting- but this is hearts burning. Hearts are aflame with enthusiasm and joy. This is a refining fire, an unquenchable fire, one that will spread throughout the world. It is not surprising that on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples, tongues of fire appeared amongst them. On that day, Peter, who had denied Christ three times, was enabled to deliver the message of the gospel so powerfully that three thousand became believers.
Why were the hearts of the two men on the road to Emmaus burning? Because they heard Jesus explaining the scriptures. Not because they had been whipped into an artificial frenzy by repetitive music. Not because they had experienced supernatural phenomena. They had heard and understood the truth of God.
Jesus is referred to in John’s gospel as Logos “the word”:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 1:2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 1:3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind 1:5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.” (John 1: 1-5)
“Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us.” (John 1:14)
Such is the power of words, that Jesus is referred to as the word. To the unbeliever, the scriptures are merely antiquated and rather unfathomable writings. To believers, the Bible is what is tells us it is- a living word, the words that God has given to mankind, powerful words that can change hearts and lives:
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
“Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
How amazing it must have been to hear Jesus explaining the Scriptures. All our efforts are but a poor imitation.
How wonderful to have the Word of God, the Bible, with its never-ending ability to inform and deepen our relationship with God our Father. I personally feel so privileged and excited to delve into its contents. There’s always something new to discover.
Words have been my life. I pray that they will be good ones, productive ones, ones that will glorify my Father God and minister to others.